Much to my surprise, who should appear last week on the MSNBC-TV political talk show “Morning Joe” but Ed Litton, newly installed as president of the Southern Baptist Conference. Host Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman from Florida, was raised in the evangelical tradition. Co-host (and Scarborough’s wife) Mika Brzezinski was raised Catholic.
Both hosts turned decisively against their long-ago friend, former President Donald J. Trump, even during his 2016 campaign. They doubled down on their condemnations of his rhetoric and style during the 2020 election and have relentlessly opposed his claims that he was cheated out of a win.
Litton, on the other hand, represents the largest Protestant denomination in America and one whose membership overwhelmingly went for Trump both times and still forms an important segment of his base.
Demonstrably “sold out to Christ” (and good for him), Litton nonetheless spoke out against the radical right wing militants such as the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers and violence as a political weapon. He thus stood squarely against the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, an undisguised attempt to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s election as our 46th president.
That, by my lights, is the correct line to draw in the sand. And frankly I wish more of Trump’s evangelical supporters would cotton to Litton’s logic and say simply, “I like Trump, but he lost. I’m not a fan of Joe Biden, but he is now our president. Period.”
If your experience is anything like mine, however, you’ve seen even formerly close friends and any number of family members now at painful odds over the cultural divide represented by Trump and Biden. Civility in political conversations is in short supply, though sometimes replaced by a stony refusal to engage in any conversation at all over Democrats vs. Republicans.
This cannot, or should not, go on endlessly. Very bad for families and friendships. And bad even for the prospect of holding onto our 245-year-old democracy.
A confession: I took some steps to organize a Fourth of July concert with a well-known local ensemble who can ring out “God Bless America” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” with the best of them. The music, at the riverfront or in Ritter Park, was to be interspersed with speeches of a reconciling nature by prominent Democratic and Republican officeholders. Forgiveness and healing would have been encouraged.
I gave up on it.
My observations of how bitterly split West Virginians are on the subject of Trump Yes or Trump No led me to conclude that too many are “not ready to heal.”
One local professional friend cannot even talk with his own longtime personal assistant on anything remotely bearing on politics. A diehard Trump fan, she cannot stand to listen to him express his point of view on the last election.
Another friend, this one in the ministry, said he has been shaken by the number of evangelical friends who buy into the Q-Anon conspiracy rhetoric that Biden will hand us all over to the Chinese communists.
According to another insistent drum beat on the right fringe, Trump is to be miraculously re-installed as president come August. Trials, meanwhile, of Oath Keepers, Proud Boys and other miscreants of the Capitol riot are now underway. A sober reckoning may come with sentencings.