The Last Temptation
www.theatlantic.com A link to the original article.
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-faith-of-donald-j-trump-david-brody/1126557545#/ A book I reference in this critique.
This article was passed to me by a Facebook Friend, and my critique is embedded within. My motivations for the critique are as follows:
· Self-defense. The author minces few words in this strongly written screed. In it he attacks the faith of many, including many Christian leaders who support Donald Trump – and though not by name — he doesn’t know me — he attacks me and millions like me. The author digresses into the muck of broad brush name calling and vilification. Racism, homophobia, sexism, Islamophobia and more, are in the lexicon of this author. Thus, my response, likewise will be strongly worded.
My first brush with such broad-brush name calling and vilification came back in 2009 when a friend of 40+ years called the Tea Party a “terrorist” organization. This came about when I shared that I had attended a couple of Tea Party events in the previous year. Roger refused to apologize, and in fact told me he wrote to the Department of Homeland Security recommending that the Tea Party be placed on the terrorist watch list. I don’t know of any Tea Party people that drove airliners into large office buildings, nor do I know of any that behead innocent people such as what happened to Nick Berg and Daniel Pearl. Nor do I know of any Tea Party people who blow themselves up in the midst of crowds of innocent bystanders.
Shortly after hearing this accusation from my friend, I began to notice others voicing such slander. I recall that Vice President Joe Biden insinuated such, as well as other high-profile members of the left. The broad-brush slanders continued over the years with accusations of homophobia against those opposing the homosexual agenda. This is especially disturbing given the health, medical and cultural costs imposed on those partaking in such lifestyles. Do a search on “CDC and sexually transmitted diseases” and see what you find there. Do a search on “suicide rates among transgenders” and see if you come across the following statement —
“41 percent suicide rate among transgender people is more than 25 times the rate of the general population, which is 1.6 percent. And among trans people ages 18-44, the suicide attempt rate was 45 percent.”
If your loved one is part of this statistic, would you consider yourself homophobic for being just a bit concerned?
Then there is the charge of racism against those who opposed Barack Obama based on his policies and world view (“we are 5 days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.”) And then he proceeded to accomplish that very thing, including a demand that transgender students be allowed use of the locker/restroom of their choosing based on their own gender self-identification – science denial anyone?
There’s more such as misogyny, but I’ll close out this introduction and continue with my critique of the article.
Also notice in reading the article that it is written in a vacuum which excludes the 2016 election and the choices presented to the voting public. The alternative to Donald Trump was a corrupt and dirty politician who during the election was under investigation (it wasn’t really just “a matter”) by the FBI for serious compromise of classified State Department email traffic. Unfortunately, the investigation was short circuited and she was acquitted by an incomplete investigation which should have included a grand jury.
Voters were also faced with a continuation of the “fundamental transformation” begun by Barak Obama and his administration. So, the choices appeared to many of us as very bleak.
The article begins here.
How evangelicals, once culturally confident, became an anxious minority seeking political protection from the least traditionally religious president in living memory.
[dlj: I would have to say that Barak Obama fits that description better than Donald Trump. It was never clear to many of us what Obama’s faith was. Many of his policies and actions attacked Judeo/Christian values – such as gay marriage, and his promotion of the homosexual agenda. His Justice Department’s rulings on permitting so called transsexuals to use locker rooms and restrooms based on what an individual self identifies as on that particular day. His constant taking up the cause of Islam, such as the refusal to identify Islamic terrorism with Islam.
On the other hand, read “The Faith of Donald J. Trump” to get a broad understanding of Trumps faith background and his somewhat recent(?) very vocal defense of Judea/Christian values.]
One of the most extraordinary things about our current politics—really, one of the most extraordinary developments of recent political history—is the loyal adherence of religious conservatives to Donald Trump. The president won four-fifths of the votes of white evangelical Christians. This was a higher level of support than either Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush, an outspoken evangelical himself, ever received.
Trump’s background and beliefs could hardly be more incompatible with traditional Christian models of life and leadership. Trump’s past political stances (he once supported the right to partial-birth abortion), his character (he has bragged about sexually assaulting women), and even his language (he introduced the words pussy and shithole into presidential discourse) would more naturally lead religious conservatives toward exorcism than alliance. This is a man who has cruelly publicized his infidelities, made disturbing sexual comments about his elder daughter, and boasted about the size of his penis on the debate stage. His lawyer reportedly arranged a $130,000 payment to a porn star to dissuade her from disclosing an alleged affair. Yet religious conservatives who once blanched at PG-13 public standards now yawn at such NC-17 maneuvers. We are a long way from The Book of Virtues.
Trump supporters tend to dismiss moral scruples about his behavior as squeamishness over the president’s “style.” But the problem is the distinctly non-Christian substance of his values. Trump’s unapologetic materialism—his equation of financial and social success with human achievement and worth—is a negation of Christian teaching. His tribalism and hatred for “the other” stand in direct opposition to Jesus’s radical ethic of neighbor love. Trump’s strength-worship and contempt for “losers” smack more of Nietzsche than of Christ. Blessed are the proud. Blessed are the ruthless. Blessed are the shameless. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after fame.
According to Jerry Falwell Jr., evangelicals have “found their dream president,” which says something about the current quality of evangelical dreams.
[dlj: A fair enough critique, and this sort of behavior caused me to say and write, not that many weeks prior to the election, that “we are scraping the bottom of the barrel with these two candidates” and “for the first time I feel that I am indeed forced to pick from the least evil of the candidates.”
I also remember thinking and saying that Trump reminded me too much of Barak Obama – arrogant, a narcissist, and most likely just a rich liberal from New York that would continue and accelerate the “transformation” begun by President Obama.
I knew I could not vote for Clinton, but would I now just simply not vote? It was then that I took Trump off my mental ballot and asked, “can I, by not voting, indirectly vote Hillary Clinton for President?” No, I could not, and thus I voted, reluctantly for Donald Trump.]
And yet, a credible case can be made that evangelical votes were a decisive factor in Trump’s improbable victory. Trump himself certainly acts as if he believes they were. Many individuals, causes, and groups that Trump pledged to champion have been swiftly sidelined or sacrificed during Trump’s brief presidency. The administration’s outreach to white evangelicals, however, has been utterly consistent.
Trump-allied religious leaders have found an open door at the White House—what Richard Land, the president of the Southern Evangelical Seminary, calls “unprecedented access.” In return, they have rallied behind the administration in its times of need. “Clearly, this Russian story is nonsense,” explains the mega-church pastor Paula White-Cain, who is not generally known as a legal or cybersecurity expert. Pastor David Jeremiah has compared Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump to Joseph and Mary: “It’s just like God to use a young Jewish couple to help Christians.” According to Jerry Falwell Jr., evangelicals have “found their dream president,” which says something about the current quality of evangelical dreams.
