Wayne Flynt

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A greedy, vainglorious serial groom who’s bragged about sexually assaulting women somehow won the hearts and minds of America’s Bible Belt, that supposed bastion of family values, during the Presidential election. Seems even odder when you consider he’s a pathological liar with no charity for the poor, uses the Bible as product placement, and until a recent, and perhaps, expedient conversion, long supported abortion rights.

What’s going on here? Two possibilities:

  1. White Christians in the U.S. have always quietly been about upholding a power structure of racial superiority that favors the skin they’re in, with Trump’s overt bigotry just bringing the nastiness to the surface. I don’t know what Jesus would do, but I’m pretty sure it’s not what Jeff Sessions does.
  2. We’ve transitioned into a post-Christian reality, in which the so-called holy have shed many of their erstwhile values, with policy positions, not prayer, now the center of their faith.

The truth likely lies somewhere in between.

In his latest insightful Financial Times missive about America’s ominous moment, Gary Silverman visits Alabama to investigate the latter prospect, hoping to understand why the majority seem less moral. An excerpt:

My host was Wayne Flynt, an Alabaman who has made the people of the southern US his life’s work. A 76-year-old emeritus professor of history at Auburn University, he has written empathetically about his region in books such as Poor But Proud. A Baptist minister, he still teaches Sunday school at his church and delivered the eulogy at last year’s funeral of his friend Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird.

I took my place in the book-lined study of Flynt’s redwood house in Auburn, Alabama, to hear his thoughts on the local economy, but the conversation turned to a central mystery of US politics. Trump would not be president without the strong support of the folks Flynt has chronicled — white residents of the Bible Belt, raised in the do-it-yourself religious traditions that distinguish the US from Europe. I wondered how a thrice-married former casino owner — who had been recorded bragging about grabbing women by the genitals — had won over the faithful.

Flynt’s answer is that his people are changing. The words of Jesus, as recorded in the Gospels, are less central to their thinking and behaviour, he says. Church is less compelling. Marriage is less important. Reading from a severely abridged Bible, their political concerns have narrowed down to abortion and issues involving homosexuality. Their faith, he says, has been put in a president who embodies an unholy trinity of materialism, hedonism and narcissism. Trump’s victory, in this sense, is less an expression of the old-time religion than evidence of a move away from it.

“The 2016 election laid out graphically what is in essence the loss of Christian America,” Flynt says, delivering his verdict with a calm assurance that reminded me of Lee’s hero, Atticus Finch, as played by Gregory Peck in the 1962 film of her novel.•

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