On MSNBC, Aslan Likens White Evangelicals to 'Doomsday Cult'

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Cross posted to the MRC's NewsBusters blog

Appearing as a guest on Sunday's AM Joy to discuss white evangelical Christians who steadfastly support President Donald Trump, former CNN contributor and religion expert Reza Aslan likened pro-Trump white evangelical Christians to a "doomsday cult" after recalling that there have been a limited number of pastors who have tried to illegally hold services with parishioners in defiance of the pandemic.

At 11:28 a.m. Eastern, after playing a clip of the Reverend Robert Jeffress explaining why he was supporting Trump from 2016, citing his stand against abortion, host Joy Reid posed:

JOY REID: Abortion is the key to support for Donald Trump, and the fact that he'll nominate judges who may overturn Roe V. Wade, that's the sort of core of the support. Is it as simple as that? Or is there more sort of a also, you know, the tide of the country turning toward black and brown folks? Is it all of that or one more than the other?

Aslan -- who was notably fired as a CNN contributor a couple of years ago after posting an inflammatory tweet about President Trump -- began by arguing that the abortion issue accounts for a substantial amount of Trump's support, but then also implicated race:

REZA ASLAN: But I don't think that we should pretend that the white part of the sentence doesn't matter -- 67 percent of evangelicals of color voted for Hillary Clinton. These are people who more or less believe the same thing -- hold the same theology -- but just have a different skin tone. I think -- there was this wonderful article in Christianity Today not long after the election that said that white evangelicals acted more white than evangelical. … So race unquestionably played a part in it.

He then claimed that white evangelicals are behaving like a "cult" because of a perception of being on the losing end of "the culture wars."

ASLAN: Trump's evangelical supporters have started to seem like a kind of cult -- a deeply insular group that's bound together by this extreme devotion to a charismatic leader. And what I'm really worried about now with this pandemic is what allows a cult to truly thrive is a sense of siege. This worked in 2016 because Donald Trump told them that, you know, Democrats are out to destroy churches and kill babies and take away their guns, and that worked, but now we are literally experiencing a sense of siege.

The liberal religious scholar then applied the term "doomsday cult" as he continued:

ASLAN: And so this backlash that you're seeing from a lot of pastors in places like Louisiana or Kansas, Kentucky, across the country, frankly, to try to prove something by forcibly having these in-person services defying the authorities -- defying medical advice in order to make some kind of point about their support for Donald Trump -- this is the kind of behavior -- this cult-like behavior that can lead to -- as Jim (Wallis) said -- to the deaths of thousands of people. It's no longer just a cult of personality -- I don't think we can call it that anymore -- it's now becoming a doomsday cult.

Host Reid agreed: "Yeah, it's terrifying."

Below is a transcript of relevant portions of the Sunday, April 12, AM Joy on MSNBC:

JOY REID: Abortion is the key to support for Donald Trump, and the fact that he'll nominate judges who may overturn Roe V. Wade, that's the sort of core of the support. Is it as simple as that? Or is there more sort of a also, you know, the tide of the country turning toward black and brown folks? Is it all of that or one more than the other?

(…)

REZA ASLAN: But I don't think that we should pretend that the white part of the sentence doesn't matter -- 67 percent of evangelicals of color voted for Hillary Clinton. These are people who more or less believe the same thing -- hold the same theology -- but just have a different skin tone. I think -- there was this wonderful article in Christianity Today not long after the election that said that white evangelicals acted more white than evangelical. I believe my good friend, Jim Wallis, has made comments like that as well.

So race unquestionably played a part in it. But I think that there is something deeper as well, and it has to do with what sometimes is referred to as the loss of the culture wars by white evangelicals. I've written a lot about this -- I've spoken a lot about the way in which Trump's evangelical supporters have started to seem like a kind of cult -- a deeply insular group that's bound together by this extreme devotion to a charismatic leader. And what I'm really worried about now with this pandemic is what allows a cult to truly thrive is a sense of siege. This worked in 2016 because Donald Trump told them that, you know, Democrats are out to destroy churches and kill babies and take away their guns, and that worked, but now we are literally experiencing a sense of siege.

And so this backlash that you're seeing from a lot of pastors in places like Louisiana or Kansas, Kentucky, across the country, frankly, to try to prove something by forcibly having these in-person services defying the authorities -- defying medical advice in order to make some kind of point about their support for Donald Trump -- this is the kind of behavior -- this cult-like behavior that can lead to -- as Jim (Wallis) said -- to the deaths of thousands of people. It's no longer just a cult of personality -- I don't think we can call it that anymore -- it's now becoming a doomsday cult.

REID: Yeah, it's terrifying.

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