Loyalty to Trump has involved progressively more difficult, self-abasing demands. And there appears to be no limit to what some evangelical leaders will endure. Figures such as Falwell and Franklin Graham followed Trump’s lead in supporting Judge Roy Moore in the December Senate election in Alabama. These are religious leaders who have spent their entire adult lives bemoaning cultural and moral decay. Yet they publicly backed a candidate who was repeatedly accused of sexual misconduct, including with a 14-year-old girl.
In January, following reports that Trump had referred to Haiti and African nations as “shithole countries,” Pastor Robert Jeffress came quickly to his defense. “Apart from the vocabulary attributed to him,” Jeffress wrote, “President Trump is right on target in his sentiment.” After reports emerged that Trump’s lawyer paid hush money to the porn star Stormy Daniels to cover up their alleged sexual encounter, Graham vouched for Trump’s “concern for Christian values.” Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, argued that Trump should be given a “mulligan” for his past infidelity. One can only imagine the explosion of outrage if President Barack Obama had been credibly accused of similar offenses.
The moral convictions of many evangelical leaders have become a function of their partisan identification. This is not mere gullibility; it is utter corruption. Blinded by political tribalism and hatred for their political opponents, these leaders can’t see how they are undermining the causes to which they once dedicated their lives. Little remains of a distinctly Christian public witness.
As the prominent evangelical pastor Tim Keller—who is not a Trump loyalist—recently wrote in The New Yorker, “ ‘Evangelical’ used to denote people who claimed the high moral ground; now, in popular usage, the word is nearly synonymous with ‘hypocrite.’ ” So it is little wonder that last year the Princeton Evangelical Fellowship, an 87-year-old ministry, dropped the “E word” from its name, becoming the Princeton Christian Fellowship: Too many students had identified the term with conservative political ideology. Indeed, a number of serious evangelicals are distancing themselves from the word for similar reasons.
I find this desire understandable but not compelling. Some words, like strategic castles, are worth defending, and evangelical is among them. While the term is notoriously difficult to define, it certainly encompasses a “born-again” religious experience, a commitment to the authority of the Bible, and an emphasis on the redemptive power of Jesus Christ.
I was raised in an evangelical home, went to an evangelical church and high school, and began following Christ as a teen. After attending Georgetown University for a year, I transferred to Wheaton College in Illinois—sometimes called “the Harvard of evangelical Protestantism”—where I studied theology. I worked at an evangelical nonprofit, Prison Fellowship, before becoming a staffer for Senator Dan Coats of Indiana (a fellow Wheaton alum). On Capitol Hill, I found many evangelical partners in trying to define a “compassionate conservatism.” And as a policy adviser and the chief speechwriter to President George W. Bush, I saw how evangelical leaders such as Rick and Kay Warren could be principled, tireless advocates in the global fight against aids.
Those experiences make me hesitant to abandon the word evangelical. They also make seeing the defilement of that word all the more painful. The corruption of a political party is regrettable. The corruption of a religious tradition by politics is tragic, shaming those who participate in it.
How did something so important and admirable become so disgraced? For many people, including myself, this question involves both intellectual analysis and personal angst. The answer extends back some 150 years, and involves cultural and political shifts that long pre-date Donald Trump. It is the story of how an influential and culturally confident religious movement became a marginalized and anxious minority seeking political protection under the wing of a man such as Trump, the least traditionally Christian figure—in temperament, behavior, and evident belief—to assume the presidency in living memory.
Understanding that evolution requires understanding the values that once animated American evangelicalism. It is a movement that was damaged in the fall from a great height.
[dlj: Perhaps it is here that I should insert a snippet from the book “The Faith of Donald J. Trump (emphasis added).
“… Donald and Marla separated four years after they wed—ten years after they first met. And even before their divorce was finalized two years later, Trump began to be associated with a constant stream of supermodels. The Hugh Hefner playboy ethos—that a man should aspire to wealth, celebrity, and women—became a reality for Trump during these years. In this, he was living out the ideals of puberty, learned at NYMA (New York Military Academy) in camaraderie with his fellow cadets. “Our biggest advice in our lives came from Playboy magazine,” Trump classmate Sandy McIntosh said. “That’s how we learned about women.” McIntosh recalled how Fred and Mary Anne visited Donald on the weekends and brought along a different, gorgeous young woman each time. This probably explains how he earned the label “Ladies’ Man” in the school yearbook—despite there being no females at the school. Trump biographer Timothy O’Brien wrote that if there are “three stereotypes” that are “tap dancing in Donald’s mind and in his imagination of himself, it’s Clint Eastwood, James Bond, and Hugh Hefner.” In 1995, Eastwood’s film adaptation of The Bridges of Madison County, about a four-day affair between an Iowa farmer’s wife and a traveling photographer, became one of the top-earning movies of the decade. To say the least, Bridges leaves the viewer wishing there could have been some way the farmwife might have been able to keep both her good husband and kids while also having the steamy romance with Eastwood’s character. Trump, in a 1994 interview with ABC, talked about the years when he had both Ivana and Marla: “My life was so great in so many ways. The business was so great … a beautiful girlfriend, a beautiful wife, a beautiful everything. Life was just a bowl of cherries.” Also in 1995, Pierce Brosnan made his first portrayal of James Bond—the first “007” movie to release since 1989—and the British MI6 agent promptly jumped into bed with beautiful women. The fictional James Bond character was not known for showing sexual restraint—you could even say that the dalliances were part of his job description. And Americans—including evangelicals—fund these culture-shaping products with their book purchases and ticket sales. What is interesting is that the “playboy Trump” years began in earnest at the same time that Fred Trump was diagnosed and fought a six-year battle with Alzheimer’s. Two of the most formative real-world father figures in Donald’s life—Fred and Peale—had over one hundred twenty years of married life between them. Peale died in 1993, the same year as Fred’s diagnosis. It almost seems as though when Trump lost the older generation, he responded by returning to a “sow some wild oats” mindset of adolescence. But this was not to be the final chapter written about Trump’s marital relationships. In September 1998, Trump met Melania while on a date with another woman, also a model. They began dating, with a couple of break-ups mixed in and reported on in the papers. At some point in 2001, Melania moved into Trump Tower. In 2002, Donald flew to Slovenia to meet her parents. … “
[dlj: I was not surprised to find this Playboy reference in the book. Trump along with a large segment of the young male population at that time (yours truly included) bought full into that Hefner world view and lifestyle – we were indoctrinated with the idea that just like Hefner, we were entitled to a new playmate on a regular basis. In our young and growing married life, my wife and I saw many friends divorcing. Only many years later did I realize the destructive nature and widespread influence that man Hugh Hefner (think Harvey Weinstein and others) had on so many young men and their families. See https://ayearningforpublius.wordpress.com/2017/10/31/a-fond-farewell-to-good-old-hugh/ for more of my thoughts on good old Hugh.
