Last week my wife and I took two of our grandchildren to New Balance to buy some new shoes for the upcoming school year. On the way home we stopped at a bookstore. While they browsed Harry Potter books and Legos, (both of which we ended up buying) I perused the bestseller table. On that table was a book entitled “Dark Agenda” by David Horowitz. The book’s subtitle is: “The War to Destroy Christian America.” That caught my attention.
I confess I did not know anything about Horowitz, but a quick examination of the dustjacket and contents made it clear that he was an arch-conservative. An endorsement on the cover by former Arkansas governor, Baptist pastor, and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said: “Most Compelling Defense of Christianity.” So I assumed that Horowitz was part of what is called the Religious Right or Christian Nationalism.
I do not normally buy books that are so polemical. But ever since Donald Trump was elected president with 81% support from evangelicals, I have been struggling to understand the mindset of the Religious Right. I thought this book might help. So I bought the book. (Although I could not justify the nearly $30 hardback price, so I went home and bought the ebook online.)
It is inconceivable to me that devout, conservative Christians could support such an uncouth and irreligious man. These are people I have known all my adult life. They are friends, family members, colleagues and fellow pastors. Morality used to be important to evangelicals in a political candidate and leader – especially sexual morality. So was truthfulness, integrity, civility and respect for others.
All of a sudden these Christians seemed to have abandoned their moral and spiritual principles to support a political leader. It almost seemed like they were under a spell. Jesus’ words about false messiahs came to mind. Jesus warned that in the end times such figures would arise and “deceive, if possible, even the elect.” To be honest this transformation of devout Christians into political ideologues was scary.
In order to understand the mindset of religious Trumpers, I bought the book and finished it in a few days. Early in the book I was surprised to learn that Horowitz is not part of the Religious Right, at least not the religious part. He calls himself an agnostic, yet rails against atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. His parents were members of the American Communist Party and strong supporters of Joseph Stalin, yet he reserves his harshest criticism for Marxists.
Throughout the book I sensed a deep sense of inner anguish and self-hatred which was being redirected toward others. Hatred for his atheist leanings and his previous Marxist beliefs, as well as his Jewish and Russian heritage. His mother's family emigrated from Russia in the 19th century, and his father's family left Russia in the early 20th century during a time of anti-Jewish pogroms. I found myself doing armchair psychoanalysis of the author.
Anyway, for whatever psychological and political reasons, he now hates liberals and Democrats, which he repeatedly labels as anti-American and anti-Christian. He actually links them to Lucifer (!) and to every atrocity he can think of. He runs through the common conservative talking points – prayer in school, abortion, homosexuality, and Obamacare – but strangely omits support for Israel, except a passing reference to Obama’s unfulfilled campaign promise to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Some additional psychoanalysis is needed there.
He has special scorn for the Supreme Court of the United States which he calls “eight lifetime political appointees, elected by no one and accountable to no one.” Talking about the failed nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court in 1987, he writes, “For twenty-five years, ever since the 1962 decision on school prayer, the Supreme Court had been the all-powerful lever that a radical minority had used to impose its will on the majority. That judicial lever had radically reinterpreted and twisted the Constitution to fit the leftist agenda.” He writes “The secular left had discovered an all-powerful instrument – the Supreme Court – with which it could impose its radical, anti-Christian agenda on an unwilling nation.”
It made me very uncomfortable to hear one of the three branches of the federal government established by our constitution demonized. The Court was established by the founding fathers as a necessary balance to the danger of “tyranny of the majority” and the protection of the rights of minorities without economic and political power. I think it has done its job well over the years.
