It wasn’t anyone’s imagination: 2017 kinda sucked all the way around for a lot of folks and in a lot of ways. So we’re probably all feeling like a victory or two would be welcome. And we got one this week when Alabama voters denied a Senate seat to fundagelical Roy Moore, the state judge whose lies, tendencies to rape, bizarrely regressive social stances, and pedophilia finally caught up with him. Many political commentators have noted that the election wasn’t just a statement from voters who rejected Moore’s antics, but also one regarding the entire American Republican Party itself–and maybe even toxic Christianity itself, which is the social movement that allowed Roy Moore to succeed for as long as he did. So obviously Christian leaders have their work cut out for them in formulating a response to their increasing rejection by the rest of society. But they probably won’t pick a very good way to respond, and today I’ll show you why I say that.
A Much-Deserved Metaphorical Slap in Multiple Faces.
A lot of fundagelicals and their sycophants are feeling frustrated this week after that Alabama election, I’m guessing.
It should have been in the hat. Roy Moore was, on paper, everything that super-politicized fundagelicals thought they wanted. He was an aging white straight bigot-for-Jesus with cowboy pretensions, an obsession with guns, and a liking for pretty young women. He’s never met a culture war he didn’t embrace with all his heart and dry-hump into a fine powder. He hated–I mean hated, viscerally and powerfully hated–all the people that fundagelicals hate right now. He embodied all of his tribe’s virtues of xenophobia, willful ignorance, lack of critical thinking skills, appearance over reality, belligerence, and aggression. He bought completely into all their -isms. He hit that apotheosis of extremist religious sentiment fused with dangerous levels of nationalism and growing politicization. He was, in short, a standard-issue ignorant white theocracy-craving racist bigot religious zealot, and he was running for election in a state known for giving people like him whatever they want even if they personally despise him. (And yeah, a lot of people in Alabama despised Roy Moore.)
And really, he had little motivation to do anything different. He’d long ago settled himself into the top rungs of power in his community, oozing into all available space. He’d found a way to flourish in the sickly sludgy pond that is fundagelical culture. He’d already beaten Luther Strange, the interim senator, to gain a spot on the ballot. Donald Trump went from supporting Mr. Strange to throwing his full support to Roy Moore, getting more and more supportive as the campaign progressed. So it looked like it was a done deal. Alabama’s been Republican for so long that it was unthinkable that a Democrat could snag that ruby-red seat.
Then some old-fashioned journalism exposed the secrets that really weren’t secrets at all in Roy Moore’s little corner of that pond. Everyone around him knew that he was a problem–and had for years. He just was that missing stair for them: that broken situation that everyone just learns to work around and deal with because nobody can or wants to fix the problem itself.
The people around Roy Moore had to do that because fundagelical culture has no way whatsoever to deal with sexual predators who achieve positions of power. It is a broken system through and through, and the people in power there protect their own long before they’ll even wonder if they maybe ought to protect the victims of their own. This is why it took outsiders to expose Roy Moore, outsiders to publicize what he’d done, and outsiders to move to fix the problem. (The same exact thing happened to blow the lid off the Duggars’ own dysfunction.)
And Oh Wow Did We EVER.
Very quickly, the outrage that flowed forth in the wake of the news of his predatory behavior turned what should have been a completely by-the-numbers political campaign into a fight for Roy Moore’s very future in politics. Donald Trump even waded into the fray to support him (though he later appeared to pretend otherwise after the vote), and the Republican elite at the state and national levels lent their voices to Roy Moore’s cause in what was suddenly and shockingly turning into a battle they had never expected to fight for a seat they very much needed to win.
The backlash over Roy Moore is tarnishing the reputations of every single politician who supported him–for good cause. Vanity Fair is asking “Has Roy Moore Doomed Donald Trump?” before concluding that he probably hasn’t, though the loss has probably humiliated our very narcissistic president. (Don’t miss the photo spread below the piece in Vanity Fair though – a shot of anti-Moore protesters dressed as Handmaidens took my breath away.)