I bring this Hefner stuff in here, not to criticize the author of this article, but rather to shine a bright light on the hypocrisy of those many liberal/progressive critics of Trump who seem to have a new found morality, and yet most likely they themselves have fallen into the Hefner Playboy Philosophy lie. But if this shoe fits you, then wear it just as Donald Trump must wear it today.]
My alma mater, Wheaton College, was founded by abolitionist evangelicals in 1860 under the leadership of Jonathan Blanchard, an emblematic figure in mid-19th-century Northern evangelicalism. Blanchard was part of a generation of radical malcontents produced by the Second Great Awakening, a religious revival that had touched millions of American lives in the first half of the 19th century. He was a Presbyterian minister, a founder of several radical newspapers, and an antislavery agitator.
In the years before the Civil War, a connection between moralism and a concern for social justice was generally assumed among Northern evangelicals. They variously militated for temperance, humane treatment of the mentally disabled, and prison reform. But mainly they militated for the end of slavery. Indeed, Wheaton welcomed both African American and female students, and served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. In a history of the 39th Regiment of the Illinois Volunteer Infantry, the infantryman Ezra Cook recalled that “runaway slaves were perfectly safe in the College building, even when no attempt was made to conceal their presence.”
Blanchard had explained his beliefs in an 1839 commencement address given at Oberlin College, titled “A Perfect State of Society.” He preached that “every true minister of Christ is a universal reformer, whose business it is, so far as possible, to reform all the evils which press on human concerns.” Elsewhere he argued that “slave-holding is not a solitary, but a social sin.” He added: “I rest my opposition to slavery upon the one-bloodism of the New Testament. All men are equal, because they are of one equal blood.”
During this period, evangelicalism was largely identical to mainstream Protestantism. Evangelicals varied widely in their denominational beliefs, but they uniformly agreed about the need for a personal decision to accept God’s grace through faith in Christ. The evangelist Charles G. Finney, who was the president of Oberlin College from 1851 to 1866, described his conversion experience thusly: “I could feel the impression, like a wave of electricity, going through and through me. Indeed it seemed to come in waves and waves of liquid love.”
Early evangelicals were an optimistic lot who thought that human effort could help hasten the arrival of the Second Coming.
In politics, evangelicals tended to identify New England, and then the whole country, with biblical Israel. Many a sermon described America as a place set apart for divine purposes. “Some nation,” the evangelical minister Lyman Beecher said, “itself free, was needed, to blow the trumpet and hold up the light.” (Beecher’s daughter Harriet Beecher Stowe was among the founders of this magazine.) The burden of this calling was a collective responsibility to remain virtuous, in matters from ending slavery to ending Sabbath-breaking.
This was not advocacy for theocracy, and evangelical leaders were not blind to the risks of too close a relationship with worldly power. “The injudicious association of religion with politics, in the time of Cromwell,” Beecher argued, “brought upon evangelical doctrine and piety, in England, an odium which has not ceased to this day.” Yet few evangelicals would have denied that God’s covenantal relationship with America required a higher standard of private and public morality, lest that divine blessing be forfeited.
Perhaps most important, prior to the Civil War, evangelicals were by and large postmillennialists—that is, they believed that the final millennium of human history would be a time of peace for the world and of expansion for the Christian Church, culminating in the Second Coming of Christ. As such, they were an optimistic lot who thought that human effort could help hasten the arrival of this promised era—a belief that encouraged both social activism and global missionary activity. “Evangelicals generally regarded almost any sort of progress as evidence of the advance of the kingdom,” the historian George Marsden observes in Fundamentalism and American Culture.
In the mid-19th century, evangelicalism was the predominant religious tradition in America—a faith assured of its social position, confident in its divine calling, welcoming of progress, and hopeful about the future. Fifty years later, it was losing intellectual and social ground on every front. Twenty-five years beyond that, it had become a national joke.
The horrors of the Civil War took a severe toll on the social optimism at the heart of postmillennialism. It was harder to believe in the existence of a religious golden age that included Antietam. At the same time, industrialization and urbanization loosened traditional social bonds and created an impression of moral chaos. The mass immigration of Catholics and Jews changed the face and spiritual self-conception of the country. (In 1850, Catholics made up about 5 percent of the population. By 1906, they represented 17 percent.) Evangelicals struggled to envision a diverse, and some believed degenerate, America as the chosen, godly republic of their imagination.
[dlj: Again, I make reference to the “Spiritual Biograph of Donald Trump.” The authors describe in much detail the influence of Presbyterian thought and theology played in Trump’s early life. Some of the most influential Christian thought in early America came from churches in and around New York City, and churches that the Trump family attended on a regular basis. So, Donald Trump most certainly grew up in a Christian setting, and under the teaching and influence of people like Norman Vincent Peale. It’s unfortunate that Trump later abandoned (for a time?) such teaching for the hedonistic Hefner church.
I would also like to point out here that the evangelical abolitionist movement talked about above was entirely a Republican movement. The Democrat party was entirely the political party of slavery, the cause of the Civil War, and later the party of segregation, the KKK and Jim Crow. Enough said – do your own research, it’ll be more meaningful. ]
But it was a series of momentous intellectual developments that most effectively drove a wedge between evangelicalism and elite culture. Higher criticism of the Bible—a scholarly movement out of Germany that picked apart the human sources and development of ancient texts—called into question the roots, accuracy, and historicity of the book that constituted the ultimate source of evangelical authority. At the same time, the theory of evolution advanced a new account of human origin. Advocates of evolution, as well as those who denied it most vigorously, took the theory as an alternative to religious accounts—and in many cases to Christian belief itself.
Religious progressives sought common ground between the Christian faith and the new science and higher criticism. Many combined their faith with the Social Gospel—a postmillennialism drained of the miraculous, with social reform taking the place of the Second Coming.
Religious conservatives, by contrast, rebelled against this strategy of accommodation in a series of firings and heresy trials designed to maintain control of seminaries. (Woodrow Wilson’s uncle James lost his job at Columbia Theological Seminary for accepting evolution as compatible with the Bible.) But these tactics generally backfired, and seminary after seminary, college after college, fell under the influence of modern scientific and cultural assumptions. To contest progressive ideas, the religiously orthodox published a series of books called The Fundamentals. Hence the term fundamentalism, conceived in a spirit of desperate reaction.
