The Christian faith was the real loser in the Roy Moore campaign.
By Valerie Tarico
December 29, 2017
Ok, evangelicals do have a brand problem—but they also have a major product problem.
Bible-believing born-again Christians, aka evangelicals, have had a brand problem since Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority sold the born-again movement to the Republican party in exchange for political power a generation ago, forging the religious right.
The Republican party has been using Christianity’s good name to cover bad deeds ever since, all the while tapping evangelical media empires and churches as communications and organizing platforms to bring ordinary believers along with the merger. Having become true-believers themselves, Evangelical leaders have offered themselves up as trusted messengers for this New-and-Improved political gospel project.
And it has worked.
Born-again Christians haven’t given up their core beliefs: that the Bible is the literally perfect word of God, Jesus died for their sins, and folks who don’t accept this gift will burn forever in Hell. Rather, most white evangelicals (and a number of blacks and Hispanics) have appended parts of the Republican policy agenda and the underlying conceptual framework to this list. Religious beliefs and political beliefs have become, for many evangelicals, indistinguishable objects of devotion, beyond question. Political tribe and religious tribe now have the same boundaries.
When I outlined evangelicalism’s brand problem in early 2016, few of us had any idea how bad it could get. Now the world associates the term Evangelical with the Trump election—over 80 percent of evangelicals gave him their vote—and with the candidacy of theocrat, Roy Moore, who despite credible allegations that he pursued and pawed young teens while an assistant district attorney, received comparable support from white Alabama evangelicals.
In the aftermath of Moore’s campaign and (merciful) defeat, the minority of Evangelical Christians who found him horrifying are doing some public soul searching—well, except not really. Many recognize only the brand problem and are, more than anything, simply scrambling to get away from the term evangelical itself. “After Trump and Moore, some evangelicals are finding their own label too toxic to use,” reports the Washington Post. “The term feels irreversibly tainted,” agrees evangelical author Jen Hatmaker.
Jemar Tisby is president of a faith-based media company catering to black evangelicals, but he says that “It’s counterproductive to identify as evangelical. . . . What’s happened with evangelicalism is, it has become so conflated with Republican politics, that you can’t tell where Christianity ends and partisanship begins.”
At Wheaton College, my old alma mater, the executive director of the Billy Graham Center, Ed Stetzer, said, “I don’t want ‘evangelical’ to mean people who supported candidates with significant and credible accusations against them. If evangelical means that, it has serious ramifications for the work of Christians and churches.”