If you are on the lookout for wickedness, you have lots of targets in contemporary America. Human trafficking makes millions — and enslaves millions — in our nation each and every day. Violent crime regularly ends lives, as does medical malpractice and drug abuse.
Yet you wouldn’t know it based on the headlines we see in mainstream publications. Time and time again, journalists single out evangelicals for immorality. Almost every day, if you employ Google’s handy email alerts tool, you can read a story or op-ed about the misguided, foolish, hypocritical and sinful ways of evangelicals.
Consider what William Saletan recently wrote at Slate: “Christianity says you should love the stranger, respect families, honor your wife, and treat all people as children of God” but evangelicals “more than any other constituency, are choosing to ignore those values at the ballot box.” The result, according to Mr. Saletan, is not the danger of imposing morality on other Americans. “The problem is that what [evangelicals are] imposing [is] wickedness.”
Sometimes the hostility is more subtle, such as a post-election story in The New York Times which pointed out that evangelical leaders “expressed concern” but did not fault President Trump when the administration separated children from families at the U.S. border with Mexico. Sometimes, the press finds evangelicals to do the dirty work, such as Michael Gerson’s regular columns in The Washington Post or his story in The Atlantic about evangelical support for Mr. Trump, which concluded: “This is not mere gullibility; it is utter corruption.”
On the flip side, the press trips over themselves to lionize evangelicals with the “courage” and “integrity” to critique their tribe. Take a look at Emma Green’s profile of Beth Moore at The Atlantic: It highlighted the popular speaker because she “believes that an evangelical culture that demeans women, promotes sexism, and disregards accusations of sexual abuse enabled Trump’s rise.”
Here’s my question: What gives journalists the moral or religious yardstick by which to measure evangelicals? These Protestants themselves as a bloc have not violated Christian teaching about sex or marriage, and contrary to what you might believe, they do support those in need. According to a 2016 Philanthropy Roundtable study, evangelicals and Mormons were the “strongest” givers to charitable causes (whether religious or secular).
The only real sin that these journalists can accuse evangelicals of is having voted for and continued to support President Trump. But does this really make much sense? Obviously, Mr. Trump — like all of us — is a sinner and would likely have trouble qualifying for membership in an evangelical church. But is simply giving political support to a sinner itself a sin?
What’s more, journalists accusing evangelicals of hypocrisy is just the pot calling the kettle black. When the Rev. Billy Graham cooperated with Protestants who taught questionable theology, fundamentalists like Bob Jones Jr. refused to support Mr. Graham. Bear in mind, Mr. Graham himself did not teach erroneous doctrine; he simply cooperated with liberal churches — but for Mr. Jones and others, that was enough.
It seems ridiculous — but that is close to what a major sector of the press and academy are writing about evangelicals. Who would have thought that people overwhelmingly secular and progressive would employ a tool that belonged to fundamentalists?
Social scientists have been studying evangelicals for more than 40 years, ever since the Democratic candidate for president, Jimmy Carter, announced to befuddled journalists that he was a born-again Christian. Library shelves, databases and online publications are piled high with information about evangelicals. Despite that vast amount of knowledge, journalists have no more feel for them (or for the dilemmas that go with voting for less — than perfect politicians).
It took Donald Trump to reveal such ignorance and bias.
• D.G. Hart is a distinguished associate professor of history at Hillsdale College.