New York Times columnist Ross Douthat doesn't buddy-up to liberals generally. Most dislike him. Scroll through his trolls sometime; it wouldn't be a stretch to say they hate him. Republican though he be, Douthat is, steadfastly, a no-Trumper, an "anything but."
Yesterday's Douthat op-ed contributes to the ongoing discussion of 45's effects on American Christianity, especially "evangelicalism." To say Trump has destroyed evangelicalism may be premature, but let's be frank: no one in the last half century has done more to smash evangelicalism to pieces than Donald Trump, who hoists plays with the righteous only because the they won't stop giving him mulligans. If Trump is an evangelical, I'm Joseph Smith.
Douthat goes after the evangelical belief that somehow only God could have created Donald Trump. He's simply the man for our time, despite his porn stars and a list of 3000 lies that grows like creeping jenny. He's a brute, a beast, and a bully, who gets away with behavior good Christians wouldn't tolerate in their kids. But evangelicals love him, not because he is one, but because he's going to end the death of babies. Only God could pull such off such an impossibility, picking that man for our time--or so the theological rationale goes.
Douthat, a conservative Roman Catholic, says believing such things is sheer folly. He describes what's clearly visible throughout the American landscape: Trump's legacy is looking more and more like disaster. In a piece he titles "The Baptist Apocalypse," he says the firing of the Reverend Paige Patterson as President of an influential Baptist seminary is a veritable sign of the times.
Patterson maintained that a good Christian woman would tend her wounds, then get down on her knees before she went back to her marriage bed, and pray, pray hard, for her abusing husband.
That didn't go over big. President Patterson got himself a sweet goodbye kiss, but Southern Baptist women ran him out of town. Douthat claims there's a new civil war down south, and it's generational. Both sides may have voted for Trump last round, but the commonality ends there. Just ten years ago, it would have been unheard of for women to carry--and wield--so much power among fundamentalist conservatives.
Trump created that incredible division, Douthat says, aided by the "Me Too" movement. The Reverend Paige Patterson's dismissal may not be attributable to Donald Trump, he says, but among the Baptists Donald Trump and his twenty or so female accusers--he calls them liars--has exposed those already weak evangelical seams.
It's a woman's thing, and because it is, nothing in the world of the old Baptists is going to be the same. Not all Baptists--and ever fewer younger ones--sing along with First Dallas's Robert Jeffries, a true Trumpian champion, the preacher who created a hymn from "Make America Great Again," a hymn his mega-church actually sings. All those Baptists may be conservative, but it's clear that most of the younger generation--and the younger generation of women--don't believe, as Jeffries claimed, that going after Patterson was "a witch hunt." (Sound familiar?)
Empowering women--or bringing a kind of justice to gender problems--can devastate conservative fellowships. I'm not sure my church, the CRC, has ever really recovered. To some, Paul's injunctions against women make praying at the bedside seem perfectly biblical.
If you're not a battered woman.
Baptist women didn't wait for some act of God, like the coming of Donald Trump. They acted. That's our job, Douthat says. "For Baptists as for all of us, the direction of history after Trump will be determined not just by Providence’s challenge," he says, "but by our freely chosen answer."