What Christians around the world get that American Christians don’t

If you reacted immediately to the title of this blog, I hear you. I admit that I openly engaged in clickbait to get you here. But now that you’re here, let’s talk for a few minutes. This is not a post about bashing Trump supporters. Rather, to those who feel a longing inside them for America to become great again, I would like to take a few minutes to consider the views of evangelical leaders around the world on the subject of president-elect Trump:

Jim Memory (UK): “Like Brexit, Trump´s victory is a symptom of a country that is not at ease with itself. And it is so much easier to blame your problems on the ‘others’ and look for a popular saviour to lead you forward than it is to engage honest self-examination.”

Jiri Unger (CZ): “White Evangelical Christians who largely supported Trump should be very careful about their hopes in one-man solutions in regards to deeper cultural trajectories that are not going to be changed easily.”

Jaume Llenas (ES): “The kinds of responses we’re giving to the problems we’re faced with demonstrate the values that define us. In moments of crisis, both individuals and societies react with what we bear inside…When we cast aside the moral values intrinsic to Christianity without substituting them with something else, we open ourselves up to darkness. Confronted with problems, we become fearful. And we look for an earthly savior who can quickly solve the problem.”

philip-montgomery-tny
Photo: Philip Montgomery for The New Yorker

There are many troubling elements to the Trump victory, and many of them come down to the fact that not all Americans agree on a few basic definitions. We define “racist,” for example, along a spectrum that ranges from “people who think lynching African-Americans is acceptable” to “people who have an implicit bias against people of other races,” and where you fall on that spectrum has very serious implications as to how you’ll react to racially driven issues. The same is true of sexism. The fact evangelical women have been among the most consistent voices diminishing the implications of Trump’s violence against women is testament to the fact many women are not even aware of the way our culture views us. I could go on and on, but I’ve talked about all of this before. Where we stand, now, is that these issues of definition are no longer just polarizing. These are issues of worldview, which goes much deeper than political affiliation.

The degree to which reality selection is dividing our country is has grown bigger and bigger over the course of this presidential campaign, accelerating in a way that may rival the Civil Rights era in lasting importance. The problem is not lack of information, either: in fact, studies have shown that the more facts a person receives about a polarizing issue, the more entrenched they become in the positions they already held. The problem for Christians is much more sinister. The problem is that, as a whole, we consume more media than we do Scripture—and then we entrench our worldviews by surrounding ourselves solely with information that confirms what we already believed. Sunday morning at 11:00 a.m. is the most segregated hour in America. Nearly 75% of white Americans report that they have no close friends of other ethnicities. 77% of the average Facebook user’s friends share their same political ideology. About 65% of people, both men and women, prefer male bosses, though the percentage skews higher for men. I don’t need to tell you that we, on a whole, prefer not to be challenged by realities that make us uncomfortable. The problem is the way we react to them: with fear, with anger, with vitriol, with divisions of “us” versus “them.” And there is no greater culprit of this today than American evangelical Christianity.

The reality is this: most evangelical Christians are not, as a whole, “worse” than any other group of people. Generally speaking, most large cross-sections of humanity are predominantly made up of reasonable people who are generally good citizens. That is a reality that everyone shouting at each other needs to acknowledge. Where we go wrong as Christians is in that age-old thing our Savior was so adamantly against: placing our hope in anything but him. Absent any other information, the behavior of American evangelicals suggests the heralding of Donald Trump as a savior. There are other underlying frustrations unrelated to religion at work, of course. But those underlying frustrations have, in many cases, overtaken the more important tasks of loving our neighbors, showing hospitality to foreigners, and caring for the least of these—the issues on which the character of our faith is judged.

I said at the beginning that this is is not a post about bashing Trump supporters. I’ll be honest, though: I wanted to. I mentioned in my last post that I wasn’t angry yet. Now, not only am I angry, but I am now faced with having to privately forgive everyone I know who voted for Trump. I am extremely angry. As a survivor both of gang rape and rape by a boyfriend, I know exactly what it feels like to be grabbed by the genitals by a man who didn’t ask permission. And as a political scientist, I cannot look at this man independently of history. The fact Eric Metaxas, of all people, defended him so consistently is deeply troubling. The fact my friends and family did feels like betrayal, even though I know it wasn’t personal.

But the most troubling thing about Trump is not his commentary about women, minorities, or others. It isn’t his tendency to tweet storm at 3 am. It isn’t even the Putinesque team of cronies he is currently assembling as his cabinet, a prospect which includes such possibilities as Newt Gingrich as Secretary of State. All of these things are deeply problematic, but his greatest failing is much more sinister. The most troubling thing about Trump is his flagrant, unrepentant narcissism. It is that of a playground bully who cannot take criticism, but it is also that of a man who could be mocked at a State Dinner eight years ago and immediately begin strategizing how to get back at them. The ultimate pinnacle of greatness, the presidency, would prove them wrong. If Trump’s supporters, particularly Christians, cannot recognize this about him, then you have been deceived. You have been used. You have been co-opted, just like the Republican Party. He cares no more about you than he does a tree frog. You are a tool for his self-aggrandizement. And if you believed anything else, I believe you’re about to be let down profoundly. This is not about the interests of the American public, and it never was.

This country has not seen an hour this dark in a generation. I strongly caution those who celebrate his victory now to do so soberly, conscious of the potential for him not to be who he says he is. Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. That’s all I say. For the empire of this country has been collapsing for many years. And to the rest of the world, the shining city on a hill is being extinguished.

 

Sources:

Joel Forster, Evangelical Focus

Jaume Llenas, Protestante Digital (link in Spanish)

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