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Trump and evangelicals have everything in common

On Life

Ruminations and provocations.

Trump and evangelicals have everything in common

Stephen H. Provost

Repeat after me: The end justifies the means. If you ever find yourself scratching your head when an evangelical appears to brazenly contradict his own principles, refer back and repeat again.

It’s all you need to know.

The phrase sums up the philosophy of Niccolò Machiavelli, whose brand of ruthless politics earned him fame, or, rather, infamy, in the Middle Ages. The upshot is that actions aren’t morally right or wrong in and of themselves; their morality is determined by their results — which leads to the conclusion that might makes right.

If you’ve ever wondered why evangelical faiths, which preach things like turning the other cheek and practicing unconditional love, resorted to crusades and violent jihads in the service of that “love” ... refer back and repeat again. This was their mindset. It had nothing to do with love, and it was anything but unconditional. Believe or die. It was as simple as that.

Why do people who profess to believe in honesty, compassion, respect and fidelity support a pathological liar who brands refugees as rapists and brags about grabbing women’s genitals without permission? Refer back and repeat: The end justifies the means.

Whenever your first moral imperative is evangelism — to convert others to your way of thinking — all other principles are open to compromise. Even such high principles as unconditional love. Instead of offering such love freely, evangelicals too often resort to placing conditions on receiving it (at which point it’s no longer unconditional at all).

Crusades and witch trials

In the Middle Ages, the only thing unconditional is your surrender. The terms were dictated at the point of a sword, as in the crusades, or upon the threat of being burned at the stake, as in the Salem witch trials – where the “choice” was really no choice at all. The sinner accused of witchcraft could either refuse to recant and be burned alive, or confess to something they didn’t do ... and be burned alive anyway. Their only reward for lying — breaking one of the Ten Commandments — under duress was the promise of heaven from someone about to kill them. Such cruelty by a servant of “heaven” could hardly have reassured them about what lay in store there.

(One caveat: Not all people accused of witchcraft in such situations were burned. Some were drowned. Or crushed to death.)

These days, the methods are seldom physical torture, and the conditions aren’t always dictated “on pain of death.” But the same principle continues to apply: A quid pro quo is still offered in place of unconditional love, because the ultimate goal of evangelism isn’t love, it’s conversion. “Love,” like torture, is just a means to an end.

The fundamental quid pro quo, for any unbeliever (not just one accused of witchcraft), is the promise of heaven in exchange for a confession of belief. You can make a “deal with the devil,” but you also must make a deal with God. Deals — especially when signed under duress — are not unconditional love. But because this particular deal is at the heart of evangelism, it’s become a model for evangelicals, who often place conditions on other actions of “love” toward the sinner. They won’t scratch your back unless you scratch theirs.

Not all evangelicals behave this way. Some view love, not conversion, as their prime directive and really do show that love without any ulterior motive. But the fact that conversion is the ultimate goal for so many means that “the art of the deal” will always be a temptation for evangelicals – and one they have a hard time resisting.

Disposable morality

Because morality is of secondary importance to salvation, it becomes disposable. And, as a result, evangelicals wind up engaging in something they regularly criticize when others do it: “situational ethics.” For people who profess to believe in absolute principles, this kind of thinking is anathema. Evangelical voices often rail against it. Yet even situational ethics can be excused in the service of evangelism, and the resulting hypocrisy is also permitted if the outcome is a “saved soul.”

“When you do it, it’s evil; when we do the same thing, it’s noble.” Because the results are different.

The end justifies the means.

An evangelical’s quid pro quo can be as radical as a conversion at gunpoint, or it can be as simple as offering someone a helping hand and “inviting” them to attend church. An invitation like this leaves room for the would-be guest to decline, but it’s clear that he’s expected to attend. There’s significant social pressure to do so under the rule of reciprocity. When someone does you a favor, you feel obligated to reciprocate. The reason is simple: You don’t want to remain in that person’s debt. The rule of reciprocity gives him leverage in dictating how you discharge that debt, and a suggestion that you attend church can be a way of using that leverage.

Winning

Evangelism is, at its core, convincing (or coercing) someone to believe what you believe. In short: winning. “God” must win, and “Satan” must lose. But the minute you sacrifice principles on the altar of success, you also render labels like “God” and “Satan” meaningless. Undefined by any moral compass, they mean whatever you want them to mean in the moment.

Evangelicals, politically speaking, are often motivated to by the stands they’ve taken on issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, gun rights, and so forth. But even these principles can be compromised or sacrificed altogether in exchange for the overarching goal of simply winning. The idea is that, once they’ve won, they’ll have unchecked power to enforce their views on these issues. Power supplants principle as the immediate goal, and the drive to achieve it by winning becomes not only everything, but the only thing.

This is why so many evangelicals who appear to be at odds with the current president issues of substance and character, support him enthusiastically. They view him as their King David: their champion, destined to win. And if winning is everything, they have everything in common. It’s not about love. It’s all about the art of the deal: getting the other party to sign a contract that’s favorable to your side, even if it means concealing the fine print or forcing a signature under duress. The methods don’t matter.

Refer back and repeat after me …