IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

After Trump, will the religious right movement ever recover?

By embracing Donald Trump's campaign, the Christian Right's leaders gave up "their claims to speak for traditional morality."
Pastors from the Las Vegas area pray with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during a visit to the International Church of Las Vegas, and International Christian Academy on Oct. 5, 2016, in Las Vegas, Nev. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)
Pastors from the Las Vegas area pray with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during a visit to the International Church of Las Vegas, and International Christian Academy on Oct. 5, 2016, in Las Vegas, Nev.
Harvest Bible Chapel's James MacDonald, a megachurch leader and a member of Donald Trump's evangelical council, could hardly contain his disgust on Saturday after learning about the candidate's 2005 comments about women."Mr. Trump's comments released yesterday -- though 10 years ago (he was 60) -- are not just sophomoric or locker room banter," MacDonald wrote in an email. "They are truly the kind of misogynistic trash that reveals a man to be lecherous and worthless -- not the guy who gets politely ignored, but the guy who gets a punch in the head from worthy men who hear him talk that way about women."So, MacDonald was resigning from his role on Team Trump? The pastor was severing his ties to a man who'd proven himself "lecherous and worthless"? Actually, no. MacDonald was upset, but not enough to withdraw his support for Trump's candidacy.There's a lot of this going around. A wide variety of Evangelical Christian leaders and power players in the religious right movement have said they weren't pleased with the latest Trump revelations, but they're devoted to the GOP nominee anyway. Indeed, by some measures, the Christian Right's leaders have stuck with Trump in greater numbers than congressional Republicans.The Washington Post's Dana Milbank had a good piece today on the potential consequences:

Trump is creating a lot of wreckage as his campaign founders.... One of Trump's victims is likely to be the religious conservative political movement, as many of its leaders have averted their gaze from Trump's misogyny, hoping ends justify means. [...]These religious political leaders' continued support of Trump undermines their claims to speak for traditional morality.

I've lost count of how many times the religious right movement's obituary has been written prematurely, but it's nevertheless reasonable to wonder what will become of the Christian Right after 2016.Remember, this year was supposed to be different. As regular readers may recall, this was the election cycle in which the religious right intended to play a leading role in choosing the Republican Party's presidential nominee, and movement leaders had a credible plan to make that happen, eventually settling on Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) late last year.Christian conservatives soon after splintered, leaving the movement with a GOP nominee who is, among other things, a secular, thrice-married adulterer and casino owner who believes II Corinthians is pronounced "Two Corinthians."Discarding their professed principles and core beliefs, much of the movement embraced Trump anyway. The New Republic's Sarah Jones recently made the case that a reckoning is inevitable.

The religious right isn't dead yet. But after this election becomes history, the movement will be forced to reckon with the consequences of its quest for power. Young adults, who overwhelmingly oppose Trump, are already leaving conservative churches, and the religious right's Trump moment will surely only fuel this trend. If it had maintained a consistent public morality, maybe it could have retained some countercultural appeal. Now that its most visible leaders have sacrificed that authority, it has nothing left. [...]In the Gospel of Matthew, Christ tells his disciples that no one can serve two masters; you'll be loyal to one and not to the other. By endorsing Trump, the religious right chose a master—and sacrificed everything it says it stands for.

New York's Ed Kilgore had a related piece yesterday, making the case that the movement's relationship with Trump "could ultimately prove to be the death of the Christian right as we know it."It's a fair prediction. The next time there's a major national debate over a moral/cultural issue, and pro-Trump religious right leaders present themselves as standard-bearers for "family values" and traditional theological norms, is there anyone, anywhere, who'll be able to contain their laughter?