Friday, February 26, 2016

What the Endorsement of Donald Trump by Phyllis Schlafly says about the state of Evangelicalism

I really don’t like to delve into politics unless I have to. It feels dirty to write this post in some ways, and I really find this particular election cycle depressing. However, there are times when politics intersect with faith in a way that warrants a closer look, and this is one of the occasions.

Late in December, Donald Trump gained an interesting endorsement. Phyllis Schlafly, long of Concerned Women for America and the Eagle Forum, came out in favor of Trump. It isn’t just the endorsement itself, but the “why” of the endorsement that I find troubling.

First, some background on Trump. I grew up in the 1980s, when Trump first came to the attention of the world as an obnoxious trust fund baby with the morals and values of a Gordon Gekko. His serial marriages to a string of Eastern European beauties younger than himself was legendary - as was his bragging about his adultery and disdain for his ex-wives.

As far as that goes, nothing much has changed, from his insulting statements about his ex-wives to his creepy “I’d sleep with her if she wasn’t my daughter” quip.

And that’s before you get to his creative use of bankruptcies to enrich himself at the expense of his creditors; his slander of African Americans, Hispanics, women, and people with disabilities; and his disconnect from actual facts about pretty much everything. And it’s not like he stands for some conservative principle. More like raw arrogance, power, and violence. Disagree with him, well, he’d like to punch you in the face

And then there is the narcissism. Good lord! He’s transparently self absorbed and arrogant, even for a politician.

Honestly, I doubted that I would see another serious presidential candidate exceed the sleeze factor of Bill Clinton. (I’m sorry, hitting on 20-year-old interns is sleazy.) That this candidate would become a front runner among Evangelicals is astounding. I mean, the GOP tried to impeach Clinton on the basis of his affairs and the lies he told about them, and now someone even slimier may well be their nominee? What gives? 

Furthermore, there is nothing remotely Christian about him or his worldview - something Evangelicals have claimed for decades was an important factor in choosing a leader. 

I had a pretty good idea before the Schlafly endorsement as to what was going on here, but I didn’t think it warranted a post. After all, most of us have that 5% of friends, family, and acquaintances who are just a little off. Uncle Fred, who makes racist comments at Thanksgiving. Aunt Edna, who waxes nostalgic about the good old days before the wetbacks arrived. You know the sort.

But for a major player in the Religious Right to go over to someone so personally opposed to the morals and values the Religious Right has claimed to stand for all these years is a big deal.

Even more shocking is that her reason for endorsing him matches what every single person who I know who has endorsed Trump has given as the reason.

Any guesses?

“The rich guys are putting the money in. They want to bring in the low-wage people. That’s the way they think they’ll make money,” she said. “But that’s not the way America will prosper. America was built because we had a great growing and prosperous middle class. We need to rebuild that again. I’m willing to give a new try to somebody else.”

That’s right. It’s the low-income brown skinned people who are ruining America! If we could just be white and middle class again…

Even worse, she has said Trump is the “last hope for America.” So, if we can’t keep America white, it is the end for us? I’m pretty darn sure that is what she means.

In fact, the central theme of the Trump campaign is one of White Nationalism. Many have pointed out (correctly) that Trump is running the most explicitly racist campaign since George Wallace in 1968. (His inauguration speech as governor included the infamous words, “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever.”)

That’s why it is of interest to me who the Trump supporters of my acquaintance are. Things they have in common: all consider themselves Christian, all are white, and all support Trump because he will deport the Mexicans.

Statistically, too, the supporters who drove the Trump bandwagon before others jumped on were overwhelmingly white, and 85% over the age of 45.

Just an aside, most of the GOP candidates are to some degree opposed to immigration, but Trump took it to a new level. His supporters, from what I can tell, want all undocumented immigrants deported immediately, even if they came to the US as infants. And also that we shut the border, allowing zero immigration from Mexico, legal or otherwise. Oh, and force Mexico to pay for it.

Here’s a fairly representative quote, from Michelle Goldberg’s piece on Trump.

