With the celebration of Easter just past it might be a good time to assess how Donald Trump is working with and for Christians considering their overwhelming support for him. Trump is approaching three months in office and so it is not unreasonable to see where he has succeeded and failed.
During the election we were told by many Christian leaders that we should discard Trump’s history of bragging about his sexual affairs, his cheating on at least two of his wives, his two divorces, his proclivity for not paying his bills (theft), his materialism, his misogyny, his bigotry, his xenophobia, his being irreligious, boastful, prideful, hateful, violent, and a mendacious political shape-shifter who lies about his religious beliefs, says he has nothing to ask God forgiveness for, and bullies, berates, and mocks anyone who even slightly disagrees with him. This, we were told, was all in the past. The character and moral litmus test of the last four decades vaporized during the election even while the candidate of choice for conservative Christians repeatedly lied and used obscenities during campaign speeches. Hardly acceptable behavior in conservative Christian circles. But they tolerated and even applauded it. The people who had lectured the nation about morality and character were now telling America to chill out about the very things that had triggered them for decades.
Two things prompted this change. The first, and most important, was the explicit promise of Trump that his election would bring secular power to Christianity. Christians were enticed by Trump’s offer of secular power much like Satan attempted to entice Christ in the book of Matthew. Trump dangled the same bait before Christians but with very different results. In Matthew we read: “Finally, the devil took Jesus to a very high mountain. He showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. “If You bow down and worship me,” he said, “I will give You all of this.” Jesus rejected Satan’s offer very decisively. Christians took the offer from Trump and became silent about moral and character issues where once they were very vocal.
In a speech in Sioux City, Iowa Trump said:
“Christianity will have power,” and “Because if I’m there, you’re going to have plenty of power. You don’t need anybody else. You’re going to have somebody representing you very, very well. Remember that.”
No presidential candidate had ever made such a bold and open offer to conservative Christians. They could have secular power, they could enforce their beliefs, they could have a seat at the table, but only if they forgot their teachings about morality and character and got behind him. And they did. Bigly.
The other thing that helped conservative Christians abandon their moral “principles” was the assurance from some of their leaders that now, in the midst of the campaign, at the most opportune time, Donald Trump, who they had previously accepted as a Christian, had now, really and truly, become a born-again Christian. According to evangelical leader James Dobson, “Trump recently “[accepted] a relationship with Christ,” adding, “I know the person who led him to Christ.” Boom! Done! He is one of us now, let’s get some power.
Dobson later backtracked a bit and a number of evangelical leaders questioned his conversion even as they continued to support Trump for president. With the overwhelming support of white evangelical Christians Trump scored an Electoral College victory and the man who boldly promised Christians that “I’ll tell you one thing: I get elected president, we’re going to be saying ‘merry Christmas’ again. Just remember that,” became President of the United States. Now Christians expected payback.
As president however Trump has shown his conversion and fealty to all things Christian was not much more than a political stunt. He has delivered on the overtly political promises: attempts to destroy Obamacare, defunding Planned Parenthood, and appointing “pro-life” judges such as Neil Gorsuch. But it needs to be noted that, since his election, Trump has said that the court’s affirmation of marriage equality is settled law.
“You have these cases that have already gone to the Supreme Court. They’ve been settled, and I’m fine with that.”
Oddly he believes that abortion, which has similarly been ruled on by the Supreme Court, can be changed. He envisions that states would then decide and that some would allow abortions and some would not. When pressed that some women would not be able to get abortions he nonchalantly replied: “Yeah. Well perhaps they have to go to another state.” This is not the sentiment of a Christian committed to stopping abortion. This is an arrogant, rich politician pandering to his base and not doing a good job.
The failure of Trump to take his newfound faith seriously is also seen in his canceling the White House Easter Prayer Breakfast, “a tradition that began in 2010 under President Barack Obama where he would invite Christian leaders from across the country to join him for a service in the East Room of the White House. It would include singing, a sermon and prayers, and the president would discuss the significance of Easter for him.” Trump decided that playing golf in Florida was more important as he played his 17th round since being sworn in. Indeed, playing golf was even more important that actually attending church. Trump has not attended church since becoming president. In 2009 conservative Christians were interested to see if President Obama attended church. They sniped at him when he did and when he did not. In spite of their stated “biblical” beliefs there has been a collective yawn at Trump forsaking church attendance (Hebrews 10:25), and worse even, there has been silence. It is almost as if they had a double standard – one for the black Democrat and another for the white Republican. Or is it that they recognize the deal they made included no criticism of his life as a “Christian?”
After telling his Iowa audience that “Christianity is under tremendous siege” one of the most visible things he could do is appoint a director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. He does not need Senate approval and could have any of dozens of prominent Christian leaders occupying the office by tomorrow. But he has not. The priority of actually appealing to Christians and following through on his promises and what he said were his convictions has evaporated. They sold-out and elected him and he knows they no longer have any leverage and therefore they are no longer a priority.
Conservative Christians have sold their moral voice for a chance at secular power. From a field of presidential candidates loaded with life-long professing Christians they chose the one who was anything but Christ-like. The overwhelming support for Trump, with only weak and muted criticism, has damaged the church and its ability to both represent Jesus Christ and stand as a moral guide. Their ability to say “thus saith the Lord” is gone and will not return without much hard work. At a time when America needs moral leadership and representatives of Jesus to be front and center conservative Christians are sidelined by their entanglement with Donald Trump.
In return Donald Trump has given them nothing. He has made a mockery of their faith. And he showed them what Jesus knew when offered secular power by Satan: the abandoning of moral principles is never worth it.
This is the sad state of Christianity at the White House under Trump as well as the sad state of conservative Christianity in America.