There are no real evangelicals. Only imagined ones.

There are no real evangelicals. Only imagined ones.

The title page of Phillis Wheatley’s 1773 book “Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral.” Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library/Creative Commons

Not long ago, Baylor historian Thomas Kidd published a short post at The Gospel Coalition blog on the anniversary of Phillis Wheatley’s death. He titled his piece “Phillis Wheatley: An Evangelical and the First Published African American Female Poet,” and concluded by saying that “Evangelicals, of all people, need to remember her today.”

In response, writer Jonathan Merritt tweeted: “Calling her an evangelical is, um, a bit weird.”

“Why?” Kidd countered.

“Because you’re assigning her to a movement at a time when the movement wouldn’t have her. How are you defining evangelical?” Merritt replied. “If self-identification, did she? If denominational affiliation, was she?

“If you can’t answer the question,” Merritt concluded, “you might need to think on this some more.”

Merritt’s dig at Kidd’s expertise (Kidd has authored several books on evangelicalism) provoked other historians to join the fray, and we very quickly breached the outer limits of productive conversation.

The problem was one of definitions.

An undated portrait of Phillis Wheatley. Image photo of Creative Commons

In referring to Wheatley as an “evangelical,” Kidd, like many other historians of American religion, was using the term to describe 18th-century revivalist Christianity. Yet Kidd was also asserting that Wheatley matters especially to evangelicals today, presumably because she is one of them.

This is where things become contentious.

Does “evangelicalism” extend from Wheatley to modern day? Perhaps, if one considers evangelicalism primarily a theological tradition. But to many, evangelicalism has morphed into a politicized movement — essentially made up of white religious conservatives who vote Republican. To claim Wheatley as a progenitor of this movement is indeed rather odd.

This definitional debate has been simmering for some time, but it reached new heights after 2016 exit polls revealed that 81 percent of self-identified white evangelical voters supported Donald Trump.

Or did they?

Even before Trump secured the nomination, white evangelicals contested purported levels of evangelical support. The president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Russell Moore, insisted the word “evangelical” had become “almost meaningless.”

According to Moore, a big part of the problem was the media, who rely on self-identification: “Many of those who tell pollsters they are ‘evangelical’ may well be drunk right now, and haven’t been into a church since someone invited them to Vacation Bible School sometime back when Seinfeld was in first-run episodes.” When the dust settled after the election, Moore said, the time would come “to make ‘evangelical’ great again.”

During the Republican National Convention, Kidd himself echoed these sentiments in The Washington Post. He expressed frustration with “time-strapped pollsters” who “just let people tell them that they are evangelicals, without probing what that means.”

Historian Thomas Kidd. Photo courtesy of Baylor University

Somehow, an entire generation of Americans had gotten “the wrong idea about evangelicalism” — a “pop culture” definition had usurped a proper historical and theological one, resulting in a large number of “supposed evangelicals” who had no clue about “the formal definition of ‘evangelical.’”

To be a real evangelical, in other words, one needed to fit the formal theological definition — preferably, the “Bebbington quadrilateral”: biblicism, crucicentrism, conversionism and activism. Other establishment evangelicals agreed. During the 2016 election, Ed Stetzer of LifeWay Research and Leith Anderson of the National Association of Evangelicals teamed up to conduct a poll with the intention of disrupting two faulty notions: “That ‘evangelical’ means ‘white’ and that evangelicals are primarily defined by their politics.”

By defining evangelicalism by belief (and basing their model on Bebbington), they ended up with a much more diverse “evangelicalism.” Twenty-nine percent of whites end up in this category, along with 44 percent of African-Americans and 30 percent of Hispanics. (A poll by PRRI puts the percentage of evangelical Protestants who are white at only 64 percent).

It’s not hard to see how this might change our understanding of evangelicals today.

If the movement is far less white than generally assumed, it clearly cannot be primarily motivated by racism. Additionally, if evangelicalism is defined by a set of theological commitments, then one can find evangelicals the world over, and the significance of American nationalism to evangelical identity diminishes as well, for obvious reasons.

Stetzer and Anderson highlighted these racial dynamics by quoting Anthea Butler. In a speech at Fuller Seminary in 2015, the African-American scholar had complained that “Bible-believing black evangelicals” were too often ignored.

