Column: Who will be evangelicals’ new kingmaker?
Thank God, the witch is dead.
That’s what a student at Liberty University said back in 2020 in reaction to Jerry Falwell Jr. resigning as president of the Baptist college his father founded. She wasn’t the only one on campus happy to see him go, but when you compare one of the most influential white evangelical Christians in the country to the Wicked Witch of the East, it stands out. I guess one could say instead of Dorothy’s house, it was a sex scandal involving a male pool attendant in Miami that landed on him.
However, after Falwell Jr. was exposed as a reckless hypocrite who used his position to obtain political power in the name of God, the man he endorsed for president in 2016 received even more support from white Protestants in 2020: from 77% to 84%.
LZ Granderson writes about culture, politics, sports and navigating life in America.
All of which brings me to former Vice President Mike Pence and his upcoming book tour stop at Cornerstone Church in San Antonio on Sunday.
Although not as powerful as Liberty University, the 22,000-member church is a significant political player. The founding pastor, John Hagee, has been a force in Texas conservative circles for some time, dating back to his endorsement of segregationist George Wallace for president in 1968. Hagee has said God punished Jewish people with the Holocaust for disobeying him and that the Antichrist will be gay.
In 2021, Cornerstone hosted the “Reawaken America Tour,” in which former national security advisor Michael Flynn said, “If we are going to have one nation under God, which we must, we have to have one religion. One nation under God, and one religion under God.”
Hagee’s son, Matt, is the lead pastor of the church, and is on video welcoming the merry band of conspiracy theorists in the pews.
There are more than 2,000 churches in the San Antonio area, and Pence chose to push his book — and presumed 2024 bid for president — at the one that hosted a high-profile white nationalist event organized by election deniers. That seems more calculated than patriotic, but maybe that’s just me.
There was significant blowback after Cornerstone hosted the event, and the church did issue an apology saying it isn’t “associated with this organization and does not endorse their views,” as if the views of Flynn and that pillow guy were a great unknown.
Now here’s where things get really interesting.
With Falwell Jr. vanquished, white evangelicals are in the market for a new kingmaker. Billy Graham, Ralph Reed, Falwell Sr. … there’s a blueprint out there, and more importantly, an opening.
Earlier this week, in response to the lack of endorsements from evangelical leaders for his third presidential bid, Trump said it was “signs of disloyalty.” In promoting Pence’s appearance on Sunday, Cornerstone posted this on its website: “Loyalty is a Vice President’s first duty; but there is a greater one — to God and Constitution.”
Damn, that’s good.
Didn’t even mention his name. Didn’t have to. To quote Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.): “The entire nation knows who is responsible for that day.”
And just like that, Cornerstone, the megachurch that endorsed Trump and hosted “Stop the Steal” speakers is now Team Pence as the Hagees evoke God in an attempt to reposition themselves politically. As if insurrectionists weren’t chanting, “Let’s Go Brandon,” from Cornerstone’s pews barely two years ago. And you know what? It might work.
Even after learning Falwell Jr. may have been pressured into an 2016 endorsement — Trump’s former attorney claims to have prevented racy photos of the Falwells from becoming public — even more white evangelicals voted for Trump in 2020.
“Come out, come out, wherever you are” is what Glinda told the Munchkins after Dorothy’s house fell on the wicked witch. It also serves as a pretty good cattle call for ambitious church leaders looking to become the Republican Party’s next kingmaker.
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