Trumpist Evangelicals Respond to Christianity Today

Nearly 200 Evangelical leaders responded to the Christianity Today editorial calling for Trump’s removal from office, which I discussed at some length last week in “The Evangelical Deal With the Devil“. How they chose to respond says a lot about how Trump appeals to their flocks.

CT’s case had three main points:

  • Trump is guilty as charged: “The president of the United States attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president’s political opponents. That is not only a violation of the Constitution; more importantly, it is profoundly immoral.”
  • Beyond the articles of impeachment, Trump has conducted himself in a grossly un-Christian way: “[T]his president has dumbed down the idea of morality in his administration. He has hired and fired a number of people who are now convicted criminals. He himself has admitted to immoral actions in business and his relationship with women, about which he remains proud. His Twitter feed alone—with its habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders—is a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.”
  • Religious leaders who defend Trump are distorting the Christian message and damaging the credibility the Evangelical movement: “To the many evangelicals who continue to support Mr. Trump in spite of his blackened moral record, we might say this: Remember who you are and whom you serve. Consider how your justification of Mr. Trump influences your witness to your Lord and Savior. Consider what an unbelieving world will say if you continue to brush off Mr. Trump’s immoral words and behavior in the cause of political expediency. If we don’t reverse course now, will anyone take anything we say about justice and righteousness with any seriousness for decades to come?”

Protestant Christianity has a long history of “remonstrances“, where some religious leader attempts to tell his colleagues that they’ve taken a wrong turn. (Arguably, Protestantism began with a remonstrance: Luther’s 95 theses.) So we know exactly how honest and sincere Protestant leaders respond to such challenges: They answer the points in the context of their faith.

In this case, a thoughtful counter-remonstrance would argue that Trump is not guilty, or that his overall behavior is not immoral, or that defending him is an appropriate example of Christian witness, not a distortion of it. You might expect a response full of Biblical texts and comparisons to proud moments from the history of the Evangelical movement.

The letter from the 200 does none of that. Not a single point from the editorial is confronted directly. Neither Trump’s impeachable actions nor his general morality is mentioned. The loss of credibility that comes from identifying Christianity with Trumpism is not addressed. Instead, the 200 responders make two points:

  • They feel insulted. The particular statements that they believe insult them are not actually in the CT editorial, but were made by the author in interviews. As so often is the case when conservative Christians claim offense, they are the ones who decided that the shoe fit them. The CT editor talked about “evangelicals on the far right”, but did not name any.
  • The author of the CT editorial is an elitist who looks down on less educated believers, so the majority of Evangelicals shouldn’t identify with him or pay attention to what he says.

Like so much of Trump’s defense in the larger culture, this argument is entirely tribal, and not at all based on facts or principles: Trump is one of us, and if you oppose him, you’re not one of us.

The one time the letter alludes to the Bible is an up-is-down distortion.

We are proud to be numbered among those in history who, like Jesus, have been pretentiously accused of having too much grace for tax collectors and sinners, and we take deeply our personal responsibility to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s — our public service.

But Trump does not at all fit the model of a tax collector (like Matthew) or a “sinner” (like Mary Magdalene). He is a head of government, like Herod, who does not repent his immoral actions or seek to change. The Bible contains no example of Jesus (or any prophet) pandering to power in the way these Evangelical leaders have.

Quite the opposite, the prophets repeatedly confronted immoral rulers, as I have observed at length before. The Christianity Today editorial fits well into this prophetic tradition of speaking truth to power. The letter responding to it does not.

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Comments

  • madelonw1011  On December 30, 2019 at 9:43 am

    The thing that bothers me most about the coverage of the Christianity Today op-ed is that it seems to be absorbing the oxygen that could be better spent on the fact that this country was founded on the principle of separation of church and state.

    • Amy Zucker Morgenstern  On December 30, 2019 at 4:09 pm

      I see it this way: Trump is guilty of some erasure of the separation of church and state, but for the most part, that’s not the problem. Nor is it a problem for people whose ethics, views on public policies, etc., are shaped by their religion. Lots of us on all points of the political spectrum, and all varieties of religion, have reasons for supporting a president or candidate that are inextricable from our spiritual convictions.

      The problem, in my view, is that white Christian Evangelicalswho support Trump throw all the authority of their faith behind him, while brand they refuse to be answerable to that faith’s demands. And that blatant inversion of the truth is worth expending some oxygen.

      Can you say more about why you think a church-state separation conversation is needed right now?

      • Amy Zucker Morgenstern  On December 30, 2019 at 4:10 pm

        Delete “brand”

      • Michael Lanning  On January 3, 2020 at 3:15 am

        THEY ARE NOT CHRISTIANS IN ANY SENSE OF WHAT THAT WORD IS SUPPOSE TO MEAN.
        “Do unto others as you would have done to you” should be the whole of the law, but Jesus put so much more forth to inspire us. “Love thy neighbor”, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”, “Pray in secret”… so many others and they do not follow one of them. They speak of this “Prosperity Gospel” horseshit which has absolutely nothing to do with anything Jesus taught

      • jh  On January 3, 2020 at 10:58 am

        Trump isn’t guilty of this. It’s the conservatives who have been spreading this anti-American idea for decades now. Trump is a symptom of the disease. The disease is conservatives and in particular, religious conservatives.

