The title of this post summarizes what I get out of this Tony Perkins interview with Politico. Tony Perkins is the head of the Family Research Council which claims to promote family values. Because FRC has historically called for politicians to exemplify family values, Perkins gets a lot of questions about his support for Trump. This exchange between Perkins and reporter Edward-Isaac Dovere is especially revealing:
Evangelical Christians, says Perkins, “were tired of being kicked around by Barack Obama and his leftists. And I think they are finally glad that there’s somebody on the playground that is willing to punch the bully.”
What happened to turning the other cheek? I ask.
“You know, you only have two cheeks,” Perkins says. “Look, Christianity is not all about being a welcome mat which people can just stomp their feet on.”
Shorter Perkins: when Christian teachings don’t get you want you want, then try something else. As I understand Perkins here, there is a limit to Christianity. You can follow it so far, but when it doesn’t work to get power in the situation, you resort to whatever tactics might be necessary. Otherwise, the unthinkable might happen: Christians might lose political power.
Christianity? What Christianity?
To me, this is another example of an evangelical leader changing Christianity to fit the requirements of being a Trump follower. Today, it is Perkins; often it is Franklin Graham, most days it is Jerry Falwell, everyone’s favorite fallen angel. After Trump’s indecorous reflections on third world nations earlier this month, Jerry Falwell went out with an defense – Trump was being presidentially authentic. Columnist Jonah Goldberg was having none of that.
Falwell, in a riot of sycophantic sophistry, not only wants to argue that whatever a president does is presidential but also seeks to elevate the idea that authenticity is its own reward. This is contrary to vast swathes of conservative and Christian thought. A person can be authentically evil, crude, bigoted, or asinine. That is not a defense of any of those things. I’m no expert, but my understanding of Christianity is that behavior is supposed to be informed by more than one’s “authentic” feelings and instincts. Satan is nothing if not authentic.
We live in a time when some of our Christian leaders model how Christian leaders act when they believe Christianity has failed as a practical matter. “You know, you only have two cheeks,” Perkins said. Once you’ve turned both of them, it must be time to move on to some other approach.
And nearly every day, we see evidence that they have moved on.