Fundamentalism embraced traditional religious views, but it did not propose a return to an older evangelicalism. Instead it responded to modernity in ways that cut it off from its own past. In reacting against higher criticism, it became simplistic and overliteral in its reading of scripture. In reacting against evolution, it became anti-scientific in its general orientation. In reacting against the Social Gospel, it came to regard the whole concept of social justice as a dangerous liberal idea. This last point constituted what some scholars have called the “Great Reversal,” which took place from about 1900 to 1930. “All progressive social concern,” Marsden writes, “whether political or private, became suspect among revivalist evangelicals and was relegated to a very minor role.”
This general pessimism about the direction of society was reflected in a shift away from postmillennialism and toward premillennialism. In this view, the current age is tending not toward progress, but rather toward decadence and chaos under the influence of Satan. A new and better age will not be inaugurated until the Second Coming of Christ, who is the only one capable of cleaning up the mess. No amount of human effort can hasten that day, or ultimately save a doomed world. For this reason, social activism was deemed irrelevant to the most essential task: the work of preparing oneself, and helping others prepare, for final judgment.
The banishment of fundamentalism from the cultural mainstream culminated dramatically in a Tennessee courthouse in 1925. William Jennings Bryan, the most prominent Christian politician of his time, was set against Clarence Darrow and the theory of evolution at the Scopes “monkey trial,” in which a Tennessee educator was tried for teaching the theory in high school. Bryan won the case but not the country. The journalist and critic H. L. Mencken provided the account accepted by history, dismissing Bryan as “a tin pot pope in the Coca-Cola belt and a brother to the forlorn pastors who belabor half-wits in galvanized iron tabernacles behind the railroad yards.” Fundamentalists became comic figures, subject to world-class condescension.
It has largely slipped the mind of history that Bryan was a peace activist as secretary of state under Woodrow Wilson and that his politics foreshadowed the New Deal. And Mencken was eventually revealed as a racist, an anti-Semite, and a eugenics advocate. In the fundamentalist–modernist controversy, there was only one winner. “In the course of roughly thirty-five years,” the sociologist James Davison Hunter observes in American Evangelicalism, “Protestantism had moved from a position of cultural dominance to a position of cognitive marginality and political impotence.” Activism and optimism were replaced by the festering resentment of status lost.
The fundamentalists were not passive in their exile. They created a web of institutions—radio stations, religious schools, outreach ministries—that eventually constituted a healthy subculture. The country, meanwhile, was becoming less secular and more welcoming of religious influence. (In 1920, church membership in the United States was 43 percent. By 1960, it was 63 percent.) A number of leaders, including the theologian Carl Henry and the evangelist Billy Graham (the father of Franklin Graham), bridled at fundamentalist irrelevance. Henry’s book The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism was influential in urging greater cultural and intellectual engagement. This reemergence found its fullest expression in Graham, who left the fundamentalist ghetto, hobnobbed with presidents, and presented to the public a more appealing version of evangelicalism—a term that was deliberately employed as a contrast to the older, narrower fundamentalism.
Fox News and conservative talk radio are vastly greater influences on evangelicals’ political identity than formal statements by religious denominations.
Not everyone was impressed. When Graham planned mass evangelistic meetings in New York City in 1957, the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr editorialized against his “petty moralizing.” But Niebuhr’s attack on Graham provoked significant backlash, even in liberal theological circles. During a 16-week “crusade” that played to packed houses, Graham was joined one night at Madison Square Garden by none other than Martin Luther King Jr.
Over time, evangelicalism got a revenge of sorts in its historical rivalry with liberal Christianity. Adherents of the latter gradually found better things to do with their Sundays than attend progressive services. In 1972, nearly 28 percent of the population belonged to mainline-Protestant churches. That figure is now well below 15 percent. Over those four decades, however, evangelicals held steady at roughly 25 percent of the public (though this share has recently declined). As its old theological rival faded—or, more accurately, collapsed—evangelical endurance felt a lot like momentum.
With the return of this greater institutional self-confidence, evangelicals might have expected to play a larger role in determining cultural norms and standards. But their hopes ran smack into the sexual revolution, along with other rapid social changes. The Moral Majority appeared at about the same time that the actual majority was more and more comfortable with divorce and couples living together out of wedlock. Evangelicals experienced the power of growing numbers and healthy subcultural institutions even as elite institutions—from universities to courts to Hollywood—were decisively rejecting traditional ideals.
[dlj: Reference my comments above about Hugh Hefner.]
As a result, the primary evangelical political narrative is adversarial, an angry tale about the aggression of evangelicalism’s cultural rivals. In a remarkably free country, many evangelicals view their rights as fragile, their institutions as threatened, and their dignity as assailed. The single largest religious demographic in the United States—representing about half the Republican political coalition—sees itself as a besieged and disrespected minority. In this way, evangelicals have become simultaneously more engaged and more alienated.
The overall political disposition of evangelical politics has remained decidedly conservative, and also decidedly reactive. After shamefully sitting out (or even opposing) the civil-rights movement, white evangelicals became activated on a limited range of issues.
[dlj: While slamming white evangelicals here for “sitting out” the civil-rights movement, the author conveniently leaves out the record of the national Democratic Party in “actively opposing” the civil-rights movement. The Democratic Party opposed every civil-rights legislation proposed to Congress from the Civil War to the Civil Rights bill of 1964. The record is there in the form of votes cast for and against in the US Congress and Senate. And which party was proposing these civil-rights bills? The Republican party. Another case where it is recommended to do a bit of personal research.]
They defended Christian schools against regulation during Jimmy Carter’s administration. They fought against Supreme Court decisions that put tight restrictions on school prayer and removed many state limits on abortion. The sociologist Nathan Glazer describes such efforts as a “defensive offensive”—a kind of morally indignant pushback against a modern world that, in evangelicals’ view, had grown hostile and oppressive.
This attitude was happily exploited by the modern GOP. Evangelicals who were alienated by the pro-choice secularism of Democratic presidential nominees were effectively courted to join the Reagan coalition. “I know that you can’t endorse me,” Reagan told an evangelical conference in 1980, “but I only brought that up because I want you to know that I endorse you.” In contrast, during his presidential run four years later, Walter Mondale warned of “radical preachers,” and his running mate, Geraldine Ferraro, denounced the “extremists who control the Republican Party.” By attacking evangelicals, the Democratic Party left them with a relatively easy partisan choice.
Billy Graham (right) left the fundamentalist ghetto, hobnobbed with presidents, and presented to the public a more appealing version of evangelicalism.
