If the influence and power of the Catholic Church in the past two centuries may have lessened in some countries, nowhere was it more secure and strong than in Ireland.

More strict in their observance and application than Italians, home of the Pope, the Irish were seemingly unwavering in their allegiance. In 1981, they amended their constitution, giving equal rights to the foetus and its mother, effectively foreclosing abortion.

But then, in 2015, the Irish voted to legalise same-sex marriage, becoming the first country to do so by popular vote.

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In 2017, they elected as prime minister, Leo Varadkar, an openly gay man of Indian descent. And on May 27, 2018 — by 67 per cent — Ireland voted to legalise abortion.
Overnight, it seems, Ireland has overthrown the yoke of the Catholic Church, shifting from a rigid conservative social stance to an open, tolerant, liberal one. No longer an outlier in Europe but a leader of the mainstream.

How did this happen?

Credit a booming economy with some influence. The young were no longer leaving the country to find work, effectively leaving behind a conservative older group, while returning ex-pats brought with them a vision of different possibilities for a more open society.

As important as the youth and the economy has been, it's impossible to overlook the church's own contribution.

Lord Acton is credited with the saying: "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely." The end of that absolute church power permitted the scourge of priest rapine paedophilia with its cover-up by church authorities.

More recently, the Magdalene laundries have come to light where "fallen women" were sent to labour as "penance" for their sins — often the "sin" of being a woman.

Reflecting on the hypocrisy of the church's failings, it is no great wonder that the edifice of church power has crumbled in Ireland. The wonder is that it took so long. The lesson of corruption through power ought to be studied in the United States by the Protestant evangelicals.

Michael Gerson, a committed evangelical and former adviser to President George W Bush, looks back at the 150-year trajectory of evangelicals and finds in their current, unabashed embrace of Donald Trump a tragic corruption of a religious tradition.
His article, "How evangelicals lost their way " in the April 2018 Atlantic magazine is a heart-felt mourning for a faith gone astray.

At its origins in the mid-19th century, evangelism identified itself with the causes of the downtrodden, hence they were among the strongest abolitionists of slavery. Their distinctive essential tenant, a personal embrace of Jesus Christ, lead to opposition to slavery and support of the poor.

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But over the decades they have changed dramatically.

From a standing outside of politics, they have migrated to flagrant seeking of political power. Reacting to the perceived excesses of social experiments in the 1960s, the evangelicals constituted themselves as the "moral majority", opposed to abortion, sex education, homosexuality, extra-marital sex, and divorce.

As they gradually became a political force, they also became opposed to the movement for civil rights for blacks and other minorities.

While earlier attempts to influence elections and gain power were only partially successful, they have thrown their political weight with Donald Trump, becoming his "base", his staunchest supporters.

Lusting to achieve power through Trump's appointments of a far-right judiciary,

evangelical leaders have found ways to rationalise Trump's every outrage, whether his vile and intemperate language, his support for neo-Nazis, his flagrant sexual predation.
I'd leave it to others to determine whether Trump is even a Christian. Clearly he has no ideology and the only service he renders is to himself. His professions of hatred for others, minorities, Muslims — his overt racism — is probably disqualifying in a religion based on love of fellow man.

Evangelicals have made a Faustian bargain. As prosperity and a new generation rises, more tolerant of diversity, more socially engaged, the judgment they may render of their elder's hypocrisy is likely to be harsh.

For evangelicals in the US, time is not on their side.

Jay Kuten
Jay Kuten

Jay Kuten is an American-trained forensic psychiatrist who emigrated to New Zealand for the fly fishing. He spent 40 years comforting the afflicted and intends to spend the rest afflicting the comfortable.