In God We Trump – Film Review (Watch the trailer here.)
In the 2016 U.S. presidential election, an overwhelming 81% of Evangelical Christians turned out for a media personality/real estate mogul who fanned the flames of white nationalism, normalized and trivialized sexual assault, and bragged that he could shoot someone and still be elected president.
For those of us who are Progressive Christians, this unwavering support by our conservative cousins has been unconscionable and deeply disturbing.
How is it possible for those who profess to follow a savior who preached inclusivity, respect for all peoples, humbleness, and nonviolence to venerate a man whose every Tweet, every speech, and every action flies in the face of our understanding of what it means to be a Christian?
One filmmaker – Christopher Maloney – set out to answer this question by examining the problematic relationship between Trump and Evangelicals.
He combed through video footage of Trump’s speeches and interviews. He scoured countless clips of televangelists and leaders of the Christian Right. And he interviewed clergy, writers, activists and members of the Christian Left (many of whom are former members of conservative Evangelical churches). The result is an important documentary called In God We Trump that helps us make sense of how Deep-Red Christianity commandeered the white conservative vote that tipped the Electoral College in Trump’s favor.
Even more revealing is what the film shows us about the state of Christianity in America. Especially considering Trump’s moves and policies since becoming president, it is imperative to understand how the Christian Right is using him – and vice versa – for their own agenda. Maloney’s documentary helps us connect those dots and gain perspective.
Full disclosure: I am one of the interviewees of the film.
Maloney contacted me as a clergy person and ecotheologian who has written about and been an activist for environmental justice issues. In April 2017, he asked if I would be willing to share my perspective on Trump’s anti-environmental agenda as part of the documentary. I agreed, and he visited me where I teach, Lexington Theological Seminary in Kentucky.
In our conversation, I shared my concerns about the way in which some Evangelical Christians actually welcome the destruction of the Earth through climate change (if they even choose to recognize it exists). So Trump’s move to pull the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accords was celebrated by many conservative Christians. They saw it as one step closer to Jesus’ return to this God-forsaken planet to destroy it once and for all, while they – “born again” Christians exclusively – would be taken up to paradise in the Rapture. So all efforts to undo environmental protections are welcome – no matter how much they hurt planet, plants, animals, or people.
Christopher Maloney has been working in film for about ten years.
His work has been broadcast on PBS and the Discovery Channel. This is his first political documentary. He shared with me that his quest was to try to understand how Trump secured “the Christian vote” in the election. This, despite the fact that the man clearly and publicly violated every taboo which Evangelicals have vociferously defended for decades.
Infidelity? Check. Foul language? Check. Divorce? Check.
As Maloney’s film shows, the “family values” of the Christian Right dissolved in a murky swamp of political ambition and hypocrisy that led many to declare Evangelical Christianity to be morally bankrupt. And this was before the Roy Moore debacle in which Trump – along with many conservative clergy – endorsed a man who was accused by nine women of sexual misconduct, including the rape of teenage girls.
Even after the Access Hollywood tape, which most people assumed would torpedo his presidential bid, Trump was able to secure the blessing of Evangelical pastors across the nation.
How were they able to reconcile the cognitive dissonance? How do they rationalize their hypocrisy? What’s behind the full-throated, hands-in-the-air praise of Trump as God’s divine instrument for this country? These are the questions Maloney’s film attempts to answer.
Fair warning: In God We Trump is difficult to watch. But not because it is a bad film.
In fact, viewing it is a captivating experience. But it is hard to get through because of the subject matter. Reliving the election and days after was retraumatizing. Seeing Evangelical Christians praying over Trump and declaring him to be God’s right hand man was nauseating. I had to stop more than once and take a break from viewing. Maloney captured exactly how I had felt watching our democracy crumble under the cascade of the Electoral College results and the months that followed.
Nevertheless, In God We Trump is a film that Christians need to watch. Because it shows us how dangerous it is when the Pharisees of our time are willing to sacrifice their most cherished values in order to expand their political power.
While the film is certainly biased toward the Christian Left perspective, it has historical value for the way it documents the first nine months after the election. It also shows how, beginning with the rise of the Moral Majority in the 1980s, the stage was being set for someone like Donald Trump to mount the rising tide of white evangelical unrest. Throughout the film, we witness the manipulation of fear by both Trump and Evangelical leaders. When televangelists such as Kenneth Copeland threaten viewers with damnation by God if they don’t vote for Donald Trump, that’s a problem. It’s small wonder that 14% of Christians left churches after the election, citing the Christian Right’s embrace of Trump as the reason.
Why would you vote for someone who violates codes of common decency that are supposedly dear to our nation?
What would seduce Evangelical Christians – who have professed “family values” – to embrace someone who violates every purity standard they had previously striven to enforce? Elsewhere, I have made the case that the answer has to do with Trump’s ever-shifting rhetoric that has eroded every semblance of reality. Lies have become truth, and truth has become irrelevant. Trump has so hollowed out his integrity that he has become a cipher. This enables his supporters to project onto his blank screen whatever they wish.
For white Evangelicals, they see a man who will help them secure a theocracy that establishes their power.For no small number of Evangelical leaders and believers, Trump’s presidency even helps fulfill biblical prophecy for the end times. It is especially enlightening to watch Maloney’s film when considering Trump’s decision this past December to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Some insist that Trump was only enacting policy to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital which has been long overdue. But when understanding the context of premillennial dispensationalism that predicts Armaggedon will begin when the Temple Mount at Jerusalem is reestablished, the fusion of end-times theology with Trump’s policies is chilling.
By the end of the film, I was left with a discomfiting realization.
As a clergy person and seminary professor, the circles I travel in often talk about the church “dying,” which is a dreaded fear, and understandably so. But film’s conclusion is that it will take the death of the church to loosen the evil stranglehold that Evangelicals have on American Christianity.
That may mean that those of us who are progressive Christians will have to watch our churches die along with it. But you know what? I’m starting to realize that that’s okay with me.
I know, this sounds heretical. But if the death of American Christianity is what it takes to slough off these wicked power structures – then so be it. My faith is such that I’m okay with the American church dying – only because I trust that the God of life will raise up something else. It will look very different from what we’ve been used to for the past hundred years or so.
But if we worship a living God – the God of the resurrection – and we trust that God is doing a new thing, then I can let the old thing go. I’m not sure what that means for me professionally and personally. Certainly, such upheaval threatens my very livelihood as a clergy person and trainer of pastors. But there must be something better than the white, racist, homophobic, anti-earth, xenophobic, dominion-worshiping church we have now.
Riveting and revealing, In God We Trump helps us make sense of the baffling phenomenon of Evangelical Christian support of Donald Trump.
This is a film that Christians in America need to watch in order to begin to come to terms with the unholy marriage of the Religious Right and the Republican Party, and what it means for the church in this country. We need to face these uncomfortable truths with our eyes open and our hearts set on recovering what Christ truly taught and for which he died and was resurrected. It is a self-sacrificing love that cares for the Earth God created, cares for those most vulnerable (“the least of these”), and cares for creating a human community based on equity, compassion, and ethical love.
In God We Trump will premier at The Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in February 2017. The film will eventually be released to theatres and streaming video. However, you can host a private screening by signing up on the website: http://ingodwetrumpfilm.com/. The filmmakers provide discussion questions and support for these screenings.
Watch the trailer for In God We Trump: https://vimeo.com/245755069
Leah D. Schade is the Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship at Lexington Theological Seminary (Kentucky) and author of the book Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology, and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2015). She is an ordained minister in the Lutheran Church (ELCA).
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