The leaders who had emerged within evangelicalism varied significantly in tone and approach. Billy Graham was the uncritical priest to the powerful. (His inclination to please was memorialized on one of the Nixon tapes, in comments enabling the president’s anti-Semitism.) James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, was the prickly prophet, constantly threatening to bolt from the Republican coalition unless social-conservative purity was maintained. Jerry Falwell Sr. and Pat Robertson (the latter of whom ran for president himself in 1988) tried to be political kingmakers. And, following his dramatic conversion, Chuck Colson, of Watergate infamy, founded Prison Fellowship in an attempt to revive some of the old abolitionist spirit as an advocate of prison reform. Yet much of this variety was blurred in the public mind, with religious right used as a catchall epithet.
Where did this history leave evangelicals’ political involvement?
For a start, modern evangelicalism has an important intellectual piece missing. It lacks a model or ideal of political engagement—an organizing theory of social action. Over the same century from Blanchard to Falwell, Catholics developed a coherent, comprehensive tradition of social and political reflection. Catholic social thought includes a commitment to solidarity, whereby justice in a society is measured by the treatment of its weakest and most vulnerable members. And it incorporates the principle of subsidiarity—the idea that human needs are best met by small and local institutions (though higher-order institutions have a moral responsibility to intervene when local ones fail).
In practice, this acts as an “if, then” requirement for Catholics, splendidly complicating their politics: If you want to call yourself pro-life on abortion, then you have to oppose the dehumanization of migrants. If you criticize the devaluation of life by euthanasia, then you must criticize the devaluation of life by racism. If you want to be regarded as pro-family, then you have to support access to health care. And vice versa. The doctrinal whole requires a broad, consistent view of justice, which—when it is faithfully applied—cuts across the categories and clichés of American politics. Of course, American Catholics routinely ignore Catholic social thought. But at least they have it. Evangelicals lack a similar tradition of their own to disregard.
So where do evangelicals get their theory of social engagement? It is cheating to say (as most evangelicals probably would) “the Bible.” The Christian Bible, after all, can be a vexing document: At various points, it offers approving accounts of genocide and recommends the stoning of insubordinate children. Some interpretive theory must elevate the Golden Rule above Iron Age ethics and apply that higher ideal to the tragic compromises of public life. Lacking an equivalent to Catholic social thought, many evangelicals seem to find their theory merely by following the contours of the political movement that is currently defending, and exploiting, them. The voter guides of religious conservatives have often been suspiciously similar to the political priorities of movement conservatism. Fox News and talk radio are vastly greater influences on evangelicals’ political identity than formal statements by religious denominations or from the National Association of Evangelicals. In this Christian political movement, Christian theology is emphatically not the primary motivating factor.
The evangelical political agenda, moreover, has been narrowed by its supremely reactive nature. Rather than choosing their own agendas, evangelicals have been pulled into a series of social and political debates started by others. Why the asinine issue of spiritually barren prayer in public schools? Because of Justice Hugo Black’s 1962 opinion rendering it unconstitutional. Why such an effort-wasting emphasis on a constitutional amendment to end abortion, which will never pass? Because in 1973 Justice Harry Blackmun located the right to abortion in the constitutional penumbra. Why the current emphasis on religious liberty? Because the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision legalizing same-sex marriage has raised fears of coercion.
It is not that secularization, abortion, and religious liberty are trivial issues; they are extremely important. But the timing and emphasis of evangelical responses have contributed to a broad sense that evangelical political engagement is negative, censorious, and oppositional. This funneled focus has also created the damaging impression that Christians are obsessed with sex. Much of the secular public hears from Christians only on issues of sexuality—from contraceptive mandates to gay rights to transgender bathroom usage. And while religious people do believe that sexual ethics are important, the nature of contemporary religious engagement creates a misimpression about just how important they are relative to other crucial issues.
The upside potential of evangelical social engagement was illustrated by an important, but largely overlooked, initiative that I witnessed while working at the White House. The President’s Emergency Plan for aids Relief (pepfar)—the largest initiative by a nation in history to fight a single disease—emerged in part from a sense of moral obligation informed by George W. Bush’s evangelical faith. In explaining and defending the program, Bush made constant reference to Luke 12:48: “To whom much is given, much is required.” pepfar also owes its existence to a strange-bedfellows political alliance of liberal global-health advocates and evangelical leaders, who had particular standing and sway with Republican members of Congress. Rather than being a response to secular aggression, this form of evangelical social engagement was the reaction to a massive humanitarian need and displayed a this-worldly emphasis on social justice that helped save millions of lives.
This achievement is now given little attention by secular liberals or religious conservatives. In the Trump era, evangelical leaders have seldom brought this type of issue to the policy front burner—though some have tried with criminal-justice reform and the fight against modern slavery. Individual Christians and evangelical ministries fight preventable disease, resettle refugees, treat addiction, run homeless shelters, and care for foster children. But such concerns find limited collective political expression.
Part of the reason such matters are not higher on the evangelical agenda is surely the relative ethnic and racial insularity of many white evangelicals. Plenty of African Americans hold evangelical theological views, of course, along with a growing number of Latinos. Yet evangelical churches, like other churches and houses of worship, tend to be segregated on Sunday. Nearly all denominations with large numbers of evangelicals are less racially diverse than the country overall.
[dlj: Note here the playing of the race card and blaming whites. Personally, I (a white) prefer the philosophy of the Apostle Paul when he says “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. And the philosophy of Dr. Martin Luther King who said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” ]
Compare this with the Catholic Church, which is more than one-third Hispanic. This has naturally stretched the priorities of Catholicism to include the needs and rights of recent immigrants. In many evangelical communities, those needs remain distant and theoretical (though successful evangelical churches in urban areas are now experiencing the same diversity and broadening of social concern). Or consider the contrasting voting behaviors of white and African American evangelicals in last year’s Senate race in Alabama. According to exit polls, 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for Roy Moore, while 95 percent of black evangelicals supported his Democratic opponent, Doug Jones. The two groups inhabit two entirely different political worlds.
Evangelical leaders such as Jerry Falwell Jr. and Franklin Graham followed Trump’s lead in supporting Roy Moore’s Senate candidacy in Alabama, despite multiple accusations of sexual misconduct against him. According to exit polls, 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for Moore. (Joe Raedle / Getty)
Evangelicals also have a consistent problem with their public voice, which can be off-puttingly apocalyptic. “We are on the verge of losing” America, proclaims the evangelical writer and radio host Eric Metaxas, “as we could have lost it in the Civil War.” Franklin Graham declares, a little too vividly, that the country “has taken a nosedive off of the moral diving board into the cesspool of humanity.” Such hyperbole may be only a rhetorical strategy, employing the apocalypse for emphasis. But the attribution of depravity and decline to America also reflects a consistent and (so far) disappointed belief that the Second Coming may be just around history’s corner.
