Almost all news reports tell us that Donald Trump’s campaign for the US presidency as the Republican candidate is supported by a surprising number of Christian evangelicals. They find in Trump’s presentation what they themselves wish to express. In a peculiar marriage of frustration and fear with optimism, they recognize that things in the country are not going as well as they should.
What is astonishing is that Trump’s rude, bigoted, hostile, racist and insulting language makes as little difference to them as his failure to detail any proposed policies beyond the building of a physical wall against Mexico, a wall of tariffs against cheaper imports of consumer goods, and a legal wall against not only terrorists, but also refugees. His claims of wealth, success and skills, though unexamined, support his verbose promises of an America made great again.
Trump’s public character as a builder and owner of gambling casinos, of reality TV shows, of bankruptcies at the expense of injured creditors, and his three divorces evidently also do not affect the political considerations and responsibilities of many Christians.
Yet, there is something more worrisome and frightening in all this. It is not only a question of how is it possible that so many Christians overlook moral and cultural failures in Trump. It is also too easy to say that the problem here lies with Trump’s own ideology.
I see just as many problems that originate with us Christians.
What have we done or failed to do so that we have created a market for Trump’s wares among evangelicals?
Has the Church at large failed in its mission to teach about God, creation and the good life? Too many Christians remain ignorant about the world at large, history and the power of ideas in human cultures.
How is it possible that so many Christians have so little interest to know more about their world? Centrally, why are they not questioning how Trump’s bombastically proposed solutions for “fixing things” direly affect people, countries and the respect for our society around the world.
In the map of our world, there six areas in which we Christians have left unexplored. Those blank areas in our intellectual, cultural, and moral maps contribute to our inability to make good judgments when personal frustrations meet bully promises, when personal weakness is exposed to promises of powerful solutions. Italy fell for this under Mussolini, Germany under Hitler, present-day Russia under Putin.
- We have created a culture, in which personal testimonies are not only acceptable, but prioritized. Disregarding the 2nd Commandment against using the name of God for one’s own vanity, personal stories called testimonies are raised almost to the level of divine authority.Trump’s personal testimony about all his abilities, knowledge, and successes are accepted and admired -- though without any evidence that they have anything to do with God, or morality.
- Christians have too often chosen to see God’s favor largely in terms of material success, job advancements, and getting ahead in life. The quantification of our worth in terms of wages and salaries has replaced the qualification of a good life by its love, generosity, social engagement, sound mind and intelligent discernment.
- Outlandish claims by Trump draw the admiration of many Christians, who have pastors and fellow believers claiming miracles or divine guidance and interventions when in fact ordinary people in the image of God have done good work, been kind and helpful. They somehow miss the Biblical teaching that there are no final solutions until Christ reigns on earth. Too many Christians have a habit of justifying all events as divinely intended and therefore free from moral scrutiny and judgment.
Trump’s claims are believed by many Christians because their view of the divine control history turns it into the evidence of God’s character and care. The Bible tells us that God himself is grieved and at war with much of it. Success is therefore no indication of moral endorsement.
If the church had taught a little more of our history, where we have come from, what mistakes were made by Christians, and how we addressed them, we would all remember that there never was a golden age East of Eden. The Bible tells us much about prophets, kings, and other people’s behavior on the basis of facts: they were false, wicked and cruel.
- Much of the Christian failure in moral and intellectual judgment of history, society and contemporary politicians comes from their belief that their lives actually should have a focus on heaven, not on earth; on eternity, not on history. Whatever happens is unimportant, for only eternity matters.
Heaven is not our home – contrary to what you will most likely hear at funerals – as God has made us to live on earth, his deliberate and purposeful creation. Christ came down to earth and will return here to reign. The heavenly Jerusalem will descend to earth. Plato’s heaven is a static, immaterial, timeless ‘otherness,’ while the Bible speaks of an eternal, space/time reality in the presence of God.
The better parts of Western culture did not leave out concerns for the material world. It urged people to get into the created world and give shape to the thought-world and practices of society. Does today’s church teach about accounting, critical thinking, and geography, how cultures are shaped by religions, about better diets and discoveries in higher science? About respecting and loving all human beings as our neighbors?
- Christians have often replaced faith as a result of inquiry into facts with a type of faith that is a replacement for inquiry. How else can we explain why so many Christians fall for ‘God’ - words among the candidates, are overcome with emotion and pleasure when someone speaks certain words from the Christian vocabulary, or shows their mother’s Bible.
Our age speaks of “people of faith” or “the need to believe;” we recite confessions or tell others what we believe. Yet for most people, it remains on the level of being “true believers” but not necessarily believers in truth.
Truth would have to be discovered, examined, compared and then lived out. Claims of truth would be unstable, unfinished, to some extent unclear until further evidence is collected. That evidence would have to come from history, geography, reflection, reading and the writing of others, helping us to analyze from facts. Jesus did not tell John in prison to believe, but to look at the facts and evidence of his being the Messiah.
All kinds of things are believed, which therefore should be a warning about how easy it is to believe. It is not an encouragement.
A belief should change the way I understand life and change the way I live. Likewise, the facts of life should change my faith.
The only reason to be a Christian is because you believe that the Bible explains the truth of the universe. It does not give you a faith, it gives you insight and confidence to know something that is not contradicted by reality, but confirms it. The God of the Bible is the only explanation, where religions and ideologies fail, for the form of the universe and the personhood of human beings.
- A sixth explanation for Christians’ acceptance of Trump lies in the eight years of stirred up anger, doubt and possibly hate towards the current administration. As a mindset the anger gives the stage to accusing the Obama administration of all the evil. The angry mindset has contributed to failure in all three branches of government. It has removed compromise.
Trump’s followers and his competitors irrationally are unbelievable when they propose only complete solutions on the first day in office. He uses radical, racist and unrestrained language, but for each of them winning, as in a boxing match, alone matter.
Christians should acknowledge that there are no final solutions, no pure winners, no just outcomes until the reign of righteousness. What then should we do to remedy the distorted views now parading under the Christian label?
Reality and reason used to keep faith from its own vanity. Faith, unless it is grounded in facts, makes no sense: the fact of a real world with its shapes, logical processes, real people, and the really existing God.
Yet for many Christians, faith in anything, whether of Jesus or of political alternatives, of the necessity of childhood vaccinations or the spiritual value of their ignorance, is separate from the world God created and not under its restraint. Such faith shares more with a “reality show.” Too often believers amuse themselves and our culture to death.
Middelmann previously contributed to the discussion about the Ground Zero mosque.
Also see Journey's analysis of the Iowa primary and
Udo Middelmann is president of the Francis Schaeffer Foundation. His diverse career experiences include being an associate pastor working with Francis Schaeffer in Switzerland and education program director for an international relief organization in Geneva, Switzerland. He has lectured at several colleges in the New York City area.
Middelmann holds a law degree from Freiburg University and a theology degree from Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, MO, USA). For the last nineteen years, he has been the president of the Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation and divides his time between Switzerland and New York. Middelmann is a prolific essayist and published the books Pro-Existence, The Market-Driven Church, The Innocence of God, Christianity verses Religions of Resignation, and God and Man at Work: Doing well and doing good.
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