Evangelicalism once referred to a specific set of doctrinal beliefs. But as a new Politico interview with the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins makes clear, American evangelicalism is no longer about doctrine, at least not as much as it’s about politics. Perkins knows all about President Donald Trump’s moral failings—including the alleged Stormy Daniels affair—and his response is to shrug. “We kind of gave him—‘All right, you get a mulligan. You get a do-over here,’” Perkins told reporter Edward-Isaac Dovere:
Evangelical Christians, says Perkins, “were tired of being kicked around by Barack Obama and his leftists. And I think they are finally glad that there’s somebody on the playground that is willing to punch the bully.”
What happened to turning the other cheek?, I ask.
“You know, you only have two cheeks,” Perkins says. “Look, Christianity is not all about being a welcome mat which people can just stomp their feet on.”
In Trump, Perkins sees not a King David, but a blank slate upon which Perkins can inscribe his own image. “Some Christian leaders are surrendering the idea that character matters in public life in direct exchange for political benefits to Christians themselves,” Michael Gerson recently complained in an op-ed for The Washington Post. “You scratch my back, I’ll wink at dehumanization and Stormy Daniels. The gag reflex is entirely gone.”
But Perkins, as Gerson speculates, may miss that gag reflex sooner than he thinks. Trump is still a massively unpopular president, and the policy treats he’s tossed to his evangelical backers are similarly out of step with public opinion. Most Americans don’t want to ban abortion, or reverse Obergefell v. Hodges. By aligning himself with Trump, and convincing most of his movement to follow along, Perkins has altered the course of American Evangelicalism itself. Future generations of would-be parishioners may not look so kindly on the bargain he’s made.