I’m thankful for Donald Trump for the same reason that I’m thankful for Fred Phelps, the founder of the infamous gay-hating Westboro Baptist Church. Phelps presented the world with an extremely helpful caricature of toxic fire and brimstone theology that woke up thousands of fundamentalist Christians and deconverted them from their extremism. Trump is doing the same thing by being a perfect caricature of a billionaire narcissist. Three years ago, when the culture wars were raging in the buildup to the 2012 presidential election, I saw that the story of Jesus’ exorcism of the Gerasene demoniac in Mark 5 offered a prophetic parable about the exorcism of the religious right through people like Donald Trump that we continue to witness today.
In Mark 5, Jesus goes into the land of the Gerasenes and comes across a man so violently plagued by demons that he’s a social outcast who lives among the tombs. When Jesus asks the man what his name is, he says, “Legion,” for there is a legion of demons inside of him. The demons beg Jesus not to destroy them but instead to cast them into a herd of pigs in the nearby countryside. Jesus grants their request and they drive the pigs into a frenzied stampede until they throw themselves off a cliff into a lake and drown. The pig herders raise a ruckus so the people of the town beg Jesus to leave, and the Gerasene demoniac who has been completely healed goes around proclaiming the power of Jesus.
I continue to see this story as a parable for our times. My beloved evangelical church is the Gerasene demoniac. Our theology has been corrupted by a confusing legion of unacknowledged idols and sins, such as patriarchy, racism, homophobia, nationalism, materialism, celebrity culture, spiritual pride, etc. Because of this, we’ve been ranting and raving among the tombs of a world where we used to control everything like a demon-possessed man, scaring millions of people away from Christianity. Any Christian who actually cares about evangelism ought to be grieving every day in sackcloth and ashes after seeing how good a job we’ve done over the last 30 years at unnecessarily alienating such a huge chunk of our population.
But over the past decade, as the far-right fringe has gotten more blatantly ridiculous, I’ve also seen many earnestly Christ-seeking evangelicals receiving an exorcism of their demons. Whether it’s Fred Phelps picketing military funerals to say that God kills soldiers because of the gays or Donald Trump cynically fanning the flames of Islamaphobia or dozens of other monsters like the Koran-burning preacher, adulterous family values champion Dinesh D’Souza, rape-joking Tea Party senate candidates, etc, it’s like watching a herd of pigs furiously race off a cliff into a lake of fire. Who would have ever thought that a fundamentalist Southern Baptist church leader like Russell Moore would be openly condemning the front-runner in the Republican presidential race?Perhaps I’m naive, but I’m not scared of Donald Trump’s power. I’m a lot more scared of white supremacist power that speaks in code and hides itself behind a fortress of sexual moralism. Donald Trump is a wrecking ball that exposes the horror of an ideology that has been nurtured through the religious right’s outrage industrial complex of the past two decades. My only fear is that Trump will lose credibility too quickly and the herd of pigs will not jump into the lake of fire decisively enough to exorcise the church of its demons.
It’s unfortunate for instance that Charisma magazine has taken down the article in which they claimed that Donald Trump is the “trumpet of God.” It was a prophecy given by Jeremiah Johnson, a Florida megachurch pastor. I agree with the basic gist of Johnson’s prophecy:
Trump does not fear man nor will he allow deception and lies to go unnoticed. I am going to use him to expose darkness and perversion in America like never before, but you must understand that he is like a bull in a china closet. Many will want to throw him away because he will disturb their sense of peace and tranquility, but you must listen through the bantering to discover the truth that I will speak through him.
Donald Trump is indeed exposing darkness and perversion, but we have to listen through the bantering to discover the truth being spoken through him. He embodies the truth about Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Todd Starnes, and every other voice of hate that has hypnotized about a quarter of our population for the past two decades. My hope is that God will use Donald Trump and every other monster spawned by right-fringe outrage to stampede that ideology off a cliff and bring his people to their knees in repentance. We need to see our church’s political power obliterated before our eyes. We need to be utterly devastated in order to be “baptized into [Jesus’] death” (Romans 6:3) so that we can gain an authentic resurrection that isn’t corrupted by worldly triumphalism.
So to all the stampeding pigs who want to follow Trump into the lake of fire, I say stampede away. Please do so as loudly and obviously as possible. And in the meantime, I pray that God would open the eyes of those who truly belong to him so that we can submit to him in perfect contrition and humility. I ask God fervently every day to make every fruit plain and reveal the truth in all its ugliness and beauty. Those who belong to God have nothing to fear in the truth.