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It's Our Turn: White evangelicals: the ultimate chameleons

I'm going to make myself sound very learned here and discuss a German Jewish philosopher, Hannah Arendt.

Bear with me. This is not a column about dense philosophical theory. It's a column about Arendt, and about evangelical Christians. It was prompted by a new book I've been reading called "Sharp," by Michelle Dean, about 10 brilliant women who contributed to America's cultural and intellectual history.

Arendt grew up in Germany and studied and worked there during the rise of the Nazi party. Being incredibly brainy, she moved in intellectual circles and had an affair with a well-known and respected professor, Martin Heidegger.

For Jews, of course, Germany began to become increasingly uncomfortable through the 1920s and 1930s, especially as the Nazis grew in power. After their affair ended, Heidegger joined the Nazi party, as did other of Arendt's friends, while Arendt ended up leaving Germany. Her former lover didn't join the Nazis in name only. He actively sought to hinder Jewish students and academics.

When Arendt discovered the collaboration of those she was once close to, she was naturally dismayed. Eventually she wrote the acclaimed book, "The Origins of Totalitarianism." She realized that intellectuals who joined the Nazi Party weren't doing it just to survive.

"They rationalized it, aligning themselves with the ideas of the party because it was anathema for them to be associated with a cause in which they did not fervently believe," Dean summarizes. "And in so doing, they became Nazis themselves."

Which brings us to conservative evangelical Christians.

Before the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion, abortion opponents existed in both the Democratic and Republican parties. After Roe v. Wade, they teamed up in the Republican party to better fight their one dominant, all-consuming battle, what they see as the murder of innocents.

But a funny thing happened. It became impossible for them to exist in that Republican tent without adopting its tenets.

Over time, as the party has changed, evangelicals have changed with it in single-minded pursuit of their goal, to make abortion illegal again.

Here's one flip-flop: In 2011, white evangelicals were the most likely group to deem personal morality important in a president, according to the Public Religion Research Institute. By the time President Trump was elected, they became the least likely group to say that.

Here's another shocking bit of data: Evangelicals are even toeing the party line now in plugging their ears to the cries of the refugees, judging by a Pew Research Center poll that found that only 25 percent of white Protestant evangelicals feel the U.S. has a responsibility to welcome them.

What I'm saying is this: My fellow believers in Christ, you don't have to flip-flop. You don't have to support everything your party does just because they agree with you on abortion.

If abortion is your issue, OK. But you don't have to also deny climate change, applaud when your president mocks a rape victim, or argue, like Jerry Falwell Jr. did, that the U.S. needs a "street fighter" as president. You don't have to despise those who rely on food stamps or public health care or support tax policies that enrich the wealthiest among us.

Those evangelicals who use the Republican party as a tool to fight abortion have, like chameleons, taken on the protective coloration of their surroundings.

When really, they ought to stand out in all their ways.

• • •

"It's Our Turn" is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.

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