The Walls Come Tumbling Down

The Walls Come Tumbling Down January 6, 2021

As Joe Biden’s inauguration approaches, the Christian-Republican right is plunging headfirst into an abyss of rage and denial.

Donald Trump and his cronies have filed dozens of failed lawsuits seeking to overturn the election results, many of which were thrown out by judges that Trump himself appointed. They’ve courted, flattered and protested swing-state legislators in a vain attempt to get them to override the popular will. Just this week, we heard about an extraordinary phone call where Trump alternately raged at and pleaded with Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State, demanding that he “find” new votes to change the outcome. (This is absolutely a felony.)

Meanwhile, Trump’s cultists are trying to take matters into their own hands. They’re planning a rally in Washington, D.C. this week, the so-called “Jericho March“, where they’re planning a magical ritual that they believe will grant them a miraculous victory in the election they already lost:

Marchers plan to blow ritual Jewish horns called shofars on the first day before circling the Supreme Court building seven times in imitation of the Israelites’ siege of the city of Jericho described in the biblical book of Joshua. On Wednesday, they plan to do the same around the U.S. Capitol building.

This is a callback to the Old Testament battle where an enemy city’s walls miraculously collapsed after the Israelite army circled them while blowing horns (here’s what archaeology has to say about that, if you’re curious).

We can get a sense of what’s coming from a previous Jericho rally that was held on December 12. It was a grotesque form of ecumenicalism, with a parade of ultra-right-wing speakers spanning the theological spectrum – from Orthodox Jews to evangelicals like Eric Metaxas to far-right Catholics like Carlo Maria Viganò to wild-eyed conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones – who took the stage to pray, prophesize, perform exorcisms, sing the national anthem, blow a shofar, denounce the Satanic pedophile elite that controls the world, and run commercials and hawk discount codes for MyPillow, an as-seen-on-TV company whose founder is a huge Trump supporter. (I’m not making this up, I couldn’t if I tried.)

Rod Dreher – not a liberal, but a staunch conservative whom I’ve criticized on this site more than oncewatched the whole thing and was horrified:

[Trump] didn’t lose the election, according to them. It was taken from him. This is an article of faith, not to be doubted. If you doubt, you are a traitor, a coward, in league with the Devil. I’m not exaggerating at all.

…What kind of person calls for spilling blood in defense of a political cause for which he does not care if any factual justification exists? What kind of person compares doubters to Nazi collaborators? A religious zealot, that’s the kind. The only way one can justify that hysterical stance is if one conflates religion with politics, and politics with religion.

…Yes, it is bonkers. All of it. But you would be wrong to make fun of it and blow it off. This phenomenon is going to matter. Divinizing MAGA and Stop The Steal is going to tear churches to bits, and drive people away from the Christian faith (or keep them from coming in the first place). Based on what I saw today, the Christians in this movement do not doubt that Trump is God’s chosen, that they, by following him, are walking in light, and whatever they do to serve Trump is also serving God. They have tightly wound apocalyptic religion to conservative politics and American nationalism.

“We have to align our spirituality to our politics,” said the speaker today. Notice that she didn’t say “align our politics to our spirituality.”

In Dreher’s telling, the Jericho March represents an unholy fusion of blind faith with partisan zealotry. The speakers proclaimed that God told them – as in, told them personally – that Donald Trump won the election, and no math, no evidence, no facts can dislodge them from this belief. They’re utterly certain that Trump is anointed by God to carry out the divine plan, that he is pure good and his opponents are pure evil, and that they have to defend him at all costs – including by overthrowing democracy, if democracy stands in the way of the outcome they want.

Dreher isn’t the only one who was disturbed. Michael Horton, writing for the Gospel Coalition, called this event “the cult of Christian Trumpism” and described it variously as “rank spiritual adultery”, “blasphemy”, and “idolatry”. The Southern Baptist author Beth Moore said that Trumpism is “not of God“. Even Al Mohler found it “very bizarre“:

There was the blessing of Roman Catholic images, and probably in a way that wouldn’t even please Roman Catholic authorities, but nonetheless, there were evangelicals and others clapping at what took place. Most troubling were claims of private, compelling, divine revelation in which you had numerous speakers say, “God showed me this. God told me this by a vision or a dream.” And thus, notice what happens, they put God’s reputation as well as their own reputation on the line as to whether these things actually happen or not.

Based on comments like these, it would be nice to think that Christian conservatives have seen the error of their ways. It would be nice to think they’ve finally realized how disastrous it is to yoke their religious beliefs to the success or failure of a political platform, and that they want to pull back from the brink. But I’m not so optimistic.

Aside from a few possible cases, I don’t think it’s principle that’s motivating them. Rather, it’s the tactical calculation that they lost this round, that praying to God won’t undo the election, and that clinging to Trump’s lost cause will only result in them going down in flames along with him. The Mohler quote makes this clear when he talks about “putting God’s reputation on the line”. Jericho Marchers proclaim that God has ordained Trump serve a second term, and when that doesn’t happen, they’ll make their religion look cultish and ridiculous.

But if that’s the critics’ worry, they’re too late. What these commentators call the “cult of Trumpism” is the future of Christianity in America.

As evidenced by the absolute devotion on display at the Jericho March, Trump’s brand of politics – ultra-nationalism, grievance-stoking white supremacy, and authoritarian strongman worship – has eaten evangelical Christianity from the inside out. Whatever genuine theological content these churches once had is gone. They’ve become hollow vehicles for advancing the personal fortunes of a narcissistic con man whose behavior is the opposite of the virtues they claim to defend.

The never-Trump evangelicals who are belatedly protesting this development haven’t reckoned with their own complicity in bringing it about. The writer Chrissy Stroop has the goods:

Fascism backed by Christians does not emerge ex nihilo….

The real story about respectable evangelicals is that they still want to have their cake and eat it too. They reject loudly the never-say-die Trumpist Christianity that Metaxas has embraced, but they have failed to acknowledge their complicity in the current conservative Christian circus — or to examine the authoritarian nature of their own theology. We should not let them get away with such “cheap grace” by applauding them for enabling the worst of Christian nationalism, only to then shrink from the monster of their own creation.

The cult of Donald Trump didn’t come out of nowhere. On the contrary, it was created and lovingly tended by evangelical churches. It’s the culmination of decades of effort on their part.

For decades, white evangelicals have poured enormous effort into concocting a mythology which holds that America is God’s representative among the nations; that white Republican voters are his chosen people, entitled to rule by divine right; and that everyone who dissents is an evil agent of Satan.

They’ve spent decades teaching that faith trumps everything else; that each individual Christian is an infallible arbiter of God’s will, and if you feel it in your heart, that’s the only evidence you need for even the most extreme beliefs. They’ve spent decades stoking the coals of anger and resentment, pining for the days of rigid hierarchy, and teaching that truth is secondary to victory and that the most easily disprovable lies – young-earth creationism, fake history – are permissible if they serve the right ends.

Donald Trump didn’t create this structure, but it was ready-made for someone like him to step into. It was a pre-built cult of personality, and he only had to take the reins.

And in doing so, he’s laid bare the lies which evangelicals tell outsiders and which they tell themselves. In their fanatical devotion to him, they’ve demolished the flimsy walls of pretense that Christianity cares about morality or soul-winning or compassion, that it stands for anything other than worldly power and dominance. That will be the true legacy of the Jericho March.

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