The Rise of Trump – the Fall of Evangelicalism     

If you had asked me three months ago what the greatest threat to evangelicalism is, I might have said the evangelical Left. For the past decade, I have been dismayed as more and more professed evangelicals have abandoned biblical orthodoxy and have embraced gay marriage, socialism and recently – the notion that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.

These pose very real threats, undermining the integrity of the church and its witness to a lost and dying world. But now, evangelicalism has an equally pernicious foe — the Trumpian, evangelical Right.

At first, I couldn’t believe the news reports. Donald Trump could not possibly be the choice of the Religious Right. How could a man who flaunts his moral indiscretions, uses foul language, insults the handicapped, and praises Planned Parenthood become the darling of evangelical voters? Add to this the fact that Trump openly advocated murdering the family members of terrorists. And, when challenged on whether the military would follow his murderous and illegal order, Trump responded: “They won’t refuse. They’re not gonna refuse me.”

I admit, I am ashamed and embarrassed by my own tribe. And, I am grieved.

Not only is Trump crude, brash, immoral and proud. He has zero respect for the rule of law and talks like some Third World Dictator, not the leader of the free world. Surely, I assured myself, the exit polls must be wrong. And, to some extent they were.

As a Religion News Service article explained, exit polls lump marginal evangelicals and devout evangelicals together because they usually ask only one question about religion. When pollsters have asked additional questions, though, it becomes clear that Trump’s support is not nearly as strong among devout evangelicals as it is among nominal ones. In Missouri, for example, only 30%-33% of Christians who attend church one or more times a week voted for Trump, compared to 46% of all evangelicals.

Still, one-third is a sizeable number. Plus, it’s not just the anonymous evangelical masses who are supporting Trump. Liberty University President Jerry Fallwell, Jr., endorsed him, too, claiming Trump’s indiscretions weren’t any worse than King David’s, and arguing that we’re electing a president, not a pastor. (Of course, King David repented of his sin, but Trump said he doesn’t feel a need to ask God for forgiveness.)

Ben Carson, a man widely respected for his sincere Christian beliefs, has endorsed Trump too, though somewhat begrudgingly. And, just recently, the Trump campaign hired Sarah Huckabee, Mike Huckabee’s daughter, as a senior advisor, sparking rumors that her father, a former pastor, may soon endorse Trump.

Though deep divisions already existed between the evangelical Right and and the Left, now deep fractures are also forming between #AnyoneButTrump evangelicals and #Trump2016 evangelicals. This week, the Washington Post ran an article on how “Donald Trump is tearing evangelicals apart.” The article included testimony from an evangelical pastor who said he receives calls every day from distressed pastors whose congregations are divided over the controversial candidate. Some Trump supporters reportedly have even threatened to leave their churches if their pastors dare to preach anything against him.

“The word ‘evangelical’ has become almost meaningless this year, and in many ways the word itself is at the moment subverting the gospel of Jesus Christ.” — Russell Moore

Trump has also pitted evangelical leaders against each other. When Falwell first announced his support for Trump, Southern Baptist leader, Russell Moore, called the endorsement “absolutely unbelievable” and tweeted: “Trading in the Gospel of Jesus Christ for political power is not liberty but slavery.” This week, Moore even admitted that “this election makes me hate the word ‘evangelical.’” “The word ‘evangelical’ has become almost meaningless this year,” Moore said, “and in many ways the word itself is at the moment subverting the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Moore is right. For years, I have defended conservative evangelicals against accusations from the Left that we care more about preserving power than advancing the gospel. I have argued that we support pro-life candidates because we love the unborn; we defend traditional marriage because it leads to human flourishing; and we advocate for limited government because it respects the dignity and agency of human beings created in God’s image. We are not the ugly stereotype. We are compassionate conservatives.

I still believe these are the core convictions of many of my devout, evangelical brothers and sisters. But clearly, not all. I admit, I am ashamed and embarrassed by my own tribe. And, I am grieved.

Recently, Denny Burke, a pastor and professor of biblical studies at Boyce College, wrote about his experience attending a Trump rally. Burke said repeatedly Trump berated protestors from the stage, turning a tense situation into a potentially dangerous one. “Probably my main take-away from listening to (Trump) in person was his ability to stoke anger and outrage,” Burke wrote. “The people he appeals to are frustrated with their government. They are frustrated with jobs being shipped overseas. And they are frustrated with a sense that the political elite don’t listen to them. He knows how to stoke that frustration into a blazing rage, and that is what he does at his rallies.” 

I understand Trump followers’ anger. Much of it is legitimate — and there’s certainly a part of me that would like to stick it to the establishment too. But, every demagogue that has ever risen to power has done so riding a wave of legitimate rage and discontent, from Stalin to Mussolini and yes— Hitler.