Butler, it seemed, was staking a claim on evangelicalism, and she wasn’t alone. Last August, a press release proclaimed that “evangelical women” had “hit pause” on the culture wars. Just who were these “evangelical women”? In addition to Jen Hatmaker and Rachel Held Evans, whose evangelical credentials are currently up for debate, many who signed were women of color — Brenda Salter McNeil, Latasha Morrison, Kathy Khang, Christina Edmondson.

“Evangelicals of color,” however, have an ambivalent relationship with evangelicalism. There is a reason why a recent LifeWay survey found that only 25 percent of African-Americans who ascribed to the four points of evangelical belief actually identified as evangelicals.

Anthea Butler. Courtesy photo

Black Christians have long resisted embracing the evangelical label because it is clear to them that there is more to evangelical identity than four statements of belief. In the words of Deidra Riggs, evangelicalism is a “white religious brand.”

It’s worth noting that Butler, in that same speech, went on to decry evangelicalism’s “problem of whiteness.” She called out white evangelical scholars’ inability or unwillingness to confront that problem. Bebbington’s four points, Butler asserted, are in fact culturally and racially specific.

Moreover, a recent LifeWay survey found that fewer than half of those who self-identify as evangelicals “strongly agree” with core evangelical beliefs. Many “evangelicals,” according to another LifeWay Research survey, in fact hold heretical beliefs.

When a large number of people who self-identify as evangelicals fail to ascribe to what some scholars have dictated to be the essential tenets of evangelicalism, does that mean that they are not actually evangelicals? Or does it suggest that something else has come to define evangelicalism?

Some evangelicals might see this erosion of theology and the politicization of evangelicalism as an abandonment of an illustrious heritage, but one cannot wish away the movement that evangelicalism has become.

If theology no longer defines evangelicalism, how should we conceptualize the movement?

In my own research, I examine evangelicalism as a culture of consumption, a web of interlinking personal, institutional and distribution networks. In this evangelicalism, James Dobson, Joshua Harris and the “Duck Dynasty” clan play a larger role than Jonathan Edwards or George Whitefield — or Phillis Wheatley.

An engraving of Phillis Wheatley. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

Which doesn’t mean Wheatley wasn’t an evangelical. Or isn’t one, according to another definition.

All of these leave us asking: Is evangelicalism a theological category? A consumer culture? A white religious brand? A diverse, global movement?

What if the answer is “all of the above”?

Here I find it useful to borrow a page from Benedict Anderson’s scholarship and suggest that we consider evangelicalism as an imagined religious community.

There are, in fact, many evangelicalisms and each has a different center and different boundaries.

The primary question, then, isn’t which definition is “correct,” but rather which imaginings have more power to shape other people’s imaginings. When LifeWay’s stores decide you are no longer an evangelical, it matters. At least if you want to sell books. When the evangelical left claims the mantle of evangelicalism to call for an end to the culture wars, it matters rhetorically. But beyond that? When politicians claim to have the backing of evangelical voters, it matters. At least to some.

This shift in focus demands that scholars, too, examine our own positionality. How have scholars imagined evangelicalism, and to what end? Which imaginings have wielded power in the academy, and why?

Rather than seeking to impose one definition over all others, we should be more attentive to how evangelicalism has always been a dynamic, fluid movement, or series of movements imagined and maintained through networks, alliances and authority structures, each drawing and enforcing the boundaries of “evangelicalism” for varying purposes.

And we will be forced to contend with how we, too, are implicated in this imaginative process.

(Kristin Kobes Du Mez is a history professor at Calvin College. This op-ed is adapted from a presentation she gave at a joint session of the American Historical Association and the Conference on Faith and History. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of Religion News Service.)

Return looted artifacts made by brilliant African cultures

Return looted artifacts made by brilliant African cultures

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One of the plundered Benin plaques, at the British Museum.
Shutterstock.

European museums are under mounting pressure to return the irreplaceable artifacts plundered during colonial times. As an archaeologist who works in Africa, this debate has a very real impact on my research. I benefit from the convenience of access provided by Western museums while being struck by the ethical quandary of how they were taken there by illegal means, and by guilt that my colleagues throughout Africa may not have the resources to see material from their own country, which is kept thousands of miles away.

Now, a report commissioned by the French president, Emmanuel Macron, has recommended that art plundered from sub-Saharan Africa during the colonial era should be returned through permanent restitution.

