Is Trumpism becoming a new religion?

His followers are certainly religious, but they’re not Christians any more.


When Jeff Sessions quoted Romans 13 (“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.) to justify the villainous policy of taking immigrant children away from their border-crossing parents, he touched off a flurry of Bible-quoting in the media. Not only did Christian writers dispute his interpretation of Romans 13, which, after all, has been used to justify everything from slavery to the Nazi death camps, but they also unleashed a flurry of verses defending the rights of immigrants, such as Matthew 25:41-45, in which Jesus envisions Judgment Day proceeding like this:

Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.”

They also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?”

He will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”

Or Leviticus 19:33-34, in the middle of the Laws of Moses.

When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt

But if those writers were expecting Sessions to slap his forehead and say “Oh, right, I get it now!”, they were disappointed. The policy continues, and Sessions still supports it.

That’s how it’s been since Trump descended the escalator to announce his candidacy in 2015. Trump has stood pretty much in direct opposition to the message of Jesus. Jesus advised his followers to “turn the other cheek” when attacked; but Trump always “fights back” — even against gold-star parents or military widows or men about to die. Jesus spoke out for “the least of these”; but Trump likes “winners” and despises “losers”. Jesus said that marriage was for life; but Trump is currently married to his third wife, and he has cheated on all of them. Jesus emphasized love and compassion, but Trump has so little compassion that needed to take notes (written by somebody else) into a meeting with shooting survivors so that he could remember to ask them about their experiences and to tell them he had heard them.

For laughs, take the Trump or Jesus quiz and see if you can identify which leader said which quote. (It’s pretty easy.)

It’s hard to find any line of the Sermon on the Mount that Trump would support: He’s not just anti-immigrant, but also anti-health-care, pro-weapon, anti-feeding-the-hungry, and just generally against the poor and the meek wherever they show their miserable faces. He’s a compulsive liar who brags that he can grab women “by the pussy” and get away with it.

And he got 81% of the votes of white evangelicals.

The evangelicals who didn’t back Trump are starting to feel like they don’t belong; some are dropping the evangelical label altogether. The largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptists, may become a battleground. It’s newly-elected president wants the denomination to become less political:

We believe that Jesus is the lord of the whole earth. He is the king of kings and he is the lord of lords. We believe that he, not any version of Caesar, is the Messiah. He is the Christ, the son of the living God, that salvation is found in him, not in the Republican platform or the Democratic platform, and that salvation did not come riding in on the wings of Air Force One. It came cradled in a manger.

And yet, the same convention that elected him featured a speech by Vice President Mike Pence, which climaxed with Trump’s campaign slogan:

I know that with your support and prayers, with the strong support of leaders at every level of government, with President Donald Trump in the White House, and with God’s help, we will make America safe again. We will make America prosperous again. And to borrow a phrase — (laughter) — we will make America great again.

When the Trump evangelicals explain the issues that cause them to support him, they bring up topics that don’t appear in the gospels at all: abortion and homosexuality. (With the new immigration policy, they can’t claim “family values” any more.) On immigration, white evangelicals side with Trump against Jesus: 68% deny that America has a responsibility to take in refugees.

Whatever this is, it isn’t Christianity.

More and more, metaphors of religion are used to describe Trumpism. Bob Corker called it “cult-like“. Dana Milbank wrote: “This isn’t religion. It’s perversion. It is not the creed of a democratic government or political party but of an authoritarian cult.” Cal Thomas asks who evangelicals follow: Trump or Jesus? Elizabeth Bruening says that Sessions and Press Secretary Sarah Sanders are “inventing a faith” in which order is the highest good.

But what if it’s not just a metaphor? What if what we’re seeing is an actual schism in American Christianity? On one side will be a genuinely Christian Christianity, one that takes the words of Jesus seriously. On the other side will be a Trumpist religion that is nativist and supports all the traditional supremacies: white, male, heterosexual, and born to wealth. One side will concern itself with the poor and victims of injustice. The other will preach a prosperity gospel in which God wants you to be rich and has his own reasons to leave the poor in the gutter. One side will promote humility, the other will glorify men of large egos, who never apologize or admit their mistakes.

Something bigger than politics is going on here. It goes way beyond cutting or raising taxes or wanting a bigger or smaller military. A large segment of American Christianity has been drifting away from Jesus for many years. Now they have found their voice and their leader.

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Comments

  • Roger Owen Green  On June 18, 2018 at 11:33 am

    Amen!

  • GJacq726  On June 18, 2018 at 11:36 am

    To me, the ugly underbelly of our country has found a voice in this age. It’s not new, but it has come out, far out, from the shadows. How do we address it once and for all as a society?

  • Larry Benjamin  On June 18, 2018 at 11:43 am

    These same currents have been present in conservative Christianity for decades; they’re only more obvious now. I wouldn’t call “Trumpism” a religion, however. It’s more an association of a beloved leader with God’s will and favor. I’m old enough to remember the same sentiments in connection with Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush to some extent. It can be very creepy if you don’t buy into it.

