Flat White

Trump’s evangelical supporters are on the wrong side of history

19 January 2017

2:19 PM

19 January 2017

2:19 PM

snip20170119_11“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

Thus spake the Lord to Solomon about two and a half thousand years ago. But many American evangelicals believe that 2 Chronicles 7:14 can be simply cut from its historical context and pasted into any other scenario, such as the apparently historic presidency that begins Friday (DC time). Now God’s people humbling themselves, praying, and turning from their disobedience is no bad thing. All this is commanded elsewhere, including in the New Testament. It’s God’s will and he blesses obedience. But anyone with an iota of Biblical literacy should realize that “my people” means God’s people and “their land” means Israel (and not of the post-1948 variety either).

While many evangelicals wanted nothing at all to do with Donald Trump (and some, like Southern Baptist Russell Moore are now paying a heavy price for their consistent opposition to him), many supported him. Some, like Master’s Seminary president Dr John Macarthur, voted for him begrudgingly  Others, however, became essentially surrogates for the profanity-laden, misogynistic, xenophobic, infantile, deceitful campaign of a profanity-laden, misogynistic, xenophobic, infantile, deceitful candidate.

These members of the now defunct Religious Right and the now discredited Moral Majority humiliated themselves and mocked the cause of the Christian message, by conflating a vote for The Donald with turning from wickedness. They confused the most narcissistic man to ever run for public office with humble piety. And they told their flocks that God will hear them from heaven if they elect a man who has declared himself in no need of God’s forgiveness, and trademarked abject and wanton disobedience against God’s law.

Furthermore, they not only endorsed Trump from their pulpits but they let this wolf in sheep’s clothing (I bet he doesn’t know that’s a biblical term) preach from their pulpits. They “laid hands” upon him in prayer (another biblical term usually associated with ordination!).

Phoenix Seminary theologian Wayne Grudem started 2016 endorsing Trump as a “morally good choice” before disavowing him, and then settling on a via media of a morally grotesque Trump with morally sound policies. Jerry Falwell Jnr tweeted a photo of himself and the casino magnate in front of a framed cover of Playboy magazine, in which Trump appears with a Playmate of the Month.

The problem here isn’t GOP members who happen to be evangelicals honestly believing that Trump was the better choice and campaigning accordingly; it is that pastors declaring – thus sayeth the Lord – that Donald Trump was God’s anointed (God’s Messiah in the Hebrew; God’s Christ in the Greek). His manipulation of these craven clerics is considered and complete. He has made them utterly foolish and turned them into pathetic sycophants and hypocrites.

Mercifully, I am not an American voter. Had I been on an electoral roll on 8 November I am not sure I could have pulled the lever, pressed the button, or ticked the box for Donald J. Trump. But I think he will be slightly better than Hillary Clinton. Perhaps true conservatives, or even some Christians, around him will persuade him to do right, love his neighbour, enact sensible policies, keep his promises. And so what should Christians make of that?

Well, according to Billy Graham’s son Franklin Graham, it’s obvious: God intervened. “It was God. God showed up,” he assured a rally in Mobile, Alabama last month. Franklin doesn’t tell us what God had been up to before showing up, but if I had to guess, I would say playing golf with Obama for the last eight years.

Sarah Palin agreed. “No doubt, divine providence played a huge role in this election…prayer warriors across the country, people who perhaps had never expressed their faith in a higher being before, knew that Jeez, we got to be on our knees asking for a change here, because we’re going down the wrong road,” she said, connecting Trump’s victory with the prayers of not only God’s people but even those who usually don’t pray to anyone.

Now I too believe in an interventionist God, but not one who merely shows up in the nick of time if enough people say “Jeez” and kneel in prayer.

Real Providence is the belief in the Almighty’s ultimate, active determining of every detail in time and space; not just when it suits Republicans. Also: couldn’t God have intervened better? I mean, of all the candidates, he chooses this guy?

Actually, yes. In his actual Providence (not Palin providence) it is God who makes kingdoms rise and kingdoms fall. Presidential administrations too. Biblical Christianity would say the same about a President Hillary, just as it does about President Obama, and about the most depraved Australian PM you can think of.

In fact, the Bible gives numerous examples of God working like that in human history. History, however, is part of the problem here. Trump is clever, no doubt about it. He is manipulative and conniving and, by his own ungodly admission, likes to see the ruin of those who refuse to do absolute fealty to him.

Presumably his team is similarly bright, if not similarly ruthless. But they didn’t create this shameful religio-political scheme ex nihilo. American evangelicals have been begging for this kind of attention since George H. W. Bush denied it to them (evangelicals had limited political and policy success with Bush Jnr, but until now they had never been as influential as in the heady days of Regan).

This denial of influence and acknowledgment made no sense to the Religious Right which understood history to have found its meaning – indeed its end – in twentieth century United States.

Other counties have over-realised their own historical significance at various times too, but with the fall of the Soviet Union and the collapse of communism, many people – including a great many evangelicals – thought Francis Fukuyama was right. His “end of history” thesis was that western liberal democracy was the zenith of social-cultural evolution, to which American evangelicals added their own eschatological eccentricities. “My people,” therefore, became Americans; “Their land,” America.

For all of Trump’s apparent ignorance of Christianity, he played a savvy religious game with evangelicals, exposing a tragically significant group of them as hypocrites who care nothing for the Bible or the purity of the church.

All they wanted, all the long, was to again be on the right side of electoral victory, even if on the wrong side of history.


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