The 108-page study, written by French art historian Bénédicte Savoy and Senegalese writer and economist Felwine Sarr, speaks of the “theft, looting, despoilment, trickery and forced consent” by which colonial powers acquired these materials. The call for “restitution” echoes the widely accepted approach which seeks to return looted Nazi art to its rightful owners.

The record of colonial powers in African countries was frankly disgusting. Colonial rule was imposed by the barrel of the gun, with military campaigns waged on the flimsiest excuses. The Benin expedition of 1897 was a punitive attack on the ancient kingdom of Benin, famous not only for its huge city and ramparts but its extraordinary cast bronze and brass plaques and statues.

Three British soldiers in the aftermath of the Benin expedition.
Wikimedia Commons.

The city was burnt down, and the British Admiralty auctioned the booty – more than 2,000 artworks – to “pay” for the expedition. The British Museum got around 40% of the haul.
None of the artifacts stayed in Africa – they’re now scattered in museums and private collections around the world.

The 1867 British expedition to the ancient kingdom of Abyssinia – which never fully acceded to colonial control – was mounted to ostensibly free missionaries and government agents detained by the emperor Tewodros II. It culminated in the Battle of Magdala, and the looting of priceless manuscripts, paintings, and artifacts from the Ethiopian church, which reputedly needed 15 elephants and 200 mules to carry them all away. Most ended up in the British Library, the British Museum, and the V&A, where they remain today.

Bought, stolen, destroyed

Other African treasures were also taken without question. The famous ruins of Great Zimbabwe were subject to numerous digs by associates of British businessman Cecil Rhodes – who set up the Rhodesia Ancient Ruins Ltd in 1895 to loot more than 40 sites of their gold – and much of the archaeology on the site was destroyed. The iconic soapstone birds were returned to Zimbabwe from South Africa in 1981, but many items still remain in Western museums.

Zimbabwe’s soapstone birds, photographed in 1892.
Wikimedia Commons.

While these are the most famous cases, the majority of African objects in Western Museums were collected by adventurers, administrators, traders, and settlers, with little thought as to the legality of ownership. Even if they were bought from their local owners, it was often for a pittance, and there were few controls to limit their export. Archaeological relics, such as inscriptions or grave-markers, were simply collected and taken away. Such activities continued well into the 20th century.

Making them safe

The argument is often advanced that by coming to the West, these objects were preserved for posterity – if they were left in Africa they simply would have rotted away. This is a specious argument, rooted in racist attitudes that somehow indigenous people can’t be trusted to curate their own cultural heritage. It is also a product of the corrosive impact of colonialism.

Colonial powers had a patchy record of setting up museums to preserve these objects locally. While impressive national museums were sometimes built in colonial capitals, they were later starved of funding or expertise. After African countries achieved independence, these museums were low on the priority list for national funding and overseas aid and development, while regional museums were virtually neglected.

Nowadays, many museums on the African continent lie semi-derelict, with no climate control, poorly trained staff and little security. There are numerous examples of theft or lost collections. No wonder Western museums are reluctant to return their collections.

If collections are to be returned, the West needs to take some responsibility for this state of affairs and invest in the African museums and their staff. There have been some attempts to do this, but the task is huge. It is not enough to send the contentious art and objects back to an uncertain future – there must be a plan to rebuild Africa’s crumbling museum infrastructure, supported by effective partnerships and real money.

The rightful owners

The Hoa Hakananai’a: a Moai at the British Museum.
Sheep, CC BY-NC-ND

Will the Musée du quai Branly, that great treasure house of world ethnography in Paris, which holds more than 70,000 objects from Africa, be emptied of its contents? Or the massive new Humboldt Forum – a Prussian Castle rebuilt at great cost to house ethnographic artifacts in Berlin which opens early in 2019 – be shorn of its African collections? There are already fears at the British Museum that a very effective campaign may lead to the return of its Rapu Nui Moai statues to Easter Island.

This year is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Magdala, and the V&A Museum has entered into worthy discussions to return its treasures to Ethiopia. But there are reports this would be on the basis of a long-term loan, and conditional on the Ethiopian government withdrawing its claim for restitution of the plundered objects. The Prussian Foundation in Berlin entered into a similar agreement, unwilling to cede ownership of a tiny fragment of soapstone bird to the Zimbabwe Government in 2000.