For those on the Right and the Left, our faith has succumbed to politics. We are no longer serving Christ; we are serving idols.

As Christians, though, we normally distinguish between the means and the end. Though we may agree with the end of a political movement, we refuse to engage in any sinful means of achieving that end. Yet, as Trump rallies have turned violent and even racist, his evangelical support has not waned. As he warns (incites?) of riots if he’s denied the nomination, Christians rattle their sabers with the rest of Trump’s thugs.

Truly, Trump’s Christian supporters seem to be just like his godless ones, proving Trump’s boast, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” Little does he or his supporters seem to realize that that isn’t an endorsement of Trump’s movement, but an indictment.

So, this is what evangelicalism has become. On the Left, we are abandoning orthodoxy for gay rights and solidarity with other religions. And on the right, we are an angry mob, overlooking sin and vice for the sake of our righteous indignation. For those on the Right and the Left, our faith has succumbed to politics. We are no longer serving Christ; we are serving idols. And, our big tent, once a haven for so many seeking salvation, is now ripping at the seams. If we continue as we are now, I fear there will soon be nothing left except shreds of cloth and vestiges of the gospel.

 

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35 thoughts on “The Rise of Trump – the Fall of Evangelicalism     

  1. Jack C

    The author of this article made some good points, but the fact that we are talking about “racist” followers and comparisons to Hitler make me think this is just another paid shill whole job it is to bring down Trump. Yawn….- the “racist” card is so overly used that anyone who uses it immediately gives away their leftist ideals. The fact that right has to drag it out and start using it now too, in my opinion, is an act of desperation. The comparisons to a dictator? Come on, can be we serious?

    Again, I don’t intend to make this personal, so if this really is a real person writing this blog and not some paid shill, please accept my apologies. If this really is a real person who really believes these media-manipulated memes, I am saddened that they fell for it.

  2. Jack C

    I had a chance to look at this person’s website and the author does appear to be a real person. More than likely, there are many, many things we would agree on. My purpose is not to get personal, but simply to disagree in a kind, genteel way. I am truly saddened that this author and so many conservatives are against the only candidate who has even a hint of conservatism.

  3. John Theokous

    I have been born again for 50 years and do more evangelization than any other christian I’ve encountered. I voted for Trump. The “derision” of this author is a sin. She doesn’t note that
    Trump apologized for many of his indisretions. For instance he retracted that comment about breaking the Geneva convention. Etc etc. The author intentionally fails to note the fact that he recanted many of his past sins. He lived in NYCity. If you don’t support some
    liberalism there, they murder you in the media. Trump is far more Christian than any other
    candidate out there.

  4. Mary

    Amen.

  5. Mary

    I agree with your thoughtful comments, Jack C and John Theokous . Thank you!

  6. Reta

    The fall of Evangelicalism?? You might want to re-think using the downfall of God. Being an Evangelical is serving Jesus Christ our God and Savior. God is in full control and He uses many people in life. I see this article as a desperate attempt to get the Christian vote. Just my view.

  7. Bot kleb

    Trump trump trump!!!!!

  8. Julie, thanks for your thoughts on this, I plan on reflecting and reassessing my cautious “support” of Trump. My “support” is not unqualified or blind, I am certainly aware of his shortcomings. My heart actually belongs to another candidate but as November approaches, the choice appears to be between Trump and Clinton. This not the choice I would have preferred but the choice, nevertheless it may be the choice upon which I seek to be faithful. Not an easy or obvious choice.

    I hope that any future assessment of Trump and the evangelical connection to him would also address the nuances of being faithful with less than idealistic choices. Thanks.

  9. Just finished reading Julie’s blog “Rise of Trump…..” from March 17. And, also read with interest the comments made to date. I too, am astonished after the numerous debates, media interviews & written articles and “endorsements” from a variety of christian leaders, to back Donald Trump. Before I go further, I want to clarify to the partially negative comments I read here – Moody Bible Institute holds the highest stands for capturing Christian Truth, this side of Heaven. I have been listing to Moody Radio since 1984 and the biblical teaching found here (my opinion) is second to none. Their programing captures Biblical Truth, that I believe makes Jesus smile, broadly!
    I found this blog to be “Spot On” (in the words of Janet Parshall), in capturing how I feel about the state of the “Evangelical Christian” in our country today, as well as her assessment on Mr. Trump. If one really takes their faith seriously, and is a fervent follower of Christ – then you can’t dismiss the iconic evangelical direction our nation is taking today.

  10. Alex

    Truth hurts sometimes. I love it regardless. When you have to choose the lesser evil it makes you unhappy with either decision.

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