Why Evangelicals Believe Trump Can Make America Great Again
I try and use terms like "some" "most" and "many" as often as possible to ensure that the reader understands I am not saying the defines or describes every evangelical, every Trump supporter, or ever meme sharer. But if that sense is given please accept a qualifying apology for my miscommunication.
Evangelicalism is dead. Dr. Russell Moore of the ERLC was the physician on-call, setting the time of death as 1:20 PM, Central Standard Time, on February 26th, 2016. The movement was preceded in death by disco, Carman's musical career, and Kanye West's mental health. Survivors include Evangelicalism's unstable little brother, Charismaticism, and cousin, Moral Therapeutic Deism. Visitation is perpetually open on Twitter and Facebook.
The funeral will be a closed-casket affair.
"So, what was the cause of death?" Asked an inquiring mind on one of the Facebook forums dedicated to the loud proclamations of Evangelicalism's virtues and harsh whispers of its vices. "Was it a quick death? Or...did it suffer?"
Here's what happened...
Last week Dr. Robert Jeffress, Southern Baptist Pastor of First Baptist Church Dallas, TX appeared on stage with and publicly endorsed Donald Trump and his bid for the Presidency. On that same day Liberty University President Jerry Falwell, Jr. doubled-down on his very public and very energetic endorsement of the Trump, appearing on Fox News to proclaim that "a majority of evangelicals think Donald Trump is best equipped to save the country."
The institutional pillars of conservative evangelicalism nearly buckled. Here were two heads-of-state in their cobbled confederacy throwing their weight behind a man who, at best, can barely muster a passable imitation of respect for the "traditional values" that served as one of the ties binding together Evangelical-dom. Worse, they were not an aberration but figureheads for a growing surge of self-identifying conservative evangelicals who heard Trump say, "Let's Make America Great Again!" and believed he could do it.
Let's pause for a moment and consider that many of these evangelicals have profusely professed that America's decline can and ought to be properly linked to the country's growing acceptance of immorality. They point to realities such as militant feminism, gay marriage, sexual promiscuity, and the "death of manhood" and believe that a correction of these mistakes can restore America to her place of greatness. Setting aside any arguments concerning the accuracy of that mindset, focus rather on the logical end of it. To believe that "traditional values" are necessary greatness is to believe that a leader must embody those values in order to restore it, yes?
Trump does not embody or even share most of those values, if any. He owns strip clubs. He changes wives like one would change a suit collection, shrugging them off once the season demands it. He has expressed his intention to appoint his sister, a feminist lesbian, to the Supreme Court. The man can't even offer cheap lip-service to the pro-life cause without also gushing over Planned Parenthood, standard-bearer for abortion-on-demand. He is devoid of humility, charity, or even the faintest hint of common decency. If Obama was the Democratic harbinger of the coming moral apocalypse, Trump’s Republican candidacy is Horsemen 1-4 and a couple of the trumpets, too. It would seem evangelicals are cheering on agrossly-exaggerated, far-right caricature of the same one they’ve spent the past eight years lamenting.
So why the overlap? Why are so many "traditional value"-touting Evangelicals lining-up to board the Trump train?
Perhaps the answer lies in the relationship that exists between many of these voters and their "values." These are, after all, many of the same people who share memes proclaiming the virtues of "a good whooping," who talk about the respect elders used to be shown, the rules that used to be followed; that ballyhooed “Golden Age” when most of the world was exactly as it ought to have been. When values are treated in this way, as a means to mold the outside world rather than as way-stations on the road of inner-sanctification, then support for The Trump from those who hold them makes much more sense.
Trump doesn't pretend to internalize these ideals, it's true. But he does promise to utilize them as philosophical Billy-clubs with which to beat back the liberal hordes that have tainted America's virtuous headwaters. He is more than happy to exchange his weapons of business for those inscribed with religious-speak. One blunt-object is as good as another in the hands of a man prepared to swing them fiercely and fervently. But understand he is not interested in fighting to restore America to some ambiguous place of "greatness," but rather to place himself at the head of a society even as he bludgeons it into submission. And for many evangelicals (though certainly not all, likely not even most) that's enough because to them that is why those virtues exist, not for self-refinement but for the herding of society towards a place where they, the “virtuous” can live and rest undisturbed and unchallenged.
But does that attitude represent true evangelicalism? If so, has that always been the case? Dr. Moore, who you may remember from the opening skit, gives a solid answer in his article over at the Washington Post:
“The evangelical nonsense we see too often today has a long pedigree, from the 1980sflock-fleecing television evangelists to the prosperity gospel heretics on our airwaves to those who peddle “end-times” books with false prophecies year after year, revising their charts to fit the headlines.”
So in one sense, yes this strain of evangelicalism that is endorsing Trump does naturally grow in some of the movement’s Petri dishes. If it’s a noxious, poisonous strain, it’s one that must be owned in order to be dealt with. You can’t create a vaccine for a disease you claim doesn’t exist.
The good news, as Dr. Moore points out, is that this is not the only thing to grow out of the incubator of the Religious Right and the Moral Majority:
“Look at the millennial pastors and church planters all over the country. Look at who is in evangelical seminaries, of every denomination. Look at who is flocking to evangelical conferences — from Urbana to Passion to Send North America to The Gospel Coalition. The future of evangelicalism is vibrant, prophetic, theologically-grounded, gospel- centered and unwilling to be anyone’s political mascot.”
So, yes, the evangelicalism of the late 20th-century is dead and if you see it at a Trump rally near you, odds are it is simply a rambling corpse, unwilling to accept its fate, yet unable to reverse it. But down the street and across the way you can find the 21st-century’s fledgling replacement. Those that Dr. Moore calls “gospel Christians,” who love their neighbors, feed their poor, and live out their values rather than wielding them. Still political, still opinionated, still Bible-believin’, church-goin’, fools for Christ.
But they won’t be fools for Trump or any other candidate promising to “Make America Great Again.”
Not this time.