The report by Savoy and Sarr offers hope that such deals could become a thing of the past and that Africa’s rich cultural heritage can be returned, restituted and restored to the brilliant cultures that made it.The Conversation

Mark Horton, Professor in Archaeology, University of Bristol

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

We need more biblical literacy in America

We need more biblical literacy in America

Video Courtesy of Fox News


Time for a quiz.

  • What do the following place names have in common: Salem, MA; Sharon, CT; Jericho, NY;  Rehoboth Beach, DE?
  • The name of Samantha Stephen’s mother in the television show “Bewitched” was Endora. What was the significance of her name?
  • What design did Benjamin Franklin want for the Great Seal of the United States of America?

While you are pondering the answers to those questions, let us reflect on the fact that President Trump has embraced proposals in six states to offer classes in biblical literacy.

Let me state, at the outset, that this is a bad idea — in practical terms, and for political reasons.

The ACLU is aware of the dangers and risks; a case in Kentucky emphasized that “Bible Literacy” courses may not promote religion or a particular religious viewpoint, test students on matters of religious faith, nor be designed to instill religious life lessons.”

Also: because of the atmosphere in America today, such classes would undoubtedly become part of the culture wars.

And: even the choice of a Bible — especially the choice of a Bible — is a politically partisan choice. King James? Revised Standard Version? New American Version? For the Hebrew Bible — Jewish Publication Society?

Moreover, with the proliferation of religious and cultural diversity in the United States today, growing numbers of American citizens do not find their primary religious inspiration in either the Jewish Bible or the New Testament, but rather, in the Koran, the Vedas, and in other religious texts.

Or, in no religious texts at all.

Having said that, let me also say that America needs more biblical literacy.

First: knowing about the Bible as literature is a crucial part of what it means to be a literate person.

Notice the precision of my language. It is knowing about the Bible; it is certainly not believing the Bible.

Neither is it reading the Bible for the sake of reading the Bible. To put it in Jewish terms: this is treif (unkosher), and has been since 1963, with Abington School District v. Schempp, which ruled Bible reading in public schools to be unconstitutional.

There is a crucial and subtle difference between a faith-oriented approach to teaching Bible (“This is what you should know and this is what you should believe”) and a literacy-based intellectual and academic approach (“This is what you should know about, because this is part of your literaryinheritance.”

Consider what American students have learned, and continue to learn, in their English classes: Greek mythology; Greek theater; Shakespeare; Dickens; Hemingway. Consider the various narratives that they know, just from daily life: Harry Potter, Star Wars, and a plethora of video games that I could not even name.

If they can learn, understand, and appreciate Greek literature for its aesthetic and emotional value, why not the Bible? When I was a teenager, my extraordinarily talented teacher, the late Bob Yesselman, made my soul quiver when I read of the moment when Oedipus learned the truth about his life.

Would there be anything wrong with teenagers having that same moment of catharsis in reading about Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son?

If they can learn about Iphigenia, then why not Isaac — especially because he survived? Why not compare those stories?

Second: knowing about the Bible as literature can help us understand some of the motivations of the founders of our nation.

David Gelernter put it this way:

Winthrop, Adams, Lincoln, and thousands of others found a good destiny in the Bible and made it their own. They read about Israel’s covenant with God and took it to heart: They were Israel. (“Wee are entered into Covenant with him for this worke,” said Winthrop. “Wee shall finde that the God of Israell is among us.”) They read about God’s chosen people and took it to heart: They were God’s chosen people, or–as Lincoln put it–God’s “almost chosen people.” The Bible as they interpreted it told them what they could be and would be. Unless we read the Bible, American history is a closed book.

Take New England, for example. Early American colonists saw themselves in biblical terms. The English monarchy was Pharaoh. England was Egypt. The Atlantic Ocean was the Red Sea. Their destination was like the land of Israel. (Tragically, horrifically, this meant that the natives were forced to play the role of the Canaanites, which meant that they had to be defeated and extirpated. That is but one of the problems with American exceptionalism, which itself comes from a biblical source.)

Without biblical literacy, we don’t know the meaning of “a shining city on a hill.” We miss the allusions in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. We remain deaf to the references in American patriotic songs and spirituals. We lose large pieces of our understanding of how America came to be, and the vision that permeated that founding.

You need the Bible to understand American history — in a way that no other country other than Israel can claim.

Now, to the answers to the quiz.

  • What do the following place names have in common: Salem, MA; Sharon, CT; Jericho, NY;  Rehoboth Beach, DE?

