Why do evangelical Christians continue to support such immoral political leaders such as Roy Moore and Donald Trump? This is a question the general public has been asking on and off over the past two years since the beginning of Trump’s candidacy for President. To the general public, abusive, arrogant, and misogynistic men such as these are radically incongruent with the values of the Jesus they claim to worship. And yet evangelicals across the country continue to come out in droves to support and defend these and many other like-minded leaders.
As someone who has spent many years involved in the evangelical establishment, seeing these trends is not surprising to me in the least. In fact, supporting powerful, privileged, and immoral men seems to be a hallmark of the modern evangelical movement in the United States, because the very cornerstone values of the movement are rooted in and upheld by patriarchy.
For my purposes, I define patriarchy as a social ordering system that believes men are the idealized and superior gender, that women, effeminate men, or non-heterosexual people are inferior and oppressable. Likewise, patriarchal systems also tend to declare a superior race, class, or culture, and see everyone outside of the “chosen race” to be inferior as well. This patriarchal system has been the foundation of the Judeo-Christian worldview for thousands of years, and has seen a revival within American evangelicalism over the fifty years.
Since the beginning of the “Moral Majority” movement in 1979, led by men such as Jerry Fallwell, Pat Robertson, and Charles Stanley, renewed commitment to “Biblical manhood and womanhood” and “complementarianism” (a more appealing word that was created by evangelicals to rebrand patriarchy, but essentially means “patriarchal”) have been at the forefront of the political and religious agenda of evangelical Christians, seen to be a essential for maintain the “fundamental ordering of Creation” and key to ensuring that society didn’t collapse into utter immorality.
What logic would lead someone to come to the conclusion that if men were not the head of society, it would lead to utter destruction? One only has to look to the writings of prominent evangelical complementarians such as John Piper, Wayne Grudem, or D.A. Carson who insist that the model of social ordering demonstrated in the Bible is patriarchal, and therefore, such a model must be ordained by God and essential for maintaining a Biblically-ordered society.
And in fact, these men are right. If the patriarchal ordering of society were done away with, it would lead to a dramatic collapse of the ordering of the church and society as a whole. The systems of power that Christianity has established over two millennia would be utterly decimated because they have relied on patriarchy as the means of maintaining power and influence. And as patriarchal Christianity began to influence social ordering of societies around the world, governments adopted this “divinely ordered” system that has consistently put straight, European, cisgender, heterosexual men at the top of the pyramid of power and privilege.
During the 1960’s when the “sexual revolution” began and feminism, LGBT+ rights, and racial justice began to grow in favorability among Americans, the evangelical patriarchs gathered to create a battle plan that would reinforce the patriarchy and bolster their own power and prominence in American society. Their plan involved opposing abortion, LGBT+ rights, and supporting Christian schools like Bob Jones Universities segregation policies- the three pillars of patriarchy.
By and large, the Religious Right has seen tremendous success over the past fifty years. They elected candidates to office like Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush who agreed with and furthered their agenda, and have had more influence in American social and political life than ever before. But in the early 2000’s the tide of culture started to change, and by 2008 with the election of Barack Obama, an African American man who supported women’s rights and would later pave the way for the landmark marriage equality ruling by the Supreme Court, it became clear that the patriarchal model had finally begun to deteriorate.
Since roughly 2008, we have seen the Religious Right try to rebrand and reform multiple times in order to save their sinking ship of power and privilege. When rebranding failed to work, they began to grab any weapon in their arsenal, even if it meant supporting candidates and leaders whose values and lifestyles were fundamentally opposed to the Christian morals they claimed to adhere to. It’s at this critical juncture that Donald Trump rose to prominence as a candidate who embodies the ideals of patriarchy even if his understanding of Christian faith was next to nothing.
In this moment, evangelicals rallied around and christened a man who was the furthest thing from a reflection of Jesus of Nazareth, turning a blind eye to his many glaring character flaws in order to support someone who vowed to return the nation to it’s patriarchal glory days. And following in this wave, evangelicals have consistently chosen to ignore the major moral failings of candidates like Roy Moore in order to ensure that their patriarchal ordering of society remains firmly intact. (And frankly, when examined the patriarchal lens, the offenses of Trump and Moore are easily shrugged off as “men being men” and oppressing and objectifying women- that’s just how God made them, right?)
What we’re experiencing in the supernova effect: stars burn brightest right before they die, and this moment of extreme patriarchal immorality is the final light of a dying way of seeing and being in the world. And in the midst of these disheartening times, many Americans and a growing number of Christians are awakening to see the destructive effects of patriarchy and are being moved to make a stand for a new kind of society that embraces the broad diversity of humanity and opposes any system that marginalizes people based on race, sexuality, or gender identity. In the face of patriarchies last stand, there is a groundswell of people committed to intersectional justice who are taking to the streets and demanding reform once and for all.
In these last days of the patriarchy, the American evangelical movement is being revealed to be far more committed to power and privilege for a few than the “good news of great joy for all people” that Jesus embodied. And while many evangelicals will grasp feverishly at the last strands of patriarchy, the writing is on the wall. A new day is coming and is in fact here, where the systemic oppression of women, people of color, sexual minorities, and gender minorities is being overturned and a truly just and equal society has the chance to emerge in it’s place. And that is truly good news.