        Sure.. We could pretend that commie conservatives would be this evil – but I’d argue that it’s ideology – aka religion by another name. Let’s not forget other ideologies and fixate on just one. Hitler’s Germany was Christian Germany and they already were programmed to believe in magic and hate the Jews. Their christians spouted hate about Jews and then… they danced and skipped away by blaming Hitler rather than taking personal responsibility. Stalin? Again, Russia was a (and probably still is) a Christian country with a Christian culture. The moment the Christians made their bargain with Stalin, the churches were open for business. Modi.. Again.. It’s religious conservatives. (Another religion but still, the same evil.)

        This is why I fear all religions. No matter how lovey-dovey the liberal versions are, there is always the threat of a more conservative variant coming into power. Why? Because humans are shit. And religion is a great way for evil people to spread evil ideas and get the buy in of evil lemmings. For every one Bonhoeffer, you have thousands of “good Christians” . It’s like the chicken pox virus that enters into your DNA and then, when you are old and sick, comes out as the more virulent shingles expression of the disease. (People, get your shingles vaccine if you are eligible. If you cannot afford it, borrow money to get it. It is not a nice disease to contract and it’s a lot more expensive to deal with later.)

        Look – I’m a systems type thinker. You give me a list of “symptoms” and I’ll systemize a conceptual model of what is happening. I don’t fixate on one symptom because I’m always looking for what caused the symptom. For example, you got a pimple? Why did you get that pimple? Hormones? Hygiene? Stress related cortisol response? Diet? I don’t fixate and give you the acne medication without figuring out what is triggering the acne. Likewise for say .. your computer crashing. I don’t say “Whoops. It’s microsoft”. No. I systematically start trying to figure out what triggers the crash. I go into safe mode and I systematically access programs until I generate that crash so that I can make a solution.

        Trump is a symptom of the disease. The body can’t fight of the infection. HIV has destroyed the immune cells ability to fight off a common cold. The body will die because we never destroyed the HIV infection. Trump is not the AIDS virus. He’s just a common cold that is dangerous only because the body politick has been destroyed by the conservative virus.

        Oh.. and one of the best vaccinations… making sure the younger generation sees the shit that religion is. The more that people see how degraded and nasty christianity is, the more that these conservative christians will double down on the Trumps. The more they double down, the more nasty they show themselves to be. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle. This is why younger generations aren’t entering churches anymore.

        (I don’t want to ban religion. That only feeds into the persecution complex and sustains the religion. No. I want it to become irrelevant like … that “Hi, How are you?” exchange where we finish that social exchange with the obligatory “Fine, And you?” We aren’t actually interested. It’s just a protocol to interact with other human beings.)

  • Gus diZerega  On December 30, 2019 at 1:04 pm

    These Evangelicals seem remarkably close to the “German Christians” who were influential from 1932-45. They were also Evangelicals and resolutely supported Hitler, racism,the Führerprinzip, and anti-Semitic. There seems to be something within Evangelical Christianity that is particularly vulnerable to this stuff.

  • politicswestchesterview  On December 30, 2019 at 5:30 pm

    Isn’t the proper term here “fundamentalist”?

    • nicknielsensc  On December 30, 2019 at 9:42 pm

      No. As a fundamentalist friend of mine put it, “Please forgive me for judging, but they are not sheep, they are goats.”

  • George Washington, Jr.  On December 30, 2019 at 7:01 pm

    I’m surprised no one came out and defended Trump on the real reason they approve of him – he’s appointing conservative, anti-gay, anti-abortion judges and the Senate is confirming them at a record clip, to the point where over one-fifth of federal judges are Trump appointees. The damage this will do to the Republic will linger for decades, long after Trump’s presidency is a distant memory.

    The Evangelicals who support Trump are being confronted with the choice Satan gave Jesus – worldly power in exchange for his soul, and they’re making the opposite choice he did.

  • Lionel Goulet  On December 30, 2019 at 7:27 pm

    Mary Magdalene was neither a sinner nor a prostitute. She was cast in this “sinner” role because in at least two of the four gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection, she is the first person to see the risen Jesus. This makes a scriptural case that a woman could be higher in holiness than even Peter and John. The patriarchy of the Church could not (can not?) allow this and thus began a campaign to shame her history, defame her virtue. This is the 21st Century now. Let a woman be holy, divine even.

  • rbshreve  On December 30, 2019 at 9:24 pm

    Another textbook example of clear analysis and critical thinking about why the response of the critics of the CT editorial is not credible.

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