I sat next to John Jensen, a 70-year-old farmer. He’s an ultraconservative, but when I asked whether he was bothered by Trump’s record on abortion and gay marriage, he said, “That’s Mickey Mouse stuff compared to what’s really going on in this country. We’re $20 trillion in debt. We got aliens all over the place. I harvest wheat out west, and all the little towns are full of aliens.” 

See, just like Schlafly, he believes the biggest problem facing America right now is that there are just too damn many brown skinned people here, and they are the reason we are in debt. The reason for all our problems. Those people are. 

Fear. Fear of losing economic and social privilege. We no longer have the power and wealth we used to. It must be the fault of someone else. Someone who looks different from us. It is those people who need to go.

(Does this sound a bit too familiar to students of history? Hmm.) 


The reason I think this has something to say about Evangelicalism is this: it’s not just that Trump has strong support from a significant percentage of Evangelicals.. True, he is, and continues to be, the most popular candidate, and his approval rating among Evangelicals remains disturbingly high.

However, many Evangelicals also loathe Trump, so this isn’t a clear-cut issue. 

The fact that Ted Cruz and his longstanding connection to the Lunatic Right (such as Kevin Swanson and Glenn Beck), a faux-historian, David Barton, who tells outright lies, and the Christian Reconstructionist movement is the other popular Evangelical candidate is something I find equally disturbing - if less surprising.

What is more telling, in my opinion, is that a nakedly racist appeal - one that seems to me and others like me - to be completely contrary to the teachings of Christ - can be embraced by a luminary within Evangelicalism, and there isn’t really any horror.

I have seen plenty of posts warning that Trump doesn’t really meet the ultimate Religious Right litmus test (abortion), but pretty much zero horrified about his White Nationalism.

Well, maybe this is understandable, since calling for the deportation of Mexicans appears to have become its own purity test within the GOP these days. (Good grief, how much the GOP has moved to the right since I was a kid...)

Not just that, but I have gotten embroiled in several heated conversations about the issue of immigration and refugees, and it has been so disappointing at how many “Christians” are passionately opposed to any immigration. Legal or illegal, but particularly no more Muslims or Mexicans.

And I still can’t get an answer as to how that position fulfills “love your neighbor as yourself.” Instead, I have been told how tired they are of people questioning their religious beliefs. Oh really? Can’t take the heat? Or is Stephen Colbert (a devout Catholic) right about this?



There are arguments on both sides of the question as to whether immigration is a net benefit to the United States or not. I believe one can come to a logical conclusion either way and maintain intellectual honesty.

But what isn’t really disputable is whether immigration benefits the immigrant. Particularly in the easy case of the person brought here as an infant. That person would clearly suffer if deported. So how is that being loving? The answer is that it isn’t. Sorry. You can’t just wiggle out of that one.

(By the way, arguing with these people is much like arguing with Doug Wilson supporters. Even though everyone outside the bubble can see that he is a White Supremacist who defends slavery, they won’t actually admit he is racist.)

Returning to what this says about the state of Evangelicalism, here is the question:

Why is there no outcry about the endorsement of Trump? There surely would be if Schlafly had endorsed someone who was pro-gay-marriage. There probably would be if she had endorsed someone who was “moderate” by GOP standards. But naked racism is okay? 

She has just endorsed the same candidate as KKK leader David Duke - for the very same reasons. And the silence is deafening.  

Shouldn’t the continued popularity of Trump cause some soul-searching as to the spiritual state of Evangelicalism? 

One common statement many have made about why they support Trump is “He says what everyone is thinking, but are too afraid to say.”

That’s a scary thought, because apparently what a great many people are thinking is unvarnished racism and White Nationalism, anger, fear, and hate.

