Since its founding by Rev. Billy Graham in 1956 the magazine Christianity Today has been an influential voice in evangelical circles, but little noticed by the rest of the world. That changed on Friday when it ran an editorial urging that President Donald Trump be removed from office, which got so much attention the magazine’s internet site briefly crashed in the unprecedented traffic.
The editorial was newsworthy because poll after poll has shown that Trump enjoys overwhelming support from white self-identified evangelical Christians, with such self-proclaimed evangelical leaders as Graham’s son Franklin Graham among his most obsequious defenders, and Trump’s critics have long been perplexed by the phenomenon.
Trump boasted in “The Art of the Deal” about the many married women he’s seduced, his third wife is a former nude model, he broke federal laws to cover up an affair with a pornographic video performer, he ran casinos and strip clubs, often curses in front of the kids, once tried to kick an elderly widow of her longtime home to build a parking lot for his limousine, and has earned a reputation for stiffing his employees and contractors and investors. He tells at least two or three outright lies a day, his family was recently barred by the New York courts from running a charity because his foundation had stolen money from a children’s cancer program, he pridefully “punches back ten times harder” rather than turn the other cheek, and while running for the Republican nomination he told a Christian forum that he’s never felt the need to ask God’s forgiveness for any of it.
So far as we can tell, Trump’s white evangelical supporters believe he’s punching back ten times harder on their behalf, and therefore deserves a pass. Although he was a staunch advocate for abortion rights through most of his life, he’s kept a promise to appoint Supreme Court justices and lower court judges who might overturn the Roe v. Wade decision that made first-term abortions a constitutional right. He moved the America’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and given his blessings to his expanded Israeli settlements in disputed territories, and has otherwise been a staunch friend to a country that is now more important to America’s evangelical Christians than to its most secularized Jews. Trump has also sought to revoke the Johnson Amendment that forbids tax-exempt churches from advocating for political candidates such as himself, and his controversial Secretary of Education has sought to prevent restrictions on the free speech rights of students.
More importantly, we suspect, is that Trump is despised by the same snooty Hollywood and academic and media types that many evangelicals feel have been sneering down at them during the past many decades of cultural revolution. He longs for a 1950s economy of coal miners and steelworkers and stay-at-home moms, and a return to that same halcyon era when football players stood at attention during the national anthem and protestors were treated roughly and Christianity was a more dominant force in American culture. Trump might not be an exemplary Christian, some of our white evangelical friends will admit, but they note that David was beloved by God and a great leader despite his rather extraordinary sins, and that the Persian King Cyrus negotiated a treaty that protected his kingdom and also gave freedom to the Israelites, so they have faith that Trump is one of those mysterious God ways with which works His will.
We’re white and regularly attend services at a strictly-by-the-Bible low church over on the west side and not embarrassed to evangelize for Christ, and in fact are ashamed by how little we do it, but better Christians than ourselves have never persuaded us to support Trump with any of these arguments.
David had demonstrated his love for God in mortal combat against Goliath and pleaded God’s mercy for his sins, and Trump’s bone spurs and prideful nature have prevented him for doing either. That deal Cyrus struck with the Israelites only forestalled the diaspora and the destruction of the temple and the pogroms and the Holocaust and all the difficulties that still beset a reconstituted Israel. For all its virtues the ’50s was a time of disgraceful institutional racial and sexual inequality, and for all the destructive influences that have been unleashed since we’re glad that the era’s dissenters weren’t beaten into submission. That steelmaking and coal mining economy isn’t coming back, nor are the trade union dominance and high top-bracket tax rates of the era, and we figure it’s better the public should focus on the inevitable high-tech and air-conditioned and less brown-lung-inducing and more female-inclusive industries of the future, and how to get along with one another in a population that will become increasingly diverse no matter what walls Trump builds. Even if Roe v Wade is overturned, the matter will simply be turned back over to the states, where the liberals will likely win lots of elections on the issue.
We’re as appalled at the current state of the American culture as any of our white evangelical brothers and sisters, but the scriptures tell us to put not our faith in princes, and as princes go we’re especially suspicious of this unrepentantly vulgar and profane Trump fellow. He seems to epitomize the Hugh Hefner and Rat Pack hedonism of the ’50s, as well as the decade’s pushy racism and sexism, and his complaints about what have come since seem disingenuous except when they’re overtly racist and sexist or obviously self-serving. God allowed Trump’s election to the presidency, just as he twice allowed President Barack Obama’s, but we believe that in both cases He was granting American mankind its postlapsarian free will and the opportunity to once again screw things up beyond recognition.
At this point, and as always, even the most cocksure Americans of humankind can’t bring about paradise on Earth, so we figure the Church should remain focused on sending as many individual souls as possible to a better place. Having the faith identify itself with its allegiance to Trump won’t help the effort. As the editorial in Christianity Today notes, there’s no disputing the evidence that Trump’s unabashed amorality has led him to abuse the powers of office and obstruct officials to find the truth about it, among other odious things, and there’s no explaining that to the skeptical sinners in need of salvation.
“To use an old cliche, it’s time to call a spade a spade, to say that no matter how many hands we win in this political poker game, we are playing with a stacked deck of gross immorality and ethical incompetence,” the editor-in-chief wrote. “And just when we think it’s time to push all our chips to the center of the table, that’s when the whole game will come crashing down. It will crash down on the reputation of evangelical religion and the world’s understanding of the gospel. And it will come crashing down on a nation of men and women whose welfare is also our concern.”
We’re not saying any damn Democrat would be any better, but we share the hope of Christianity Today and Christians everywhere that there’s something better on the far horizon.
— Bud Norman