The difficulty with this approach to public life—other than its insanely pessimistic depiction of our flawed but wonderful country—is that it trivializes and undercuts the entire political enterprise. Politics in a democracy is essentially anti-apocalyptic, premised on the idea that an active citizenry is capable of improving the nation. But if we’re already mere minutes from the midnight hour, then what is the point? The normal avenues of political reform are useless. No amount of negotiation or compromise is going to matter much compared with the Second Coming.
Moreover, in making their case on cultural decay and decline, evangelicals have, in some highly visible cases, chosen the wrong nightmares. Most notable, they made a crucial error in picking evolution as a main point of contention with modernity. “The contest between evolution and Christianity is a duel to the death,” William Jennings Bryan argued. “If evolution wins … Christianity goes—not suddenly, of course, but gradually, for the two cannot stand together.” Many people of his background believed this. But their resistance was futile, for one incontrovertible reason: Evolution is a fact. It is objectively true based on overwhelming evidence (emphasis mine). By denying this, evangelicals made their entire view of reality suspect. They were insisting, in effect, that the Christian faith requires a flight from reason.
This was foolish and unnecessary. There is no meaningful theological difference between creation by divine intervention and creation by natural selection; both are consistent with belief in a purposeful universe, and with serious interpretation of biblical texts. Evangelicals have placed an entirely superfluous stumbling block before their neighbors and children, encouraging every young person who loves science to reject Christianity.
Evangelicals remain the most loyal element of the Trump coalition. They are broadly eager to act as his shield and sword. They are his army of enablers.
What if Bryan and others of his generation had chosen to object to eugenics rather than evolution, to social Darwinism rather than Darwinism? The textbook at issue in the Scopes case, after all, was titled A Civic Biology, and it urged sterilization for the mentally impaired. “Epilepsy, and feeble-mindedness,” the text read, “are handicaps which it is not only unfair but criminal to hand down to posterity.” What if this had been the focus of Bryan’s objection? Mencken doubtless would still have mocked. But the moral and theological priorities of evangelical Christianity would have turned out differently. And evangelical fears would have been eventually justified by America’s shameful history of eugenics, and by the more rigorous application of the practice abroad. Instead, Bryan chose evolution—and in the end, the cause of human dignity was not served by the obscuring of human origins.
The consequences, especially for younger generations, are considerable. According to a recent survey by Barna, a Christian research firm, more than half of churchgoing Christian teens believe that “the church seems to reject much of what science tells us about the world.” This may be one reason that, in America, the youngest age cohorts are the least religiously affiliated, which will change the nation’s baseline of religiosity over time. More than a third of Millennials say they are unaffiliated with any faith, up 10 points since 2007. Count this as an ironic achievement of religious conservatives: an overall decline in identification with religion itself.
[dlj: “Evolution is a fact. It is objectively true based on overwhelming evidence.” This quote from just above is false and shows clearly how strong the bias and stranglehold remain against alternative views such as Intelligent Design (ID) and Creation Science. Heresy against the dogma of Darwinian evolution is a dangerous course to take if one desires a career in academia or the life sciences. Careers are destroyed, and tenure withheld or withdrawn if ideas such as ID or Creation Science is brought into the discussion of life sciences and how life originated and propagated on the earth, and we see from this very article that such bias is also strongly held in segments of the Christian church. Take a look at https://freescience.today/stories/ to see for yourself the career ending and career threatening agenda of the Darwinist lobby. The truth is that there is much controversy concerning evolution, and overwhelming evidence pointing to intelligent design in nature as opposed to evolution. Spend some time in such web sites as the Discovery Institutes https://evolutionnews.org/, https://uncommondescent.com/ and http://www.icr.org/homepage/ to see much good reporting of the evidence pointing towards design. In particular look at the 81-part Evolution News series “The Designed Body,” at https://evolutionnews.org/2016/09/in_conclusion_a/ to see the many purposeful and functional machines that make up the human body, and then reflect on your own position.
My observations lead me to believe that much of the cause of the decline in American church attendance among young people is because many have been relentlessly exposed to the dogma of Darwinian Evolution with seldom any counter views allowed into these young minds. Ideas such as Theistic evolution as an attempt to put God into the process of essentially atheistic evolution fall flat, and so many young people simply reject the Bible and the Christian church as being anti-science, anti-reason and irrelevant. When the very first verse in the Bible “In the beginning God created …” is rendered false, whether by atheistic evolution or theistic evolution, young people have no reason to read and study further. Walla … church attendance declines. When a young mind finds that so called “experts” have invalidated the very first verse in the Bible, many will then press on with a very evangelical fervor in studying the various works of prominent atheists such as Richard Dawkins. Searchers continue to seek answers to life’s existential questions in philosophies akin to the Playboy Philosophy, and/or the current cultural fads such as ‘gender identity.’]
By the turn of the millennium, many, including myself, were convinced that religious conservatism was fading as a political force. Its outsize leaders were aging and passing. Its institutions seemed to be declining in profile and influence. Bush’s 2000 campaign attempted to appeal to religious voters on a new basis. “Compassionate conservatism” was designed to be a policy application of Catholic social thought—an attempt to serve the poor, homeless, and addicted by catalyzing the work of private and religious nonprofits. The effort was sincere but eventually undermined by congressional-Republican resistance and eclipsed by global crisis. Still, I believed that the old evangelical model of social engagement was exhausted, and that something more positive and principled was in the offing.
I was wrong. In fact, evangelicals would prove highly vulnerable to a message of resentful, declinist populism. Donald Trump could almost have been echoing the apocalyptic warnings of Metaxas and Graham when he declared, “Our country’s going to hell.” Or: “We haven’t seen anything like this, the carnage all over the world.” Given Trump’s general level of religious knowledge, he likely had no idea that he was adapting premillennialism to populism. But when the candidate talked of an America in decline and headed toward destruction, which could be returned to greatness only by recovering the certainties of the past, he was strumming resonant chords of evangelical conviction.
Trump consistently depicts evangelicals as they depict themselves: a mistreated minority, in need of a defender who plays by worldly rules. Christianity is “under siege,” Trump told a Liberty University audience. “Relish the opportunity to be an outsider,” he added at a later date: “Embrace the label.” Protecting Christianity, Trump essentially argues, is a job for a bully.