I can only conclude that this is the result of decades of spiritual malpractice. For too long, “Christian Morality” has been defined as sexual rules, gender roles, white middle class culture, and - of course - abortion. As long as you get those right, you can be as greedy, selfish, materialistic, and power-worshiping as you like, and nobody will make you uncomfortable. Put a rainbow on your profile picture, and all hell breaks loose. Suggest that the last hope for Christendom lies in the material prosperity of the white middle class - and call for the removal of low income brown skinned people - as if there was anything remotely Christlike about that...and...crickets.

***

Just a couple of observations:

  1. Schlafly illustrates the fact that for a significant portion of the Religious Right, “Christianity” looks like 1950s Middle-class white culture. A time when [white] men could support a family on one income, and the wife was at home with the kids, cooking and cleaning in heels and pearls. That’s why the “greatest threat” to America turns out to be brown skinned people who (allegedly) lowered wages for white males, so that they couldn’t support a family on a single income. (Leaving aside other issues, like the decline of private-sector unions, and the mechanization of manufacturing, which Schlafly doesn’t appear to believe are potential causes of declining wages. Nope, just the brown people.)
   
It never even occurs to Schlafly that the people she wants to keep out are seeking to be able to have a decent life for themselves. Their goals and welfare don’t matter, just the “real” Americans.

2.     I wish more people were aware of the origins of the Religious Right as a political force. The primary sources for Paul Weyrich’s account of the rise of the Right as we know it are readily available online. This article from Politico gives a decent summary.
If you actually look at history, the original political goal was the protection of the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University and others who wished to remain segregated after the Civil Rights Act. So yes, it was in fact Segregation which united the Religious Right. And now it has come full circle, it appears, with many of the original players (Schlafly, Liberty University, the younger Jerry Falwell, and so on) going for a White Nationalist candidate.

3.     We can no longer plausibly deny that white Evangelicalism is plagued with deep-rooted racism. As it is, the lack of outrage that there will be no justice for 12 year old Tamar Rice is telling, and many of us found the white Evangelical response to Ferguson to be appalling for its lack of compassion and outright racism. But the embrace of Trump has really brushed away any remaining pretence. When push comes to shove, racism wins over any moral considerations. Not to discount the existence of racism in younger people, because it exists there too, but statistically, the White Nationalist push is coming from Evangelical Baby Boomers. There are a number of reasons why young people are fleeing the church. But this is one reason.

4.     My prediction: If (when?) Trump becomes the GOP nominee, you will see the vast majority of Evangelicals vote for and support him. In part because he will have an (R) next to his name. But also because the vast majority of Evangelicals have become single issue voters. Because the candidate with the (D) will not be calling for the outlawing of abortion, they will “hold their noses and vote for Trump.” And an increasing number of the next generation will be wondering exactly why they should take Evangelicalism seriously when it comes to morality.  

5.     Maybe one reason we Evangelicals have embraced a narcissist peddling a message of hate and greed is that we have all too often embraced narcisistic celebrity religious leaders who preach the same message. And not just the Prosperity Gospel sorts either. Mark Driscoll, C. J. Mahaney, Doug Wilson, Doug Phillips, Bill Gothard...


***

I linked this above, but I think it is well worth reading. (Hat tip to a relative for sending this my way.) 


Money quotes: 

When religion enters politics, politics can more easily adopt the mask of religion. Deep theological and moral traditions of reflection can be usurped by a shallow civil religion that carries not a touch of the prophetic power or ethical formation that Christianity or Islam or Judaism holds. American civil religion is the religion of Americanism, commandeering the rhetoric of piety for the sake of simplistic nationalism and selfish indulgence.

The problem with civil religion is that it has no moral core, and when put under the pressure of a polarized culture it can become very uncivil. Trump lashes out against migrants and American Muslims, not because they are a real threat, but because they are culturally weak; they are convenient minorities, relatively powerless targets of American incivility and rage.


***

I should have included this earlier, but better late than never. While I applaud Max Lucado for acknowledging that Trump lacks common decency, his article has several glaring omissions. 

Decency for President

First of all, note that he mentions that Trump has insulted women and people with disabilities. 

Note what he did NOT mention: That Trump has also insulted African Americans, Hispanics, and Muslims. 

