October 10, 2022 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

For white evangelical Protestants, power is religion

Herschel Walker’s hypocrisy won’t deter their vote.


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Here’s something most don’t know. When I write for the Editorial Board, I have in mind an audience consisting (mostly) of white liberals. Not just any white liberal, but the educated, urban-dwelling, even-keeled, policy-oriented kind that longs for reasonable politics. 

One of my goals is getting this well-intended, open-minded, live-and-let-live sort of citizen to understand that reasonableness itself is an act of war to those waging war by other means. White liberals often say that they’re trying to “leave politics out of it” – that they only want laws and policies that make sense. That’s impossible, however, when confronting political opponents who will kill themselves to kill you.

(I refer you to a new study showing that counties that went to Donald Trump in 2020 experienced disproportionate rates of death during the covid pandemic than did counterpart counties that went to Joe Biden. In other words, Republicans killed themselves rather than give reasonable policymakers the satisfaction of being reasonable.)

White liberals presume that religion to white evangelical Protestants is like religion to everyone else of every other faith. They err by applying liberal values, such as religious tolerance and seeing the value in diverse views of ultimate things. They err by clinging to reasonableness as if it were not political.

That politics often makes no sense is usually a consequence of bad-faith intentions. Think about it: not making sense is good for confederates who believe that reasonableness is an act of war. How do you fight people who make sense? By weaponizing nonsense. 

With propaganda. With conspiracy theories.

And lies.

Yet instead of seeing their nonsense for what it is – politics – white liberals just can’t help themselves. They seem compelled to make sense of nonsense, as if that were a political accomplishment. It’s not.

It’s a distraction from the objective, which, again, is politics – or persuading as many voters as possible that these people don’t care about anything but power, that they will say anything, no matter how shameful, false or absurd, and therefore can’t be trusted with power. 

I’ll give you an example. I apologize in advance. 

It’s about Herschel Walker. 

As you know, the former football star who is running in Georgia as a Republican for the Senate has been exposed as a hypocrite. He’s pro-life and pro-family except for those times when he sired numerous children here and there, paid for abortions here and there, and when time came to be a dad, he wasn’t anywhere.

That’s foul-smelling hypocrisy, to be sure. But white liberals seem all too satisfied, as if hypocrisy revealed were self-evidently bad among people who believe reasonableness is an act of war. I’m here to tell you: they do not think hypocrisy is bad in and of itself. What’s bad is the inconvenience of inventing a new pretext for war by other means. 

Since there’s no time for a new one, Walker’s supporters are searching for ways to rationalize why Republicans must vote for someone whom they would otherwise accuse of serial murder. These ways are various and sundry, to be sure, but they share a common bedrock assumption – that morality is fine and all but this is war.

What seems to be a scrambling response is actually a rational expression of three things. Cynicism: we’re not doing anything the enemy isn’t doing. Nihilism: nothing matters anyway except giving ourselves a tactical advantage over the enemy. Pragmatism: we will recognize that advantage by way of the enemy’s reaction to it.

So Walker’s supporters don’t know what’s going to work until it works. Again, it isn’t that “conservatives can’t figure out what they’re defending,” as The Nation’s Elie Mystal said recently. It’s that they are improvising, quick and dirty, to find out which “reasons” really stick. 

This should be apparent to white liberals (though Mystal isn’t white), but it’s not. They insist (again, well-intended) that politics should make sense according to liberal ways of thinking in which things make sense. Instead of shoving the square peg of fascism into the round hole of liberalism, we should tell as many voters we can that they don’t care about “reasons,” just power, and is that trustworthy? Nope.

We should admit that reasonableness is a political act.

It’s a politics that voters can trust.

Another example, another apology. 

Again, it’s about Herschel Walker. (Sorry!)

Or rather his white evangelical Protestant supporters. 

Yes, they will vote for him. There’s no doubt. That’s why some white liberals are expecting such hypocrisy to alienate members of their own group, thus triggering a much anticipated “self-destruction.” 

Here’s what Salon’s Heather Digby Parton said

Many young people are leaving Christian denominations in large numbers in favor of no religion at all, with no guarantee that they’ll switch back as they get older. 

It’s impossible not to conclude that the rank hypocrisy of the Christian right, which has been granted such a prominent role in religious and moral leadership for the past 40 years, is repulsive to people who actually have principles and ideals. 

If that collapse comes to pass, it’s almost certainly a good thing for America — and the Christian right only has itself to blame for sowing the seeds of its own demise.

I love you, Heather, but alas, you’re wrong here. 

First, those leaving Christianity are almost certainly from moderate or liberal traditions, like Episcopalian churches. Dogma does not grip them as it does white evangelical Protestants. When they leave a church, that’s it. They do not, as white evangelical Protestants do, leave behind (abandon) an entire life. The stakes are relatively low.  

To the extent that some white evangelical Protestants are alienated enough to leave, we’re talking about 10 percent of them, maybe 15 percent, according to Rev. Dan Schultz. That’s not enough to “flip the whole demographic,” but perhaps enough to make it look like the power of white evangelical Protestants has “self-destructed.”

White liberals actually give white evangelical Protestants the benefit of the doubt when they say that hypocrisy will lead to their undoing. 

That benefit of the doubt, I think, comes from a condition that many white liberals do not, or cannot, comprehend. To white evangelical Protestants, the enemy is Satan. Literally Satan. So there’s no length to which they won’t go to win – even it means voting for a man whom they’d otherwise call a serial murderer.

I think white liberals make a category error. They presume that religion to white evangelical Protestants is religion to everyone else of every other faith. They err by applying liberal values, such as religious tolerance and seeing the value in diverse views of ultimate things. They err by clinging to reasonableness as if it were not political.

It is political.

We should say: which politics do you trust?

War politics or reasonable politics?

“‘Evangelical’ is no longer a Christian religious label but a political one focused on political power more than faith,” tweeted former Democratic Senator Doug Jones. “Walker’s opponent is an ordained minister whose life has been a demonstration of faith and service.”

But power is their religion. God is on their side. 

White liberals keep hoping their “values” will lead to their downfall.

Only politics can do that.

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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