Is Trump Inspiring a Generation of Neo-Fundamentalist Christians? | Opinion

Twenty-five years ago, I wrote an article suggesting that religious radio stations should consider playing songs by artists who may not be considered evangelical Christians, but had nonetheless produced songs that were aligned with their values. The pro-life "Papa Don't Preach" by Madonna, the deeply spiritual "Healing Hands" by Elton John and "Let's Wait Awhile," Janet Jackson's ode to chastity, made my list of songs that might have been played on radio stations that were dedicated to promoting traditionalist ideas in popular culture.

A quarter-century later, it's safe to say that no Christian radio station anywhere, ever, has played songs by those artists, for it seems to be a uniquely Christian phenomenon that very often it's the character and beliefs of the individuals that are considered to be more important than the actual messages delivered. For while you'll never hear Aerosmith, the Rolling Stones or the Doobie Brothers on Christian radio, you may hear a singer named Greg X. Volz deliver a searing version of "Dream On," Holy Soldier's cover of the Stones' "Gimme Shelter" and dc Talk's version of "Jesus Is Just Alright."

A similar phenomenon appears in film, where devout Christians routinely refuse to support films when they have issues with the the bearer of the message. That's why movies in recent years about Noah and Moses, as well as a deeply spiritual meditation on Christian martyrdom set in Japan titled Silence, bombed at the box office. The films' creators, Ridley Scott, Darren Aronofsky and Martin Scorsese, were simply too problematic for many Christians.

All of this makes the embrace of President Donald Trump by millions of conservative Christian voters so fascinating, for many of them have finally been able to do in politics what they've historically been unable to do in pop culture: look beyond the personal failings of the messenger and support the work.

Yet while many older Christians have been able to set aside purity tests in the case of Trump, their children and grandchildren are reinventing the idea that character trumps content (no pun intended).

This inability of some young evangelicals to embrace a sort of realpolitik—an acknowledgement that sometimes life in a fallen world means that results they embrace come in deeply flawed packaging—led many of them to declare themselves Never Trumpers, even as the president they loathed appointed hundreds of judges and two Supreme Court justices who shared their values and could conceivably be advancing them for the next half-century.

To be sure, there is something ironic about devout churchgoers embracing a leader who has flouted conventions of morality, but there is equal irony in their children exhibiting a kind of neo-fundamentalism that deems the personal moral purity (or lack thereof) of the messenger to outweigh the work of that messenger.

Trump preacher pray
President Donald Trump and American evangelical Christian preacher Andrew Brunson participate in a prayer at the White House on October 13, 2018, in Washington, D.C. Mark Wilson/Getty

Hundreds of articles and countless broadcasts have excoriated churchgoers for this decision to, when it came to Trump, ignore the sins of the messenger and focus instead on the work. And Trump seems to understand this dynamic, which may explain why he ends so many campaign events with the Rolling Stones singing, "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, well, you just might find you get what you need."

The popular narrative that Trump-voting Christians sold their birthright for a bit of political broth may be the wrong way to look at what they've done. It may be, instead, the sign of a maturing political movement made up of individuals who, when faced with the ultimate Hobson's choice, were finally able to do in politics what they often couldn't do in pop culture: ignore the flaws of the individual and embrace the work even as their progeny return to the same type of fundamentalism they once decried in their parents.

Mark Joseph is a producer, author and commentator. His latest book is Rock Gets Religion: The Battle for the Soul of the Devil's Music.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.