The evangelical slippery slope, from Ronald Reagan to Roy Moore

tags: Ronald Reagan, Roy Moore, Evangelical

Randall Balmer, an Episcopal priest, is the John Phillips professor in religion at Dartmouth College and the author of more than a dozen books, including “Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter.”

Former Alabama Chief Justice and U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore speaks at a campaign rally in Fairhope Ala. on Dec. 5. (Brynn Anderson / Associated Press)

When I was growing up in the evangelical subculture in the 1960s and 1970s, I heard a lot of warnings about slippery slopes, especially relating to the Bible. If you dared to interpret the many-headed beasts or the vials of judgment in the Book of Revelation as allegory, then pretty soon you’d read the creation accounts at the beginning of Genesis not as history but as stories. Slippery slope. Not long thereafter you’d question the miracles of the New Testament, trade in your King James Bible for Kahil Gibran’s “The Prophet” and become (I don’t know) a Druid, an Episcopalian or perhaps a coastal elite.

Many of the slippery slope scenarios I heard applied to behavior. A sip of beer would lead to wine, then the hard stuff and, inevitably, to a life of debauchery. A trip to the movie theater would lead to a pornography addiction. Playing poker with friends would lead to a gambling addiction. Slippery slope. Dancing, of course, placed you on the fast track to sexual intercourse.

I left the evangelical subculture, more or less, at the end of the 1970s. Little did I know that evangelicals were then stepping onto their own slippery slope that would lead to Donald Trump and now Roy Moore.

To say that I left the evangelical subculture is not quite accurate — and not only because evangelicalism is so stamped into my DNA that it is impossible to leave entirely. Evangelicalism really left me more than I left it. The religious tradition that shaped me was part of a long and noble movement that, in earlier generations of American life, took the part of those on the margins of society. Evangelicals, especially in the 19th and early 20th centuries, sought to educate those on the bottom rungs of society so they would have a better life. They worked for the abolition of slavery and advocated equal rights, including voting rights for women. ...

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