(This essay is part of an ongoing series looking back at 2016. You can read the others in this series here.)
I’d like to take a moment and talk about, and ultimately to, Evangelical Christians. I grew up more-or-less one of these folks, and many members of my family and friends still identify as such. You can say that we know one another. After watching Evangelicals this past year, and especially after ~80% of them voted for Donald Trump this election, I’ve got a couple thoughts.
First, it’s important to define who an Evangelical is. It can be a slippery worm of a term, broadly shifting its shadow across multiple Protestant denominations. While the following isn’t exactly perfect, for this essay I’m going to define an Evangelical as someone who 1) has had a personal conversion experience with Jesus in which they’ve been “born again”; 2) believes that the Bible is literally God’s Infallible Word, and 3) believes that faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection is the only way to heaven. Such people are also often, but not necessarily, ready and willing to share this faith publicly (to “witness” to their beliefs) and likely believe in some sort of end-times/rapture (the latter proving just how deep an influence Kirk Cameron really has had on our culture. That may sound like some weird joke: sadly, it’s not.). Again, this definition ain’t exactly perfect, but I think it’s good enough. And now that we know more or less know who we’re talking about, let me talk to them.
If you’re an Evangelical whose faith in Jesus shepherds how you live and you voted for Donald Trump, the lesson I learned about you this past year is this:
Your Christian witness is done.
Other terminal terms.
Why do I say this, Evangelicals-Trumpers? Because you chose the opposite of everything you claim is important—not only important but essential, life-giving, hope-providing, etc.—and in the act forfeited not your identity as Christians, but your ability to witness to the world as ones.
The high-ground you’ve claimed to inhabit, the purported Moral Majority of your positions in regards to evaluating the larger culture, has been eroded by acts of your own choosing: specifically, you voted for a man who worships money and himself equally, who encourages hate and brags about grabbing pussies, who wants to ban other faiths and torture our enemies, etc. I don’t need to list it all because you know it all and you cheered it all, or, if you didn’t actively cheer it, you still chose it, and at the end of the day there’s really no difference.
Christianity is more than an objective set of doctrines, but Christianity is also an objective set of doctrines, and every single one that Christ insisted upon and exemplified in his life Trump stands for and lives in opposition. Jesus wouldn’t have been a Democrat any more than a Republican, ((curiously enough, if we had to choose a candidate whose values most aligned with Jesus’s, it’d have to be that other boisterous, rabble-rousing Jew, Bernie Sanders…)) but since Evangelicals have been perpetually wondering WWJD? ((a question they repeat, over and again, ad nauseum, while rarely asking the more pertinent one: What am I going to do?/How am I going to live?, because the reality of Jesus is that he died, and the reality of you is that you’re alive, and as such only one of you is making choices about how this world is going to be)) , it’s mind-rattling impossible to imagine he would have voted for Trump, for reasons mentioned above and which are undeniably obvious the moment you think about them.
I’ve heard some Evangelical-Trumpers trying to hide behind single-issue voting, such as abortion and Trump’s pledge to appoint Supreme Court Justices who will overturn Roe v Wade. First of all, that’s moronic: life is not a single-issue activity, and second, and more importantly, while we don’t know what Jesus would think about abortion (or gay marriage, or transgender bathrooms, etc.), we do know the following, because he was awfully, undeniably, painfully clear about these things:
- a) the poor, the overlooked, the marginalized and the undesirable were those for whom he came ((and with whom he hung out, which of course raises this question: given Christ’s history with outcasts, if/when this absurd “rapture” thing happens, what makes you think He’ll want to pal around with you?! Let’s also pause and ponder what sort of ghoulish, retributive and violent aspirations reside in anyone who would cherry-pick convoluted apocalyptic texts to come up with such a horrific theology.)), and
- b) Money/Power and Christ go together like water and oil, and it is only with the addition of foreign substances and by whipping them out of molecular recognition that can you emulsify those two into something stable ((I’m thinking here of mayonnaise, which may be a bad example as Hellmann’s is actually far more desirable than what Evangelicals have done with their faith and finances)) .
If you think Trump is concerned about the poor or doesn’t worship money you’ve outdone an ostrich, for while that bird will stick its head in the sand to avoid reality, you’ve shoved yours so far up your ass that at this point you might as well just keep it there.
Jesus talks about the truth setting us free: in Trump, Evangelicals (and others) have chosen the personification of the Untrue, which sometimes people call a Lie. If truth brings freedom lies bring its opposite, and I don’t envy the mirrored halls of writhing deception in which my Evangelical-Trumpers have chosen to jail themselves. However, freedom is still available, only it’s not for you, Evangelical-Trumpers, it’s for the rest of us, those whose eyes are clear enough to see the truth of your obvious bullshit. Our freedom is this: we’re absolved from your judgements. No longer do we have to listen to you moralize and prattle and whinge and complain. There is no more Moral Majority or Christian Right; no longer will the rest of us have to suffer your self-righteous carpings about secular culture or lagging morals or other purportedly profane activities; you have stepped off the high-ground you (absurdly) claimed in the first place. Any righteousness you feel wrapping a WWJD? bracelet around your wrist now serves only to illuminate the falsity of your stand.
It’s worth stopping here and noting this fact: outside the delivery, which all too often has been both pompously-&-hypocritically-self-righteous as well as ear-bleedingly-carping, and as such terribly annoying, this situation is unfortunate, for the simple fact that Evangelicals, as Christ-followers, should be offering valid criticisms of the larger culture (specifically on the two issues mentioned above: the crushing ubiquity of Money/Power-worship and the mistreatment of the marginalized. Fortunately, there are Christian folks out there doing this, some quite well.) My point here is not that Evangelicals can no longer participate in social-cultural debates: I trust and hope that they do. Instead, I’m arguing this: by virtue of their bedfellow, Evangelicals-who-supported-Trump can no longer defend their positions as having the foundation of Truth, Goodness, Honesty, Beauty—in short, of God.
I’d like to ask Evangelical-Trumpers to be honest enough to observe what appears to me as highly obvious—you’ve become a social group of like-minded folks who share a similar moral outlook on the world, in the same way that many secular Jews are; your Christianity is an important identity, and that’s fine and understandable: like seeks out like and there’s nothing wrong with that. But that identity is not a claim to truth, and it is certainly not a claim to the Truth, so spare us the God-spittle and just let it go.
I see no good way out of this one, Evangelical-Trumpers, and I encourage you not to dissemble further in the hunt for an exit. Cuddle close your thirty-pieces of whatever you got, but don’t expect it to bring much comfort. If you think the liar you helped elect is for some strange reason going to be honest with you, I imagine you’re in for a rather rude awakening about the nature of Liars. Still, should you want to defend your actions, go for it: I’ll listen.
It’s important for me to end with this, because ultimately I am a hopeful person: I can imagine a future in which this situation is transcended, in which Truth is rediscovered and lucre no longer laid long and low before Moloch’s insatiable mouth. But that is a change that will need to come from within Evangelicals, and it will not be an easy or painless one, for power, such as you imagine yourselves having it, does not easily release those who hold tightly to it.
I still do pray to God, and I’ll ask Him this on your behalf, my Evangelical, Trump-supporting friends: I pray a fire comes that burns like hell until all that’s dirty is turned to ash.