Why didn't you mention that, Max? 

Also, why didn't you mention at all that Trump's biggest problem is that his campaign is based on racism? Can you not say "racist" and still keep your audience? 

***

Before commenting, please read my comment policy.

In particular, I will not tolerate racist comments. If you cannot explain how your policy regarding people different from you actually benefits them, I’m deleting your comment. The majority voice within Evangelicalism right now is already that of white supremacism and xenophobia. I’m not giving you a platform.

Likewise, I will delete any comments which endorse any candidate.

26 comments:

  1. "One common statement many have made about why they support Trump is “He says what everyone is thinking, but are too afraid to say.”

    As you point out, not every Evangelical is part of this mindset. I am a 64 year-old white Evangelical from the South, and he does not say what I'm thinking. I would vote for Donald Duck over Donald Trump.

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    1. True, and I have friends and relatives within Evangelicalism - even very conservative fundamentalism - who dislike Trump.

      What is disturbing is that there seems to be a silence about the racist element of his appeal. I added it later, but Max Lucado did a piece on Trump, where he *studiously* avoids mentioning that Trump has insulted minorities. (He mentions women and people with disabilities.) Nary a single word - and I mean literally a single word - about race. Anywhere.

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    2. I would suppose you don't exactly qualify as a "true" Evangelical these days, JWB. :)

      Certainly not "Religious Right."

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    3. Donald Duck for president! That's a good one. I like it!

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  2. He has also insulted American Indians. I know we are only 1% of the population, so most people haven't heard our voices speaking out about Trump's racist AI comments, but they exist.

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    1. I'm pretty sure he hasn't left anyone out - at least of those with less political power. He won't insult whites, obviously.

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    2. Sure he will -- white women and whites with disabilities.

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  3. I was hoping you'd eventually post something about He Who Must Not Be Named. You know you're a hardcore misogynist when Russell Moore, current chairman of CBMW, tells you your view of women is most like that of a Bronze Age warlord. (IIRC that's an almost verbatim quote.)

    Oh, and I think you forgot about He Who Must Not Be Named being adored by literal Neo-Nazis, and being accused of rape by one of his ex-wives.

    Long story short, I will never again be able to take seriously all the evangelicals who claim they want to teach their children Christian character, while they support a man who appears to have less morals than most criminals. And if said morals-free person gets to be president, hey, maybe I will end up participating in a political protest at some point in my life after all. Stranger things have happened.

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  4. Good writeup. I appreciate you including that blurb about Americanism. I've been saying the same thing for years.

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  5. I've really enjoy your take on current events, and you've given me a insight into a lot of subjects that I was not really aware of. (your comments on the Duggars and Patriachists was mind blowing)

    The thing I will comment about is the subject of a lack of noise about racism in general in regards to Trump.

    There is an episode of "West Wing" where they put forward a Rwanda Massacre like situation to the faux Whitehouse. There was a news room comment about a UN resolution requiring countries to intervene when genocide is occurring and the line is "The resolution distinguishes between 'acts of genocide' and 'genocide'" That difference being the reason, in that fictional story, why the US stays out of the situation.

    It seems to me that for years the far right has been trying to counter the idea of overt racism existing in the social, political, or judicial structures, thus undermining any arguments for change. People will plead 'Acts of Racism' instead of 'Racism', cause then nothing needs to change. What was said or done is an oddity, not a result of a core problem.

    That racist kid who shot up a church was mentally unstable, it wasn't because of the society he grew up in.

    It also plays to the people most comfortable with these structures, because no one wants to believe that the society that they benefit from, is flawed, or bad in any way. Probably because a lot of people validate themselves by following the rules they see around them.

    Trump will never be called out for the racist he is, because to do so would validate the existence of racism in our society and many of the arguments for social change. As well as undermine the self delusion that they are not racist themselves by agreeing with his spewings.

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    1. Excellent comment. I heartily concur.

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    2. That IS an excellent comment. And it is so applicable to other areas of life as well.