Far worse than the loss of public confidence in Donald Trump, however, New York‘s writer predicts that “the GOP is about to tumble into full-scale panic” over Roy Moore’s loss. Between their inability to fully suppress black Americans’ votes and the shot in the arm of confidence that this win has given Democrats (and non-wackadoodle Republicans, many of whom crossed the aisle to financially support and vote for Moore’s opponent, Doug Jones), plus the loss of a seat they couldn’t afford to lose, Republicans have quite a lot to fear.
And since fundagelicals long ago crawled into Republicans’ foul bed, that means that they have a lot to fear as well.
A Vote of No Confidence.
In Roy Moore’s post-election speech, he declared that “Abortion, sodomy, and materialism have taken the place of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” He’s always claimed that his candidacy wasn’t just a political fight but also a supernatural one for the heart and soul of America itself. And he successfully convinced a strong core of his supporters that if they didn’t get him elected, then Christians’ power would continue to decline sharply. It’s very clear that he is painting his loss as a sort of referendum on the value of his entire religion to Americans–and he’s far from the only one.
(Mr. Captain: “If only.”)
And it sorta is a referendum, to Christians at least.
We’ve talked before about how recent political events in America have destroyed fundagelicals’ credibility levels. Even when Donald Trump was only one of a clown car of Republican hopefuls, plenty of Christian leaders were panicking about what their tribe’s wholesale support of the man would mean for their future as a dominant faction in America. Indeed, the surveys that have been coming out since last November’s election (like one by PRRI that we discussed a few months ago) have only confirmed their fears: yes, indeed, people are disavowing the label of evangelical and have distinctly hardened in their attitudes toward evangelicals precisely because evangelicals belong to the Republican Party, and Donald Trump wouldn’t be grandstanding around in the White House today if it weren’t for them.
Christianity Today was already saying before the Alabama election was finished that “there is already one loser” in that race, and that was the “Christian faith:”
When it comes to either matters of life and death or personal commitments of the human heart, no one will believe a word we say, perhaps for a generation. Christianity’s integrity is severely tarnished.
That editorial writer is correct, but he’s coming really late to this party because his religion’s integrity has been getting tarnished for decades.
It was right-wing Christians themselves who turned their religion into a political movement, so it’s laughable that now they’re upset over the backlash they’re facing for having done it. NOBODY in their tribe deserves cookies for disapproving of Donald Trump, Roy Moore, or any of the other scandal-wracked fundagelical-pandering politicians around today.
It’s like they just wanted to play adult pretendy fun time games and didn’t really expect anybody to take them seriously when they’ve talked for decades upon decades about how they totally want to turn America into The Handmaid’s Tale LARP. (A LARP is a Live Action Roleplaying Game.) The time to put their foot down collectively about this situation came and went long ago–probably in the 1960s when their culture war engines were just starting to rumble to life.
Very little gets their sheep’s motors ticking over like blaming everyone in the world but themselves for everything they see going wrong in their lives.
KIDS TODAY, Amirite?
Usually their scapegoats are young people, who’ve begun to reject their elders’ bigotry and cruelty. Some of them are simply leaving their tribe behind. Others remain to criticize and fight their elders to try to improve the religion from the inside, as doomed as that effort is. The New York Times profiled some of those young people after Roy Moore’s defeat and discovered they don’t think the religion’s current crop of leaders can possibly fix the problems they see in the religion–and they don’t think those elders will ever even see the necessity of trying.
And I can see in this story the roots of how fundagelicals will likely present their losses in Alabama.
Fundagelicals have always hated young people and distrusted them in turn, just as they hate and distrust anybody who seems very different from themselves. Even back in my day, the only good young person was one who was very firmly and tightly corralled and restrained by doctrine and a rigid social hierarchy that gave every single bit of interpersonal power to the older members of the church. Nothing’s changed since I was a Christian, either, which is why fundagelical kids often seem like they’re trying to dress and act like 45-year-olds. The only way they can move through their community is to present as little challenge as possible to their elders–as if to avoid reminding their superiors of how different they are.
This self-defense strategy is necessary. When fundagelicals get terrified, they tend to respond by lashing out and clamping down on their control of the people who’ve scared them. It’s such a predictable response that I’d be nervous about putting it on a Roll to Disbelieve drinking game–with my low tolerance, I’d be dead before one news cycle had ended.
