I’ve been curious for some time about the tremendous popularity Trump has enjoyed with the once judgmental evangelical leadership. Evangelicals represent more than a fourth of all active voters (26 percent) and one third of all Republican voters. Seventy-five to eighty percent of them voted for Trump in 2016 and seem poised to do the same in November of 2020.
Even the recent publicity stunt of Trump using the Bible as a prop in front of the nearest church to the White House did not dampen the enthusiasm of evangelical leaders like Jerry Falwell, Jr. who ignited the evangelical love affair with Trump by endorsing him before the last election. Had it been Barack Obama, certainly Hillary Clinton, they would have surely branded it as sacrilegious. It think it was, especially the preliminary of tear-gassing peaceful protestors so he and his retinue of suits could take the short walk to the church for his photo op.
I’m not sure why he chose to do it at that time and that way, but he definitely got himself back in the news again, even with so much competition for headlines. But once again his flanks were protected by evangelical leaders who have found their standing excuse for forgiving Trump his trespasses by delivering him from accountability. First there is the concession that he does stumble one in a while, and yet he is an instrument of God leading us on the path of righteousness. So it looks like the president will continue to hold on to his most faithful allies, because he is giving them what they want— power.
Evangelicals, by definition, believe the Bible is the sole source of religious authority and in salvation by grace alone. It includes most conservative Christians. I’m looking mostly at what the leadership is saying, and I’m not passing judgment on what you do or don’t believe. It’s not about abortion, the LGBTQ community or repression of freedom to worship your way. This is about trying to understand why evangelicals have come to see Trump, a most unlikely paragon of morality, as a savior of sorts.
Somebody who apparently wanted me to know what it is he sees in Donald Trump, sent me an opinion piece written by Livermore, CA Mayor Marshall Kamena. It was addressed to “My Leftist Friends,” notably those who took issue with the president’s lack of dignity and decorum. Mayor Kamena agreed he was rude and crude, but ended with this rousing endorsement:
So, to my friends on the Left — and the #NeverTrumpers as well — do I wish we lived in a time when our president could be “collegial” and “dignified” and “proper”? Of course, I do.
These aren’t those times. This is war. And it’s a war that the Left has been fighting without opposition for the past 50 years.
So, say anything you want about this president — I get it — he can be vulgar, he can be crude, he can be undignified at times. I don’t care. I can’t spare this man. He fights for America!
And I responded by writing something to the effect that Trump only fights for one thing— himself. It was a knee-jerk response and, after all, I did say I was trying to understand what it was that people, especially conservative Christians, saw in Trump.
One valuable resource is a book by Ben Howe entitled “The Immoral Majority.” Howe grew up as a loyal congregant of Moral Majority leader and Liberty University President Jerry Falwell, Sr. Howe’s father, Dr. Thomas Howe, was an respected evangelical pastor and Ben was passionate in his beliefs. Then, around 2015-16, Howe saw the evangelical community changing before his eyes. It started with an unlikely endorsement of Trump by Jerry Falwell, Jr., son of his former pastor, who had himself become a powerful evangelical leader and succeeded his late father at the helm of Liberty University. He said he watched Trump evangelicals in disbelief, over the span of a matter of months “overtly alter their entire ethical framework to accommodate one Republican President.”
Following are words expressed by evangelicals before and after Trump’s election that were helpful to me. The gist of this shift in allegiance toward an admittedly ungodly man, is that they have accepted him as an instrument of God leading us back to the righteous path from which we, as a nation, have strayed due to liberalism and political correctness.
“There is none of us that are perfect,” said evangelist leader and missionary, Franklin Graham. “There’s no perfect person— there’s only one, and that’s the Lord Jesus Christ, but he’s not running for President of the United States.”
President’s Road to Damascus?
Comparing Trump, of all people, with perfection is intriguing. A more accurate comparison might be Saul of Tarsus, a persecutor of Christians, whose blinding conversion to Paul the Apostle on the Road to Damascus made him an instrument of God. Maybe that trip to St. John’s Episcopal Church from the White House Rose Garden was his Road to Damascus.
Another supporter of Trump, Vicki Sciolaro, put it this way: “God can use anybody. He used the harlots. It’s all about what God can do. God can do this. God can use this man.”
There is another explanation for the Trump phenomena as proposed by Howe: “He is not inherently holy. He was made holy for this purpose.”
In his book, Howe, who was on a quest to understand why so many evangelicals had suddenly ascribed an aura of divinity on Trump. Why had it suddenly become okay to support a President who seems to know so little about the Bible and has lived a life so different than that of most conservative Christians?
“Of every head of state I’ve ever known, he’s (Trump) been extremely open to receiving input… particularly (from) pastors and Christian leaders and to listen to them, to listen to their wise counsel and do what is pleasing to God and is good for the people,” one evangelical admirer gushed.
They love the fact that he is a strongman and he’s using his muscle to serve God by running roughshod over perhaps the most quoted of the Biblical Beatitudes: “The meek shall inherit the Earth.”
That brings me to Robert Jeffress, evangelical pastor a Dallas Baptist mega-church, who didn’t mince words about how he felt about the meek:
“Government is to be a strongman to protect its citizens against evildoers. I don’t care about that candidate’s tone or vocabulary. I want the meanest, toughest son of a you-know-what I can find, and I believe that’s Biblical.”
It is certainly Biblical from the perspective of the Old Testament, where the mean and the tough were often the vanquishers of the enemies of the Chosen People. When we think of Trump we think of walls, and keeping the unwanted out. That’s why evangelicals nowadays like to point out that “walls are Biblical.” I’m thinking that the best-known walls in the Bible were around Jericho and they “came tumblin’ down,” as the song says, with Joshua and the Israelites getting an assist from God in the Book of Joshua 6:20-21:
When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they took the city. They devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.
So we’ve got walls going up and walls coming down, but, as Jeffress said, I believe that’s Biblical. From Old to New Testaments the lesson evolves from “slay thy enemy” to “love thy enemy” but that’s not the direction they seem to be heading.