I stumbled onto a fascinating post by John Fea, an evangelical historian of American religion. Read the whole thing.
Dr. James Dobson, a veteran of the old-line religious right, gave an interesting interview Tuesday following Donald Trump’s meeting with allegedly influential evangelicals.
Dobson spoke with Michael Anthony, a Pennsylvania pastor and religious entrepreneur, about Trump.
Anthony: Trump surprised me in a good way.
Dobson: He’s listening. There are a lot of people ministering to him personally…He did accept a relationship with Christ. I know the person who led him to Christ. And that’s fairly recent.
Dobson goes on to say that Trump is a “baby Christian.”
So why would Trump’s Christian boosters move from portraying him as an irreligious, nominal mainline Protestant to a born-again convert to evangelicalism?
For one thing, it helps excuse his breathtakingly obnoxious behavior. Evangelical culture has a kind of grace period for “baby Christians.” When a new kid shows up at the church youth group and accepts Jesus into his heart, how do you explain why he still cusses and has sex with his girlfriend? He’s a baby Christian. He needs to be “discipled.” The Lord is working on him.
This is exactly how Trump’s evangelical supporters can respond when he is rightly accused of being a narcissistic, manipulative, race-baiting serial liar.
As Dobson told his interviewer in feigned shock that Trump said “hell” 4 or 5 times while meeting with the faith leaders: “He doesn’t know our language. He wasn’t raised like we were.”
It’s an interesting strategy. You can’t exactly deny it because you cannot disprove it. Even the Apostle Paul was probably a little rough around the edges after his conversion.
In attesting to Trump’s conversion, Dobson is setting up yet another contrast between the religious-right hangers-on and the huge subset of evangelicals horrified by Trump.
The Reverend Dr. Russell Moore, a leader in evangelical political engagement, recently described Trump as a “lost person” who needs to “repent of all sin and come to faith in Jesus Christ.”
James Dobson assures us that Trump already has.
Convincing conservative ideologues that his conversion was authentic was a pretty impressive con, even by Trump’s standards. And now some evangelicals are proclaiming that Donald Trump is a born-again true believer.
Jesus likens authentic faithfulness to trees’ fruitfulness. Good trees bring forth good fruit, while corrupt trees bring forth evil fruit: “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:20).
Good luck to Dr. Dobson and other evangelicals who will insist that Trump’s life and work is bearing fruit.
(H/t John Fea.)