My friend MC shared this excerpt from a memoir he’s reading: Frank Schaeffer’s Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back (Carol & Graf, 2007).
Schaeffer is the son of Francis Schaeffer (note that this link is to The Gospel Coalition, which presents a particularly rosy view of Francis Schaeffer), an architect of the Christian Right. The memoir tells of his change of heart and politics.
From the book:
[A]fter 9/11, the public got a glimpse of the anti-American self-righteous venom that was always just under the surface of the evangelical right.
Schaeffer’s book was published more than a decade ago, and I see it now as an early entry into a new genre: religious and political “quit-lit.” George Will and Max Boot recently wrote publicly about their change of voter registration recently, and David Gushee’s memoir Still Christian: Following Jesus out of American Evangelicalism asks the same questions many American Christians are asking themselves: if these people are Christians, how can I be?
Some of the authors of these pieces express sadness at how their party/religion has changed over time. They voted with pride for Barry Goldwater, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush I, Dole. Bush II, McCain, Romney. But now the party is something else.
Schaeffer, I think, is more insightful. It’s not that the “venom” is new: it’s always been there. Or, as Jonathan Chait wrote in The New Yorker this winter:
The insistence by conservative dissidents on treating Trump as an alien disease upon their movement prevents them from diagnosing, and therefore treating, the source of the infection. To restore the Republican Party to health, defined as being committed to some baseline relationship with reality and a commitment to democratic governing norms, requires freeing it from conservatism’s grip. It requires a break from decades of American right-wing tradition.
Both Obama and Clinton agitated, by their race and gender rather than by their relatively moderate ideas, the bigotry that unites the most conservative in the right. The wilder the accusations against them got–birtherism, Pizzagate–the more those rightwing voters were willing to take a chance on a “chaos candidate.”
And conservative Christian voters don’t mind the chaos. In fact, they embrace it. Writes Schaeffer:
What began to bother me was that so many of our new ‘friends’ on the religious right began rooting for one form of apocalypse or another. In the crudest form, this was part of the evangelical fascination with the so-called end times. The worse things got, the sooner Jesus would come back. But there was another component: the worse everything got, the more it proved that America needed saving, by us!
A core tenet of the Religious Right is that Jesus will return–and that return will preceded by violence and suffering. (Check out the Rapture Index for more on this. It’s an online calculator that factors in the state of current affairs–peace in the Middle East (a bad thing in this framework), oil prices, immorality, the jobless rate, and more–to determine how fast we’re hurtling toward Armageddon.) Suffering is to be expected, which means it is welcomed and, in some perverse ways, encouraged.
Above, people place their hands on Donald Trump as they pray for him after his electoral win. What, exactly, are they praying for?
In the same way, the faults of Obama and Clinton were exaggerated (Socialism! Communism! Secret Muslim takeover of the US!) so that rightwing voters could justify what they already wanted to do: vote in man who would bring more violence. There is a kind of codependency, I think: Republican policies undermine our health, safety, and economic stability. Religious conservatives then respond to the crisis of their own creation by supporting candidates who promise to do worse.