Trump consistently depicts evangelicals as they depict themselves: a mistreated minority, in need of a defender who plays by worldly rules. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty)
It is true that insofar as Christian hospitals or colleges have their religious liberty threatened by hostile litigation or government agencies, they have every right to defend their institutional identities—to advocate for a principled pluralism. But this is different from evangelicals regarding themselves, hysterically and with self-pity, as an oppressed minority that requires a strongman to rescue it. This is how Trump has invited evangelicals to view themselves. He has treated evangelicalism as an interest group in need of protection and preferences.
A prominent company of evangelical leaders—including Dobson, Falwell, Graham, Jeffress, Metaxas, Perkins, and Ralph Reed—has embraced this self-conception. Their justification is often bluntly utilitarian: All of Trump’s flaws are worth his conservative judicial appointments and more-favorable treatment of Christians by the government. But they have gone much further than grudging, prudential calculation. They have basked in access to power and provided character references in the midst of scandal. Graham castigated the critics of Trump’s response to the violence during a white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia (“Shame on the politicians who are trying to push blame on @POTUS”). Dobson has pronounced Trump a “baby Christian”—a political use of grace that borders on blasphemy. “Complaining about the temperament of the @POTUS or saying his behavior is not presidential is no longer relevant,” Falwell tweeted. “[Donald Trump] has single-handedly changed the definition of what behavior is ‘presidential’ from phony, failed & rehearsed to authentic, successful & down to earth.”
It is remarkable to hear religious leaders defend profanity, ridicule, and cruelty as hallmarks of authenticity and dismiss decency as a dead language. Whatever Trump’s policy legacy ends up being, his presidency has been a disaster in the realm of norms. It has coarsened our culture, given permission for bullying, complicated the moral formation of children, undermined standards of public integrity, and encouraged cynicism about the political enterprise.
Falwell, Graham, and others are providing religious cover for moral squalor—winking at trashy behavior and encouraging the unraveling of social restraints. Instead of defending their convictions, they are providing preemptive absolution for their political favorites. And this, even by purely political standards, undermines the causes they embrace. Turning a blind eye to the exploitation of women certainly doesn’t help in making pro-life arguments. It materially undermines the movement, which must ultimately change not only the composition of the courts but the views of the public. Having given politics pride of place, these evangelical leaders have ceased to be moral leaders in any meaningful sense.
[dlj: emphasis mine] Every strong Trump supporter has decided that racism is not a moral disqualification in the president of the United States.]
[dlj: Wow … this trumps (pun intended) Hillary Clintons ‘deplorable’ comment, and clearly shows the bigotry of this author]
But setting matters of decency aside, evangelicals are risking their faith’s reputation on matters of race. Trump has, after all, attributed Kenyan citizenship to Obama
[dlj: a legitimate question at the time considering; the Constitutional requirements, Obama’s background, his sealing of school records and his lateness in producing his birth certificate. A study of the influence of a Frank Marshall Davis on young Barack Obama sheds some light on questions of Obama’s background, as does the influence of William Aires and others. To attribute race as Trumps motivation seems well off the mark, but is often used to call someone a racist.]
stereotyped Mexican migrants as murderers and rapists, claimed unfair treatment in federal court based on a judge’s Mexican heritage, attempted an unconstitutional Muslim ban
[dlj: A ban on immigrants from a select few Muslim war racked nations, and a ban which excluded the vast majority of Muslims around the world],
equivocated on the Charlottesville protests, claimed (according to The New York Times) that Nigerians would never “go back to their huts” after seeing America
[dlj: a poor choice of words, but similar to what Mohammed Ali said on returning from his fight in Africa]
, and dismissed Haitian and African immigrants as undesirable compared with Norwegians.
For some of Trump’s political allies, racist language and arguments are part of his appeal. For evangelical leaders, they should be sources of anguish. Given America’s history of slavery and segregation, racial prejudice is a special category of moral wrong
[dlj: reference my comments above about the horrid record of the Democrat Party re. race.].
Fighting racism galvanized the religious conscience of 19th-century evangelicals and 20th-century African American civil-rights activists [ Republicans]. Perpetuating racism indicted many white Christians in the South and elsewhere as hypocrites. Americans who are wrong on this issue do not understand the nature of their country. Christians who are wrong on this issue do not understand the most-basic requirements of their faith.
Here is the uncomfortable reality: I do not believe that most evangelicals are racist. But every strong Trump supporter has decided that racism is not a moral disqualification in the president of the United States. And that is something more than a political compromise. It is a revelation of moral priorities.
If utilitarian calculations are to be applied, they need to be fully applied. For a package of political benefits, these evangelical leaders have associated the Christian faith with racism and nativism. They have associated the Christian faith with misogyny and the mocking of the disabled. They have associated the Christian faith with lawlessness, corruption, and routine deception. They have associated the Christian faith with moral confusion about the surpassing evils of white supremacy and neo-Nazism. The world is full of tragic choices and compromises. But for this man? For this cause?
Some evangelical leaders, it is worth affirming, are providing alternative models of social engagement. Consider Tim Keller, who is perhaps the most influential advocate of a more politically and demographically diverse evangelicalism. Or Russell Moore, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, who demonstrates how moral conservatism can be both principled and inclusive. Or Gary Haugen, the founder of the International Justice Mission, who is one of the world’s leading activists against modern slavery. Or Bishop Claude Alexander of the Park Church in North Carolina, who has been a strong voice for reconciliation and mercy. Or Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, who shows the deep compatibility of authentic faith and authentic science. Or the influential Bible teacher Beth Moore, who has warned of the damage done “when we sell our souls to buy our wins.” Or the writer Peter Wehner, who has ceased to describe himself as an evangelical even as he exemplifies the very best of the word.
Evangelicalism is hardly a monolithic movement. All of the above leaders would attest that a significant generational shift is occurring: Younger evangelicals are less prone to political divisiveness and bitterness and more concerned with social justice. (In a poll last summer, nearly half of white evangelicals born since 1964 expressed support for gay marriage.) Evangelicals remain essential to political coalitions advocating prison reform and supporting American global-health initiatives, particularly on aids and malaria. They do good work in the world through relief organizations such as World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse (an admirable relief organization of which Franklin Graham is the president and CEO). They perform countless acts of love and compassion that make local communities more just and generous.
All of this is arguably a strong foundation for evangelical recovery. But it would be a mistake to regard the problem as limited to a few irresponsible leaders. Those leaders represent a clear majority of the movement, which remains the most loyal element of the Trump coalition. Evangelicals are broadly eager to act as Trump’s shield and sword. They are his army of enablers.
