One thing you have to say about high school and college-age youth. They are on high alert for any hint of hypocrisy.
In August 2017 the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood – an organization which proclaims that God’s plan for marriage “involves the humble and sacrificial leadership of the husband and the joyful, intelligent submission to that leadership by the wife” — published the Nashville Statement. It was signed by a host of Christian Right luminaries, including James Dobson, Ken Ham, Tony Perkins, and Paige Patterson (the latter who has since been removed from the presidency of Southwestern Baptist Seminary – but not yet the Board of Cedarville University – amidst a barrage of complaints regarding his history of making misogynous and demeaning comments.)
Lamenting that “Western culture has become increasing post-Christian,” the Statement affirms “divinely ordained differences between male and female,” rejects both homosexual marriage and “homosexual or transsexual self-conception,” and rejects the possibility that true Christians could disagree with them:
The approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is [not] a matter of moral indifference about which other faithful Christians should agree to disagree.
In The American Conservative, Rod Dreher – author of The Benedict Option and supporter of the Nashville Statement – reported on a lunch conversation with conservative Evangelicals who surprised him by emphatically reporting that the statement was “a pastoral disaster.” One big reason it was such a disaster? As Dreher put it, the “Trump factor” was to blame:
A couple of people in college ministry were at the table. They said that it is impossible to overstate how alienating the enthusiastic support their parents gave to Donald Trump was to their students. A number of college students have left the church entirely over it.
“How is that possible?” I asked one of the campus ministers . . . He said that . . . their parents’ backing of Donald Trump made everything they had been taught as kids about Christianity a lie. Their parents were the primary face of Evangelical Christianity to them, and to see this happen was shattering. They concluded that Christianity must be all about the economy, or tribalism, and so forth . . .
Listening to these pastors and laypeople talking about the Trump effect on younger Christians was quite sobering to me. An older pastor said that it is impossible to separate the Nashville Statement from the massive support white Evangelicals gave to Trump. . . . [According to the pastor,] “all they see is [that] a bunch of leaders of a movement who voted for a sexually corrupt man like Donald Trump are now trying to take a public stand on sexual morality for gays. It’s totally hypocritical to them. I don’t know how the Nashville Statement drafters and signers didn’t see this coming.”
What Dreher heard from these evangelical pastors is very much in keeping with what we heard from local high school students a few weeks ago, as they tried to square evangelical judgments regarding homosexuality with their support of Donald Trump.
Did the signers of the Nashville Statement really not see this coming? Did Ken Ham – Nashville Statement signer and author of 44 anti-LGBTQ articles and posts in the past 23 months — really not understand that his silence on the sexual immorality of Donald Trump could easily lead people to see his pronouncements on sexual morality as hypocrisy?
Perhaps they do understand. And perhaps they do not care. One plausible interpretation is that Ham and his fellow Nashville Statement signers (at least the ones who have not criticized the president’s immorality with the same verve that they criticize gays and lesbians) are so enamored with Donald Trump that they do not care that the most easily-drawn conclusion is that they are hypocrites.
Perhaps we should not be surprised that so many young people are abandoning religion. If in the end what really matters is political power, and if everything (including morality and ethics) is to be sacrificed in behalf of securing that power, who needs religion?