The NYT's Portrayal of Anti-Trump Evangelicals Isn't Quite Complete
Donald Trump rose to the presidency thanks in part to an astonishing level of support from evangelical Christians. It's the kind of backing we haven't seen for a single political figure in a long time. In fact, many conservative Christians count themselves among the president's biggest boosters today.
Because the support among Christians for a man whose morals are questionable at best baffles so many, the media thinks that believers who don't revere Trump are an anomaly. That's why the New York Times recently published a breathless piece about a group of Christians who hosted a crusade near Liberty University — a school whose president, Jerry Falwell, Jr., has been one of the president's biggest cheerleaders:
The night before Shane Claiborne came to town to preach at a Christian revival, he received a letter from the chief of police at Liberty University warning that if he set foot on the property, he would be arrested for trespassing and face up to 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine.
At first glance, Mr. Claiborne hardly appeared a threat to Liberty University, a dominant force in Lynchburg, Va., and a powerful engine in evangelical Christianity. Wearing baggy clothes that he sews himself, Mr. Claiborne preaches the gospel, lives among the poor and befriends prisoners on death row, modeling his ministry on the life of Jesus.
But to the leaders of Liberty, he was a menace to their campus.
The Times calls Claiborne and his organization, Red Letter Christians, "the other evangelicals." What the article doesn't tell you is that Red Letter Christians is a liberal organization. Their website asks for donations by urging visitors to "spare some social change," while the RLC slogan is "taking the words of Jesus seriously." A 2007 Christianity Today profile of the group and its co-founder Tony Campolo gives us a taste of the leftist bent of RLC:
Campolo also says RLCs are upset about "gay-bashing, anti-feminism, anti-environmentalism, pro-war, pro-gun, and Religious Right politics." These items sound a lot like talking points from a James Carville memo.
Further, Campolo regularly uses the highly pejorative term Religious Right for politically conservative Christians but declines a comparable label, Religious Left, for his group. His reasoning? "[I]t suggests that we are an arm of the Democratic Party in the same way in which the Religious Right has become an arm of the Republican Party."
Claiborne and RLC aren't immune to both the theatrical stunts and the condescension of the left, as we can see from an anecdote in the Times piece in which Claiborne admits he wanted to take advantage of a hot-button issue and present Falwell with the gift of a plow made from melted gun metal (you know, beating swords into plowshares). Instead, RLC sent Campolo with a box of handwritten prayer requests, including this patronizing gem: “Dear Liberty, I am praying for your campus. The Jesus in the Bible speaks of love and acceptance. I hope you learn to speak of this too.”