Are Court Evangelicals More Concerned With Trump’s Vulgar Language or the Racism Behind It?

billy-graham---nixon

Context.

First, let’s deal with the language.  I don’t appreciate the vulgarity.  And now we have CNN using the word “s#$%hole” every two minutes.  Last night I got the impression that CNN anchors and pundits seemed to be enjoying their opportunity to use this term on the airwaves.  The network was clearly relishing in the shock value.  I am sure they got a ratings bump.

Frankly, I don’t want this kind of vulgarity used on television.  If you want this kind of language broadcasting into your home get a premium cable subscription.  My kids are older now, but as I watched CNN last night I imagined the horror of a young family sitting in an airport or restaurant with CNN blaring and having to shut the eyes and cover the ears of their young kids. (Today, I noticed that CNN is now warning parents to get the kids out of the room before they use the term).

Of course CNN would not be put in this situation if our President had not used such a term.  Trump’s lack of character and discretion is a reflection of a culture that grows more coarse by the day.  This is not progress.  Trump exacerbates this culture.  Yet 81% of American evangelicals voted him into office.

Second, what about the court evangelical response? To their credit, many court evangelicals have separated themselves from Trump’s comments.  Jack Jenkins has covered this well in a piece at Religion News Service. Others have remained silent. Still others have decried the language, but defended the larger racist point about immigration.

As I wrote yesterday, this entire episode reminds me of Billy Graham’s response to the Watergate transcripts.   Grant Wacker describes this well in his biography of Graham:

Graham finally muscled up the courage to start reading New York Times excerpts in the middle of May [1974]. ‘The thing that surprised and shook me was the vulgar language he used…I felt physically sick.”  Elsewhere Graham admitted to weeping and throwing up.  Graham biographer Marshall Frady said Graham attributed Nixon’s fall to “sleeping pills and demons.”  Graham insisted he was misquoted.  But he was prepared to say that ‘all of Watergate was demonic because…it caused the American people to lose confidence in its institutions…almost as though some supernatural power of evil was trying to destroy this country.

Graham’s reference to Nixon’s language left many journalists and historians appalled.  They felt Graham had proved incapable of distinguishing between the minor issue of cussing and the major one of undermining government.  On the face of it they were right.  Graham did underscore Nixon’s language. He even said that was what upset him “most.”  Yet deeper issues were involved too.  First, Graham prided himself on his ability to judge character.  Nixon had not revealed that side of himself, at least not to that extent.  The preacher had heard the same language from Johnson, but Johnson did not pretend otherwise.  Nixon did.  The second, deeper issue involved the role of language in the evangelical subculture.  As in all subcultures, language formed boundaries that separated insiders from outsiders.  Graham also prided himself on not drawing boundaries, but Nixon was different.  He pretended to be an insider yet his language proved that he was not.  “Inwardly,” Graham wrote, “I felt torn apart.” 

Are the court evangelicals weeping and throwing up today?

Does Trump’s vulgar language make them “physically ill?  More importantly, does the content of Trump’s statement on immigration make them “physically ill?”

 

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