The Christian right's self-destruction is unfolding before our eyes
Evangelical pastors pray over Donald Trump. (Official White House Photos by Joyce Boghosian)

I almost feel sorry for Herschel Walker. He is so clearly unfit for the job of United States senator that it's uncomfortable to watch him flounder about, unable to coherently answer even the simplest questions or offer any reasons why he should be one of the most powerful people in government. He was a star athlete, forever to be revered by college football fans, and now he's just a pathetic tool of cynical politicians, particularly, of course, Donald Trump. Still, Walker willingly allowed himself to be used and that's on him.

Once again we see the shamelessness of the Republican Party and the rank hypocrisy of the conservative evangelical Christians who form its strongest base. They're sticking with Walker no matter what, with ludicrous excuses that wouldn't pass theological muster in a fourth-grade Sunday school class.

There was a time when conservative Christian morality was considered the backbone of American society and everyone in politics was obliged to genuflect to their leadership, regardless of party. This week, as the latest Walker scandal unfolded, I was reminded of the hysteria that engulfed American politics in the 1990s when right-wing Christians spent eight long years in a frenzy over the immoral, draft-dodging, womanizing, lying baby-boomer president, Bill Clinton. (They didn't much care for his feminazi wife either.) From the Christian right's point of view Bill and Hillary Clinton personified the sexual revolution, which they claimed was sending the country straight to hell.

Right-wing Christians spent eight years in a frenzy over the immoral, draft-dodging, womanizing, lying president. But not the one who immediately comes to mind.

Over and over again they bellowed that "character matters" and when the Monica Lewinsky scandal hit, offering proof of Clinton's perfidy, they went into overdrive. Televangelist Pat Robertson told 3,000 cheering members of the Christian Coalition, that Clinton had turned the White House into a "playpen for the sexual freedom of the poster child of the 1960s" and solemnly declared that "our national trust has been deeply wounded." Focus on the Family's James Dobson sent a letter to 2.4 million conservative Christians insisting that Clinton should be impeached because his behavior was setting a bad example for "the children" and bemoaning the lack of moral among the millions of Americans who saw through the right's hypocritical crusade.

Clinton, as we know, survived that impeachment but the power of the Christian right was actually strengthened. The conventional wisdom after George W. Bush's dubious Electoral College win in 2000 was that the Democrats had lost because Americans were disgusted by their general immorality. Abortion once again became the issue that illustrated that most clearly with middle-path Democrats dominating the conversation and wringing their hands over the supposed need to "reach out" to "pro-life" voters or face permanent political exile. Op-eds with headlines like "Why Pro-Choice Is a Bad Choice for Democrats" proliferated and voters had to endure endless discussions of the "God gap."

Cowed by this criticism, many Democrats labored to avoid any kind of confrontation over the issue. It came to a head during negotiations over the Affordable Care Act when "pro-life" Democrats, with the help of the same pearl-clutching pundits, carried the day. Abortion coverage was not required and the odious Hyde Amendment, banning abortion coverage under Medicaid, was not repealed. The conservative Christians still hated Obamacare, of course, but they had proved they still had clout.

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Then along came Donald Trump, the very personification of everything the Christian right had railed against for years. He was an inveterate philanderer who'd been married three times with one of his children even born out of wedlock. He bragged incessantly about his sexual exploits, lied compulsively about everything and literally ran gambling houses (including the nation's first casino strip club.) He cavorted with the likes of Hugh Hefner and appeared in a softcore porn movie. As we know, he has been credibly accused of sexually assaulting dozens of women and was caught on tape bragging about impulsively grabbing women's crotches and getting away with it.

And the Christian right couldn't possibly have loved him more. In fact, they were his most ardent supporters in 2016, and remain so today. All that talk about how leaders must exhibit personal morality was forgotten in favor of a ruthless pragmatism they make no effort to conceal. They just want to win by any means necessary and worship power for power's sake.

Herschel Walker's case illustrates this even better than Trump. In the wake of the Supreme Court's decision overturning Roe v. Wade, which hit this midterm campaign like an 8.0 earthquake, Walker has been accused of paying for a woman's abortion while professing to support a ban on abortion with no exceptions. Politico reported that Walker's Christian supporters couldn't care less, quoting one pastor saying, "The dilemma is, do you wait for a candidate who is perfect? Or do you take what's given to you and make the choice between the options?"

That's very pragmatic, which is fair enough. But I think we can safely say that Democrats no longer need to listen to the religious right's pompous braying about "character" and have absolutely no obligation to give them any credence when it comes to morals and values. They are political actors, doing what political actors do. And we know they're religious phonies too: Look at what happens to those who refuse to go along, like theologian Russell Moore, a former leading figure in the Southern Baptist Convention who quit rather than continue to support the moral rot at the heart of his organization, which includes a cult-like devotion to Donald Trump. The contrast couldn't be more obvious.

A new report from the Pew Research Center shows that the Christian majority in America is rapidly fading and may become a clear minority, perhaps as little as a third of the population, over the next 50 years or so. One big reason why that's happening is because many young people are leaving Christian denominations in large numbers in favor of no religion at all, with no guarantee that they'll switch back as they get older. It's impossible not to conclude that the rank hypocrisy of the Christian right, which has been granted such a prominent role in religious and moral leadership for the past 40 years, is repulsive to people who actually have principles and ideals. If that collapse comes to pass, it's almost certainly a good thing for America — and the Christian right only has itself to blame for sowing the seeds of its own demise.