Friday night, Greta van Sustern at Fox News interviewed Jerry Falwell Jr and asked hin to explain why so many evangelicals have chosen Donald Trump over Ted Cruz in the GOP race for president. Just 2;38 minutes, listen to Falwell’s explanation, for it’s explosive…not about Trump, but about the return of evangelicals to the defense of the American theology instead of their own nests.
This is not about Donald Trump, but still serves as a reminder that almost all stories about Donald Trump are not really about Donald Trump, but about something else. This shift in the way evangelicals will look at national politics going forward is seismic for both the Left and the GOP establishment, and in the broader history of our times will stand out greater than Chris Christie throwing his weight behind Trump. For it means that another “American Awakening” is beginning, and once again evangelical Christians are willing to shake hands with people they had separated themselves from the past thirty-some odd years, morally, politically and even culturally…people who sometimes use language stronger than “shucky-dern”, play the slots, and drink something harder than cider, people whose councils evangelicals have refused to join since Reagan. Donald Trump is a shining example of heat-of-the-moment language abuse (me, another), yet Falwell looks over this. He also represents a lot of those evangelicals, and has indicated a willingness to suit up and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with men and women who openly speak of opening up a can of whoop-ass against a common enemy.
This is huge, America.
The last few seconds of Falwell’s comments are the most earth-shattering:
“Save the country first, maybe next time we can look at abortion, gay rights, etc. But save the county first.” (my paraphrase)
They haven’t been talking this way for many, many years, and because they haven’t they had been cordoned off and dealt with by the national media and the political parties as targets as identifiable, uncompromising and increasingly mockable as Hasidic Jews at the Temple Mount.
But now in the uniform of defending America instead of a separate interest group (another political creation of the Left and the Media) they stand indistinguishable except as Americans.
How magnificent is that?.
About America’s Capacity for Periodic Awakenings
Why this alliance thrills me is that it proves America has not (yet) lost its way, that we still know the original roadmap. In my copy of Larry Schweikart and Mike Allen’s “Patriot’s History of the United States”, which is almost as dog-eared as my Jerusaem Bible, the authors mention two “Great American Awakenings” as being significant events in defining the American character. The first was in the early 1700s, with the advent of the Baptists and Methodists, both missionary movements, both building the bulk of their congregations by missionizing other churches and the multitudes of “don’t-give-a-damn’s” found on America’s frontiers, where there was only “some talk of building a church” (Mark Twain, c1868). The second began in the 1820s-30s, and was similarly disposed to redirect wayward populations from straying too far from their religious roots.
Both represented a kind of free market in religion, so that no single class of churches could become staid and orthodox and monolithic as had befallen the imported European churches, such as the Church of England.
But it seems God, not so much individual denominations, is in the American DNA, which is why I have referred to an “American theology”, and have mentioned these parallels in prior essays. When we come to certain crossroads, especially in times of war, we turn back to our religious underpinnings. You may not know this, but the rest of the world does not operate according to this principle, and probably was never wired properly from the beginning (which is what my book, “Devil’s History of the United States” is all about…a parable of the parallels between a nation under God and those managed by the “political head of the rest of the world”…Mark Twain.)
So, in my view America has had other “awakenings”, at fairly regular intervals, beginning with the Civil War, then generationally, every 30-40 years or so, every time the reserve of our national character was tested. Unlike the Europeans, who, after a half-century of catastrophic wars of their own design, seemed to dismiss God instead of turn back to Him, when American men went to war our citizens drew closer to their churches and to each other. (If you want to connect this to socialism, feel free, for godlessness is one its founding planks.) World War I produced a preacher named Blly Sunday (from Chicago and not Hogspit, Georgia as some detractors would allow) and a revivalist movement that drove H L Mencken into paroxysm of vitriol. Then there was World War II with even greater carnage and loss, then finally the 1980s, when the tag “evangelicals” first began to creep into the nationsl lexicon, alongside the Moral Majority, including Rev Jerry Falwell, Sr.
