Christian Complicity in the Sh*thole Controversy

Trump's evangelical backers have let his vulgarity distract them from his inhumanity.

When President Donald Trump in an immigration policy meeting reportedly declared Haiti, El Salvador, and various African nations to be “shithole countries” whose immigrants we should reject in favor of those from Nordic climes, his evangelical supporters phrased their responses with care.

“Apart from the vocabulary attributed to him, President Trump is right on target in his sentiment,” said Robert Jeffress, a Dallas megachurch pastor whose support for Trump crosses well into the territory of civil idolatry. “I support his views 100 percent,” Jeffress told the Washington Post, “even though as a pastor I can’t use that language.”

Others, though more circumspect, took a similar tack. Johnnie Moore, a member of Trump’s evangelical advisory council, labeled the alleged phrasing “crass” before pivoting to charge that reports on the subject were “absolutely suspect and politicized,” a distraction from failures in Congress. Another council member, Pastor Mark Burns, likewise said he would “disavow” Trump’s crude language—“that’s not how I would speak”—but added it’s a mistake to focus on the president’s words instead of his deeds. And when Trump himself addressed the controversy on Twitter, he, too, minimized the import of his “tough” language in comparison to the policy matters at hand.

Trump’s critics have accepted this framework of deeds over words—and not without reason. To get hung up on “shithole” at the expense of grappling with its commentary on the worth of people with darker skin is at the very least inexcusable ignorance. As progressive Christian writer Rachel Held Evans argued on Twitter, the problem is “not that he uses ‘salty language.’ It’s that he uses ‘salty language’ while denigrating people of color.”

Evans is right that we err if we focus only on the language, but we also err if we ignore the way vulgarity works for Trump, the way it serves him as a means of defense and deflection. When Trump says something offensive in both meaning and phrasing, it allows him to apologize for the saltiness while sidestepping or downplaying the denigration. It allows his backers to condemn Trump’s language without wavering in their support for the man himself. And it allows members of the public unconcerned about Trump’s vocabulary to pivot all the way around to full acceptance of the president’s meaning and language alike.

This dynamic did not begin with “shithole.” It was also in play following news of that other contender for Trump’s most infamous vulgarity—“grab them by the pussy”—and the assorted indecencies in the “Access Hollywood” tape that contained it.

Jeffress deemed the then-candidate’s words “lewd, offensive, and indefensible,” but he did not waver in his support for Trump’s campaign. The “locker room banter” in the recording “is unfortunate,” said David Bozell, a Catholic who leads the pro-Trump ForAmerica group, “but then again, we’re not electing saints.” Faith and Freedom Coalition president Ralph Reed similarly declared that “10-year-old tapes of private conversation with a television talk show host rank very low” in his calculus for 2016. Focus on the Family’s Jim Dobson condemned Trump’s “deplorable” words “entirely” while indicating his intent to continue backing Trump.

In his video apology after the recording surfaced, Trump said his words were wrong but still sought to minimize their impact using the words/deeds dichotomy. “[T]here’s a big difference between [my] words and actions of other people,” he said, suggesting the Clintons’ guilt is greater than his own and claiming the recording is “nothing more than a distraction from the important issues we’re facing today.” In an interview with Anderson Cooper two days later, he dismissed his language as mere “locker room talk.”

This verbal sleight-of-hand is the real distraction. If Trump told with G-rated language the exact same story on the “Access Hollywood” tape, if he cleanly expressed the exact same sentiment that he did in the immigration meeting, what he said would be no less reprehensible—though ironically it might be more difficult to defend. There could be no pivot. There could be no condemning the language while supporting the policy. There could be no cover of “tough talk” and “locker rooms.” There would only be naked misogyny and racism.

Self-proclaimed Christians’ complicity in this chicanery is particularly egregious given Scripture’s clarity on the connection between our tongues and our hearts. Just as no “good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit,” Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Plain, so a “good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart.”

What Jesus preached is utterly incompatible with court evangelicals’ claims that we may disregard Trump’s words—that his obscenities about women and people of color may be brushed aside as a point of personal preference—because his policy, intention, or heart is good.

Words and deeds cannot be thus separated, for “out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks,” and “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.” Our deeds and words, meaning and language, all have the same source. Knowing this, Trump’s evangelical backers deceive themselves and others when they use a sham dichotomy to create an illusion of distance between Trump’s language and his person.

