After the riot, what’s next for evangelicals?


Year after year, thousands of Americans attend the March For Life -- marching past the U.S. Capitol in late January, close to the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision.

Most of the marchers are young, and come by bus from Catholic and evangelical schools. While most of the groups present are conservative, there are smaller groups like Secular Pro-Life and Democrats for Life. Most of the banners contain slogans such as “Abortion Hurts Women,” “Love Life, Choose Life” or “We Are the Pro-Life Generation.”

Things were different at the Save America March backing President Donald Trump’s efforts to flip the 2020 election. Some banners contained messages like “Jesus is my Savior, Trump is my President.” But many more proclaimed “Stand with Trump!” or “Trump 2020: No More Bulls--t.”

It’s one thing to march for a cause. It is something else to hail a political leader as the key to saving America, said Southern Baptist Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr., a central figure in evangelical debates about Trump.

“The American experiment in ordered liberty is inherently threatened by a cult of personality. And we saw the results of that,” said Mohler in a podcast the day after the U.S. Capitol riot. “So many of those who were there as protestors explicitly said that they were there in the name of Donald Trump. It was Trump that was the name on the banners. They were not making the argument about trying to perpetuate certain political principles or even policies or platforms.”

History shows that personality cults -- left or right -- are dangerous, he stressed. After this “American nightmare,” Christians should soberly ponder the “way sin works” and its impact on powerful leaders who are tempted to become demagogues.

“Demagoguery simply means that you have a character who comes to power on the basis of emotion, rather than argument, and passion rather than political principles,” said Mohler.

It’s crucial to know that, in 2016, Mohler was numbered among evangelical leaders who opposed Trump’s candidacy. When the New York City billionaire clinched the GOP nomination, Mohler tweeted: “Never. Ever. Period.”

But in 2020, he said he would vote for Trump in support of the Republican Party, thus opposing the Democratic Party platform. In a Houston Chronicle interview after the Jan. 6 riot, Mohler refused to apologize, stating that for “most evangelical Christians, voting for Donald Trump was seen as a necessity in a binary system.”

In a second post-riot podcast, Mohler bluntly said that the U.S. House and Senate were “invaded by those who had been gathered for a mob and sent towards the Capitol by language that can only be traced back to the president of the United States.”

Tensions inside the Southern Baptist Convention, America’s largest Protestant body, have been especially high during this Beltway drama.

Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear, via Twitter, stressed that “peaceful transitions of power” are part of “honoring and submitting to God’s ordained leaders whether they were our choice or not. We need you, @POTUS to condemn this mob. ... Praying for safety.”

The popular Bible teacher Beth Moore tweeted: “I don’t know the Jesus some have paraded and waved around in the middle of this treachery. ... They may be acting in the name of some other Jesus, but that’s not the Jesus of the Gospels.”

Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission leader Russell Moore continued his opposition to the tactics of some Trump supporters. The sight of rioters with Christian banners offered a “picture of Jesus Christ and of his gospel that is satanic,” he said in an online essay.

“The mixing of the Christian religion with crazed and counter-biblical cults such as QAnon is telling the outside world that this is what the gospel is. That’s a lie and it is blasphemous against a holy God,” said Moore, who once worked for a pro-life Mississippi Democrat in the U.S. Congress.

Many Americans assume that evangelicalism has become a “means to an end” during the Trump era. What now?

“A start,” said Moore, “is for the church to say, clearly, conspiracy theories and insurrections and riots and murders and incitement are out of step with the Word of God and we will not -- not one of us -- spend one second hemming or hawing about that.”

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