Answer: all of those names find their origins in the Hebrew Bible. As I said before, the original English settlers (though not all of them — see Colin Woodard, American Nations) saw their destiny in biblical terms. That is why biblical place names dot the maps of New England and the Middle States — as well as Utah, and various other places.

  • The name of Samantha Stephen’s mother in the television show “Bewitched” was Endora. What was the significance of her name?

Answer:  “Endora” is a reference to the Witch of Endor whom King Saul consults in First Samuel, chapter 28. A modicum of biblical literacy is necessary for even popular culture. (Trivia question: in the series, how many times did Endora actually pronounce her son-in-law Darrin’s name correctly?)

  • What design did Benjamin Franklin want for the Great Seal of the United States of America?

Answer: Franklin’s preference for the Great Seal was a depiction of the ancient Israelites crossing the Red Sea — with the motto being “rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.” As I said earlier, the Exodus from Egypt loomed large in our colonial ancestors’ imaginations.

To repeat: I am not in favor of teaching the Bible in public schools, for the various reasons that I stated earlier. It will only lead to trouble.

That said, I think of the late Mr. Bob Yesselman, my English teacher at Bethpage High School.

He instilled in me a lifelong love of Greek drama and Shakespeare.

Sometimes, I wonder: if I had learned the book of Genesis from him, back when I was a junior in high school, would I have learned to love text a mere five years earlier?

I can only imagine.

How to have productive disagreements about politics and religion

How to have productive disagreements about politics and religion

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Psychology research suggests a new tool for your ‘disagreement toolbox.’
Dragon Images/Shutterstock.com

In the current polarized climate, it’s easy to find yourself in the midst of a political disagreement that morphs into a religious argument. People’s religious affiliation predicts their stances on abortion, immigration and other controversial topics, and disagreements about these issues can seem intractable.

The seeming futility in arguing about politics and religion may arise partly because people misunderstand the nature of these beliefs. Many people approach an ideological disagreement the same way they would a disagreement about facts. If you disagree with someone about when water freezes, facts are convincing. It’s easy to think that if you disagree with someone about immigration, facts will be similarly persuasive.

This might work if people’s ideological beliefs worked the same way as their factual beliefs – but they don’t. As psychologists who focus on religious and moral cognition, my colleagues and I are investigating how people understand that these are two separate classes of belief. Our work suggests that an effective strategy for disagreement involves approaching ideological beliefs as a combination of fact and opinion.

Identifying a difference

To investigate whether people distinguish between facts and religious beliefs, my colleagues and I examined a database containing more than 520 million words from speeches, novels, newspapers and other sources.

Religious statements were typically preceded by the phrase “believe that” rather than “think that.” Phrases like “I believe that Jesus turned water into wine” were relatively common, whereas phrases like “I think that Jesus turned water into wine” were nearly nonexistent.

In four subsequent experiments, we asked adults to complete sentences like “Zane __ that Jesus turned water into wine.” Participants were more likely to use “believes” for religious and political claims and “thinks” for factual claims.

Taken together, these results suggest that people distinguish between factual beliefs, on the one hand, and religious and political claims, on the other.

Rather than equating ideologies and facts, people appear to view ideologies as a combination of fact and opinion. In two earlier studies, 5- to 10-year-old children and adults learned about pairs of characters who disagreed about religious, factual and opinion-based statements. For example, we told participants that one person thought that God could hear prayers while the other didn’t, or that two other people disagreed about whether or not blue is the prettiest color. Participants said that only one person could be right nearly every time they heard a factual disagreement, but they gave this answer less often when they heard a religious disagreement and less often still when they heard an opinion-based disagreement.

This result may occur because children and adults think that different types of beliefs provide different information. Participants told us that factual claims reveal information about the world, whereas opinions reveal information about the speaker. They also reported that religious claims reveal a moderate amount of information about both the world and the speaker. People who say that God exists are ostensibly making a claim about what kinds of beings exist in the world – but not everyone would agree with that claim, so they are also revealing information about themselves.

Recognizing the difference in everyday life

So how can you use our results when a contentious topic arises outside the lab?

When you find yourself in the midst of an ideological disagreement, it can be tempting to correct the other person’s facts. “Actually, scientific evidence shows that the earth is more than 4 billion years old and that humans did indeed evolve from other primates.” “Actually, recent data show that immigrants contribute to the economy and commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans.”

