Editorial: What the devil got into evangelicals?

Pool Photo: Kyle Rittenhouse, right, reacts after hearing his not-guilty verdict.

Column By John Young

“Onward Christian soldiers. Marching as to war. With the cross of Jesus going on before.”

Raised a Methodist, I was a little confused by the hymn. The lyrics meant well, surely. But was the Jesus of Sunday School a gun-toting militant?

I guess it depends on what war Christians think they are fighting.

Kyle Rittenhouse. He’d qualify as a “Christian warrior.” Yes?

In 2020, then 17, he took the law into his hands at a Black Lives Matter protest, killing two and maiming one with his shiny new assault rifle.

Acquitted of homicide on specious grounds, he was hailed as a hero last month when he spoke to members of Congress who call themselves the Second Amendment Caucus.

Congresswoman Lauren Boebert called the now 19-year-old an “inspiration.”

I didn’t know a trigger finger was all that takes.

Boebert, whose congressional seat hung by a hair until a recount, is big on the piety of the sort that Jesus, in so many words (Matthew 6:1), advised the overly demonstrative to “get a room.”

She’s the type of poser America’s evangelical right has embraced, a genus most clearly characterized by Donald Trump.

Michelle Goldberg had a penetrating piece about such people in a recent New York Times column. It was framed by a photo of Trump, head bowed, hands clasped, as Texas televangelist Robert Jeffress invoked all things divine upon his brow. Forget “get a room.” Get a photographer.

Goldberg asked Russell Moore, editor of Christianity Today, what evangelicals think about Trump now that he has led the Republican Party to a long row of defeats.

Moore, not a fan of the Golden Ox or MAGA, will admit his bias. He offered pertinent insight nonetheless.

Moore said the embrace of Trump has, in Goldberg’s paraphrase, “changed the character of conservative evangelicalism, making it at once more militant and more apocalyptic.”

More Trumplike, less Christlike.

Since Nov. 8, several evangelical leaders including Jeffress are creating distance between themselves and the Lama of Mar-a-Lago.

Moore said that doesn’t mean the flock of commoners will flee. When it comes to that old-time whiny white grievance, no one on the political scene yet preaches like he.

Surveys of these supporters clearly back that claim.

This is because no one else strikes the chimes of ethnocentrism and social insularity in such inspiring tones.

Election after election in the Trump era confirms that wherever the fewest people reside, you will find the most Trump supporters, Bibles in hand.

There you will find mostly whites buffeted by acres of green and protected by shotguns and beyond, naturally lending itself toward antipathy toward reasoned gun measures. Support easy access to guns, and you have their support.

What are they guarding against?

Says Moore of Trump’s boondocks base, “I see more dismissal of Sermon of the Mount characteristics” and instead “an ideal of kindness as weakness.”

This certainly could apply to matters of race, where Trump could win points by telling congresswomen of color, “Why don’t they go back” to where they came from, though that place is America.

Those who embrace this rhetoric comport themselves more like the Man in the Golf Cart, and less like the Man on the Mount.

It is scandalous that a segment of our society that identifies as Christian would support a serial cheater on all his marriages, a profiteer from fraudulent business practices, one facing a Vesuvian spray of criminal investigations.

But they know that no one better models the fear and hate that motivate them to distrust people of other colors and faiths and to treat LGBTQ orientation as disqualifying for membership in the human race.

Yes, a sanctified country club.

Kyle Rittenhouse came to a lawful protest in 2020 to represent that miniature worldview. Onward, Christian soldier.

If he were motivated by a higher calling than racial animus, he would have stayed home and read his Bible or fired up the Xbox. He would have let law enforcement handle things.

But he came with his gun, fired it, and became a hero of the hateful right.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email him at jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

The opinions expressed in this editorial are those of the author.