The support of a pro-death president by supposedly pro-life evangelicals is destroying the reputation of evangelical Christianity

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Polls indicate that the overwhelming majority of evangelical Christians support Donald Trump’s bid for reelection. What will be the consequences for evangelicals now that Donald Trump has shown his willingness to sacrifice the lives of Americans in his quest to win in November?

Bob Woodward of the Washington Post disclosed in his new book that Trump told him that as early as the end of January he was aware of the gravity of the threat from COVID-19 but deliberately played it down to the public. By doing so, Trump knew that he was undermining efforts to get the public to take it seriously and protect themselves — he knew that his lies would kill people.

If there is a single social issue that defines evangelical Christians, it is their efforts to ban abortions even by those women who do not share their religious belief that abortion is a sin. Evangelicals’ claim of a “pro-life” social agenda is at serious risk of being labeled hypocrisy because of their steadfast loyalty to a president who lied to them about the pandemic and whose apparent “strategy” for managing the COVID-19 pandemic includes pursuit of so-called herd immunity.

Trump’s strategy is tantamount to involuntary euthanasia of the elderly and other persons especially vulnerable to COVID-19. It may not be murder as a matter of law, but it is murder in any meaningful moral sense.

The assertion by evangelical Christians that they support a pro-death president because of their regard for the sanctity of human life is destroying their credibility. Moreover, their continued allegiance to a pro-death president threatens to discredit evangelical Christianity itself.

The term heresy is increasingly being used by other Christians to describe the evangelicals’ fervent embrace of Trump as they watch a church of God become the church of Trump. Christians and others who see Trump’s handling of the pandemic as the moral equivalent of murder regard evangelicals as accessories to murder, which is hardly an enviable reputation for a religious movement that ostensibly is pro-life.

Critics long have attributed the anti-abortion zealotry of evangelicals to misogyny. Evangelicals are proving those critics correct by conveniently ignoring their pro-life principles to support Trump.

How long can evangelicals continue to identify themselves with Trump before the damage to their religious movement is irreversible? Perhaps it already is too late.

The reputations of many people have been destroyed by their loyalty to Trump. Evangelical Christians have fallen into the same trap.

A president is defined by the policies that he or she pursues. Donald Trump has defined himself as the pro-death president by the manner in which he has handled the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fortunately for Trump, he enjoys immunity from criminal prosecution for policy decisions that he makes in the course of his duties as president. But even if application of criminal standards is only hypothetical, it places the nature of his actions in perspective. There is no doubt in my mind that, if he could be prosecuted for his pandemic decisions, Trump would end up standing trial for what is known in many states as second-degree murder for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Second degree murder occurs when no specific intent to kill can be proved, but the actions taken show such an extreme, reckless disregard for human life that the actor is held responsible for the deadly consequences. It sometimes is called “depraved heart” murder, referring to the malicious state of mind of the murderer.

The culpability of Trump’s management of the pandemic rose from ordinary negligence — carelessness and ineptitude — in the beginning stages of the pandemic to gross negligence, or recklessness, as the pandemic intensified. The evolution to second degree murder began with his decision in April to abandon states to their own devices and culminated with his recent de facto embrace of the concept of “herd immunity.”

The pursuit of herd immunity will kill hundreds of thousands of elderly and other individuals especially vulnerable to COVID-19 because of pre-existing medical conditions. It is morally equivalent to involuntary euthanasia.

Trump knows that his policies are leading to unnecessary deaths. As the election nears and Trump grows more desperate, his authoritarian and even fascist inclinations have become alarmingly apparent. The head of the World Health Organization called Trump’s deliberate indifference to the deaths of the elderly “moral bankruptcy.”

It is much worse than that. It is Nazi-style eugenics. Adopting policies that result in the unnecessary deaths of the old and those with chronic medical conditions is something that Hitler would approve of.

Trump’s earlier failures in managing the pandemic have been well-documented. His pursuit of herd immunity is the end stage of what has been a political rather than public health response to the pandemic by Trump.

As was on clear display at the Republican National Convention, Trump’s game plan in the run-up to the election is to treat the pandemic as if the crisis is over. He is desperate to get the economy restarted and pretend that things are back to normal in the hope that voters will forget about his catastrophic mismanagement of the pandemic.

Under this fictional scenario, there will be a “miracle” vaccine in the near future. In the meantime, everyone can go back to their normal activities. Any lingering effects of the virus are explained away as contributing to herd immunity — in other words, as a positive development. It is all a very deadly fantasy.