      "...because a lot of people validate themselves by following the rules they see around them."
      Surely there must be a book about this somewhere. It covers so many of the disturbing things I see!

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  6. I remember what a scum bag Trump was considered to be in the 1980s too and still find it hard to believe that that same man is now running for President and getting so much support. Speaking of Trump and the Evangelicals - cognitive dissonance comes to mind.

    I hadn't heard (or forgot) that Ted Cruz was connected with the Lunatic Right and Reconstructionists. Is there no end to the insanity?

    I don't remember when I first began to wonder about Christians who complain that this country does "too much" for the poor. I've even wondered sometimes if one reason God has had mercy on this country as long as He has is because it does do quite a bit to take care of the poor. Take that away and stop caring for the elderly and sick and...I don't even like to think about that. I'm reminded of the sins of Sodom as they are described in Ezekiel 16:49-50 - "Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good." That isn't looking too great for the "good, ol' USA," and you won't hear it preached on much either, I dare say. (I'm reminded of your comments in a previous post about gluttony, for one thing.)

    I wrote a three part series on the refugees, and I have to admit that I was a little sad at the response. I didn't get roasted, but there just wasn't as much interest in it as I'd have liked to see. I'm thankful that there was some, though.

    How many of the white, middle-class Americans would you find who'd be willing to do the jobs "those 'blank' Mexicans" do? And all for minimum wage and below? Picking cucumbers in a greenhouse in Arizona? Harvesting celery and apples in Michigan? Cleaning low-income motels? Mowing the roadsides of Texas during our scorching summers? Doing construction 60 (and more?) hours a week, even in sweltering climates? And, I'm sure even "worse" things. Anyone? Ms. Schlafly?

    The whole thing of white Nationalism and xenophobia makes my blood run cold. All I can think of is Nazism and Fascism. God have mercy on us.

    The quotes from the article on "...What's Wrong with American Religion" are exceptional. Thanks for sharing the link. We have been deeply disturbed about the mixing of politics, American patriotism, and Christianity for awhile now. It's logical conclusion is so anti-christ that it's horrible to consider. Yes - anti-Christ - against so much of what Jesus Christ stood for and was/is. 1 John 4:8-9 He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.

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    1. If you want even more discouraging information about the state of the GOP:

      1. Also present at the Kevin Swanson were Bobby Jindal and Mike Huckabee.

      2. Jindal hired Timmy Teepell and is in close with a number of other Reconstructionists.

      3. Huckabee was a member of Gothard's organization, and still promotes his ideas.

      4. Rick Santorum also has strong personal and political ties to the Reconstructionists.

      5. I've already mentioned Ron Paul's decades-long collaboration with Gary North, Rushdoony's son-in-law, and probably the most prominent living Reconstructionist.

      The party has really gone off the rails, in my opinion.

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    2. Well, I decided today that I'm going to have to work harder at keeping my own rule and not thinking about the political stuff much. It just freaks me out and I have enough stress right now without it. :-P

      It turns my stomcah to read that list. Ugh. I'd forgotten Ron Paul's connection with North. No wonder he rubs me the wrong way.

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    3. My syntax and typing are horribly lately. :-(

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    4. One of the Southern states -- Georgia, I think, but I could be misremembering -- cracked down hard on immigrant farm workers. The crops rotted in the fields and orchards. They couldn't find any Americans willing to work that hard for that little money.

      When I was 20 (roughly a million years ago) I worked for a couple of months as a "supervisor" for a cleaning company, which meant I got paid $4.25 an hour (rotten money even in 1979) to drive the van and boss around the illegal aliens, since I could speak Spanish. Oddly enough, I became friends with my crew, instead. They worked incredibly hard with inadequate equipment (they actually had a daily ration of paper towels, never enough), didn't get paid for time in the van, and were invariably referred to as "those people" or "the girls" by the owners. They lived 4 and 5 to a little apartment, sending every penny they could home to their families. In the face of all this, they were generally cheerful and good-humored. (Except for Marta. She was sullen. But she was 16, newly married, pregnant, in a foreign country, and scrubbing toilets for a company that didn't even want me to drive the crew through a fast-food drive up for a hot lunch to eat in the van. I would have been sullen, too.)

