Church Of Trumpianity
Thanks for your patience yesterday with me being on the road all day to Texas. I wrote a Substack newsletter post about a book I listened to on the drive over. There is also a Buc-ee’s photo. I’ll be writing that newsletter for free for a couple of more weeks, but expect to go to a paid model by year’s end. Why don’t you check it out now to see if it’s for you?
I was away from the keys almost all day, but did receive some texts over the long drive, from conservative Christian friends. There’s a lot of genuine shock over how fiercely their own friends are attacking them for not being aboard the Trump Train these days. No doubt about it, cancel culture is no longer just a left-wing thing. I’m hearing from conservatives who are reluctant to mention around their conservative friends that Trump should suck it up and move on, for the good of the country and of the Republican Party. This should be an ordinary opinion about which conservatives are capable of discussing. Maybe the “suck it up, move right along” conservatives (I am one) are wrong about this, but there’s an argument to be had over it. So many of the Trump Lost Causers are enraged at what they consider to be treason to the man, and are acting like Social Justice Warriors do when somebody suggests that hey, maybe white supremacy doesn’t explain everything.
A reader sent this powerful piece from
Presbyterian Reformed Anglican United Reformed theologian Michael Horton, slamming the theology behind the Jericho March. It’s useful for me, as I don’t have a strong grasp on the ideas and factionalism among Evangelicals and Pentecostals. In the Cult of Christian Trumpism, Horton writes:
Idolatry has taken precedence over theology.
At the same time, there is a theological heart to Christian Trumpism. Please note that I am not talking about voting for President Trump or one’s appraisal of the election’s outcome. Equally sincere Christians may be divided over these matters, which is why the Lord gave us Christian freedom to vote our conscience. Further, I’ve said quite a lot over the past several decades in criticism of those on the left (as well as the right) for trying to make Jesus a mascot in the culture wars. My public calling is not to bind Christian consciences to my own political positions.
Rather, as a minister of the Word, I am joining others in sounding the alarm that a line has been crossed into rank spiritual adultery.
What we’re witnessing on the national stage right now is disgraceful. In fact, the only word for it is blasphemy––the sacrilege not of secularists marching on Washington to take away religious freedom but of evangelicals marching on Washington to perpetuate a cult. We might have ignored this as a spectacle, a performance by a handful of voices in opposition to the Constitutional system of our republic. But I feel conscience-bound as a minister of the Word to warn against what can only be considered a heresy—indeed, a cult within a certain segment of evangelicalism. It has arisen over many decades and will no doubt be around for many more to come.
While worrying about secularists outside, many of us have failed to reckon with the secularization right under our noses, as the rich cuisine of biblical faith is traded for a mess of pop-culture stew. This idolatry inhibits the church’s work of evangelism in myriad ways.
Internally, it turns the saving gospel into worldly power; externally, the hypocrisy of some evangelicals has been exposed to a cynical and watching world. “You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, ‘The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you’” (Rom. 2:23–24).
I don’t know the demographic size of this movement, but it seems to represent the confluence of three trends that have seethed independently until converging, especially in the neo-Pentecostal movement that traditionally has not been identified with evangelicalism per se. These three trends are (1) Christian Americanism, (2) end-times conspiracy, and (3) the prosperity gospel.
Read it all. It’s important.
On the Catholic side, John Jalsevac worries about the syncretism of Trump’s personality cult with Christianity. (And by the way, Catholic readers, if you missed the super-weird event of Italian archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano addressing the Jericho March crowd by video, urging them to support “our president,” Donald Trump, watch his message here.)
Jalsevac begins by saying that a guy he knew in college wrote him to chide him for failing to be publicly faithful to the Gospel. Why? Jalsevac had tweeted out warnings to check the facts against Trump claims of election fraud. More:
It is now routine to hear conservative religious leaders justify their absolute certainty that Trump won – or will win – the election with some version of the assertion that “God’s hand is on him.”
As Eric Metaxas put it in a recent cringe-worthy telephone conversation with Trump, referring specifically to his legal bid to overturn the election result, “I’d be happy to die in this fight. This is a fight for everything. God is with us. Jesus is with us in this fight for liberty.”
