Salon's Amanda Marcotte gets to the heart of what's going on with the conservative evangelicals and Donald Trump in this piece about the latest brouhaha with Jerry Falwell Jr:
On Monday morning, Politico published a major exposé on Jerry Falwell Jr., the religious right's most influential supporter of Donald Trump and the president of Liberty University, an evangelical institution formed by his father, Southern Baptist minister Jerry Falwell. Writer Brandon Ambrosino paints a damning picture of the younger Falwell as a man unrestrained by his own religion's teachings on sexual morality or any other kind of Christian ethics.
The laundry list of malfeasance and inappropriate behavior is impressive, "from partying at nightclubs, to graphically discussing his sex life with employees, to electioneering" and "directing university resources into projects and real estate deals in which his friends and family have stood to make personal financial gains."
The most titillating story, previously reported by the Miami Herald, concerns the fact that Falwell and his wife, Becki, seem to have have an interesting sex life involving sharing naked photos with other men — men who, likely not coincidentally, enjoy healthy levels of financial assistance from the Falwells and Liberty University. For instance, Politico reports that Falwell sent pictures of his wife in "a French maid costume" to their personal trainer, Ben Crosswhite. They also used Liberty funds to set Crosswhite up as the owner of a lucrative gym.
There's a lot more of this sort of thing, making it quite clear that Falwell is a first-rate hypocrite who poorly hides a love of power, luxury and sexual freedom behind a facade of Christian piety.
It's quite a story. If you haven't heard about it's only because of the avalanche of stories over the pastcouple of days. In a normal news cycle it would be discussed on all the cable shows.
Marcotte rightly points out that regardless, none of it will matter to Falwell's standing:
But it's foolish to imagine that any of this will affect Falwell's political power or standing with the larger white evangelical community. The pretense that the religious right was motivated by faith and morality was dropped — or should have been — when white evangelicals flocked to vote for Trump in greater numbers than they did for George W. Bush, who if he was convincing about little else, was convincingly a man of faith.
The biggest flaw in Ambrosino's otherwise excellent reporting is that his sources repeatedly describe Falwell Jr.'s behavior as a departure from the traditional Christian ethics that his father supposedly stood for. The elder Falwell, who died in 2007, is praised by anonymous Liberty University employees as "a respectable, honest, decent, hardworking man" and as a man who was motivated by "a higher calling."↓ Story continues below ↓
As anyone who really understands the history of the Christian right will agree, this is complete nonsense. The elder Jerry Falwell was a bigot through and through, and his version of Christianity was primarily, if not solely, about rationalizing a white supremacist, misogynistic and homophobic worldview.
She goes on to lay out the facts of that case which are unambiguous, concluding with this:
Despite the repeated, strenuous efforts of liberals to point out the hypocrisy, Trump's support on the Christian right never seems to weaken. That's because it was never, ever — not for one moment, even at the height of the George W. Bush era of big-time Bible-thumping — about sincere religious conviction. It was always about white supremacy and patriarchy. To call this "hypocrisy" misses the point, in a sense, because to be hypocrites Christian conservatives would have had to believe in something larger than their own bigotries to begin with.
So why shouldn't Falwell do whatever kinky sex thing he and his wife are into with their fitness trainers and pool boys, all while using his power and university funding to make himself and his buddies richer? The jig is up, and no one really believes in the moralistic posturing anymore. If Christian right leaders once believed that keeping that power meant putting effort into maintaining the illusion of temperance and restraint, that time is long past.
White evangelicals don't care what their leaders get up to in the bed, the bars or the bank account. Nothing really matters except enforcing a social hierarchy that keeps the "right" people in power, and others under their boots.
There are liberal evangelicals, even some white ones, who don't agree with all of that. They seem to have read the parts of the Bible featuring a guy named Jesus who thought that people should be compassionate toward those more vulnerable than themselves. But conservative evangelicals? I think she nails it. It is a very strange form of Christianity.