“When Christianity is seen as a political project in search of a gospel useful enough to advance its worldly agenda, it will end up pleasing those who make politics primary, while losing those who believe the Gospel.” Russell Moore in a lecture called, “Can the Religious Right Be Saved?”
I’ve been reluctantly, yet under an inner compulsion, writing about how faith, morals, and politics intersect in Donald Trump’s America. I’ll be posting some rough draft thoughts over time, which won’t appear in any sort of logical order, but hopefully each post will stand alone and make some semblance of sense.
These thoughts will be rooted in my understanding of biblical Christianity rather than some assumed expertise in the world of politics. I may not understand much about that scene, but I do believe I know something about what’s right and wrong––what Christ’s kingdom looks like and what it doesn’t.
Americans are afraid. We’re not the only ones on the planet plagued with fears, but in my estimation, we are driven by them more often, though we have less reason to fear than most. Someone defined fear as “the anxiety caused by the immanent loss of what we love.” Americans are afraid of losing any number of things we’ve depended on for our quality of life––safety, security, money, status to name a few.
Edmund Burke said, “No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.” Fear “operates in a manner that resembles actual pain.” In other words, fear makes us irrational and feels as bad as the thing we fear.
This is probably why God repeatedly reminds us: “Fear not!”
In 2016, American Evangelicals were looking for a strongman to protect them from the liberal forces wreaking havoc on their Christian nation. Donald Trump was that strongman. They sought after a fearless, if not feckless, savior and he “delivered them from all their fears.”
Mr. Trump and his campaign strategy effectively tapped into American rage, people who were furious about the hollowing out of the middle class. They’re angry about not getting their fair share of the American Dream and afraid, if they don’t act now, they never will. Many white voters felt that the dream is getting further and further out of reach while minorities and immigrants butt in line in front of them.
In his book, Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis depicts an uncle demon advising his nephew about how to effectively harass his human victim. He combines the twin plagues of fear and hate: “Hatred is best combined with fear. . . The more he fears the more he will hate.”
Sex isn’t the only thing that sells. Fear and anger rank right up there as marketing and campaign tactics. Using these toxic twins to curry favor and collect votes is nothing new. Yet it’s been perfected to an art in the politics of Donald Trump, who ran his campaign on a platform of fear––fear of Hillary Clinton, fear of terrorism, fear of being overrun by immigrants, fear of the media, fear of gays, and fear of the loss of religious freedom. He has taken fear-mongering and anger over anything outside the pail of Trump to a whole new demagogic level.
One source defines a “demagogue” as a “political agitator who appeals with crude oratory to the prejudice and passions of the mob.” Based on this, Mr. Trump qualifies for overachievement awards in demagoguery.
President Trump purveys in fear and anger like a plastic surgeon traffics in Body Dysmorphic Disorder. His fixation on MS-13 for instance, is at best, disingenuous, and at worst, dishonest hyperbole. According to Hannah Dreier of Propublica, who studied MS-13 for over a year, the gang is not invading the country, they’re not posing as fake families at the border, they’re not a transnational organization, and they’re not growing. There’s no question that the members of MS-13 are bloodthirsty and soulless, but using them to rationalize building a wall on our southern border, is an argument that falls as flat as the Sonoran Desert. It’s just another of the president’s tactics to hold his base in a state of fear and anger in order to get what he wants for his anti-immigration policy.
Of course neither fear nor anger are sins in themselves. We’re even counseled to “be angry but don’t sin” and to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.” Sometimes the only righteous response to an injustice is anger and the wisest reaction to an actual threat is fear. Nevertheless our fears mustn’t be given the opportunity to shred our confidence in God and our anger never be used to act independently of God’s wisdom in order to take vengeance into our own hands. “Fear is a natural human response to social change, but evangelicals betray their deepest spiritual convictions when they choose to dwell in it.”
Shame on the preachers who fan the flames of inappropriate fear and anger with their gullible audiences. Under the guise of bravado, pastors like Robert Jeffress stoke those flames in his church. He tells his congregants: “I couldn’t care less about a leader’s temperament or his tone of his vocabulary. Frankly, I want the meanest, toughest son of a gun I can find. And I think that’s the feeling of a lot of evangelicals. They don’t want Casper Milquetoast as the leader of the free world.” In other words, character and integrity mean nothing to him in a president. He wants a bad-ass in the White House to protect us from the forces that threaten our Christian nation.
Of all people, Christians should be the least timid. After all, we have the least to fear. We don’t have to be afraid of God, who is our loving Father. (1John 3:1) Satan shouldn’t scare us since he’s been disarmed and defeated by Christ at the cross (Colossians 2:15). Fearful that we won’t have enough food and clothes is a slap in our the face of our Father who has promised to meet our every need (Matthew 6:25-34). “The Lord is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1)
The tragedy though is that, driven by their fears, the majority of so-called “Evangelicals” (the white ones anyway) voted for, and continue to endorse Donald Trump. They’re afraid of losing their religious liberty, their financial bottom-line, their majority status in the culture, and the threat of terrorism. You name it, they’re afraid of it. “There’s a lion outside! I’ll be killed in the public square!” says the sluggard (Proverbs 22:13).
See ya’ for Part 2 where I’ll try to conclude on a more positive note? In case you don’t want to wait a week for that “note,” hear David in Psalm 37:
Be still before the Lord
and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
when they carry out their wicked schemes.
Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
do not fret—it leads only to evil.
Of course this is highly controversial and I’d love to hear your thoughts. Be civil, but honest. I can take it. Oh, and please argue on the basis of Scripture as I’ve tried to do here, instead of on your party preference.