When church leaders speak out on social issues they are often told to ‘keep religion out of politics’. A resoundingly nonsensical statement.
One of the tasks of the church is to speak out on moral issues, and how people are treated in terms of employment, housing, working conditions, medical services and other areas of life are moral concerns. Social questions of this type prompted the great evangelical Christians of the nineteenth century such as Shaftesbury, Wilberforce, Barnardo and Booth to agitate for action to improve the lot of the most disadvantaged in society. We all benefit from their evangelical-based involvement in politics and social action.
The church is at its strongest when it applies rigorous biblical scrutiny to any problems which arise, including social issues. It is at its weakest when it allows itself to reflect the stance of the secular establishment.
Paul Bayes, C of E Bishop of Liverpool, is the latest episcopal mouthpiece attempting to baptise the received wisdom of the establishment’s secular elites with a blessing from the establishment’s religious elites. Whilst doing so Bayes rebukes those Christians he describes as ‘so-called evangelicals’.
According to the Pew Research Centre, 81 per cent of US self-identifying white evangelicals said they voted for Donald Trump in 2016. Despite the incessant anti-Trump media onslaught, 78 per cent of them continue to support his presidency.
In a Guardian article Paul Bayes is extensively quoted as castigating evangelicals who support Trump and his politics as ‘so-called’ or ‘self-styled evangelicals’. Never mind one’s view of Scripture or theological orthodoxy, the necessity of salvation in Christ alone or the sanctity of life. These are all downgraded to become the ephemera of evangelicalism. Only those in lockstep with the bishop’s ultra-progressive politics are entitled to the designation ‘evangelical’. All others are mere ‘so-called’ or pseudo-evangelicals.
Bayes makes the fundamental mistake of elitists in refusing to recognise that those who differ from him might actually have thought things through. He condescendingly accuses evangelical Trump supporters of ‘uncritically accepting’ or ‘supporting’ Trump and other Right-wing populists.
Here he joins Remainers who claim that if only those ignorant Brexiteers had the intelligence to think about issues properly they wouldn’t have voted to leave the EU. Bishop Bayes has forgotten that insulting your opponent’s intelligence is never a winning argument.
There are many thoughtful evangelicals who, whilst deploring the morals of the thrice-married former casino owner, still support his politics. Almost as narcissistic as Obama, Trump’s egocentricity makes them recoil. His rash judgements make them cringe. Just about all wish someone would delete his Twitter account or give him a nice cup of cocoa before he goes to bed for a good night’s sleep instead of staying awake abusing in 280 characters any who disagree with him. Yet they still prefer Trump to his 2016 opponent and her allies. More importantly, they can see the progress the US has made under Trump.
At the end of November 2017 the Dow broke 24,000 for the first time. The index is up more than 20 per cent in 2017. After inflation and seasonal adjustment American GDP expanded at a 3.2 per cent rate in the third quarter. This is the first time since 2007 that quarterly economic output has exceeded the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate of its ‘maximum sustainable level’.
Trump’s emphasis on cutting regulations and the biggest tax reform for thirty years, along with his understanding that the private sector is the engine that drives prosperity, have helped create the optimism currently energising consumers and businesses, if not bishops.
Bishop Bayes argues: ‘Some of the things that have been said by [evangelical] religious leaders seem to collude with a system that marginalises the poor, a system which builds walls instead of bridges, a system which says people on the margins of society should be excluded.’ If Bayes actually looked, he would find that the facts tell a different story.
Unemployment in the US has gone down, particularly amongst minority groups. Black unemployment is now at a 17-year low. Obama, the president who was going to lift black America economically, didn’t deliver. From 2009 to 2015, adjusted for inflation, the income of black Americans fell by more than $900 per family.
The number of black Americans with a job has risen by 600,000 from last year. Under Trump, the rate of job growth per month for blacks has so far been 40 per cent higher than the monthly average under Obama. Trump has averaged nearly 30,000 new black jobs per month.
The same pattern is repeated amongst Hispanics. Unemployment rates amongst this community have dropped to their lowest in the history of the United States. Perhaps Bishop Bayes does not think that providing employment in a buoyant economy is a viable way helping the marginalised poor.
Bayes tells us the gospel teaches we should make ‘sure marginalised and defenceless people are protected’. Which is just what Trump is doing in attempting to restrict illegal immigration. Those who are hurt by unfettered immigration are not living in episcopal palaces but are the marginalised and defenceless Americans whose jobs are taken and wages undermined by illegal immigrants.
Bayes complains that under Trump the US is ‘not welcoming people any more’. However, there are no new restrictions on legal immigration to the US; they remain the same as under Obama. Trump has also said the US will accept 50,000 refugees annually, more than the UK.
Although Bayes criticises Trump as one who ‘builds walls instead of bridges’ the major criticism by his supporters is that he hasn’t built The Wall. Yet arrests of illegal immigrants are substantially down since Trump’s election, because people know the US is beginning to get tough. If they wish to protect the weakest and most marginalised in America, they need to.
Liverpool’s first Anglican bishop was the redoubtable J C Ryle, an actual evangelical who remains an evangelical icon today. He is remembered for his rigorous adherence to Scripture. Unfortunately, today’s Bishop of Liverpool prefers investigation via Guardian editorials.