It feels good to position yourself against universally recognized bad guys. Nazis make the easiest historical bugbears to oppose, being so widely reviled that even their most obvious heirs, such as white nationalist Richard Spencer of “Hail Trump!” fame, often reject the label. In fact, the use of anti-Nazi rhetoric is so powerful, that authoritarian leaders and their supporters often appropriate it for authoritarian ends. Thus Russian President Vladimir Putin “justifies” his annexation of Crimea and hybrid war in eastern Ukraine with the claim that he is “fighting Nazis.”
And then there’s Eric Metaxas, a popular Evangelical radio host and author of, among other things, a sloppy biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer that remakes the man in Metaxas’s own image. Of late, Metaxas frequently invokes his ideologically mangled version of Bonhoeffer’s legacy to “justify” support for the clearly authoritarian Donald Trump. (See here and here for good scholarly takedowns of Metaxas’s approach to Bonhoeffer.)
Metaxas spoke at this year’s anti-choice March for Life, held in Washington, DC on January 27 this year, the same date as International Holocaust Remembrance Day (as opposed to the usual January 22). Metaxas’s Twitter timeline, which features numerous posts about the March for Life, including pictures of Metaxas with Kellyanne Conway and Vice President Mike Pence, exhibits intense enthusiasm about his participation in the March for Life. Despite his focus on Bonhoeffer, however, Metaxas did not bother to produce a single tweet about Holocaust Remembrance Day, with or without mentioning Jews. In his January 27 remarks, after declaring “Jesus is Lord,” Metaxas insisted that in contrast to the Women’s March, the March for Life was “the inclusive march,” using the same gaslighting language in which a Trump surrogate “justified” the failure of the White House’s official statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day to mention Jews.
As we might expect, Metaxas also invoked Bonhoeffer, whose corpus, for what it’s worth, devotes very little space to abortion. “Dietrich Bonhoeffer said abortion is murder,” Metaxas declared, as if the statement, which Bonhoeffer did make, were a hermeneutic key to his work, instead of an aside from which it is not possible to determine where Bonhoeffer would fall on the question of abortion law today. What does seem obvious to almost everyone who is not a conservative white Evangelical such as Metaxas, however, is that if Bonhoeffer were living in contemporary America, he would recognize Trumpist authoritarianism as something to be resisted by the church on at least some level, and not as something to be embraced.
Metaxas was widely panned for supporting Trump during the 2016 election, but, as he made clear in an interview conducted by The Atlantic’s Emma Green during his trip to Washington, Metaxas has only doubled down on that support since the election, which comports with my earlier analysis of Evangelical authoritarianism published on Religion Dispatches (here and here). In this doozy of an interview, which consists largely of misinformation and false equivalence, Metaxas toes the authoritarian Trump administration’s line on every issue Green presents him with.
Metaxas describes himself as “encouraged, tremendously encouraged,” at what Trump has done as president so far. Insisting that Trump is “the most pro-life president in the history of the republic,” Metaxas refuses to criticize anything Trump has done in office in the slightest, even going so far as to suggest that we should consider a preference for Christian over Muslim refugees as something “like affirmative action,” given that, in Metaxas’s twisted mind, President Obama was “bizarrely hostile” to persecuted Christians. In the interview, Metaxas does not only engage in projection of this nature, but also uses the authoritarian tactics of deflection, false equivalence, and whataboutism. Note, for example, that he referred to Roe v. Wade as “fake law,” deflecting from the real problem of “fake news” (Roe v. Wade is fact well established law). The upshot is clear.
You might think, reasonably, that the best way to “fight Nazis” in the present would be to oppose the Trumpist assault on minorities and the rule of law, but, according to too many conservative white Evangelicals like Metaxas, to “fight Nazis” you must actually prioritize above all else the pursuit of a blanket ban on abortion, essentially by any means necessary. (See here for an analysis of white Evangelicals’ abortion obsession as a psychological defense mechanism.) Never mind Syrian refugees, Americans living in poverty, the persecution of people of color and extrajudicial slaughter of African-Americans in particular by American police, or Americans dying without access to affordable health insurance. To pretend that such a stance represents Christian opposition to totalitarianism goes far beyond “cheap grace.” To riff on the language of the times, what authoritarian Evangelicals really seem to be after is “alternative justice.”