      I think of them every time someone whines about those "leeches" who just come here to take and take. It's clear to me who the real "takers" are.

      And if we really want to stop illegal immigration, it would be vastly cheaper and easier to throw a few dozen millionaire business owners in prison for hiring illegal labor, and rich families for employing illegal nannies. I suggest this to everyone who talks about how we need a wall. I have yet to get any meaningful response; generally I get no response at all.

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    5. Exactly. Here in CA, Latinos do the vast majority of gardening and the worst parts of construction work. See someone on top of a roof in 105 degree weather tearing wood shake off a roof? (My personal vision of hell, BTW...) Chances are, it is an immigrant from Mexico or further south. Lazy isn't in the same universe as these men and women.

      I agree, if they *actually* went after farmers for illegal farm labor, things would end. But instead, they do it as contract labor from shell corporations, cheat the workers out of even minimum wage, and everyone looks the other way.

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    6. And, of course, we'd all end up paying $8/head for lettuce.

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    7. Dana, reading your comment brought back so many stories of Mexican workers to my mind. We heard stories and saw evidence of their hard work in Michigan and in Arizona, among other places. I think I might have to write a tribute on my own blog.

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    8. As has been pointed out, (illegal) immigrants are willing to do hard work for wages that Americans won't accept. As has also been pointed out, these wages are often below minimum wage and illegal. But rather than go after the business owners, people complain about the immigrants.

      Yes, actually paying employees legal wages and benefits would raise the prices on items. So what? If we are country that has decided on certain wage, safety, and other standards then we should expect employers to follow them, not complain that people from worse situations are willing work under conditions we deem unlawful.

      This raises the other set of "brown people" who are a "threat" to the USA: people in other countries where wages, environmental regulations, and other things related to production of goods are much lower than in the USA. Companies are exporting jobs to other countries so they can make a higher profit - even when operating in the USA is profitable. Treaties such as TPP will make exporting jobs even easier and make it more difficult to impose tariffs on products with unacceptable work conditions.

      Higher up the wage scale is the widespread abuse of the H1-B program. Many white-collar IT jobs are given to people who come over on H1-B visas and do the work for lower wages and under abusive conditions. Disney recently had a scandal related to this where Disney employees trained their H1-B replacements.

      This is the "income inequality" Bernie Sanders crows about. The 1% actively seek ways to accumulate more wealth at the expense of middle-class Americans. It is not so much the immigrants who are to blame, but the controllers of the corporations.

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  7. To add that depressing GOP list, Marco Rubio's campaign has a religious liberty advisory board and Wayne Grudem, current head of CBMW, is on it. Grudem took money from SGM of pedophilia scandal infamy.

    http://thewartburgwatch.com/2016/02/19/wayne-grudem-staunch-supporter-of-cj-mahaney-received-money-from-sovereign-grace-ministries/

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    1. I left the GOP a few years ago, after the government shutdown debacle. To the extent that they *had* a coherent demand - which is still not exactly clear - it was to repeal Obamacare. Since they had no plans to replace it, it would have just had the direct result of kicking a bunch of people off of health insurance. At that point, I just couldn't justify to my own conscience any further support.

      Now that Rubio turns out to be in bed with the Patriarchists, I just don't see anyone with a real chance who doesn't stand for sexism.

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    2. Oops, correction: Wayne Grudem is a cofounder of CBMW. The current chairman is Russell Moore. Not that it makes any difference for this particular critique, though.

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  8. But of course Phyllis Schlafly wants to go back to being white and middle class again. She is on record as actually calling for a gender wage gap because women are attracted to men who make more -> therefore better families -> therefore 'Murica.
    There are certain social privileges and a level of economic advantage which much be present to indulge this fantasy.

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