Evangelical hypocrisy and the age of Trump


Wednesday, April 17, 2019

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I met someone recently who affirmed what a seemingly great number of the members of the evangelical community believe: Donald Trump is divinely appointed as president of the United States. I managed to contain my disgust at yet another mention of what I believe to be an outrage, but nonetheless entered into a conversation with the person with the hope of enlightening the narrative concerning the political impartiality of God.

As we talked the person grew silent, but I am not sure I convinced her that Trump is not divinely appointed by God. She is a member of a community that believes that God plays a direct role in setting up and taking down leaders and kingdoms. I wonder what role God had in the rise of Adolf Hitler to power.

This is a narrative that has gained ascendancy in the evangelical community. Only last week the debate picked up some steam with the president's press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, parroting the belief. It has become a standard fare for his vice-president, Mike Pence — who presidential contender Pete Buttigieg describes as the “cheerleader of the porn star president”. As the presidential elections pick up steam, I expect this belief to grow.

It is a danger in any society, given to democratic governance, to believe that any political leader is divinely appointed. If a leader truly believes that out of a group of like mortals God singled him out to be the leader, then one should not be surprised if that person begins to behave as less than mortal — if he or she takes on narcissistic and dictatorial tendencies as he assumes a vaunted belief in his own abilities. The notion becomes even more concerning when applied to someone who demonstrates the proclivities of a Donald Trump.

Trump, probably, has been completely sold on this narrative of his divine appointment. Is this why he is arrogating to himself powers that are not guaranteed him by the constitution; that he can behave in ungentlemanly ways and expect not to addressed on it; that he can use the pardon powers of the presidency to his own political if not economic benefits; that he can stretch the boundaries of the presidency in unprecedented ways without any sense of moral restraint regarding the things he says or does simply because he can?

If there is ever a person to whom divine proportions should not be ascribed it is Trump. It feeds the basest elements of his nature that have been on display since he became president. If it persists, it may yet lead to the committal of acts that may even surprise him.

Of course, one cannot know the contents of a man's heart, but one can judge him by his actions and, in Trump's case, the application of his policies in office. In the area of immigration, we have seen that his policies, especially on the Southern border with Mexico, have been extremely inhumane. The separation of children from their parents has been especially galling. And Trump does not believe that he has been tough enough. Expect his rhetoric in coming days to be more heated and his invectives against these brown immigrants to be more pronounced.

Yet, in the face of all the excesses of Trump's presidency, evangelicals either defend his actions and statements — or at any rate keep silent in the face of some of the most egregious manifestations of his behaviour. Why is it that they keep silent and continue to support him in light of his penchant for lying, and the ways in which he has brought the presidency into disrepute?

I do not know in which God evangelicals believe. If it is God who has come to us through the pages of the Old and New Testaments, as a God of justice and love who is impartial in his dealings with his creation and has a deep and abiding interest in the least of these (the despised, broken-hearted, cast out, and marginalised), then I cannot see them defending Trump.

If it is the God who demonstrates divine compassion for the poor and oppressed and sets at liberty those who are bound, then I cannot see them defending Trump. What one finds in the age of Trump is that there are those in the Republican Party who are willing to suspend their moral sensibilities as long as Trump is willing to serve their interests in enacting policies they believe in.

If the God of the Bible is the kind who endorses the worst excesses of Trump, then I will have to revise my assessment of him as one worthy of my obedience and worship. A man who worships at the altar of self and is all about self-glory, who thinks of himself more highly than he ought, and believes himself at all times to be the brightest person in a room, clearly does not manifest the Christian virtues of self-giving and love that Jesus supports. A man who consistently demonstrates a bigoted narcissism and worships at the feet of Mammon (god of money), and whose transactional instincts are all about creating more and more wealth for himself and those closest to him, is a man who is bereft of the kind of humility which is at the core of the Christian message. A man who insults the dead (John McCain), mocks the disabled, and hurls epithets at his perceived enemies is one who does not possess the tenderness of the love ethic at the core of his being. He is a man who demonstrates a lack of concern for those who suffer.

Trump is not a god, although he may believe himself to be. There are those who may give him fillip to think so, by giving him the kind of obeisance that Caesar demanded of his subjects at the time of Christ. But he is just a hunk of clay as any other human being. There is a bifurcation of God that is at the core of American evangelicalism. It will support the powers that be on the assumption that it is God who sets up and takes down kingdoms, yet it will remain ambivalent and mute in the face of reckless behaviour that threatens the very existence of the state. It will speak of love for neighbour while at the same time hurl invectives at those who do not support the views which they believe to be sacrosanct. They will decry materialism while at the same time preach a prosperity gospel of God's faithfulness in blessing them materially. They will decry the immoral behaviour of people while at the same time turning a blind eye to a president who brags about adulterous affairs and what men can do to women's private parts. And I could go on and on.

It must be made clear that evangelical hypocrisy in the age of Trump is not itself a commentary on the soundness of the gospel message. This message remains inviolate for it is not of man. It is more an indictment of the proclaimers of the message through corrupt channels of communication. It is this corruption of the message why many people are withdrawing support from the Church and religion in general.

In a recent survey reported by CNN, it was found that there are as many Americans who claim no religion — called “religious nones” — as there are evangelicals and Catholics. This trend began in the early 1990s and has grown over 266 per cent since 1991, the survey revealed. The trend is set to increase and will be helped by evangelical ambivalence to the present occupant of the White House.

Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest and social commentator. Send comments to the Observer or

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