Description: Grainy image of a man with long hair carrying four suitcases, with the wording “On my way back to the White House” across it. Caption adds “March all you want, protest all you want, President DONALD J. TRUMP is our President for at least 4 years, no weapon formed against him will prosper! You know you are doing something right when there is so much opposition!!!
This social media post has already been skewered on Facebook. Still, it deserves some additional response. It was posted un-ironically by gospel singer Vickie Yohe, and offers an opportunity to examine some of the problems with evangelicalism’s love affair with Donald Trump.
While I left evangelicalism and the Republican Party over half a decade ago, this election has stripped away the last of my willingness to give individuals in these institutions the benefit of the doubt. Even James Dobson jumped on the Trump bandwagon, after arguing during the Clinton administration that a president must show integrity in his personal life. Everything about prominent evangelicals’ lock-stepping behind Trump felt like a betrayal of what I was taught as a child.
If I’d wanted confirmation that evangelicals care more about obtaining power than about showing compassion, I certainly got it—in spades.
I’m also increasingly bothered evangelical’s erasing of progressive and mainline Christianity. Hillary Clinton is a devout Christian. She attends church regularly; she believes in her Bible; she speaks openly about her faith. But watching evangelicals’ rhetoric during the 2016 presidential campaign, you’d never know any of that. The same is true of Barack Obama. But how many evangelicals even know that?
I did not realize, until after I left evangelicalism as an adult, how many serious, devout progressive and mainline Christians there were. As a child, “Christian” and “evangelical” were synonyms, and anyone who claimed the label “Christian” but had not been “born again” was a target for evangelicalism. Mainline Christians were portrayed as wishy-washy sellouts who did not believe the truth of the Bible. Evangelicals often accuse mainline Christians of picking and choosing from the Bible rather than believing the whole thing, but evangelicals do that themselves.
And then there is the idea that Jesus would approve of Donald Trump.
I’m honestly baffled. What, exactly, would Jesus approve of? Trump closing the door on refugees, and falsely portraying Mexican immigrants as rapist job-stealers? I think not—and I don’t remember Jesus saying anything about trade policy. He didn’t say anything about abortion or gay rights either, though he did stop a crowd from stoning a woman who had committed adultery. I also don’t recall Jesus saying anything about privileging one country over another. Indeed, the early Christians still in Jerusalem left during the Jewish revolt against Rome in 66-70 A.D. because they didn’t feel a connection to Jewish nationalism.
You want to know what Jesus said that was relevant to Trump?
Matthew 19: 16-24
Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”
“Which ones?” he inquired.
Jesus replied, “ ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
The idea that Jesus, who was a refugee himself as a child, would side with a rich xenophobic nationalist businessman who rates women based on their looks, is obsessed with his image, and boasts about committing sexual assault is surreal.
While various scholars may use slightly different definitions, evangelism is frequently seen as the defining feature of evangelicalism. Evangelicals believe that all people have sinned, and that all are in need of salvation through Jesus’ sacrifice on the Christ. Winning souls is often seen as the most important thing an evangelical can do—after all, those who are not “born again” are destined for hell. I’m not sure whether or not evangelicals realize this, but siding with Trump has “damaged their witness” (an evangelical term) among large segments of the U.S. population.
I would be remiss if I did not address Yohe’s last phrase:
“You know you are doing something right when there is so much opposition!!!”
This is the same thing my mother said when I told her the child-training guru she followed, Michael Pearl, was receiving increasing scrutiny because three children had died due to their parents following his methods. Yes, that’s right—she defended a man who teaches that parents must beat their children until they are broken, because the devil attacks those who walk in Christ’s footsteps, and he was being attacked.
Evangelicals typically justify this believe based on this passage and others like it:
Matthew 10:22—“You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.”
Using these passages as justification, evangelicals argue that when they are hated by the world—such as when they catch flack for refusing to bake cakes for same-sex weddings—they can be assured that they are following God’s commands. Narrow is the path that leads to salvation; wide is the path that leads to destruction. The trouble with this perspective is that it leaves no way to determine whether someone hates you because you are a Christian, or whether they hate you because you are a dick. It’s like deciding your boss hates you because you’re so good at your job, without bothering to consider whether your history of late reports and missed meetings could have anything to do with your boss’s negative opinion of you..
Whatever happened to “by this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another”? What happened to “thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself”? What happened to the story of the Good Samaritan? What happened to “blessed are the meek”? When did the gospel become “alleluia, a rich groping braggart swindler obsessed with his image is in the White House, we are saved”?
Besides, if Jesus came knocking on the White House door today, I’m suspect Trump would take him for a Syrian refugee and tell him to go back where he came from post haste, dangerous radical Muslim terrorist and all that.