Like a small blaze that will burn a great forest, the Apostle James wrote, so “the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity.” It “sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.” (If ever James needed a vivid illustration of his message, Trump has supplied it, and I confess his negative object lesson has me reexamining the habits of my own tongue.) James’s exhortation does not lend itself to “I wouldn’t speak that way, but…” Fire is not so easily contained. This month Trump has shown himself once more as an arsonist, and insofar as they let his vulgarity distract from his inhumanity, his evangelical supporters act as accomplices.

Bonnie Kristian is a fellow at Defense Priorities. She is a weekend editor at The Week and a columnist at Rare, and her writing has also appeared at Time, Politico, Relevant, The Hill, and other outlets.

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60 Responses to Christian Complicity in the Sh*thole Controversy

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  1. TulsaRon says:

    Trump is crude, to the point, doesn’t mince words, and represents the majority of Americans. He’s always been that way, as evidenced by The Apprentice: “Fire the Bastard!”
    The fact is that every country in the world, save Northern Europe (those White People), are poorer than America, and everyone wants to come here. We have our own issues and problems that need to be addressed- infrastructure; increasing national debt; government spending; aging; obese population; out of control medical costs; teenage, single parentage; school drop-outs, etc. We don’t need any more people dependent on welfare and those few citizens who work and pay the bills. It’s got nothing to do with race or national origin. It’s a cultural and individual responsibility thing. “The Donald” is crude, but he is absolutely right. We need to assure that potential immigrants contribute to our society, not be a further drain and burden.

  2. Aaron Clark says:

    President Trump’s racist words and ideas about “s—hole” countries deserve criticism.

    Rev. Samuel Rodriquez (President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference) tells us, “Every single person is created in the image of God. Therefore, as it pertains to immigration, we must provide a legal avenue with rigorous vetting, that enables individuals from both Norway and Nigeria, from Holland and Haiti, to come to our nation if they embrace our values, commit to self-reliance and to enriching our collective American experience.”

    http://nhclc.org/rev-samuel-rodriguez-issues-statement-reacting-to-leaked-comments-from-closed-door-immigration-meeting/

    But what should we do for these masses of people in such desperate circumstances which are caused by generations of oppressive, corrupt governments, sometimes aided and abetted by the world’s largest countries? Unfortunately Reverend Rodriquez’ (and many others’) only answer is that we must allow a tiny minority to immigrate into the U.S! But since ALL are created in the image of God, then we should be so concerned for ALL that we would pronounce ALL the others, created in the image of God, equally deserving of our help. We should relentlessly try to help ALL these equally deserving people by urging a global unity in condemnation of, and pressure on, their despicable governments. But not one of Trump’s critics have uttered such condemnation.

    When Rev. Billy Graham and others stood up against South African “apartheid” it was an important and necessary step toward removing that awful system.

    https://books.google.com/books?id=IbufdthAJx4C&pg=PA110&lpg=PA110&dq=%22Billy+Graham%22+apartheid&source=bl&ots=n6Oiu-SQUr&sig=j4YY673e_9PUV5x9JuxiyFyQV0Q&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi-t7entuTYAhXJoFMKHbUMBYs4ChDoAQgmMAA#v=onepage&q=%20apartheid&f=false

    It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the current pro-immigration/anti-Trump rhetoric is hypocritical. Critics only pay attention to a few immigrants and ignore all the other oppressed people from their respective countries. Why do they fail to view the other people in these countries as equally deserving of help? Is some current Christian immigration rhetoric merely an attempt to make a hypocritical show of appearing Godly, biblical, and compassionate? What could be the reason for the disregard, the consistent silence, of Trump’s Christian critics on the oppression of all these desperate masses?

    I personally know a doctor from Haiti who still returns frequently to Haiti and conducts free medical clinics for their poor. This doctor told me that large sums of money from various governments were sent to Haiti, after the last earthquake, to rebuild housing for the poor. However, Haitian government officials took the money and gave some to their friends. Both groups built self-enriching middle and higher class housing which the poor could not afford. Many of Haiti’s poor are still living in tents with only the bare essentials for life supplied by foreign relief agencies.

    Furthermore, contrast our Trump critics’ remarks with those of an African sociologist:​

    “President Donald Trump is absolutely right,” says Mamady Traore, a 30-year-old sociologist in the West African nation of Guinea. “When you have heads of state who mess with the constitutions to perpetuate their power. When you have rebel factions that kill children, disembowel women as saints, who mutilate innocent civilians…”

    https://www.yahoo.com/news/latest-african-union-alarmed-trump-statement-090539965.html

    None of the conditions for all these people–created in the image of God–in these countries will improve until the corruption of these governments and the mistreatment of generations of their people is routinely rehearsed, in public, by all Christians, world leaders, our own politicians, journalists, and all others who feel qualified to comment on such issues.

