Warning: I am about to mix religion and politics.
In the biblical story of Barabbas, the religious leaders of Roman-occupied Israel have brought Jesus to be crucified. Pilate, seeing that Jesus has committed no crimes, offers the crowd a choice of which prisoner to release: Jesus, or the prisoner Barabbas, an insurrectionist. The religious leaders whipped the crowd into a frenzy, encouraging them to chant “Barabbas!” as their answer to Pilate’s question.
The book of Matthew tells us that Pilate understood the religious leaders had brought Jesus to him out of self-interest. So let’s be clear before proceeding: The religious leaders of Jesus’ time had a vested self-interest that felt threatened.
They were not crucifying Jesus; they were crucifying change. They had society the way they liked it, and the boat was rocked.
In this metaphor, I equate Donald Trump’s brand of fundamentalist conservatism with Barabbas. But do not make the mistake of thinking I’m equating Hillary with Jesus. No, the Jesus in this metaphor is truth and basic American freedoms.
Conservative Christians have seen American culture as becoming distinctly less conservative, less traditional, and less Christian. Like the religious leaders of Jesus’ time, they saw their influence diminishing, and they feared it. Like the religious leaders of Jesus’ time, fundamentalist American conservatives voted for Trump because they fear loss of power and control in our society.
Let’s pause for a moment to consider what exactly it means to be a fundamentalist American conservative Christian Republican:
- You’re OK with war, because it makes you less fearful of other world cultures.
- You’re opposed to abortion, because it is murder (see previous point, note irony).
- You dislike paying taxes, because you don’t want to support things you don’t believe in or think are unnecessary (see first point, note irony).
- You see liberals as people who support culture change, whereas you want to live in 1950 (which was mostly only a good time if you were white, male, and Christian).
The first three items can actually be captured fairly well in the last item. That is why Donald Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” resonated so strongly with fundamentalist American conservatives. They see that time in our country’s history as a time when we were homogeneously Christian and on top of the world.
So when almost half of America had a choice between a Clinton and Donald Trump, they overwhelmingly screamed, “Barabbas!” because Trump represented those ideals. The problem is that Donald Trump is overwhelmingly un-American. That one snuck past us while Trump was being disguised as the more “Christian” choice.
I’ve heard Christians make a variety of justifications for voting for Trump. My favorites include: “Hillary is a murderer of babies/ambassadors,” “Trump is surrounding himself with good people,” “We need the wall,” and, “Things just have to change.” These are the ropes with which the sacrifice of American freedoms is tied to the altar of fundamental conservatism.
Donald Trump had the knife poised over that sacrifice the entire campaign season — some recognized this, and others ignored it. (“He makes me feel strong. Barabbas!”) Every time the Trump campaign cited lies — er, “alternative facts” — as truth, every time he changed his story, conservatives looked the other way. (“He sounds as angry as I feel. Barabbas!”)
Every time Trump mocked women, or the disabled, or minorities, or other cultures, they looked the other way. (“It’s not me; I’m not affected. Barabbas!”)
Every time Trump exhibited anti-Christian behavior, they looked the other way. (“He must be God’s choice. Barabbas!”)
Five days into his presidency, even if you still believe Trump is a Christian (“My religious leaders told me to vote for him. Barabbas!”), you must now begin to concede that he is wholly un-American, as he shuts up and shuts down institutions and organizations who oppose his vested self-interests.
If we knew our history better, more of us might have thought Donald Trump’s demagoguery smacked a bit of post-WWI Germany, who allowed Hitler to come to power because he made them feel strong again. Or maybe we’d be reminded of Russian Cold War-era propaganda, where truth was reinvented and opposing voices were imprisoned or murdered. (Be careful about longing for the 1950s — you just might get them.)
This election presented Americans with ugly choices — two candidates of despicable moral character — but the unseen choice was really between American ideals and a particularly ignorant form of fundamentalist conservatism. It’s now becoming clear that nearly half of us so strongly fear cultural change that we are willing to pay for traditionalism with American freedoms and truth itself.
My fear is that those things will be lost. When the blind cries of “Barabbas!” die down, our eyes will be opened and we’ll see them crucified. Like the crowd that screamed, “Barabbas!” we will also find ourselves saying that the blood of this sacrifice “will be on us and our children.” But unlike Jesus, we may not be able to resurrect them.