Trump, Evangelicals, and the Road Ahead

In 1934, at the age of 28, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a letter to a friend about an upcoming conference that would involve members of churches from several countries and denominations. In this letter, he wrote, “We must make it clear—fearful as it is—that the time is very near when we shall have to decide between National Socialism and Christianity. It may be fearfully hard and difficult for us all, but we must get right to the root of things, with open Christian speaking and no diplomacy. And in prayer together we will find the way.”[1] This was before the Holocaust began, before WWII began. But Bonhoeffer saw that one could not embrace the Christian faith and embrace the political tide of his nation that was so enamored with the Nazi party. The two simply were not compatible. On April 9th, 1945, he was executed for his part in the German resistance to the Nazi regime.

The necessity of such a distinction—between the values of our faith and the values embodied in large segments of the wider culture—is once again becoming apparent. It is alarming to see so many people in the United States embracing Donald Trump in his bid to become President of the United States. No, Trump is not Hitler, but he nevertheless embodies values that should cause serious concern among Christians.

One of the great ironies of Trump’s candidacy, however, is that so many of his supporters are evangelical Christians. While many evangelicals, as well of Christians of other stripes, oppose Trump, he doesn’t need all of us. He only needs enough to get elected. Christian support for Trump is essential for his success moving forward.

I myself identify as an evangelical, though this may not tell you much. The term “evangelical” has become rather diffuse over the last couple of decades. It can describe Christians as different as Franklin Graham and Jim Wallis. According to the National Association of Evangelicals, there are four primary characteristics of evangelicalism:

Conversionism: the belief that lives need to be transformed through a “born-again” experience and a life long process of following Jesus.

Activism: the expression and demonstration of the gospel in missionary and social reform efforts.

Biblicism: a high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority.

Crucicentrism: a stress on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as making possible the redemption of humanity

These four characteristics fit me quite well, but I will never support Donald Trump. In fact, I will never support Donald Trump because I’m an evangelical Christian. He mocks everything Christians should embody. He scapegoats the culturally vulnerable. He shows deep contempt for those whom he sees as different (e.g., Muslims and Mexicans). He has openly and unashamedly derided both women and ethnic minorities. He has even said that a man should treat women “like shit.” He has posed on the cover of Playboy. He consistently insults and demeans those with whom he disagrees. He has belittled Holy Communion, referring to it as drinking his “little wine” and eating his “little cracker.” Consistent with this last offense, he is flippantly dismissive of the idea that he needs to engage in any type of personal repentance.

Nevertheless, a substantial number of evangelicals are backing Trump. Why would they do this? According to the New York Times,

“Social conservatives are taking a look at Trump and saying he’s not with me on all these issues, but the overall larger imperative for us is to tear down this system that has not served us for a very long time,” said Gregg Keller, a former executive director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, which was founded by the Christian conservative Ralph Reed.

Presumably, once we “tear down this system,” we will replace it with one friendlier to our own priorities. My fellow evangelicals, let me state this clearly: the “system” will never serve us, because the “system” is not of Christ. The “system” is a political machine beholden to special interests, lobbying groups, large corporations, financial contributors, and other entities, many of which are not the least bit concerned with anything remotely resembling Christian values. The idea that you can tear down the “system” and reshape it to serve you is, and always has been, a lie. It has been a lie since the time of Constantine. The “system” is about power, but Christ’s power is the power of the cross, and God’s power is made perfect in weakness. Christians must always stand outside the “system,” even when it is ostensibly Christian. As Christ taught us, “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other.” Christians willing to compromise core tenets of the faith in order to bend the political process to their will may win in the short term, but it will be a pyrrhic victory. In the end, they will lose far more than they gain. “For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” (Mark 8:36). It’s not worth it, Christians–not even close.

Many Christian leaders have been critical of Trump. Pope Francis stated, “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.” Max Lucado has written that Trump does not pass the decency test. Evangelical attorney and activist John Stemberger has written a scathing critique of Trump for CNN. Trump seems unfazed by these remarks. He criticized the Pope’s remarks, saying that it is “disgraceful” to question another person’s faith. Consider, for a moment, the great irony of Trump–who has made public remarks belittling Hillary Clinton’s sex life, who called Arianna Huffington a “dog,” and  who belittled John McCain’s service to his country in a Vietnamese prison camp–calling another person’s remarks “disgraceful.” Consider the additional irony of the fact that the person whose comments Trump criticized is Pope Francis, a man who has championed the cause of the poor and the politically disenfranchised.  Trump has made his faith a matter of public record. It would be irresponsible for Christian leaders not to scrutinize the extent to which his actions are consistent with the faith he claims to hold.