In that vein, Libby Anne over at Love, Joy, Feminism recently did a beautiful job fisking one such fundagelical effort to lash out against and clamp down on young people. The post she’s fisking is called “Ten reasons millennials are backing away from God and Christianity,” and though that initial post was published some months ago it is exactly the kind of response one would expect to see: a straightforward listicle of all the reasons why its author hates and fears young people. We’ll talk more about it later, but for now, it works well as a blueprint for fundagelical blame.
And one can see why older fundagelicals want to throw blame in that direction. Young people are the driving force behind what I’ve come to call evangelical churn. They are abandoning the tribe in far greater numbers–and rejecting the tribe’s most toxic opinions and agendas–than any other age group. They are set to not only reject but to transform fundagelicalism itself.
All that has got to be just terrifying for a group as wholly devoted to gaining and keeping power as fundagelicals are.
Here we’ve been talking mostly about how fundagelicals blame young people for all the losses they’ve suffered, but the mechanisms I’ve described are what I want you to focus on, not the particular groups they’re blaming. In the case of Roy Moore’s election loss, for example, it wasn’t so much Millennials themselves as Alabama’s black voters who were the ones who single-handedly turned the tide. Sure, Millennials are more likely to be people of color in the first place, which probably makes them even scarier to fundagelicals. Regardless, we rightly honor black voters most of all and express our deepest gratitude for everything they had to do to make it happen–and ideally dedicate ourselves to helping to end those dehumanizing obstacles they faced.
Trump tried to say of the election process that “the deck was stacked” and he was right, it is–just not in the direction he thinks. Fundagelicalism and the modern-day GOP both were built upon race-baiting tactics, after all (one could even say, as Politico did, that racism in particular played a role in the rise of the Christian Right). I haven’t seen specific racist tirades yet blaming black people for Moore’s loss, but I’m sure they’ll be coming at some point, especially since black voter turnout is really what handed Doug Jones the victory. Black people overcame some serious hurdles set up by Republicans to suppress their vote, and they turned out in high enough numbers to defeat Roy Moore. But I suspect that fundagelicals will find it safer to vocally condemn someone else for their problems–like young people, their perennial favorites.
Someone’s gonna get blamed, though. If it isn’t black people, it’ll be young people; if it isn’t young people, it’ll be “the Washington establishment.”
To people who can’t solve problems, blame is the only game they have left.
Developing Those Problem-Solving Skills.
To fix a problem, first we must accurately engage with the problem. We must identify why the problem’s occurring and start taking meaningful steps to correct whatever’s gone wrong. Sure, sometimes someone might accidentally stumble across a solution despite not knowing why it works or how, but usually, it’s faster and more efficient to examine the situation critically than to flail around hoping that something will work at some point.
But fundagelicals have created for themselves a society in which every bit of that correction process is impossible. We’re talking about one of the deepest dysfunctions in their deeply dysfunctional culture here. They can’t see the problem clearly. They can’t figure out what the problem’s source is. They can’t figure out how to introduce the changes to their culture that would need to happen to address the problem.
What they want instead is to feel good about themselves and their tribe even when there’s nothing good at all about what they’re doing.
They want to feel like they’re winning even if they’re losing.
They want to feel like nothing’s their fault even though they have always been very solidly on the wrong side of every single social issue they’ve meddled in since forever.
And they want to be able to blame their most-hated enemies of the moment, whether there’s justification for accusing them of anything or not (usually this is a “not”).
The chickens are finally coming home to roost for fundagelicals and their whole broken system. As The Hill pointed out yesterday, if the GOP isn’t panicking about the midterms then they’re even more foolish than we thought they were–because history tells us that it’s very rare for a president’s party to gain seats in a midterm election even when the president in question is moderately popular, and Donald Trump is one of the most unpopular presidents in our country’s recent history.
Now if we can only maintain this momentum in the midterms!
When I saw Libby Anne’s amazing fisking post, I realized I had a lot of things to say about the topic–so I wanted to touch on the election briefly here today. We’re heading back to our schedule for next time–we’ll be looking at the strange way that apologies are used by Christians. I hope to see you then!
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