As to my reason for reading the book, it was not until the final chapter that I gained some insight into why evangelical Christians support Trump. In a section entitled “Why the Religious Right Embraced Trump” he writes:
“To the left, the support Trump received from the religious right remained an insoluble mystery. He was thrice married, not particularly religious, and often vulgar and carrying some unsavory sexual baggage. He had supported abortions and gay marriage in the past. Yet evangelicals and Catholics cheered him at rallies, proudly wore Make America Great Again! hats, and pulled the lever for him at the polls. The reason liberals didn’t understand the religionists was because they had contempt for them, regarding them as bigoted and stupid. But anyone concerned about the half century of aggression that religious communities had suffered at the hands of the left could understand. Anyone who identified with the fight that conservatives waged in defense of religious liberty could understand. And anyone sympathetic to the unapologetic patriotism of religious people could understand why they were solidly for Trump, despite his flaws.”
So that explains it. Leftist aggression, patriotism and religious liberty are the reasons evangelicals support Trump. But to me (I consider myself a moderate, neither Democrat nor Republican) the Left seems no more aggressive than the Right, and liberals seem as patriotic as conservatives. That leaves religious liberty, which is a value that I cherish highly as a Baptist. I have never felt like my religious liberty was under attack, so I went back through the book to review his case for a “war on Christian America.”
I could not see religious liberty as a defining factor in any of the social issues he discusses. A timely debate of the subject in the Wall Street Journal last weekend (“Is American Religious Liberty in Peril?” Wall Street Journal, July 27-28) helped me understand the issue better. But I still see the “culture wars” more as disagreement between political factions than an attack on religious liberty.
The Religious Right assumes that strenuous disagreement on social issues is an attack on religion. It is not. Liberal opposition to conservative positions on political, social and economic issues is not an attack on the Christian faith.
Furthermore the issues dear to the heart of the Religious Right are not found in Scripture, which evangelicals consider to be authoritative. There is no mention of abortion in the Bible. No mention of support for the modern state of Israel; in fact the biblical prophets were the harshest critics of ancient Israel, often prophesying its doom because of its mistreatment of the poor and its unfaithfulness to God. There is no mention of capitalism, prayer in public schools, or healthcare in the Bible.
There is a lot of talk about sexuality in the Bible, although little mention of homosexuality. Gleaning a modern Christian sexual ethic from Scripture is problematic. Polygamy was accepted as ethical in the Old Testament, as was sex slavery (such slaves were called concubines). All of the biblical patriarchs had concubines, as did the beloved kings David and Solomon. Establishing a sexual ethic from scripture is very difficult and must be done carefully. If you cherry-pick verses to condemn homosexuality, you better be careful what else you approve – or condemn - by the same method of biblical interpretation.
If sexual ethics were really the issue, evangelicals would be much more concerned with outlawing adultery, heterosexual fornication and divorce – which were explicitly condemned by Jesus (unlike homosexual sex) and much more widespread in American society. Evangelicals’ sexual ethic, like that of most Americans, has evolved … except when it comes to LGBTQ persons.
When it comes to support for Trump, Horowitz’s Dark Agenda helped me to see what I was missing. I had assumed that evangelical Christians were acting and voting from Christian values. But Horowitz makes it clear that the Religious Right has chosen the Right over Religion; they have chosen a social agenda over spiritual values. That is why Horowitz supports them; he is not religious, but he is fiercely Right. All that matters to either of them is the advancement of the conservative social agenda.
It does not matter to evangelicals what Trump says or does, as long as he makes good on his promise to advance their social agenda. The social gospel trumps (pun intended) the spiritual or moral gospel. During his 2016 presidential campaign Trump famously boasted that he could murder someone in public in the middle of Fifth Avenue, and his supporters would still vote for him. I fear he is correct. If he could take one life with impunity, why not more? As Dylan sang, “And how many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died?” I fear too many.
For evangelicals the end justifies the means, and the means to their end is President Trump. Evangelicals have set aside their Christian values in order to promote their social agenda. As Horowitz approvingly quotes Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, as saying: “My support for Trump has never been based upon shared values; it is based upon shared concerns.”
Personally I am not willing to compromise my Christian values. It easily leads to the compromise of basic human rights and essential human values. My loyalty is to Christ before country. Jesus is my Lord, not Trump … or any political messiah. Once again the words of Jesus come to mind. “For false messiahs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand.” (Matthew 24:24-25) Dark agenda, indeed.