Only this “awakening” of the 80s was notable for it was more of a retreat from the world than a restatement of America’s (plural) relationship with God. Whether the Moral Majority created this awakening or was created by it (I lean toward the latter) as a political movement this didn’t fare too well, and my admiration for Rev Falwell began only when he quit politics and returned to preaching, in essence saying he had been pursuing “a lower calling”. Only a deep man can do that.
But in those days, I didn’t follow the inside-baseball of the political separation between the Christian Right and the GOP. I was about the same age as the girls over at RedState and NRO so believed I knew a lot more than I actually did. What I did follow was the culture of this evangelistic closing of ranks up close, as I taught several courses at a small Baptist college in central Kentucky. That was where I had my “shucky-dern moment”, when during a lecture about the boat people from Vietnam I let loose the word “crap”, which George Carlin once said was one of the seven words you couldn’t say on television yet is the most popular game in Vegas. A female student came up after class and asked me if I would not use that word again. For the 1980s, I was shell-shocked, but said “Of course.” But she didn’t stop there, reporting me to school officials, who called me on the carpet. For those of you who have seen the Ingrid Bergman version of Joan of Arc’s trial by a Church tribunal in France, the dour mugs on those inquisitors was nothing compared to the solemnity of that high-haired Baptist administrator in his plaid sport coat and yellow striped tie. He didn’t read me the riot act, but rather the pious act. which if your father ever sat you down and gave you a stern lecture about right and wrong instead of stropping you with his belt, you’d rather have the belt every time. (Ask my son.)
The awakening of the 1980s was a period when what we now call evangelicals, including Pentecostals and non-denominational churches, turned inward, leaving the ways of the world to its own devices. It was a retreat, under the theory that they would be the ones the alligator eats last.
This is a condition I have been trying to reverse since the days of the Clintons. And since Obama, when the name of the Game became more clear, I spent a lot of time urging patriotic non-religionists, even RINO’s who purported to still be pro-American, to sit down and extend the hand of fellowship to what they believed were one-issue moralists, in order to find common ground. Sadly, as Obama’s grip tightened, into the 2012 cycle, I came to learn from some really fine Giuliani-style pro-choice conservatives that many evangelicals would no more than sit down with them before standing right back up and storming out because these patriots had failed some religious litmus test. I wish I had been there.
This is why the Falwell endorsement is such an historic, seismic change…and he was actually able to outline it so very well in just a few short seconds. They can finally see the handwriting on the wall, things I could have told them in 1996, or 2006, 2008 onward, but they had to find out themselves. The Left’s plan for Christians and other species of faith is now clear. Marx said as much in the 1840s, still, we had to hear it from the horses’ mouths, or, in this case, their other end. There was the rise of the “new-atheism”, a youth movement really, having little to do with religion and everything to do with politics…and hate. It began around 2004, its purpose, to eradicate religion. You may not know of this bunch, but on campus close to 40% now claim socialism their “religion” , also proving the decline of competitive religious education in the home and public schools.
In a matter of a few short years, this new atheism has allied itself with the LGBT movement and the abortion crackers who defend cutting babies up and selling them for body parts as if they were butcher shop products. They are everywhere on social media and are indistinguishable in the slime of their rants and their unerring inability to connect more than two dots..
The Christian right, having largely removed itself from this world, with the availability of alternative means of education, may feel they had dodged this bullet, but in the days since Obama, and the rise of social media, it’s been made clear that their original retreat in the 80s could not save them. Pres Falwell has lit their way back to the American light.
With a portion of Republicans ready to surrender just to avoid what will befall the Christians, and another sizeable slice actually wanting to get in on the Left’s action, evangelicals are wise to look for patriots rather than only just one type of patriot. And there are a lot of us. We are a sizeable bunch
Does Jerry Falwell Jr have a private agenda as his father was accused of having in 1980? Maybe, time will tell. But in his comments he said “saving America” is Cause One, the rest can wait until the Enemy (as C S Lewis used to call him) is defeated. Since that has always been Cause One with me, that sounds like a plan, a plan straight out the American theology playbook as writ in 1787.
Every patriot should be proud to see that we are once again all wearing the same uniforms and the same armor of the Creator of this republic.