Setting aside the stench of prosperity theology present in the suggestion that God’s favor necessarily translates into political victory, what disturbs me most about these kinds of assertions is the speaker’s conviction that somehow he has direct access to knowledge of God’s will, and that God’s will just happens to coincide with his political loyalties.
As far as I can see, the practical effect of this often starkly apocalyptic language has not been to inaugurate some new era of authentic Christian spirituality in the public square, producing in abundance repentance and the fruits of the Holy Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, etc.).
On the contrary, too often the effect has been to inaugurate a cult of personality characterized by anxiety, fear and anger, in the process devastating the foundations of discernment, leaving credulous Christians defenseless against the claims of every spiritual and political charlatan who is on the “right side” – starting with Trump himself.
After all, if God’s messengers have prophesied that Trump will win the 2020 election, then to doubt that Trump did win the 2020 election means that you doubt God. And any “facts” you run across that undermine your faith in Trump’s victory must be mistrusted as diabolical deceptions.
Or, if Trump is made in the mold of King David, and if King David could save Israel despite being a terrible sinner, any concerns you have about Trump’s character must be dismissed with a wave of the hand as scrupulous handwringing, unhelpful distractions at a time when what we need are single-minded warriors.
Or, if demons are literally behind voter fraud, then to doubt or even to raise questions about the legitimacy of many of Team Trump’s fraud allegations is to fall for the deception of demons.
And so on.
Within this eschatological view of politics, truth claims are no longer approached as facts to be adjudicated by applying old-fashioned rules of logic and evidence, but rather as tests of loyalty – spiritual loyalty. This produces, in the end, a kind of intellectual and spiritual blackmail: i.e. if you doubt or even question this specific truth claim, it must because you are not, in the end, a very good Christian.
Jalsevac goes on:
Within the dualistic Manichean cosmos, there are no shades of grey. Grey is the color of cowards who have not yet chosen a side.
This is a grave mistake. Good and evil are at work in this world. However, any kind of A-to-A application of the supernatural eschatological language that applies unqualifiedly to the realm of principalities and powers to the messy and mixed contingencies of time-bound politics is fraught with danger and potential for delusion.
I have already alluded to two of the troubling consequences of this error: Firstly, that it makes it impossible to investigate and evaluate facts, because the truth test is instead replaced with the loyalty test – i.e. the question to ask is not, “is this fact true,” but rather, “does it support our side?” If the answer to the second question is “yes”, then the fact must be true.
And secondly, by eradicating any meaningful distinction between our spiritual and political concerns, it leaves us exposed to spiritual hucksters who will happily hijack our profoundest spiritual impulses to advance their political aims.
Read it all. It’s so good! Jalsevac speaks directly of one of my great fears in this moment: that having made an idol of Trump, and pouring all their energy into defending the temple of this idol, Christian conservatives (and other conservatives) are destroying the capacity of political conservatism to build effective resistance to whatever the Biden administration is planning, and making it impossible for credible next-generation leadership to arise in the GOP, to build on the good things that Trump did. If Trump hangs around attempting to build a 2024 campaign, or at least to destroy any rising Republican who doesn’t bow low towards him, the Republican Party will be destroyed. People inside the Trump bubble, possessed by a spirit of Trumpism, cannot see how crazy this all looks to people — even conservatives, even non-Never Trump conservatives! — outside the bounds of the Trump faithful.
If Donald Trump is symbolically on the ballot in 2022, or symbolically (and literally) on the ballot in 2024, we are going to see a GOP wipeout of epic proportions. I talked to a close Christian friend after Election Day, and found out that she voted for Biden. I know her to be pro-life, and very conservative. This might have been the first Democrat she ever voted for in a national election. I asked her why. “I want him gone,” she said — meaning Trump. Me, I didn’t vote like that. I did not vote for Biden, and was sorry that Biden won. But given the way Trump has behaved since the election, and the effect this has had not only on prospects for conservatives, but also on churches and friendships dear to me, yeah, I want him gone too.
UPDATE: This is an interesting thread: