Monday in Whitewater will be mostly sunny with a high of 79. Sunrise is 6:09 AM and sunset 7:45 PM for 13h 35m 23s of daytime. The moon is a waning crescent with 20.4% of its visible disk illuminated.
For every person who approaches politics as personal advancement, there are others who begin and continue politics as a practical arrangement of state power guided by philosophical, moral, or ethical principles. For this second group, it’s principle, not personality, that undergirds one’s actions.
The same is true of theology. In this time of national conflict, the choice about politics confronts the religious: personality or principle?
This brings us to David French, a conservative evangelical lawyer who opposes Trumpism. French is a true believer, so to speak, and as a true believer he’s come to oppose the nativist authoritarianism that Trumpism represents. French opposes both on secular legal grounds and as a matter of Christian ethics.
A commenter here at FREE WHITEWATER mentioned French’s latest book, and that comment spurred me to write a bit more about David French, theology, and politics. (To the commenter: your observations are gratefully received.)
First, a few remarks on my own views. I am not an evangelical, as French is, but instead a mainline Protestant, raised Lutheran, with Catholic relatives, who worships in an Episcopal church outside the city. That church is a combination of mainline theology with an Anglo-Catholic (that is, a traditional) liturgy. So in some ways it’s progressive, and in others it would appear very traditional. It is a matter of grace, serendipitous as grace is, that I have found this parish.
Of theology, however, I was raised at a time when one was expected to read widely and seriously, of one’s own and of others’ teachings. Comparative religion was simply part of a proper education, and reading comprehensively was expected. (As a religious matter, one does not have to be literate to believe one doctrine or another, but if one is literate, it’s beneficial to read thoughtfully. Translations matter and context matters.) I’m writing this as plainly as possible, but of course it’s a field that invites lifelong study.
The MAGA crowd routinely relies on poor translations, cherry-picked Bible verses, and distorted if not heretical views of Christian teaching in their support of Trump. They often don’t know what they don’t know. They’re wrong (if not in moral error) no matter how loudly they speak. They practice a dominance-and-submission ritual that is as far from Christian conduct as one could go. (This ritual isn’t part of any major theological tradition, Christian or otherwise: it’s more like spousal abuse or a non-consensual fetish. To an observant person, dominance-and-submission does not look Christian — instead, it looks ape-like, an imitation of an animal’s behavior.)
That brings me to another part of my upbringing (and that of others of my background). We were taught to read deeply, decide carefully, and defend fiercely. These MAGA men assume that others are weak, that we will accept their shouting, that we will back down in the face of their head-shaking, arms-waving, foot-stomping, and threatening behavior.
They’re wrong. They think too much of themselves and too little of those who are committed to both a liberal democratic order and well-grounded, traditional Christian theology. We’ll not yield to their ilk, now or ever. They’ve distorted enough history, law, and theology for a century of error-correction.
An evergreen reminder on Trumpism: never means never.
And so, and so, I am not an evangelical as French is. We are now, however, of the same views on two religious fundamentals. French contends that There Is No Remaining Christian Case for Trump (‘Trump discipled the church more than the church discipled Trump’) and Christian Political Ethics Are Upside Down (‘We’re adamant about politics and flexible about virtue’).
Or, even worse, did the tension between Trump’s actions and your own morality grow so great that you started to redefine morality itself? How many people made the migration from supporting Trump in spite of his character to supporting him because of who he was? I can think of countless folks, in both public and private life.
That’s what discipling looks like.
Ted Cruz says his pronouns are “kiss my ass’ not just because he corrupted himself for Trump but because the crowd is corrupt as well. The same analysis goes for Josh Hawley’s refusal to apologize for his fist salute or his election challenge. He is morally corrupt. That cheering crowd is morally corrupt.
Why? Because they’ve absorbed the lessons Trump taught. Fight the left with profane anger. Never apologize.
When I encounter the most partisan preachers and public Christian personalities, I’m often gobsmacked at the inverse relationship between their political certainty and their political knowledge. The less they know about an issue, the more confident they’re obviously right.
(This is a confession, by the way. To take one example—the more I began to understand about the reality and legacy of racism in America, the less certain I became in my conventional, confident conservatism about law, liberty, and economic opportunity. I’m now far more open to contrary views.)
Earlier this month I was in a conversation with friends, and one of them brought up how he’s combatting the pull toward animosity by revisiting the civil rights movement. In face of indescribably greater oppression than any American community faces today (including the American Evangelical community) its leaders and members demonstrated a degree of grace and forbearance that feels unimaginable today.
While French and I agree on Trumpism and Christianity, we’ve arrived at this from different directions. His is the harder path, walking among, not apart.
In David French’s efforts, there is both encouragement and rebuke. As libertarianism, for example, drifts and slips from its fundamentals, what have we libertarians done, however small the effort, to defend first principles within that political tradition? Hard to overstate how much I admire French’s hard work among conservatives. In his achievements, there is an implicit rebuke that one has not done enough within one’s own traditions, and encouragement that, if one tries, more can be done.
A bit about libertarianism, tomorrow.