Yet this type of information alone is often insufficient to resolve disagreements. It’s addressing the part of ideological beliefs that is like a fact, the part where someone is trying to communicate information about the world. But it’s missing the part where ideological beliefs are also like an opinion. Without this part, saying, “Actually, evidence shows that X” sounds a lot like saying, “Actually, evidence proves that blue is not the prettiest color.” To be convincing, you need tools that address both the fact part and the opinion part of an ideology.

There’s a better way than arguing as if over facts.
Andrea Tummons/Unsplash, CC BY

People rarely change their opinions because someone out-argued them. Rather, opinion-based change can come from exposure. People like the familiar, even when that familiarity comes from the briefest of prior exposures. The same could occur for viewpoints that they’ve heard before.

What does exposure look like when talking about ideological disagreements? “Hmm. I actually think something different.” “I really appreciated the way my science tutor was patient with me when I didn’t understand evolution. The way she explained things made a lot of sense to me after a while.” “I’m going to donate money to groups helping asylum seekers. Do you want to join me?”

Maybe you say just one of these sentences, but others pick up where you left off. By walking around in the world, someone might encounter numerous counterpoints to their opinions, perhaps leading to gradual change as other views become more familiar.

It’s not anyone’s responsibility to say these sentences, least of all people who are being harmed by the disagreement. But for those in a position to change minds via repeated exposure, this strategy can be a helpful addition to the “managing disagreement” toolboxes everyone carries.The Conversation

Larisa Heiphetz, Assistant Professor of Psychology, Columbia University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Evangelical Christians need an exit ramp from Trumpism

Evangelical Christians need an exit ramp from Trumpism

President Trump greets people as he arrives to speak during a dinner for evangelical leaders in the State Dining Room of the White House on Aug. 27, 2018, in Washington, D.C. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

 

Earlier this month, two important conservative writers explained why honorable Republicans are strongly considering a challenge to Donald Trump for the party’s 2020 presidential nomination.

Writing in The Bulwark, an online publication that took on former staff from the recently shuttered Trump-skeptical conservative journal The Weekly Standard, Jonathan V. Last persuasively argues that a primary challenge to Trump should be expected. Of the last nine incumbent presidents who stood for re-election, five were contested for re-nomination. Trump is almost sure to be one of them; Last has already previewed five potential challengers.

A few days later, in a powerful Washington Post op-ed, Stephen F. Hayes framed the primary challenge as a necessity for the well being of the country and something all people of goodwill should expect and support.

But the coming primary challenge has zero chance of success unless a significant number of white evangelicals, who gave the race-baiting billionaire 81 percent of their votes in 2016, get off of Trump’s Road to Reelection before 2020.

Neither of the two conservative writers above discusses the possibility of evangelicals parting ways with Trumpism. Political observers seem to assume that Trump’s conservative Christian base will follow him no matter what.

And why not? Some of his evangelical disciples have explicitly said there is nothing he could do to lose their support.

Yet a divorce is not impossible, and it won’t require white conservatives to suddenly back a Democrat. Trump’s white evangelical support has already fallen in the wake of chaos in the administration and the longest government shutdown in history. If the walls continue to close in around the president, he may yet lose even more support.

That may come as a surprise to those who think that Trump has brainwashed evangelicals somehow into believing he will restore a Christian America. Though many commentators, including me, have often questioned how the unchristian Trump could mesmerize professed believers, the truth is that the brainwashing began with the rise of the religious right in the 1980s. If you tell people for 35 years that they must vote for one party as a matter of religious devotion because the other party is so god-awful, they do it.

But what politics grants, politics can take away. The white Christians, Protestant and Catholic, who embraced Donald Trump made a fairly ordinary bargain in our transactional, interest-group-oriented politics, even if it looks strange for people whose Savior preached and practiced holiness: they gave their votes in exchange for a promise to enact their agenda.

That’s why they could be taken back by a candidate who makes a serious effort to offer them a decent Republican alternative, a person who does not destroy their integrity or make a mockery of their supposed values. And for the sake of the country and the Party of Lincoln, every patriot must hope it succeeds.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan departs after his inauguration ceremony on Jan. 16, 2019, in Annapolis, Md. Hogan is the first Republican governor to be re-elected in the state since the 1950s. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Republican leaders have already begun encouraging potential candidates. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who is reportedly considering a primary challenge to Trump, contrasts with the president in ways that should matter. He is a decent and competent man of quiet strength and dignity. Hogan would give social conservatives almost everything Trump has offered but will not demand they squander their integrity as a down payment.

