Evangelicals’ King: Why Trump Still Reigns

Evangelicals’ King: Why Trump Still Reigns July 7, 2024

Image by Zdeněk Tobiáš from Pixabay

In the book of 1 Samuel, chapter 8, we read of Israel’s cry for a king. Perhaps this is a continual temptation for God’s people, one that will hound us until Jesus returns and heaven comes to earth. Maybe it cycles about at opportune times. If so, we are in one of those times as it pertains to evangelicals and their attraction, even devotion, to Trump.

You know the guy, that lover of money, the serial adulterer, thrice-married, five-timed bankrupted, twice-impeached, insurrection inciting, held liable for sexual assault, racist, sexist, porn-star paying off and now convicted felon. You know, the person who still has two or three more trials to go, one for keeping and hiding top-secret classified documents from the FBI and one for trying to over-turn the 2020 election results. You know, the Tang-complexioned fellow? You know…that guy.

How do we explain this? How do we fathom this attraction and devotion (many of them think he was sent by God) by those who wanted former president Bill Clinton thrown out of office for a lot less? Being a convicted felon, he can’t own a gun now but people are ready to put him in charge of our nuclear arsenal. Go figure.

And please note: Many of his supporters aren’t just holding their noses as they plan to vote for him, reluctantly if you will. No, many of them fly his flag and image on their properties or cars/trucks. They see him as a savior, a hero, a person to admire. Everyone has probably seen the Thomas Kinkade like memes showing Trump praying with Jesus. Seriously?

Most evangelicals use to care about character, integrity, honesty, and ethics in the people they backed for public office. Now, way too many could care less. But why? Why the sea change? Why the complete 180? This wasn’t a slight change in political strategy. It was a total reversal of decades of emphasis. Why? How?

Well, read 1 Samuel 8. That’s why—or at least one reason. Also allow me this caveat: I understand the text has first to be read as speaking directly to its own time and circumstances. I know it can’t simply be lifted out of its context and applied to modern times/a different audience. Still, I think the parallels are interesting and can help us better understand why it is that God’s people have at times wanted an earthly king over them. The first thing we learn from the passage is that their demand is seen by God as a rejection of God’s Kingship. It is also seen as a rejection of God’s prophet, Samuel. Sit with that for a second. 

With that caveat, here are three reasons they (God’s people) give for asking for an earthly king over them:

1. “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways.” Samuel is old. Wow, where have I heard that complaint before? And, they don’t like his sons. They are not like their father. Maybe they’re drug addicts or felons. They all have to go. “Drain the swamp.”

2. “Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” So much for being “counter-cultural.” The slavish devotion to Trump and leaders like him is just a big way of saying, “We give up. If you can’t beat em, join em.” It’s a way of saying we want to be like the other kids. We want to become a powerful voting block like all the other voting blocks. We want to be like a big corporation or other powerful lobby so we can get our fair share of rights, deference, and privilege.

3. “…and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.” This one is the kicker. This is the one that I think best explains the, especially, white male, middle-class, evangelical support for Trump. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve either read on social media, in a comment section, or told to my face that the reason the person is supporting Trump is because he’s a “fighter” and he will “fight” for us. He will protect us from all the evil forces around us that are trying to destroy us.

Here is why, in my opinion, a majority of white evangelicals continue to support Trump, even though he’s not fit to run a charity let alone the most powerful nation on earth. Here is the reason in one word: Fear.

What’s driving this need for a “strong man” an authoritarian leader, this call for a king, especially among evangelical men, is fear. For all their emphasis on “man-hood,” “men-being-men,” worship of guns, big trucks, and belief God put them in charge of women and the world in general, they are actually terribly afraid and insecure. Think of Biff in Back to the Future.

He fights our battles!” “He’s fighting for us!” “He’s a fighter!” The cries of both white male evangelicals and the people of Israel for a “king” who will fight for them spring from the same idolatry, the same shortsightedness, the same lack of wisdom, and the same fear of the world about them. Moreover, they want a bully and one who is proud to be one, which is certainly Trump.

There really isn’t anything new under the sun. The temptations presented to Jesus are the same ones presented to each generation of the church and sometimes the church acquits itself respectfully and sometimes…well…it doesn’t. It’s sad and terribly disappointing to watch as one part of the church fails especially as to this temptation:

And the devil took him [Jesus] up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, ‘To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.’”

No it won’t. Anyone foolish enough to take up this “offer” will find they have lost all authority and that any glory wasn’t worth it. No, they’ve given any “authority” away to their new “king,” the one they cried for. This is what fear does. It blinds us to the one doing the offering, the one posing as a “king.” It is the cry of the faithless—of those who have put their trust in kings and horses.

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