The world is changing. Norms of the international order established after World War II are regularly violated. The Commander-in-Chief, Donald Trump, tosses Starbursts at our allies and insults them personally on Twitter. Dictators who run concentration camps are honored while we withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council. Family separations at the border summarily negate the moral source of our soft power.
America’s role of hero, of moral authority, of human rights advocate has evaporated empirically. Some relish the retreat, but most recognize it is the wrong direction.
Other actions are just confoundingly confusing—such as the North Korea Summit. There is a possibility that it is tantamount to Nixon’s opening of China. More likely, though, the United States has been misled into invidious concessions, again. Trump’s praise of Kim Jung Un and the inadvertent salute of the dictator’s general are such departures from norms that they defy explanation.
But aside from Trump’s penchant for dictators and his oddly magniloquent explanation of foreign policy, the North Korean overture is actually a longtime objective of his Evangelical supporters.
A recent email blast from the conservative Christian Family Research Council frames the summit somewhere between the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy and a victory in an ongoing war with Satan. FRC characterizes the US as now holding the sacred place of ancient Israel in a covenant relationship with the God of the Bible. In this contract, it’s America’s turn to use culture and politics to honor God in exchange for special favor and protection. Allowing sin—defined as abortion, gay rights, and other usual suspects—angers a patient God and endangers the arrangement. Believers must enact “thy will on Earth as it is in Heaven.”
That characterization has been demonstrably effective in forwarding unfair policy and convincing believers to vote against their self-interest. Regarding the North Korea Summit, the FRC says negotiating with the despotic regime is a blessing because it opens up the possibility of sharing Christianity with North Koreans and provides a needed political victory for the President they love. The Christian Right’s covenant relationship with President Trump enables his will on Earth and he boisterously protects their privilege.
Vice President Pence made similar points to the Southern Baptist Convention, using a campaign-style speech to meticulously conflated adoration of Trump with obedience to God.
Here’s the catch that Trump-Pence critics miss. Neither Pence, other convention speakers nor FRC advocates encouraged supporters to call their representative in Congress or vote the right way in November. They do not have to. They instead encourage daily intercession—prayer—on behalf of the nation. Believers are instructed to pray for God to forgive the country as a whole for inadequately reflecting God’s assumed policy preferences, especially regarding LGBT people and healthcare.
The admonition serves a critical but indirect purpose. It conflates spiritual warfare with political competition and attaches a daily faith practice to political participation. Getting out the vote becomes spiritually reflexive. Advocacy, as determined by the politicized Christian Right, is so effectively intertwined with identity, worldview, and daily spiritual habits that political mobilization and rhetorical rapid response become perfunctory. That is why the FRC and likeminded groups are inexplicably powerful and the reason we will continue to see their worldview frame foreign and domestic policy as long as Trump and Pence run the show.
But there is another side we’re missing, if we ever want to heal this country. Because their activism reeks of animus, the Christian Right rank and file are often overlooked as often kind, well-intentioned people who are sincere in their faith. We may need to endure the stench to figure out why the bullshit is so appealing. We have to “love the sinner and hate the sin”—see adherents through the commonality of benevolent countrymen so we can dismantle their bigotry.
Rhetorically, progressives such as Samantha Bee and John Oliver excel at rebuttal and ridicule. But we are all less successful at understanding and reaching out. In light of our society’s advanced-stage bifurcation, we need physicians that are culturally bilingual. With admitted cynicism, it is politically necessary to reach Trump supporters on their own terms, or at least fathom their universe.
North Korea may be a start. To paraphrase the First Commandment, in that isolated country, there are no other gods before Kim. Christians are imprisoned in labor camps. We understand that. Our American commitment to individualism is anathema to North Korean oppression and the persecution of our own minorities domestically. Our commitment to individualism protects both the free exercise of religion and the rights of those that disobey religion. Surely some conservative Christians feel that knot in their stomach that blindly supporting Trump undermines core Christian values, making traditional Evangelism seem hypocritical and cruel.
The FRC email and Pence’s political pseudo-campaign speech serve as a cultural Rosetta Stone so we can begin talking to each other. But we have to be honest about the effectiveness of our own communication if we want to reach them and dismantle bigotry. The recent Supreme Court Masterpiece Cakeshop decision condemned the mistreatment of religion while endorsing the underlying Constitutional assertion of individual rights. We are correct about equality but we are communicating it inefficiently. The struggle for LGBT rights does not exist in a vacuum. If anything, it is carried on stronger currents of cultural shifts and divisions. We must broaden our political outlook to connect the erosion of LGBT rights with the very unChristian keeping of migrant children in cages. For a peaceful future, we must broaden our comprehension to encompass a worldview that got us to this critical breaking point so we can better communicate with those that promote religious liberty while admiring an oppressor.