I have a robust doctrine of sin, and therefore I don’t hold very high expectations of politicians. I’m not singling Trump out because of his unchristian behavior. I’m writing about him now because his behavior and proposed politics resemble nothing like Christianity and he is enjoying a substantial portion of the evangelical vote. I don’t expect Trump to act like a Christian, but I also don’t expect other Christians to support a candidate whose values are so antithetical to those of Christians across a broad theological spectrum.

Cultural Christianity has collapsed, and Christians do not enjoy the place of privilege we once did in the United States. It was only a matter of time before this happened, but now we have to make a choice. The time has come. We are going to have to choose between a false sense of national and cultural security and the values of Jesus. The xenophobic, privileged, narcissistic ethos that Trump embodies is antithetical to the values of Christ, who said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel,will save it” (Mark 8:34-35).”

I am not suggesting that Trump would usher in an era as tragic as the one Bonhoeffer foresaw. Nevertheless, America is not so exceptional that we are incapable of grievous sin as a nation. We have done it before, and we are capable of doing it again. There is much to love about the United States, and there is much for which we should repent. The curious phenomenon of Donald Trump’s candidacy makes it clear that Christians are now at a point where we are going to have to make a choice. Who will we follow? Will we follow Christ and rightly understand ourselves as a countercultural family of faith, or will we baptize an idol of crass materialism, place a crown on its head, and call it Jesus?

[1] Hauerwas, Performing the Faith, 60.

406 thoughts on “Trump, Evangelicals, and the Road Ahead

  1. David, I think you are not seeing the forest for the trees. Unfortunately in this day and age I’m afraid that we evangelicals will never be able to propel a candidate that shares our christian belief and values to the presidency due to the secularization of american society. Christianity is under attack in the US where the sharing of the gospel is being labeled as “hate speech” and Christians have been called terrorists. Now we are to choose the best candidate available for the presidency. We had a candidate and the evangelicals did not come out for him. The progressive liberal movement has been following the list of communist goals that were written in the book “The Naked Communist” by Cleon Skousen and using Sal Alynsky’s book “Rules For Radicals” as their playbook for decades. Karl Marx actually said “my object in life is to dethrone God and destroy Capitalism”. What better way to dethrone God than for our government to declare the sharing of the gospel as “offensive” and “hate speech” to the point of imposing a fine or even arresting Christians for fulfilling “The Great Commission” (Matthew 28:19-20). Jesus tells us in John 14:15 “If you love me you will keep my commandments”. You see the implications of not voting are much greater than you think. By not voting for Trump you are advancing the progressive movement in America (Hillary Clinton is a self-professed progressive who will appoint liberal judges) and you are not doing your best to try and preserve our right to freely practice our faith through activism.

    • I agree, Richard. If we don’t vote we are automatically insuring Hillary will be president. God forbid.

    • Voting against your conscience as a believer is something we shouldn’t do. I think we have already hit the tipping point…progression is here to stay and the tide will not be turned. Hillary will be our next president. The church has a fight on their hands and it’s not against flesh & blood.

    • Richard your reply was well written. It’s beyond me to think how someone could even think of voting for any of the Clintons! The Liberal party has promised lie after lie after lie with no deliverance.

  2. I concede that Trump has his flaws that do not meet up to all Evangelical standards. But Bonhoeffer also was critical of the Nazis for their takeover of German businesses and other socialistic reforms. Liberals today embrace socialistic ideologies that were not a part of the founding of the United States. Our Evangelical forefathers would today not be in favor of such reforms themselves, being that they were free-market capitalists themselves, and risked their own lives against tyranny to found this great nation.

    It is very hard to be neutral here. But my bias is toward conservatism. I cannot allow myself to vote for a liberal candidate who supports higher taxation and bigger government. That ultimately will enslave us more so than a person who, regardless of whether they are Evangelical or not, promotes freedom and capitalism.

  3. This is an excellent article and I deeply appreciate it. The struggle for me and for many others is that we do not have an alternative who is much better. I have opposed Trump from the get-go. I think he is a despicable person. I cannot vote for him. But I cannot imagine voting for Hillary either

  4. I’m always astonished to hear Christians preface their comments with “I know Trump has his flaws, but …” My friends, a psychopath doesn’t just “have flaws.” Study the 20 traits of a psychopath (listed at Mr. Trump has 15 of them–in spades. He must never be president.

  5. Matthew 23, verses 7-20: “Ye hypocrites, well did Esais prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me, with their mouth, and honoreth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrine the commandments of men.” And He called the multitude and said unto them, “Hear and understand: Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man, but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.” Then came his disciples and said unto him, “Knowst thou that the Pharisees were offended after they heard this saying?” But He answered and said, “Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up. Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.” Then answered Peter and said unto us this parable. And Jesus said, “Are you also yet without understanding? Do not ye understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into draught? But these things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the hearty proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies; These are the things which defile man….”

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