Like many others on November 8 2016, I was horrified. It wasn’t just the practical joke of a situation that helped a man like Trump gain office. It was that I was ashamed of the politically motivated evangelical Christians who helped get him there.
I was born in the United States, and I’m a Christian. It’s inevitable that my home country and my faith play a foundational role in how I see the world and where my heart is. Both labels have baggage attached. But I can’t remember a time when the baggage had made me feel so ashamed.
It’s not just that 80 percent of white evangelical voters supported Trump. (Note that it was white evangelicals – the evangelicals from other ethnicities were more likely to vote for Clinton.)
The two-party system of the United States is a place where voters are often forced to choose the “lesser of evils”. Many quarters of the country were not feeling heard, and this was true for the Republican Christians, who were growing more concerned about religious liberty by the day. (This was true for other religious groups, too.)
No, what’s worse is that white evangelicals continue to support and defend Trump. Public figures like Jerry Falwell Jr. and Franklin Graham have continued to think of the best of Trump. They say that Trump has been catapulted to power through prayer – that Trump is a flawed human who can be used by God. “Profane but still ordained”, like Churchill, apparently.
It just makes me exhausted. It’s starting to feel like Christian leaders have made parodies of themselves – and I’m not the only one. Hundreds of Christians are asking themselves if they can abide keeping the “evangelical” label when it’s shorthand for the religion of Trump.
Is it possible not to do some soul-searching if you are jostling alongside white supremacists to bring this man into office? Are these Christians reading the same Bible as me?
Evangelicals – particularly those of colour – had looked at their counterparts and asked themselves if the issues of abortion and religious liberty were worth throwing their lot in with racism, xenophobia and locker-room jokes.
The chasm between races in the church has yawned deeper, with many African-American evangelicals walking away from their church. Millennial Christians are horrified and are backing away from the evangelical label. Other Christians are standing up to resist this polarisation of their faith. Prominent evangelicals are calling out that Christian Trump voters will face an “ethical challenge” (no kidding).
But whether they know it or not, the white evangelical church in the United States has hit a “before” and “after” in its history. And as an American and a Christian, there are so many reasons why the politics of the white evangelical church has made me angry.
They’ve gambled on a candidate who’s the antithesis of Jesus
Jesus wasn’t a Republican.
Nor was he a Democrat, actually. Jesus was never about political gain or a “kingdom of this world”. He wasn’t obsessed with winning personal freedoms. He didn’t lead a rebellion against the oppressive forces that would eventually conspire to crucify him. His disciples who followed him didn’t do this, either – despite many of them being killed for their minority beliefs.
Not only is Christian faith not about political power – it’s about giving power to those who have none. Jesus’ beliefs turned political powers on their head, asking for the “first to be last and the last to be first”, that being great in God’s kingdom is about serving others.
The Bible repeatedly tells its readers to stand up for the widows and orphans of the world, to protect the oppressed and the sick.
And you don’t need to know the Bible to notice that Trump is a “biblically illiterate, thrice-married philanderer who models the antithesis of humility and Jesus-like compassion”.
Do I need to go on?
They’ve lost their moral credibility
For a group that thinks of themselves as the “Moral Majority”, there’s a sense that Republicans traded whatever high ground they had for access to the White House.
This is a group that could have been regarded as the moral voice of reason. Instead, they seem to be defending – loudly – a President who was intrinsically linked with the alt-right, who made casually racist and sexist jokes, and was courting their favour for power. Ultimately, all that was not enough to sway them, and evangelicals talked themselves around to the immorality of a man who they’re supposed to respect.
As recounted in the New York Times:
[The] white evangelicals [who] voted for Mr. Trump … cheered the outcome, reassuring uneasy fellow worshipers with talk of abortion and religious liberty, about how politics is the art of compromise rather than the ideal. Christians of color, even those who shared these policy preferences, looked at Mr. Trump’s comments about Mexican immigrants, his open hostility to N.F.L. players protesting police brutality and his earlier “birther” crusade against President Obama … In this political deal, many concluded, they were the compromised.
Not every evangelical may be racist, sexist or agree with Trump’s morals. But when racism and sexism are not deemed valid enough reasons not to vote for someone, what’s the difference?
That’s just as bad, if not worse. At best, as one writer put it, either these evangelical leaders are “frauds”, “deluded”, or just ridiculously naive.
They’ve become hypocritical
Franklin Graham once wrote to condemn – rightly, in my opinion – Bill Clinton’s extramarital behaviour during office. Years later, Franklin Graham is now defending Trump’s indiscretions with Stormy Daniels as a private matter that’s “no one’s business”.
What a depressing double standard. And what a gut-punch for how much evangelicals can change their minds when it comes to gaining a political win.
Two incredible polls from the Public Religion Research Institute show how widespread this is. In 2011, researchers asked voters if “an elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfil their duties in public and professional life”. Just 30 percent of white evangelical Christians agreed.
By July of 2017, that percentage had shot up to 70 percent. Evangelicals had suddenly shot from least likely to agree that private lives didn’t impact public performance, to most likely.
No wonder, as non-Trump supporter Tim Keller reflects sadly, that “evangelical” is synonymous with “hypocrite”.
It was difficult to write this article. There are so many damning aspects of the hysterical political panic that swept a power-driven, ill-qualified, foul-mouthed reality tv star into power.
But I chose to write it because we can’t forget how corrupting power can be. It’s happened in the United States and it can happen elsewhere.
I chose to write it because this episode shows the danger of being driven by fear. Tunnel vision over abortion and religious liberty has caused untold pain to much of the rest of the country. Moral panics are dangerous weapons when they’re not backed up with compassion.
I also wrote this because, if there’s ever a time where we need Christians who see what’s happening to speak out, it’s now. Because even once Trump is gone, there’ll still be a chasm that may not ever be fixed.
In an open letter, David French asked Trump-voting white evangelicals:
… there are now millions — millions — of our fellow citizens who despise us not because we follow Christ … but because all too many fellow believers have torched their credibility and exposed immense hypocrisy through fear, faithlessness, and ambition.
Soon enough, the “need” to defend Trump will pass. He’ll be gone from the American scene. Then, you’ll stand in the wreckage of your own reputation and ask yourself, “Was it worth it?”
It wasn’t, and it’s not.