In a political season that’s defied every expectation, one of the questions I still can’t quite wrap my head around is why evangelicals — who for so long have pushed the conservative line on social issues — are supporting someone like Donald Trump. Trump doesn’t have an anti-gay background (though he’s playing the part now), he praises Planned Parenthood (while condemning abortions), he says he doesn’t ask for forgiveness, he clearly doesn’t know the Bible, etc.
What’s going on here?
Jessica Johnson, writing for Religious Dispatches, has a theory that involves Pastor Mark Driscoll.
On paper, evangelicals should want nothing to do with this asshole. But Mars Hill Church had a weekly audience in the tens of thousands, and Driscoll has already announced plans to start up a new church in Phoenix, Arizona.
Best to consider Trump and Driscoll’s seemingly paradoxical ascendance in popularity among U.S. evangelicals not as anomaly but as trend — one that signals the tenuousness of ideology or theology as moral guides. When the successful branding of authenticity is achieved by performing shamelessness, such that overt affective responses do not register as fear or anger, but as laughter, it’s time to take humor’s capacity to collectively move and politically mobilize audiences much more seriously. The laughter elicited among audiences during Trump and Driscoll’s performances garner more political pull and spiritual authority than appeals to either virtue or morality. Trump and Driscoll do not simply capitalize on people’s fears or insecurities; they also excite, agitate, and exploit a desire to believe.
To put it another way, they appeal to your gut, your baser instincts. Yes, they’re assholes, but they’re your assholes. If the “other side” used the same kind of rhetoric and bombast, Christians would treat them with the contempt they’d deserve. But because Driscoll and Trump claim to represent them, it’s all okay.
So this is the state of modern day evangelicalism. It’s not about principle. It’s not about conviction. It’s about who can be the biggest alpha male on your team.
A lot of people have said Trump is the natural result of a political party that championed the know-nothingness of George W. Bush, the perpetual persecution complex of Sarah Palin, and the anti-Obama rhetoric of its other leaders.
In many ways, Mark Driscoll is what happens when an entire faith treats women as second class citizens, allows LGBT people to be bullied in the name of Christ, and treats science as a four-letter word.
They deserve Driscoll just like they deserve Trump.
But the rest of us deserve much better.