To implement Trump’s “strategy,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), under pressure from the administration, de-emphasized the testing of asymptomatic individuals, to the horror of credible experts. Testing of asymptomatic individuals who have been exposed to and may be carrying the virus, along with effective contact tracing, is absolutely essential to containing outbreaks. Containing outbreaks, however, is unnecessary under the herd immunity theory because spreading the disease as quickly as possible hastens the acquisition of herd immunity and therefore is a “good” thing.

The problem with the theory is that no real expert believes that rapid, unchecked transmission is a good thing. To begin with, there is no conclusive evidence that effective herd immunity even is achievable for COVID-19. For another, the damaging and potentially life-changing physical effects on young people who test positive for the virus but never show serious symptoms are just being understood.

Finally, pursuing herd immunity will kill people. Experts put the “best case” death toll at 600,000 if all the assumptions on which the theory is based are correct. The most likely number of deaths necessary to achieve herd immunity — if it can be achieved at all — is placed at about 2.3 million. Yes, that means that over 2 million more Americans would have to die from COVID-19 before there is herd immunity.

Proponents of herd immunity state that the elderly and medically vulnerable would be singled out for protection while the disease made its rounds infecting other people. But that assumes that the elderly and other vulnerable individuals reside in retirement homes or other institutions where they can be kept within relatively safe “bubbles.”

The vast majority of older Americans (93.5%) do not live in nursing homes or assisted living facilities. They live in the community, many in multi-generational households. The same is true for younger people with pre-existing medical conditions. The idea that they can be adequately protected in a community if there is a high rate of transmission of the virus in that community is nonsense — dangerous nonsense.

The equation is straightforward: The higher the incidence of COVID-19 in the communities in which they live, the higher the mortality rate among the elderly and medically vulnerable. Allowing COVID-19 to run rampant in the community in pursuit of herd immunity is a death sentence for hundreds of thousands of Americans. Trump knows it, and he does not care.

The main advocate for the herd immunity strategy is Dr. Robert Atlas, the radiologist without any background in infectious disease control or public health who Trump brought into the White House as a counterweight to scientists and physicians with bona fide expertise — in other words, to tell Trump what he wants to hear. Atlas also has disparaged the importance of the widespread wearing of masks.

The administration denied adopting a herd immunity strategy after it came under intense criticism. Dr. Deborah Birx, Trump’s COVID-19 task force coordinator, threatened to quit if the strategy was adopted.

Trump and his sycophants lie. Pay attention to what they do, not what they say. After the CDC announced that potential asymptomatic carriers need no longer be tested, Trump also ended what never had been more than his half-hearted encouragement of the wearing of masks to prevent transmission of the virus.

During his visit to Kenosha, Wisconsin last week, Trump did not wear a mask and urged others in attendance to take theirs off. This week he badgered a reporter at one of his news conferences to take off his mask.

If eliminating testing of potential asymptomatic carriers and discouraging other preventive measures is not part of a herd immunity strategy, then what exactly is it? I concede that, if Trump said that it was not part of any strategy and that he simply was giving up the fight against the pandemic, I would be tempted to believe him.

I think that what happened, however, was that Trump and his inner circle, including Atlas, decided to adopt a herd immunity strategy, but got cold feet in labeling it as such after pushback from Birx and Anthony Fauci, as well as from outside experts. My theory finds support in a report by CNN.

Atlas now denies that he is pushing a herd immunity strategy, but a senior administration official told CNN that all of the policies that Atlas has promoted are in the nature of a herd immunity strategy. “Everything he says and does points toward herd immunity,” the official told CNN.

Dr. Kent Sepkowitz of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York calls the policy endorsed by Atlas simply a variation of herd immunity, and a bad idea. In summary, the Trump administration is now following a herd immunity policy in fact, if not in name.

From the outset of the pandemic, Trump rejected the strategy used successfully in other countries to control the pandemic that consisted of robust, federally-supported programs of testing and contact tracing, and consistent enforcement of preventive measures, such as social distancing and masking, based on nation-wide standards. His latest “plan” is nothing but political backfill, an attempt to create the appearance that he has a strategy to control the pandemic when in fact he does not. It is nothing more than another deception by Trump.

Trump is unconcerned with the success or failure of his de facto herd immunity plan. His only consideration was that it fit his narrative that there is nothing further to do but open the schools and the economy, let the disease take its course, and everything will be “fine.” Indeed, it is less a plan than a cover story.