A cancer survivor who leaned on his faith during that battle, he has a story that resonates, and, perhaps more importantly, is a proven fighter — anyone facing off against Trump will have to prove his willingness to stand up to the president’s excesses in ways that will invite and inspire conservative evangelicals and Catholics.

The most obvious group of defectors are those who will jump at any other candidate with conservative policy views. For these people, the 2016 nominating contest led them to Trump by default. In that crowded primary season, a majority of voters preferred a candidate other than Donald Trump, but studies show that some subset of voters simply wants to “back a winner.”

If 2019 unfolds badly for Trump and he looks weak in 2020, many voters, even evangelicals, will flock to a superior candidate, especially if she or he looks, talks and acts like a winner.

President Trump arrives to speak at a campaign rally at Bojangles’ Coliseum on Oct. 26, 2018, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Others agreed to vote for Trump because they expected that he would rise to the stature of the office. They may now accept that he won’t. Even those who expected a certain amount of incompetence, corruption, and lies may be persuaded to think that a line has been crossed.

My conversations with Washington insiders have convinced me that the primary challenge will happen. If it does, Trump-skeptical evangelical leaders who are despondent about the past three years need to do everything they can to support the effort, even if behind the scenes.

I have opposed evangelical Trumpism from the beginning. Some of those supporters are members of my own family. As long as there is a chance for decency and honor to prevail, I will make the case to them. I will not give up on my family, just as I will not give up on my country.

I will work alongside evangelical friends who stand on the biblical promise, “Thou hast girded me with strength unto the battle” (Psalm 18:39). The 2020 GOP primary is a fight for the soul of conservatism. Evangelicals should not sit it out, and it cannot be won without them.

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of Religion News Service.

Laquan McDonald:  Forgive, Don’t Forget, and Then Fight

Laquan McDonald: Forgive, Don’t Forget, and Then Fight

Special prosecutor Patricia Brown Holmes speaks to reporters at the courthouse Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019, in Chicago. Former Detective David March, ex-Officer Joseph Walsh and Officer Thomas Gaffney, three Chicago police officers accused accused of trying to cover up the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald by officer Jason Van Dyke in October 2014, were acquitted by a judge Thursday. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

I’m in Chicago and we’re reeling over a judge who acquitted three Chicago police officers of trying to cover up the 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald. It’s hard not to feel some kind of way (insert eye roll here), even though officer Jason Van Dyke was convicted last year of second-degree murder and aggravated battery in the case and sentenced to 81 months in prison. There were no cheers today. It’s almost like you could predict that someone had to take the fall, but the Chicago political machine that created an environment for this to happen churns on and it’s a win for the so-called police “Code of Silence.” Ironically, today I happened to be reading a lot of Bible verses on forgiveness. “Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them” (Luke 17:4).

I remember when the Charleston church shooting happened a few years ago. I was in awe at relatives of the victims who stood up and bravely told that heartless crazy man that they forgave him.  It was a powerful message of forgiveness. So what about these cops? Do we just pray and let it go? Not so fast. God knows what we did, where we did it, and who we did it to. He still loves us and forgives us. But that doesn’t mean he has forgotten about it. He expects to see a change in us. Why shouldn’t we expect to see a change in police accountability in Chicago and across this country? I’m sure the Charleston relatives haven’t forgotten about Dlyann Roof and his Bible study attack either — they choose not to let their hearts be bitter (Hebrews 12:15). With that example, they changed the angry — and potentially destructive — conversation. And I’d like to believe their silent strength thawed a few bigoted cold hearts out there.

You could argue that a court acquitted the three police officers so there’s nothing to forgive. They are “not guilty” of this crime, so says a judge. Why doesn’t that make us feel better? Roll the video evidence, please. It doesn’t lie — even when law enforcement does.

So where does that leave us with these Chicago cops? We forgive, but continue to collectively fight the injustice that plagues our communities and demand change. Urban Faith has a list of faith-based social justice organizations that you can look into as a way to channel your frustration and maybe even fear about things happening around you that feel are out of your control. On that note, shout out to Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. Yeah, you may think he was a part of your mama’s Civil Rights Movement, but Dr. King and his bus-riding, arm-linked marching, boycotting activists clearly understood channeling those feelings of anger and frustration into positive actionable change.