[dlj: I guess I fail to see that the author of this article has convincingly made his point about the spiritual advisors to President Trump. I’ll grant that he has made a case, but it seems that case is the one that we would expect from the political/spiritual left that has had the overriding goal since the inauguration to depose the duly elected President of the United States. And where is this author ‘s commitment to pray for this president? It seems to me that him being so close to President Bush, and a Bible believing, Christ honoring man himself, he would eagerly seek to add to the council and spiritual support of this President – President Donald J. Trump. Again, here is a quote from the book “The Faith of Donald J. Trump” and again I strongly recommend reading this book.
“The Faith Advisory Committee continues to give counsel to Trump, meeting at the White House for daylong discussions that result in recommendations to the President about policy and messaging. All the members of the group are evangelical, though they come from different theological streams. The board’s leadership is informal, though Paula White and Johnnie Moore are often seen or heard from in news stories about their gatherings. White has a special role since she has a very close spiritual bond with the President. “My purpose is to bring men and women of God to the President,” White said. ‘To be a doorkeeper and to serve the President and his family and those that the Lord chooses in private counsel.” Samuel Rodriguez said the board offers “very straight talk” to the President. “I’ve never been in a conversation where the faith advisory board is silent. This is not a rubber-stamp board. It’s a board that’s committed to the centrality of Jesus and biblical truth.” “]
It is the strangest story: how so many evangelicals lost their interest in decency, and how a religious tradition called by grace became defined by resentment. This is bad for America, because religion, properly viewed and applied, is essential to the country’s public life. The old “one-bloodism” of Christian anthropology—the belief in the intrinsic and equal value of all human lives—has driven centuries of compassionate service and social reform. Religion can be the carrier of conscience. It can motivate sacrifice for the common good. It can reinforce the nobility of the political enterprise. It can combat dehumanization and elevate the goals and ideals of public life.
· The Evolution of Teaching Creationism in Public Schools
· Evangelicals Are Bitterly Split Over Advising Trump
· The Opening of the Evangelical Mind
Democracy is not merely a set of procedures. It has a moral structure. The values we celebrate or stigmatize eventually influence the character of our people and polity. Democracy does not insist on perfect virtue from its leaders. But there is a set of values that lends authority to power: empathy, honesty, integrity, and self-restraint. And the legitimation of cruelty, prejudice, falsehood, and corruption is the kind of thing, one would think, that religious people were born to oppose, not bless. This disfigurement of evangelical faith squanders the reputation of something valuable: not just the vision of human dignity that captured Blanchard, but also Finney’s electric waves of grace. At its best, faith is the overflow of gratitude, the attempt to live as if we are loved, the fragile hope for something better on the other side of pain and death. And this feather of grace weighs more in the balance than any political gain.
It is difficult to see something you so deeply value discredited so comprehensively. Evangelical faith has shaped my life, as it has the lives of millions. Evangelical history has provided me with models of conscience. Evangelical institutions have given me gifts of learning and purpose. Evangelical friends have shared my joys and sorrows. And now the very word is brought into needless disrepute.
This is the result when Christians become one interest group among many, scrambling for benefits at the expense of others rather than seeking the welfare of the whole. Christianity is love of neighbor, or it has lost its way. And this sets an urgent task for evangelicals: to rescue their faith from its worst leaders.
[dlj: A few closing thoughts …
God’s grace is truly amazing. The picture that crystallizes that in my mind is that of the three men hanging on Roman crosses centuries ago. The one in the middle was claimed to be the “Son of God” and ridiculed and condemned for such blasphemy. Whether or not he was Son of God is a personal choice each of us can make.
But, the two men on either side, hanging condemned on their own cross were also able to make such a decision even up to the end of their life. Each man had been convicted of crimes punishable by crucifixion under Roman law. They apparently knew of their guilt but were in a position of being totally helpless to escape the consequences of their guilt.
The one man mocked the one in the center as one incapable of saving himself, let alone saving anyone else including the two others condemned on the cross that day.
The other man apparently made the decision to believe the man in the middle was truly the Son of God, and in his last breaths of life pleaded with the man in the middle to remember him when he returned to his kingdom. The gospel of Luke tells it thus:
“One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: ‘Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’
But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’
Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’
Jesus answered him, ’Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.’”
Bringing this picture forward to the life of Donald Trump, and the virulent hatred of the man by many, I see not a man hanging on a cross, helpless and close to a cruel death, but a man, like many of us, deserving just punishment, for what our deeds deserve, certainly not rewarded by being chosen to be President.’
Undoubtedly the most visible and dramatic outpouring of public disgust and resistance against this man Trump happened the very day following his inauguration to be the 45th President of the United States. We saw the spectacle of millions of ”pussy hatted” demonstrators across the country demonstrating against the man whose immorality has been enshrined in a vulgar remark caught on tape a decade earlier. Further cementing this picture of the vulgar Donald Trump were accusations of marital infidelity and consorting with prostitutes and Playboy models, again roughly a decade earlier.
I am not here defending these actions of our now President. And let me stipulate as to the validity of such actions and words attributed to him.
But getting back to the picture of the men on the crosses, we see that God’s grace is sufficient to cover the sins of the vilest amongst us – if we come to repentance and confess our sins to the Father in heaven and turn away from those sins. Donald Trump is like one of the two thieves on the cross.
Knowing more of Trump’s background in the Christian church (thanks to the book I reference above) and his departure to the hedonism of the Playboy Philosophy, and the time span between the 2005 vulgar remarks and his Presidential candidacy, there is plenty of cause to wonder about the possibility of a repentance and confession of sins on the part of Donald Trump. The book, though sympathetic to Trump, does not provide a definitive answer to such speculation, but provides evidence of a man seeking Biblical council and prayer from a variety of Christian counselors, most notably those mentioned in the article.
My own belief, based on his strong actions as President on behalf of American Judea/Christian values and traditions, coupled with what I have learned from the book, leads me to believe that such a transformation has probably happened in the man. I see him as the man on the cross who pleaded with the man on the center cross to remember him., rather than the other man who mocked.
So, are the accusations in this article true, both against Donald Trump and his “enablers”?
“ … it would be a mistake to regard the problem as limited to a few irresponsible leaders [David Jeremiah, Jerry Falwell Jr, Franklin Graham, John Hagee … and others.] . Those leaders represent a clear majority of the movement, which remains the most loyal element of the Trump coalition. Evangelicals are broadly eager to act as Trump’s shield and sword. They are his army of enablers.”
“It is difficult to see something you so deeply value discredited so comprehensively. … And now the very word is brought into needless disrepute.”
That could very well be true, and perhaps I am the one off the mark here.
Are we in the midst of a work of God’s grace in the life of our President and this nation? And is the model of King David and his murderous/adulterous affair with Bathsheba a reasonable model here?
I don’t know the answer — what I do know is that this is still unfolding and perhaps we, and I, will not know the answer anytime soon.
Don Johnson – April 2018