Trump, Hanson and the death of the religious right

Christians voters split by divisive candidates

“If Donald Trump has done anything, he has snuffed out the religious right” is a recent Washington Post headline. It was no beat-up, given it accurately summarised the views of a guest columnist, Russell Moore – who represents an influential group of conservative American Christians, the Southern Baptists.

“This year, religious conservatism stands naked and exposed before the world, while Trump smugly surveys what he has come to own,” wrote Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, in the Post.

Moore put that in even stronger language: “The crisis before us now is that of a national Religious Right political establishment that has waved away some of the most repugnant aspects of immorality — from calls for torture and war crimes, to the embrace of an ‘alt-Right’ movement of white identity ethno-nationalists and anti-Semites, to the kind of sexual degradation of women we could previously avoid.”

With the US Presidential Election only days away, Moore joins a number of Evangelical leaders in the United States – such as the radio host Erick Erickson and Marvin Olasky of World magazine – who oppose Trump and view him as unfit for power.

“A ‘nasty guy with no heart!” Donald Trump, on Russell Moore

This group is opposed by an old guard of leaders such as Ralph Reed who heads Trump’s evangelical advisory board. This old guard belong to groups such as the “moral majority” or “Christian Coalition.”

Russell Moore told the New Yorker he would like to be a leader of the moral minority. In June this year, on CBS’s Face the Nation, he said that Trump – no less than Hillary Clinton – represented “the very kind of moral and cultural decadence that conservatives have been saying, for a long time, is the problem.”

Trump responded, inevitably, on Twitter. He called Moore a “nasty guy with no heart!” On CNN hours later, Anderson Cooper asked Moore to continue the dialogue, and Moore flashed a smile. “It’s one of the few things that I can agree with Donald Trump on,” he said. “I am a nasty guy with no heart—we sing worse things about ourselves in our hymns, on Sunday mornings.” He added, “That’s the reason why I need forgiveness from God, through Jesus Christ.”

The split in the American Christian Right has caught some in the middle. Wayne Grudem, a conservative theologian whose Systematic Theology is a widely-used textbook, enthusiastically endorsed Trump. But then he put up a story called “There Is No Morally Good Presidential Candidate in This Election”, then put up a third ““If You Don’t Like Either Candidate, Then Vote for Trump’s Policies.”

Grudem’s struggles are emblematic of a Christian political group that is split and doesn’t know what to think.

“… calls into question the survival of religious conservatism as a political force…”

The Religious Right had favourite candidates, such as senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, who precisely fit their policy perspectives. But they were eclipsed in the Republican primaries by Trump’s populism.

Even as many US white evangelicals will go to the polls to support Trump (like Republicans in general, many are reluctantly returning to the right-wing candidate), the split continues. Conservative paper The Washington Times reports: “The seething mutual anger between born-again Christian leaders who back Mr. Trump for president and those who oppose him, calls into question the survival of religious conservatism as a political force within the Republican Party.”

In Australia, we have Pauline Hanson capturing much of the same ground as Donald Trump. She captured Senate seats that “Christian values parties” (CVP) – such as the Christian Democrats and Family First – thought they had a chance of winning. The Double Dissolution Election this year (which halved the number of votes needed to get into the Senate) was a big chance for the CVP groups.

“The Hanson phenomenon is the closest Australia has come, so far, to following the Trump and Brexit phenomena of the US and Britain.” Lyle Shelton

“In NSW and Queensland, the Christian Democrats and Family First came close,” Lyle Shelton, managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby, tells Eternity.

“There is no doubt Pauline Hanson has tapped into a deep vein of discontent in the Australian electorate. The Hanson phenomenon is the closest Australia has come, so far, to following the Trump and Brexit phenomena of the US and Britain. This should be a wake-up call to the two major parties and the Greens. While popularism might be driving aspects of Hanson’s rise, it would be arrogant and counterproductive to dismiss out-of-hand the concerns and frustrations of hundreds of thousands of voters who are driving her success.

“Like any political party, Christians should carefully examine the policy positions One Nation puts forward. It is clear that One Nation is making a pitch to the Christian constituency and this could be a challenge for the Christian and values-based parties like CDP and Family First at the next federal election.”

“If there’s a similarity, it’s Trump’s comments about Muslims and Mexicans and immigration policy.” – Mike Frost

Not everyone links Hanson and Trump.“As I understand it, Trump appeals to angry white males who work in ‘old’ industries (agriculture, manufacturing, etc) and who feel their jobs are under real threat from the new globalised economy, “ Mike Frost, of Morling College, tells Eternity. “I’m not aware of whether that same sensibility influenced One Nation voters; I have no idea what their economic policies are.”

“If there’s a similarity, it’s Trump’s comments about Muslims and Mexicans and immigration policy. Whenever I post anything on social media about asylum seekers, I get the most despicable comments from American Trump supporters and Queenslanders (seriously!).”

He points to the main reason many Christians will support Trump. “The American Christians I know who are supporting Trump aren’t doing it for his economic or immigration policies (or his character), but in order to keep Clinton from appointing liberal judges to the Supreme Court.”

How many people rally to that cry (essentially about the issue of abortion) will have a big influence on this week’s result.