A recent post discussed how Ted Cruz's failed attack about "New York values" shows that the culture wars are losing major steam. Not only the election but the political climate in general is now entirely about the nature of the government and the economy -- there is no room for appeals to social and cultural values, as there has been back to Jimmy Carter's emphasis on being a born-again Christian during his 1976 presidential campaign, and really ramping up during the '90s (gun control, abortion, etc. -- all very stale topics way past their consume-by date).
In fact, as Jerry Falwell Jr. has been pointing out while stumping for Trump, Jimmy Carter may have been a good born-again Baptist and Sunday school teacher, but he wasn't the best choice for President of the United States. (Search YouTube for "Trump Falwell" -- he has made several appearances already.)
It would have been unimaginable just 10 to 20 years ago for the Chancellor of Liberty University (evangelical Southern Baptist) to be endorsing a candidate who wouldn't receive an A+ on the evangelical report card. Today, we have him appealing to conservative Christian voters that they ought to put aside whatever concerns they may have about Trump's faith and religious life, and choose him because he's the best shot they have at preserving their way of life, at such a crucial now-or-never point in history.
In his stump speeches, Falwell gives the analogy of bringing your sick child to whoever the best doctor is that can heal him -- regardless of the doctor's personal faith. Separation of church and medicine. He also relates stories about putting the university that his father founded on a solid financial foundation, and that this required bringing in professionals who may or may not have shared his faith, but were the best ones for the job. Separation of church and accounting.
That may sound utterly ordinary for mainstream Christians or the not-so-religious, but it is a major reversal of the evangelical stance that "the personal is political" -- that it's not just a candidate's character that matters, but specifically how closely his religious beliefs and behaviors reflect the evangelicals' own ways. Falwell also quotes Jesus' admonition to "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's," explaining that this means separating religious from political affairs -- again, a major reversal of the message and mindset that the evangelical audience has become used to.
I'd go one step further and argue to evangelicals that Trump is like the Good Samaritan who helped the traveler who had been beaten, robbed, and left for dead on the side of the road, after the priest and the Levite (another religious official) had passed by without stopping to help.
The wounded traveler is the American way of life, and evangelicals are like the audience of the original, who were from a somewhat different tribe than the Samaritan helper. (Still, the Jews and Samaritans were highly similar cultures, sharing blood, language, history, land, and most of their religion.)
The priest and the Levite are those who are more concerned with maintaining their own personal ritual purity than administering aid to a dying crime victim, whose wounds and filth might defile them -- Republican "intellectuals" and politicians, Religious Right figureheads, and the leaders of the conservative values movement in general. Healing the sickly American way of life is going to require actions more than loud words and empty gestures, and handling a dying body will leave you with unclean hands afterward.
In Jesus' parable, it is not the traveler's spirit that is in danger -- it is his health, wealth, and security that the robbers have stolen from him, and they robbed him for material rather than religious motives. The priest and the Levite probably thought, "Hey, it's not a religious matter -- let the doctors intervene. And anyway, if we got involved, we could get physically and spiritually polluted."
Likewise, much of the American way of life has to do with secular and mundane matters like how our economy and our government operate.
Do we allow American companies to send our jobs overseas, while the executives make the profits right here? Do we allow anyone who wants to come into the country to do so, and even to gain citizenship? Do we allow technocrats in Washington to dictate education policy? And so on and so forth. If we allow the wrong choices to be made on all these matters, as we have for the better part of several decades now, then the American way of life will vanish into thin air -- religion or no religion.
Someone working as a latter-day serf at two part-time service-sector jobs, whose neighborhood is increasingly colonized by foreigners and turned into a Tower of Babel, is not going to live a truly American way of life, even if they continue to go to church on Sunday, say grace before dinner, and pray to God to forgive their sins. They will be living like a disenfranchised Medieval peasant, albeit a devout one, and with more dazzling devices to numb the pain. They will not be living as a free American citizen.
Restoring health and wealth to the American way of life is going to require getting our hands dirty with the workings of the economy and government. Evangelical candidates such as Ted Cruz would rather preserve their holier-than-thou purity than get anything constructive done to help the dying crime victim. Trump, the New Yorker, does not hail from the evangelical tribe, but he is going to do far more to bring the American way of life back to life. And he is truly acting more like a good neighbor to America than are the priests of the conservative movement.