“Beware of false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.” Matthew 7:15
Prosperity preachers laying hands on Presidential candidate Donald Trump back in September 0f 2015
Tom Englehardt recently mused, as many of us have, how we got to where someone like Trump could be president.
“In the wake of the election, … it wasn’t shock based on pollsters’ errors that got to me. It was something else that only slowly dawned on me. Somewhere deep inside, I simply didn’t believe that, of all countries on this planet, the United States could elect a narcissistic, celeb billionaire who was also, in the style of Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi, a right-wing “populist” and incipient autocrat.”
Along those same lines I am still in awe of the fact that Trump’s victory was aided in large measure by the group one would think least likely to support someone without any moral compass whatsoever – the Christian right. Trump’s daily routine entails ever meaningless acts of vanity and demeaning his critics with public tweets. He has no idea that his role as president is more about service than being a celebrity star to be praised and adored. Adulation is what he craves. The expectation that people have of him is of no consequence whatsoever because whatever his narcissistic mind decides, it will be the best possible choice.
So why did the so-called “moral majority” cave to the cavalier tactics of Donald Trump?
Frederick Clarkson, a senior fellow at Political Research Associates, who has studied the Christian right for decades, thinks he understands why evangelicals fell in line behind a Trump candidacy.
“The Christian right has matured as a political movement. They recognize that you can’t always get political leaders who conform with your beliefs as consistently and wholly as you’d like. Even though he doesn’t appear to be their guy, they can make deals with him that would make him into their guy in a way that no one else has ever been.”
This isn’t really a shock to someone like me who as a one-time liberal Christian decades ago began to see the separation of core Christian values from those who put political fealty above the grace-based values that attracted me to the faith after many years away from it. Like many of us who were raised in the Catholic Church I stopped attending regular Sunday services as a teenager and once I became an adult I went only on Christmas and maybe an occasional Easter Mass. It was a case of “you can take the boy out of religion but you can’t take religion out of the boy.”
That would change in the 1990’s but before then I would have a life-altering epiphany of a spiritual nature in the early 70’s and in time chose to reunite myself with the faith, feeling I had developed a more mature understanding of what we are called to do as part of the human race who shares this world with other life forms.
But over time I noticed what Clarkson was suggesting. It was brought home most vividly to me one day during a Sunday School session when one woman my age discovered I voted Democratic. In her shock she blurted out the irrational notion that “you can’t be a Christian AND a Democrat.” To her, being a Christian meant you had to oppose abortion in all forms, oppose gay marriage and the entire homosexual community and acknowledge that God had purposely led “his people” to America to establish a Christian society to be the light of the world.
This political take on how Christians should view their world was anathema to my early experiences that appealed more to a universal wisdom and love. Closed, rigid perceptions I was witnessing among fellow-Christians reflected some of the angry, mean-spirited sorts I had seen in what was to become the alt-right movement in this country. Their message was often politically oriented, not spiritually based.
I was not alone in this thinking. Steve Neuman, a born-again Christian turned atheist also took note about how the faith of his youth had transformed it into something that felt distant to him. His was a view of the church where “Christians were supposed to be new creations, in the world but separate from it, categorically different from it — and that meant politics, too.”
Why the religious right latched onto “an unrepentant serial adulterer who has abandoned two wives for other women,” as Dr. Russell Moore, of the influential Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission stated is incomprehensible. “Trump has made his living as a casino mogul in an industry that preys on the poor and incentivizes immoral and often criminal behavior,” Moore says.
It is perhaps the times we find ourselves in where the status quo within both parties have ignored the desperate calls of their constituents, believing their own self-serving view of what makes a better America. The sense of loss many were experiencing was fostered by fake new sites where anyone left of Attila the Hun was demonized and personified what was wrong with America. The Christian Right took this a step further by juxtaposing end times messages that their flock had come to accept as inevitable, leaving many frightened about their future
The notion that we are going to hell in a hand basket is a nerve that Trump, the grand master of fear-mongering, plucked and played to perfection. He hasn’t a clue on how to bring jobs back to the level they were in the pre-1980’s era. Making “America Great Again” is just a cheerleader’s chant to rile the crowds who understand their world is changing but have muddled views of those changes, thinking that multiculturalism and socialism lay at the heart of their woes.
It seems odd to me and people like Steve Neuman and Dr. Russell Moore that the warnings of Matthew 7:15 could have been missed by evangelicals who cast their vote for Trump. But it’s not so hard to grasp when you understand that Trump is merely the recipient of a movement that started long before he became a household name.
It goes back to the earliest formations of Christianity. When they were but a small minority and found themselves persecuted by the authorities the apostle Paul assured them that happiness was not to be found in this world so much. Theirs was another kingdom yet to come. They had been told to “be in the world, not of it”.
This sense of being only lasted a brief period however. By the 3rd century AD Christians were claiming more and more of the earth as their own. This other worldly thought likely became supplanted with the inherent notion of the great commission laid out in Matthew 28:16-20 as Christianity became the predominant faith of Western Europe and controlled vast swaths of land around the world and the people who inhabited them.
No longer compelled to disassociate themselves with the things of Caesar, centuries then followed that dictated they become Caesar, for the sake of God of course. But the Church’s control dwindled over time as their cruelty in the dark ages lost contact with the suffering Christ and support of slavery in colonial America was justified by holy scripture itself
Clearly there were conflicting values and when it became apparent that charity entailed sharing their earthly gains and that surely the world could no longer hate them as the Gospel of John suggested (John 15:19) since they now dominated large areas of that world, adding politics to the mix seemed only natural.
Followed by years of evangelicals like Falwell, Reed, Robertson, Swaggert, et al,who hastened the politicizing of the Christian faith, it was only a matter of time before conditions would become palatable to sleep with the enemy. Thinking that they could control the devil among us, those so-called Christians have sealed their own fate and taken many innocent victims with them. And perhaps even the democracy that has persevered so many years from the ever-present clutches of fascism and dictators where so many in the global community have found themselves living under today.
Please allow me to introduce myself
I’m a man of wealth and taste
I’ve been around for a long, long year
Stole many a man’s soul to waste
– Sympathy for the Devil, Rolling Stones