    • Guest  On June 20, 2018 at 2:07 pm

      I 100% agree Larry, and if anything we should take it back much further than a few decades. Conservative Christianity, at the policy level, has been at the vanguard in the fight against progress and human rights since Columbus sailed the ocean blue. From genocide of Indian tribes and slavery, to prohibition and civil rights, conservative Christianity has been front and center on the wrong side of history for our nation’s entire history to date. To suggest that this disaster is somehow new or unique to the Trump era is insulting to its victims past and present.

      To be honest, Doug, the section about “one side will be a genuinely Christian Christianity” smells awfully like a No True Scotsman fallacy is at play.

    • weeklysift  On June 20, 2018 at 4:18 pm

      By “genuinely Christian” I mean having some relationship to the teachings of Jesus.

  • Herbert Jay  On June 18, 2018 at 12:01 pm

    Jesus said “let he who is without guilt cast the first stone” Today our President is guilty of many things but he casts stones in all directions. And lies while doing it. Not exactly a moral leader.

  • Gendebien  On June 18, 2018 at 12:05 pm

    Thank you for this and for all the work you do. Though I don’t always agree with your conclusions, I always appreciate the effort and care you put into the journey. It’s always nice to hear a quiet and thoughtful voice.

    As for Trump and the Evangelicals, my thoughts are here, if you’re interested.

    https://duninconnu.wordpress.com/2018/02/27/of-presidents-and-kings-and-god/#more-1985

    Thanks again for all you do.

    • weeklysift  On June 18, 2018 at 12:56 pm

      That’s a worthwhile read. One piece of advice, though: Get your conclusion established sooner. Somebody who stops reading in the middle will think your point was that Trump is like King David.

      • Gendebien  On June 18, 2018 at 1:47 pm

        Thank you for taking the time to read and to provide useful comments. Truly appreciated.

  • georgejohn42  On June 18, 2018 at 12:06 pm

    One of you very best, and one of you most important pieces. Thank you.

  • annb  On June 18, 2018 at 12:10 pm

    Bar

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  • actionscriptandotherthings  On June 18, 2018 at 1:07 pm

    Could you send a link? I’m not sure if Verizon is intentionally blocking your content or if it’s an actual technical issue, but your email is now arriving empty. Suspiciously, this coincides with the demise of net neutrality.

    Thanks for your insights. Richard

  • actionscriptandotherthings  On June 18, 2018 at 1:08 pm

    Btw, here’s the error message I get in Yahoo mail:

    This message cannot be displayed because of the way it is formatted. Ask the sender to send it again using a different format or email program.

    multipart/alternative

    Richard

    >

    • nicknielsensc  On June 19, 2018 at 7:15 am

      Everything I can find points to the newest version of Yahoo Mail. As a work-around, see if you can display the message as text.

      – view the message, then click on Forward
      – click on the << ("switch to plain text") control. The message is immediately converted to plain text.

      You should now be able to see the links in the message. It's only a work-around, but it should work.

  • bill gilboe  On June 18, 2018 at 1:09 pm

    sadly, ignorance is bliss.

  • Mickey  On June 18, 2018 at 4:34 pm

    It’s interesting that this cult of personality is not new to Christians, look at all the “personalities” that are rife in the faith; from Billy Grahm to Joel Osteen, these “ministers” have fleeced their willing flocks for decades, or even centuries. The difference I see is that Trump understands that you don’t have to walk the walk, you only have to talke the talk.

    • Larry Benjamin  On June 18, 2018 at 8:15 pm

      I would say someone like Joel Osteen, who lives in a mansion and is wealthy beyond the dreams of any of his followers, is “talking the talk” without “walking the walk.” Trump isn’t doing either. He avoids overt religious language after the “Two Corinthians” fiasco.

      What appeals to people isn’t Trump’s religiosity (“sometimes God chooses an ungodly man to carry out his will”) but his policy positions.

  • reverendsax  On June 18, 2018 at 8:19 pm

    Christianity in Nazi Germany was selective about scripture in many ways. There are some books (I don’t have any at hand but they can be found on Amazon) about how mainstream religious leaders twisted the cross (!) to make Hitler not only acceptable but worshipful.

  • reverendsax  On June 18, 2018 at 8:42 pm

    Your last sentences are a horrifying unintended consequence of skepticism and reality checking by many thinking people about the received traditions of Christianity in the US. Just because we have left the church doesn’t have to mean that we have to worship satan, or that the devil is the only alternative.

    • weeklysift  On June 19, 2018 at 7:32 am

      Reverend: I’m not sure what you’re responding to here. Neither my article nor any of the comments mentions the devil.

  • Frank  On June 18, 2018 at 11:50 pm

    Sent from my iPad

    >

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