Just so that you have ample warning beforehand, I would like to provide an advance heads up that I intend to lay about myself like a coruscating berserker. So that you don’t have to resort to google, what that basically means is “sparkly lunatic.” Some of you may have guessed — from the picture — which direction I intend to go first, and I will give you that. Good guess. But there are some other directions involved also and, as the author of the Volsung Saga once put it, berserkers can turn on a dime.
An Infelicitous Wall Hanging
Let us roll up our sleeves, spit on our hands, and start with the obvious first. Jerry Falwell Jr. and his wife Becki are here photo-opping with the Donald against a wall of various magazine covers that featured Trump, including, right over Becki’s left shoulder, a copy of America’s premier one-handed magazine. In this alliance, such as it is, it is obvious which side is doing all the bending. Donald remains exactly what he was and has been the whole time, no compromise. No compromise is a phrase that has fallen out of the evangelical lexicon of late, and so it is that leaders of the evangelical movement are being schooled in what it means to “not budge” by a shameless fornicator.
The best construction I can put on Falwell’s appalling behavior is that he is craven. In other words, he knows full well that Trump is a skeeze, but he also knows that Hillary would sink Liberty University to the bottom of the deep blue sea. The Clintons have scores to settle, and I have no doubt that the name Falwell is on their list. I don’t know about you, but I suspect that the Clintons know how to settle scores. In fact, the word “wheelhouse” comes to mind. But it is a sad day when the best defense you can come up with is cowardice. And even with that personal threat as a possible factor, it should be remembered that Falwell endorsed Trump early on, when there were still a number of respectable and viable options for him.
If you are the heir of the Moral Majority, and you have lost the majority part, the responsible move is not to ditch the moral part. Once you get past a certain point in your compromises, the law of gravity takes over for you, and the results are less of a slide and more of a free fall. At this point in our monkey house follies, it would not matter if that wall were covered with pictures of all the top women that Trump had bonked. There still would not be a shortage of evangelical leaders — should we still call them leaders? — willing to shimmy up next to Trump and grin for the camera.
Even if this kind of thing were something you anticipated and predicted, still it is really sad, like that time the sun fell down a hole.
But Wait . . .
So all that was really bad, and I mean pig’s-breakfast-bad, but it was not the worst. The worst was from Russell Moore, whose response to the fiasco was this snide aside:
“If you wondered why younger, theological, gospel-centered evangelicals reacted neg to the old guard Religious Right, well, now you know.”
This is, first, a cheap shot at the old guard Religious Right. It is, secondly, unctuous flattery of gospel-centered hipsters. And it is, third, entirely arbitrary on Moore’s part. I want to say something briefly about the first two, and then settle down for a bit with the third.
When I think of the old guard Religious Right, I think of men like Francis Schaeffer, C. Everett Koop, and Jerry Falwell, Sr. That movement also had its gaudy spectacles — think Pat Robertson — but there were men there like Schaeffer who were used by God to virtually create the evangelical pro-life conscience. For someone like Moore to take this moment, of all moments, to give the back of his hand to someone like Schaeffer is simply gross and ungrateful.
Secondly, from the very start of the next generation, there have been a number of youngsters who were too cool for school, who did not want to give up the notion of “cultural engagement,” but also did not want to be involved in anything so gauche as pro-life activism. And so they went full-tilt into fair trade coffee. Moore calls them “theological,” which means they could justify not picketing an abortion mill with words like perichoretic, and could justify their economic illiteracy with words like communitarian.
One qualification to the above: Moore himself is explicitly pro-life, and as far as he is concerned, has given the cool kids permission to imitate him in that. But lots of them don’t.
Make no mistake. The old guard Religious Right was not above criticism, and that criticism needed to come from younger, theological, gospel-centered evangelicals. But that should mean more Bible, less compromise, more challenges to the ways of the world. Not quarrels over which way we should drift.
It would not look anything like Moore’s project. And here is why.
Falwell lives in a different climate than does Moore, and so Falwell is bending before a different prevailing wind than that which causes Moore to sway so elegantly. Moore is objecting to the direction that Falwell is compromising, not to the fact of the compromise. He is all about the fact of compromise.
When Falwell bends, Moore objects. When Chief Justice Roy Moore refuses to bend, Moore objects. We pipe, and Moore does not dance. We mourn, and he does not weep. The only conclusion is that Moore wants us all to bend in a particular direction. He wants us all to bend in the same direction he is bending.
On another occasion, Russell Moore said that it would be all right with him if Christians started going to same sex mirage wedding receptions. He thought that we shouldn’t go to the ceremony, but that we could go to the reception afterward. I wrote about that at the time, and the link to my response is here. But the link to the video in the article is now dead — that video is now private. Went down the memory hole or something.
But Moore did say that it would be okay for Christians to go to a wedding reception where two dudes were going to kiss, have their first dance, cut the cake, and all of that. And there we are in the corner, Moore-disciples, wide-eyed and eating our reception mints and cashews. One of us whispers . . . are we supposed to clap when they kiss? What about if they give each other tongue?
This is the very same high level of incoherence as was displayed by Falwell in front of Trump’s egoistic wall of shame. But there are two differences. First, Falwell is bending to a reactionary worldliness and Moore is bending to a cool-kids kind of worldliness. That’s why they are bending in different directions. But second, Moore’s compromises are far more dangerous. His prevailing wind, the one from the left, is the real threat.
In other words, Falwell disgraced himself. But Moore’s proposed way is far more disgraceful, and many more people are likely to go for it.
Moore is famous for being embarrassed by the Confederate flag, but I decline to take this as a demonstration of high principle. Appomattox was a century and a half ago. Closer to home, he is also embarrassed by the word evangelical, and refuses to answer to it. I conclude that the problem might be that he is easily embarrassed. More to the point, he is of an embarrassable substance. That kind of guy is easy to steer.
The Southern Baptists would do well to get him away from the helm.