John Krull

John Krull

INDIANAPOLIS

Faith matters.

And that may be a place where Americans trapped in these tumultuous days can come together.

Not long before a Politico story appeared that accused Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. of using school funds to self-deal and conducting his personal life in ways that contradict his proclaimed religious values, I read two books that explore the conflicts many American conservative Christians now experience.

Both books were written by conservative Christians who are Republican political veterans.

Peter Wehner served under Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. He now works at a conservative think tank and writes for The New York Times and The Atlantic. His book is “The Death of Politics.”

Ben Howe’s book is “The Immoral Majority: Why Evangelicals Chose Political Power over Christian Values.” He is a conservative blogger, podcaster and filmmaker. He grew up in the shadow of Liberty University.

The books advance similar arguments. Both authors contend that evangelical Christians have compromised themselves in pursuit of political power and other earthly ends.

Wehner and Howe focus on evangelicals’ support of Donald Trump. They argue that, not long ago, the idea that evangelical Christians would stand behind a man who had been married three times, who had betrayed his marriage vows again and again, who had paid off porn stars to keep extramarital sexual indiscretions quiet and who had bragged about accosting and even assaulting women, would have been unthinkable.

But it happened.

Even the softest presidential poll numbers show that at least seven out of every 10 white evangelical Christians support Trump.

Both Wehner and Howe say the why of that can be found in the disdain evangelical Christians feel they experience from other parts of American society and culture. Because evangelicals feel their views and values receive scant respect, they were willing to embrace an expedient to achieve their goals.

But, Wehner and Howe argue, their support of the president came at a cost. That cost involves not just the corruption of their mission, but also their souls.

Jerry Falwell Jr. might be a case in point. He is one of the most prominent evangelical supporters of the president. The only evangelical Trump supporter more prominent is Vice President Mike Pence. Falwell now stands accused of routing university funds to friends of his in profit-making ventures and engaging in marital practices that are less than traditional.

It’s an odd position to be in for the son of Jerry Falwell, who helped found the Moral Majority to lead the nation down a godly path.

But that is Wehner’s and Howe’s point. The pursuit of earthly power came at the cost of compromising on questions of faith and principle. Once people, even good people, start down that road, they find it hard to get back on the right path.

The books differ in tone.

Howe’s voice is angrier. His sense of being betrayed always burbles just below the book’s surface.

Wehner writes more in regret than anger. Where Howe shakes a scolding finger, Wehner offers a dismayed shake of his head and shrug of his shoulders.

They share two qualities, though.

The first is a sense of anguish. Each is devout in his faith and the thought that other believers whom they love and respect are compromising the tenets of that faith causes them deep, even lacerating pain.

The second shared quality is sincerity. Their beliefs are not my beliefs, but it’s impossible to read their books without realizing how deeply held their convictions are. Each man is willing to accept hostility and even ostracism from communities they see as their spiritual homes in order to speak the truth as they see it.

Such courage always merits respect.

Both Wehner and Howe urge evangelical Christians to embrace anew the teachings of their faith as means of recovering humility and draining much of the rancor out of the political process.

Their call should not be heard by evangelical Christians alone.

If ever there was a time for people of good faith — whatever that faith might be — to honor the sincerity of each other’s beliefs and seek out common ground, that time would be now.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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