The course set by Trump is a murderous deception. It is a pro-death policy by a pro-death president. If criminal law applied to such a policy decision by a president, it would be depraved heart, second degree murder, open and shut.

The loyalty to Trump of evangelical Christians, and their willingness to overlook his decidedly unchristian behavior, has been the subject of considerable discussion. An article last month by Elizabeth Dias of the New York Times attributed the support to his promise to exert his power on their behalf. She stated:

“He is their protector, the bully who is on their side, the one who offered safety amid their fears that their country as they know it, and their place in it, is changing, and changing quickly.”

The fealty to Trump is not only about the defensive use of power. Evangelical Christians are fully committed to the offensive use of their new-found secular power to achieve their primary secular goal: Overturning Roe v. Wade.

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The elimination of abortion is the evangelicals’ modern crusade, the emotionally charged cause around which evangelical pastors and other leaders rally the faithful. It is the call to arms to save the unborn children that galvanizes followers to engage in politics and open their wallets to their churches, evangelical leaders, and like-minded politicians.

There always has been suspicion that the crusade against legalized abortion in the United States is less about faith and saving the unborn than about imposing their will on women who do not share their beliefs. In other words, that it is about domination over others, to use a word that Trump is fond of.

Studies reflect evangelicals’ general hostility toward gender equity. As their professions of being pro-life ring more and more hollow, they are giving credence to the idea that their anti-abortion zealotry is nothing more than misogyny.

Evangelicals will confirm the suspicion about their motives if they continue to support a president who wants to kill the elderly and the medically vulnerable to preserve his chances of being reelected. The de-emphasis of preventive measures by the Trump administration is likely to drive the death toll from COVID-19 in the United States closer to the worst-case projection by the University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation of 620,029 deaths by the end of the year.

That would mean a death toll of nearly 3,000 per day by December. Anything remotely close to that number will shake evangelical Christianity to its core, ending any claim to legitimacy of its alleged “pro-life” doctrine.

Like Trump, evangelicals may not bear any legal responsibility for the deaths that he has caused. Whether they will face judgment elsewhere for enabling Trump’s depredations, however, is a question that they will need to answer for themselves.

For many evangelicals, that question comes down to whether Trump’s promise to appoint judges who will overturn Roe v. Wade justifies support of someone who is in the process of killing the elderly and the chronically ill for his own political benefit. Each evangelical must decide if he or she wants to stand in judgment for answering “yes” to that question.

Far more than mainline Protestant denominations, evangelical Christianity is dominated by a handful of wealthy and influential pastors and leaders like Franklin Graham and, until recently at least, Jerry Falwell, Jr. Graham and Falwell have been vocal and aggressive supporters of Trump, urging evangelicals to vote for him.

Trump is responsible for his own actions. There is no doubt in my mind, however, that had Graham and Falwell interceded with Trump in February or March, many lives could have been saved. If they told Trump that evangelicals believe in the sanctity of all lives and that he would be judged by them at the polls in November in part by the way he protected the lives of citizens young, old, and infirm, it would have made an impression — Trump cannot win reelection without the solid support of evangelicals.

Neither Graham nor Falwell have criticized Trump for his mismanagement of the pandemic. With their wealth and influence comes responsibility. In my opinion, that now includes sharing with Trump the moral responsibility for the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans.

Mark Galli retired as editor of Christianity Today at the end of last year. Christianity Today was founded by famed evangelist Billy Graham. Before he retired, Galli penned an editorial calling for the end of the Trump presidency, describing Trump as “morally lost and confused.”

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In the last paragraph of the editorial Galli made a prediction that may come true sooner than he expected. The editorial was published on December 19th, before the pandemic began. Galli said of the Faustian bargain struck by evangelical Christians with Trump:

“To use an old cliché, it’s time to call a spade a spade, to say that no matter how many hands we win in this political poker game, we are playing with a stacked deck of gross immorality and ethical incompetence. And just when we think it’s time to push all our chips to the center of the table, that’s when the whole game will come crashing down. It will crash down on the reputation of evangelical religion and on the world’s understanding of the gospel. And it will come crashing down on a nation of men and women whose welfare is also our concern.

To paraphrase Galli, the whole game has come crashing down on the reputation of evangelical Christians. The world outside evangelical Christianity increasingly looks at it as a cult that is morally complicit with a pro-death president in the unnecessary deaths of tens of thousands of people. It will be a long time before that stain can be removed, if ever.

Retired lawyer, former prosecutor, former social worker, Army vet — former lots of things. Commentary published in Washington Post, Baltimore Sun and elsewhere.

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