The Culture War Is On

Aug 30, 2018

By Sarah Jones

At a White House dinner with roughly 100 evangelical leaders on Monday, President Donald Trump warned of trouble to come if the Democrats win control of Congress in the November midterms. “You’re one election away from losing everything that you’ve got,” he said. “They will overturn everything that we’ve done and they’ll do it quickly and violently. There’s violence. When you look at Antifa and you look at some of these groups—these are violent people.” But his remarks, first reported by The New York Times, also contained a noteworthy canard: that he got “rid of” the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits churches—and any other 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations—from endorsing political candidates.

In truth, Trump has not, and cannot, get rid of that law; repealing it would require an act of Congress, which has failed to do so. Trump is likely making the claim based on an executive order, which many consider to be legally meaningless, urging the Treasury Department to be lenient with religious organizations. His lie, then, raises a familiar question for white evangelicals, who form Trump’s most consistent base of support: What have they really gotten from him?

To answer that question, many would point to Neil Gorsuch’s presence on the U.S. Supreme Court, and to Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to replace Anthony Kennedy. Gorsuch’s confirmation did thrill evangelicals, and though Kavanaugh reportedly told Senator Susan Collins that he believes Roe v. Wade is “settled law,” evangelical leaders have largely fallen behind the campaign to get him on the bench. Evangelicals also have reason to celebrate Jeff Sessions’s tenure as attorney general. He rescinded an Obama-era memo protecting transgender people from workplace discrimination, and launched a “religious liberty task force” to counter a “dangerous movement, undetected by many but real, [that] is now challenging and eroding a great tradition of religious freedom.”

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