    Stop the hypocrisy; justice for ALL!

  3. James P Carpenter says:

    I am a 71 year old Vietnam vet. I can not understand how anyone can call him/herself Christian and support anything related to Trump. His father was a racist, so is he. The truth and the Donald are not fellow travelers. And, as Truman said about RMN: “if he ever told the truth he would have to go out and tell another lie… just to keep his hand in!

  4. EliteCommInc. says:

    “But why must we on the Non-democrat side of the aisle always hold ourselves to the dictum of ‘what would Jesus say (or do)’ while the democrats do whatever they deem effective and to hell with the fallout?”

    I certainly understand the temptation, but that we aren’t supposed to behave as those who think Christ is a social worker bent to every wind. That is why people of faith in Christ should avoid emulating democrats who do.

    “In short, the human invention of a supposedly God-written scripture leads to a blasphemous caricature. For the comfort of a legalistic text that was exactly what Jesus did not want and did not attempt to create, God’s self-proclaimed followers set him up as a buffoon who failed to foresee fights that any ordinary lawyer or historian would have seen coming . . .”

    Certainly this can can occur. But you behave as if that it all it is and tat tells me you haven’t been exposed to much scripture or as you note scripture in context. It can be treated among believers as a sett of legal dictum, – religion may be that, but Christianity from scripture in belief and practice is not.

    I am not going to defend the superior human based on skin color, money, status or celebrity. But I am certainly going to defend the right of any state to set its immigration parameters.

  5. EliteCommInc. says:

    “Rev. Samuel Rodriquez (President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference) tells us, “Every single person is created in the image of God. Therefore, as it pertains to immigration . . .”

    Absolute nonsense.

    There are few if any laws banning US citizens from heading off to countries to God’s work. Which makes one wonder why these same christians spend billions on Israel when there are Christians right her in the US that could use aide and given the current issue —

    Haiti has been in need of christian investment since its existence as a free country. I use the reference free with caution. Haiti right next door — and yet we have pastors defending Norwegian immigration — I would posit that christians can head out to either Norway or Haiti, but I suspect that Haiti has the greater need.

    As I say one of the benefits of a Pres trump is a good look at who we are and who sits in places of leadership.

  6. EliteCommInc. says:

    “Stop the hypocrisy; justice for ALL!”

    In all sincerity and the best to your success.

    God speed.

    Bon Boyage!

  7. sglover says:

    Any more TAC offers only two reasons for visiting:

    1) Larison, among its authors the lone voice of informed sanity.

    2) The comments. I wouldn’t otherwise hang around the right-wingers I encounter here, so I wouldn’t know what’s on their minds. And after reading their comments, I’m deeply grateful that they’re not around me. There seems to be a bottomless well of free-floating hostility to anybody outside of, say, Nebraska, Whole lotta sadism among our devout, self-professed “Christians”.

  8. Fran Macadam says:

    It occurs to me that some folks are overly sensitive about the anal, even regarding it as a sacred space. Perhaps that is a literal as well as metaphorical explanation for their outrage about anything negative being alleged.

  9. Patricus says:

    Credit to sglover for at least reading opposing views. That is rare on the left. Their views about the right are caricatures. Right wingers like me read the leftish publications and we understand how they think (or feel). We don’t hate liberals. We know they are deluded and the intelligent ones eventually drift rightward. We will prevail in the long run.

    Trump’s characterizations of S…holes was crass but not altogether inaccurate. There is doubt about what words he actually used. One man said S…holes. Four disputed that word. Others heard nothing.

    The leftists regularly shoot themselves in the foot because of their hysterical demonization of Trump. He isn’t Satan, Stalin or Hitler and most citizens know that. He isn’t mentally or physically ill. He might turn out to be an effective leader. We can’t know at this date. If the economy grows better than before Trump wins in 2020.

  10. EliteCommInc. says:

    ” . . . so I wouldn’t know what’s on their minds.”

    There’s an ancient practice around since Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden, no doubt. If want to know what someone is thinking and your inquiry is sincere . . .

    Ask them.

    Though you may want to avoid the mistake of making comparisons to a planet about to nova and the choices citizens of countries make in killing each other.

    False comparisons by many light years – literally.

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