Today in New York, a little-known religious-right nonprofit is facilitating a meeting between presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump and more than 1,000 influencers hailing from disparate branches of American evangelicalism.
In addition to private meetings with a steering committee of organizers and fundraisers, Trump answered some pre-selected questions from past heavyweights of the Christian right political movement, including Tony Perkins, Gary Bauer, and the immediate past president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the Reverend Dr. Ronnie Floyd.
One surprising name has surfaced among Trump’s growing list of evangelical supporters. Eric Metaxas, a heretofore well-respected evangelical author and thought leader, recently endorsed Donald Trump. Once referred to as “the Protestant William F. Buckley, Jr.,” Metaxas gained a huge following after a successful 2010 biography of German theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Metaxas gained political fame for his 2012 White House Prayer Breakfast address, during which he attacked President Obama’s policies on abortion and other issues as the president sat and listened a few feet away.
In recent months, #NeverTrump evangelicals have painted their Trump-supporting brethren as prosperity-gospel hucksters, evangelicals in name only, or lacking in sufficiently rigorous thought about Christian political engagement. Metaxas shatters those criticisms. He is a well-known and well-liked fixture of the mainstream evangelical establishment, a smart and serious communicator who has received effusive praise and adulation from the very evangelicals who insist that Christians cannot support a lying, race-baiting, narcissistic faux Christian like Trump.
Metaxas gave an interview to National Review‘s Kathryn Jean Lopez last week. Warren Throckmorton dissected it at his Patheos blog, but here’s the money quote:
METAXAS: Not only can we vote for Trump, we must vote for Trump, because with all of his foibles, peccadilloes, and metaphorical warts, he is nonetheless the last best hope of keeping America from sliding into oblivion, the tank, the abyss, the dustbin of history, if you will. If you want to know how bad things are in America, and how far we have gone, read the previous sentence aloud over and over.
According to TIME, Metaxas is concluding the June 21 meeting by laying out a “vision for America” — one in which he will presumably exhort Christian conservatives to propel Trump to the presidency, lest the godless and dangerous Hillary Clinton completely undermine the foundations of Christian engagement with society and sending America into “oblivion, the tank, the abyss, the dustbin of history.”
Given his well-known rhetorical gifts, it is wise for Trump boosters to have Metaxas give the altar call at the New York event.
But in promoting the reality-TV billionaire, Metaxas has lost his considerable goodwill among the still-large subset of evangelicals who remain resolutely #NeverTrump.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian and pastor, participated in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. He is hailed by Christians and particularly conservatives as a principled realist who held to an orthodox faith yet understood how to deal with evil in the world. In recent months, #NeverTrump evangelicals have looked to Bonhoeffer for inspiration as they found it impossible to support the GOP standard-bearer because of his profoundly obnoxious, divisive, and unchristian tactics and attitudes.
Yet this very afternoon, the man who lifted up Bonhoeffer as an example of principled, faithful engagement closes the deal for Trump in front of a thousand evangelical leaders.
(Note: This post is part of my series on the role of faith in the 2016 election. Please read about Capitol and Cathedral here. Check out my #Faith2016 news roundups here. I explain my view on the role of religion in politics here. Thanks for sharing this page with your colleagues and friends.)