Jerry Falwell Jr., Donald Trump ring death knell of conservative American evangelicalism

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On Dec. 4, Liberty University (LU) president Jerry Falwell Jr. gave a speech that has sparked a heated debate within the American faith community. In this speech, he stated that “If more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in.”

His words, referring to the shooting in San Bernardino on Wednesday, were met with thunderous applause from the student body.

Falwell’s perspective on this matter is hardly new. Between his speech and comments made by Republican frontrunners Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, it is clear that Islamophobia and fanatical firearm enthusiasm are alive and well within the American right wing, and traditionalist Christian LU is a hot spot for this right-wing ideology. Falwell’s statements paint a clearer picture of the ever-growing dichotomy between Republican values and the values of Christianity itself that is becoming increasingly irreconcilable.

In the book of Matthew, 26:52, it reads, “But Jesus said to him, ‘put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.’”

It doesn’t take more than a perusing of The Gospels to see why Falwell’s attitude is bald-faced hypocrisy. But the right has repeatedly brushed off these indictments with a little bit of tricky theological interpretation. They’re right because they’re right, one way or another, and quoting Jesus won’t give them a moment of pause. The American Christian right-wing, by-and-large, does not really care about the teachings of Jesus.

Effectively, the teachings of Christ have no tangible bearing on how this particular sub-section of the American public operates, what policies it endorses, what ideals it espouses. Jesus remains the figurehead for a system of values that has decidedly abandoned him and his teachings in favor of ideology designed to preserve the supremacy of traditional western cultural norms. Where Jesus welcomed those from all walks of life with open arms, the American conservative greets the foreigner with irrational fear and a proudly displayed concealed-carry permit.

Jesus is a sticker of validation that can be slapped on when the shoe fits, specifically with regards to white American exceptionalist values. So, naturally, as this country has seen an influx of immigrants from various parts of the world over the past decade, the conservative contingent views their ideal of blithe white supremacy and nominal Christianity as threatened by foreign populations unwilling to surrender and assimilate to these American “values.” It is from this xenophobic tree that evangelical leaders such as Falwell pick their bad fruit for distribution to the masses.

Let this point be made clear as day: this is not Christianity. Christ never set foot in America, and the preservation of this nation’s capitalist cultural values are surely of no concern to a man who lived in the Middle East 2000 years ago, let alone an omnipotent God. This unholy union between the iconography of faith and the values of a country that built itself on the backs of slaves and murdered indigenous populations is a perversion and an insult to the figure whose name it uses to validate its crimes.

Commentators waste time attacking the faith these people ostensibly adhere to. The lip-service paid to Christ and Christianity by the far right is a smokescreen that has fooled the liberal contingent into thinking that faith itself is what sustains and drives conservative rhetoric.

Faith, or, more importantly, the symbolism and iconography of faith may help organize and structure this ideology, but it is not the root cause of such hate. The American left must realize that there is no dependable way to effectively attack the warped Christianity of the right. Why? Again, because bigots and xenophobes don’t really care about the specifics of Christianity. On the contrary, Jesus has become one of their most dependable false-flag operations.

Waging war in strictly religious terms makes it easy for the right to rile up support in the name of defending religious liberty. So long as they can keep the fight going over their supposed devotion to Jesus, the conservatives can rest safely with the knowledge that they’re playing a rigged game on their own soil.

The rest of America must realize that conservatives’ allegiances to evangelicalism have begun to fray. Homegrown evangelical superstar candidates like Mike Huckabee trail in the dust of men like Ben Carson, who doesn’t believe in Hell (a massive evangelical faux pas) or religiously illiterate grandstanders like Donald Trump, who doesn’t seem familiar with even a single Bible verse. It is in Trump that the uncovered face of the American right begins to show itself truly: racist, xenophobic, Christian in only the most facile sense.

It is in these moments that the conservative faith cornerstone, the myth of the “Christian nation” that has so long legitimized the rhetoric of the right, has begun to unravel. It’s the feeling of domestic unrest that signals the first warning-signs of an incoming divorce. The American cultural landscape has changed so much that a simple, dubiously sincere appeal to an immaterial higher authority can’t sweep the issues that face this country under the rug. The Republican Party has little use for championing the pious evangelical. Jerry Falwell Jr. is a member of an ever-dying breed of Christian. A shrinking constituent who, in a fear-induced panic caused by the sight of power fading from their grasp, lashes out dangerously at others around them, such as the Muslim community or any group that could conceivably fall outside of their good graces.

Ultimately, this ideological “divorce” will be tumultuous and rife with potential for violent danger (as we’ve witnessed in recent days; the destructive potential of radicalized fringe-groups). But ultimately it should result in a more honest Republican Party and, hopefully, a more theologically and morally sound Christian faith. The name of Jesus in America has too long been chained to the altars of whiteness, straightness and westernness, and this separation of evangelicalism from the conservative right may prove to be one of the best things that has ever happened to it.

Andrew Allen is a junior majoring in communications.

Feature image courtesy Pixabay user stevepb.