Christians in the Hands of Donald Trump

On Monday morning of this week a rumor rippled through the world of religious conservatism: It was said that Russell Moore, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s policy arm, might be about to lose his job.

For several years now, Moore has been the energetic and winsome spokesman for a next-generation religious right — one that no longer regards itself as a moral majority, that recognizes that traditional religion in all its forms has become a counterculture in the West and that urges believers to essentially lean into this new dispensation, embracing what Moore has called the “freakishness” of biblical faith in an increasingly post-Christian United States.

In certain ways the progress of Donald Trump, sybarite and heathen, to the Republican nomination seemed to throw Moore’s diagnosis into sharp relief. But it threw the divisions among religious conservatives into relief as well. Moore (and many others) spent the campaign warning that a countercultural Christianity would risk its credibility by supporting a figure like Trump for the presidency. But other leaders, mostly in the movement’s older guard, found ways to cast Trump as a heaven-sent figure, whose flaws and failings were no worse than those of a King David or a Constantine. And when Trump won, shockingly — with strong support from conservative churchgoers, however conflicted they might have been — the Trumpist faction claimed vindication, and among some Baptist pastors the knives came out for Moore.

They haven’t yet been driven home. The rumor was wrong, or else the pushback was vigorous, and Moore got a tempered vote of confidence from the S.B.C.’s higher-ups this week instead.

But his suddenly precarious position — from prophet to possible pariah in one presidential cycle — illustrates the strange position of conservative Christians in the age of Trump. Having spent the late Obama years trying to reconcile themselves to growing marginalization, to sudden secularization and increasing liberal pressure on their institutions, they suddenly find themselves with a real share of power — with allies all over the Trump cabinet, whatever the president himself may believe — in a political alignment that almost nobody saw coming.

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