The Shifting Priorities of Evangelical Politics
In the past year of non-stop, relentless news about our President, I have found myself thinking a lot about the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal and how the people in my community responded to it when it was happening. I was 14 years old when the news broke – Bill Clinton had in fact had a sexual relationship with that woman. At 14 years old, 22 seemed impossibly grown up. I don’t remember anyone questioning the gross power dynamics between a 22-year-old intern and the most powerful man in the country. We’ve come a long way since then, at least in some ways. At 14, I don’t know how much I actually understood about what was happening. I was aware of the blue dress, I knew that Clinton had lied under oath. I did not know about the allegations of sexual assault against him. No one I knew seemed to care about that. And we were all teenagers, so in a lot of ways the most compelling part of the story was the idea that a semen-stained dress could be the central point of conversation in our country. It was childish and bizarre. It seems practically innocent now.
I wasn’t just any teenager though. I was being raised in a really particular bubble of not just Christianity but of white conservative values. I listened to conservative talk radio. My father tossed open my door the morning of Clinton’s impeachment and cheerfully told me that someday, my children would ask me where I was when Clinton was impeached and I would have to tell them I was sleeping. I knew that these things were supposed to be important. I thought I understood politics, although I now realize how very little I understood even from the perspective I was supposed to be taking. I knew the answers I was supposed to recite. It’s because I knew the answers I was supposed to recite that I’ve been thinking about it lately. Because there a really particular argument that was used from my side of things. I know that I said it myself probably dozens of times, arguing with both peers and adults. The argument from the “liberal” side of things that I was aware of was that it was no one’s business what someone did behind their bedroom doors (or office doors, I guess, as the case may be), that someone’s sexual acts may or may not be entirely ethical, but that didn’t impact whether or not he was fit to be President. I’m sure there were more arguments than this, but this is the one I most frequently heard. The response to this statement was as follows – the point here is not that Clinton had sex with Monica Lewinsky, although that is morally not okay in any way, the reason that Bill Clinton is not fit to be president is because he lied under oath, and he lied to the American people.
I still remember that line pretty well, because I know I said it a lot. And the truth about that argument is that I actually think it’s not without value. Assuming you don’t know about the sexual assault allegations (which I did not), a consensual sexual relationship doesn’t seem to be as concerning as the fact that the President lied, very directly, and it was proven. That does seem worse. I also think it was an argument we didn’t totally believe in. It was an argument stated because it was the better point, but of course it was about the sex. It’s always about the sex.
What’s the point of all this? I’m getting there.
So when I first started moving towards a better place in my life, started accepting the critical things I was going to need to accept to heal, a lot changed. I recognized a lot of things, like that maybe the reason I so consistently acted like an abused child was because I was one. One thing I struggled with for a long time was that it didn’t matter if my parents had done the best they could – it still wasn’t enough. I had a lot of realizations before I had to cut contact with my parents. But one of the things I had in the back of my mind was that they really believed it. I think that white evangelicalism is a brutal and toxic theology in many ways, I think that it supports abusive behavior towards children. But if my parents, and my friend’s parents really believed all of those things to be true, if they were supporting these (to them) immovable principles, I at least understood where they were coming from. It didn’t excuse it or make it better. But I kind-of got it.
Then Trump happened.
Suddenly everything immovable I had been taught all my life seemed thrown out the window. The same people who assured me my entire life that character in a political candidate was critical voted overwhelmingly for a man who proved time and again he had none of it. Here we are, over a year later, and they are still supporting him, still standing behind him. I hear a lot of reasons, none that really track. And this has all forced me to reconcile with a much more brutal realization – it is not that they were working with a set of immovable principles. It’s just that, at the end of the day, the accumulation of political power is more important than the health and happiness of their own children.
We’re all still here, folks. Not all of us are old enough to remember the Clinton/Lewinsky bullshit but I think we’re all old enough to remember something. It wasn’t that long ago that I was being patronizingly lectured about the damage that political candidates without Christian values could do to our country. It wasn’t that long ago, but it feels like forever ago, because every day of this past year and a half feels like a week by itself. I wake up every day to tweets from a manchild president, frequently telling easily provable lies. Yet he still maintains the support of the majority of the white evangelical community. He still maintains the support of my parents. They are not stepping forward to say that these lies make him not fit for office. The same people who once told me that the Clintons were maybe culpable in murder to cover up their crimes are unconcerned about our president’s ties to Russia and who knows what else. It turns out that this time they’re not even concerned about the sex. And I guess I’m just saying that I wish if they were going to sell their soul for something that it could have been for something about me.