Evangelicals and Barabbas: Who Will They Choose?

Evangelicals and Barabbas: Who Will They Choose? November 18, 2023

We knew Trump had an authoritarian bent when he first ran for the presidency and from his first four years in office. Each year he was there it became more and more evident. I think it was, partly, simply due to his ignorance and not understanding how our government works, our history, the three parts of our system (executive, legislative, judicial) and so on.

Further, he never understood what it meant to be a what they used to call a statesman/woman, a gentleman, a man (person) for all seasons. He never understood it was a position of service, not rule. He never understood the American experiment and he was never truly a patriot in the best sense of the word.

His anger came from not fitting into a world he knew was bigger than he was, but why it was larger was clearly a mystery to him. He didn’t understand; and what people do not understand they often fear. And what they fear or don’t understand, they often attempt to destroy.

In recent days (see here and here), he’s made very clear he will use that office, if elected again (God help us), to fill the government with “yes men/women,” weaponize the DOJ and FBI against political/domestic foes, rid the civil service of those not loyal to him, and use the military to quash any civil strife or protest against him.

Yes, you read that correctly. It’s fairly alarming and shocking to say the least. That he’s still the GOP front-runner is simply the last nail in the coffin of the old Reagan/Bush republican/conservative/evangelical movement. It is dead.

Here, though, is what’s even more alarming in my view: His core base (a mix of secular hard-right conservative republicans along with evangelicals/fundamentalists, a smattering of racists/sexists, gun nuts, closely related survivalists-don’t tread on me-types, anti-immigration “us” first people, and conspiracy theorists and other such fringe groups) support his plans or authoritarian bent (see here and here).

For those who thought this was something only Trump and his small circle of advisors/entourage (or, clown car) wanted, they would be sadly mistaken. Actually, Trump and his people are tapping into a stream of thought already present in American society.

The group I care about, though, in this mix are the evangelicals. I was one. I grew up one (more fundamentalist than evangelical really), and I graduated from one of their seminaries. They continue to support Trump by large numbers. I have to assume, then, they also support these authoritarian, and, frankly, unconstitutional and violent ideas put forward for a second term.

Let’s put this in perspective: They continue to support the thrice-divorced, porn-star-paying-off serial adulterer, who incited a violent insurrection/riot/coup to cling to power, was twice impeached, is a pathological liar, lacks all grace and humility, is ignorant and proud of it, has 90 some civil and criminal indictments against him in several states, and was found liable for sexual assault. That’s their guy.

I only have so much space, so this is just a small sample of his infamous exploits/character and current situation. The question is always, why? How can the family-values, character and ethics matters crowd, continue to support the exact opposite, which Trump embodies? Here is my answer to that question: He is their Barabbas.

Yes, that Barabbas, the person we read about in St. Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 27). Here we read:

Barabbas is identified as ‘a notorious prisoner’ (Matt 27:16), ‘a robber’ (John 18:40), and as one of ‘the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection’ (Mark 15:7). The motive for the insurrection in Jerusalem, during which he had committed murder (15:7; Luke 23:19), is uncertain. It may have been a bold case of brigandage, but prob. it was a politically motivated attempt to throw off the hated yoke of the Romans. As the leader of the group, Barabbas had gained a reputation as a species of hero.”

Let me be very clear. I’m not suggesting that President Biden is Jesus and that evangelicals are choosing Trump (Barabbas) over Biden; that would be ridiculous. What I’m suggesting is that evangelicals no longer seem interested in people like Mike Pence or Tim Scott—the people in their own party who at the very least try and reflect their understanding of what Jesus represented.

These two (Pence/Scott) wore their Christianity on their sleeves. They would often quote the Bible to make a point. They were generally polite, respectful, and peaceful in their words and actions. They seemed to respect the rule of law and institutions of our government, even if they disagreed with some of our laws and some of the decisions our government makes. They were relatively scandal free and their actions seemed to line up with their words.

Many evangelicals took a look at both (and the other candidates) and said, meh, not interested. Nope they said, give us the other guy. We want the bad boy. We want the fighter. We want the guy who hires people who say things like this when responding to Trump calling his political opponents “vermin” echoing Hitler and Mussolini:

Steven Cheung didn’t see the issue, saying that anyone who took issue with the remarks was ‘suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome’ and ‘their entire existence will be crushed when President Trump returns to the White House.’”

Yeah, they want that guy. They don’t want the Prince of Peace (or decent candidates like Pence or Scott), they want the tough guy (who’s actually just a bully—but they can’t tell the difference); they want John Wayne or Clint Eastwood. They want the guy who rebelled against the Roman Empire (or, in this case, the “deep state”) and led an insurrection, a violent one. People died—just like on January 6th. The similarities, between Trump and Barabbas, are amazing really.

It’s as if a lot of evangelicals looked around at their choices and said, you know what, give us Barabbas. Yeah, we want that guy. Oh, the irony. Oh, the disappointing reality.

Trump is just a cipher, an icon, a stamp, a mirror, a husk really. Robert Reich (Instagram) writes:

Donald Trump has no political platform, no specific policy agenda, no new ideas. That’s because he’s a fascist who doesn’t want America to think. He exists solely as a symbol for the anger, discontent, bigotry, and vindictiveness he has unleashed.”

And that’s fairly close to what Barabbas represented to many of the of the people who chose him over Jesus—over the Kingdom. Clearly, they weren’t asking for his release to rule over them, but he was still a leader they admired and wanted to be free to continue his activities. Their choice was more a reflection of their own ignorant darkness, their own desires and mindset. Their choice was a raised fist to all those they imagined were their enemies and more about them than their choice. They saw salvation in political terms, not in spiritual terms or in matters of eternity.

It is likely Trump will be the GOP nominee for the presidency of the United States in 2024. Many of those votes making that possible will probably come from evangelicals/fundamentalists. Thus, if he is the GOP nominee, unless polling shows otherwise, they will have held the scales of possible choices and found everyone else wanting. They will have chosen. That will be on their heads. 

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Image/photograph by Mohamed Hassan/Pixabay

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