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.” 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.