Desperate Times, Desperate Measures

By making San Diego’s bishop, Robert McElroy, a cardinal, many pro-life Catholics feel Pope Francis has added significantly to America’s many “soft-on-abortion” bishops.  To be fair to our Catholic bishops, it must be acknowledged that they took an emphatic stand against abortion when the Roe v. Wade ruling of the Supreme Court was handed down in January of 1973.

Protestants, in 1973, waffled.  The more liberal Protestants had no real objection to the ruling.  The more conservative were not sure what they should say.  A few years later, however, conservative Protestants (those calling themselves Evangelical) came to realize that the Court’s endorsement of abortion was one more blow – a very great blow – struck against Christianity, and they soon became leaders in the struggle against abortion.

In the meantime, however, Catholic opposition to abortion grew weaker.  It is instructive that states in which Catholics make up a large percentage of the population (e.g., NY, NJ, IL, CA, MA, CT, RI) tend to send pro-abortion members of Congress.  By contrast, states in which Evangelical Protestants make up a great percentage of the population tend to send pro-life members to Congress.

No doubt there are many reasons for this.  One of the most important, however, is that American Catholics have a long tradition of trying to “fit in,” trying to prove to the world of non-Catholic Americans that they too are “good Americans.”

For centuries, Catholics have been trying to overcome the old anti-Catholic myth that they cannot be true patriots. This began in England in the 1600s, when it was widely believed that Catholics could not be good Englishmen because their first loyalty was not to the King but to a “foreign prince” (the pope).

English Protestants carried this myth with them when they crossed the ocean; and when Catholics from Ireland and other Catholic places migrated to the United States, they were confronted with this myth.  So they did their best to prove it wrong, which they did by conforming (within limits) to prevailing American morals, manners, and ideas.

In the 1960s and 1970s, more and more Americans were accepting, if not enthusiastically embracing, the sexual revolution, including abortion.  Many Catholics, though far from all, true to their tradition of conformity to American ways, said: “Look at us.  We’re just as American as you are.  And so we too will accept the sexual revolution, including abortion.”

By contrast, Evangelical Protestants did not feel they had to prove that they were good Americans.  They felt that they already were good Americans, and always had been.  Among Americans living in the middle of the 20th century, was there anybody who bore a greater religious resemblance to the old-fashioned Protestants who settled America and built the new nation?  “If anybody is a true American,” they said to themselves, “it’s we Evangelicals.”

And so when it came to the sexual revolution, including abortion, they didn’t feel they had to conform; no, they felt they had to resist, since conformity was tantamount to drifting away both from true Christianity and from true Americanism.

Besides, the Evangelical tradition in America derived historically from the English tradition of Protestant Dissent, and in England Dissenters had always had the feeling – a  warranted feeling – that they were victims of discrimination that amounted to a kind of semi-persecution.

Donald Trump and Jerry Falwell Jr.

American Evangelicals, then, were hardly surprised when the American “Establishment” – by the 1970s a highly secularized establishment – subjected them to a new kind of semi-persecution.

When the secular establishment told them that they must endorse the sexual revolution, including abortion, they declined to do so.  Evangelical opposition to abortion is a continuation of the English tradition of Dissent or Nonconformity.

In the presidential elections of 2016 and 2020, Evangelical voters by a very large majority (between 80 and 90 percent) voted for Donald Trump.  They have been called “hypocrites” for doing this.  Their leftist critics (secular humanists and liberal Christians) argue that in supporting Trump they are being unfaithful to the Christianity they profess to believe in.

A true Christian, the critics say, would not support so un-Christian a man as Trump, a man who quite obviously has committed many sins of a sexual and financial nature, a man lacking the great Christian virtue of humility, a man devoid of piety and spirituality, a man who is to all appearances a ruthless and greedy egomaniac.

This criticism, by the way, is a curious phenomenon that one frequently comes across nowadays – atheists and near-atheists who believe that they have a better understanding of the nature of “true Christianity” than do the people who declare themselves to be Christians.

But to this criticism a pro-Trump Evangelical (or a pro-Trump Catholic for that matter) can reply:

Were it not for my strong commitment to Jesus Christ I would never be able to support Donald Trump.  If these were ordinary times, Trump, an obviously un-Christian man, is the last person in the world I would vote for.  But these are not ordinary times.  No, we are living in a time when Christianity is under strong attack in America.  It is under attack from a very powerful force made up of atheists and their morally and intellectually corrupt allies – enthusiasts for murder (abortion), perversion (homosexuality), and lunacy (transgenderism).  We Christians have no choice but to fight back if we are to be true to our Christianity.

And the political conclusion they will draw from this reality is equally clear: “If an effective defender of Christianity (Trump) comes along, even if he is not much of a Christian himself, even if he defends Christianity from less-than-Christian motives, we cannot refuse to support him on the grounds that he is less than ideal, less than a knight in shining armor.  These are desperate times for us Christians, and desperate times call for desperate measures.  You cannot expect a drowning man to refuse help because the lifeguard happens not to be a replica of Francis of Assisi or George Washington.”


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David Carlin is a retired professor of sociology and philosophy at the Community College of Rhode Island, and the author of The Decline and Fall of the Catholic Church in America, Three Sexual Revolutions: Catholic, Protestant, Atheist, and most recently Atheistic Humanism, the Democratic Party, and the Catholic Church.