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Donald Trump’s Racism and the Ongoing Evangelical Compromise

It’s sad and frustrating that people might reject the Church because of Trump, but I get it.
Donald Trump
(Gage SkidmoreCC BY-SA 3.0)

Jeffrey Overstreet pretty much sums up where I’m at with regards to not only Trump’s recent racist attacks on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez et al., but also the moral failure and fecklessness shown by the GOP and others within Trump’s circles. Which, sadly, includes a number of Christians who’ve chosen to defend and ally themselves with Trump’s cruelty and hate without any seeming thought for what that loyalty might cost the Church.

This morning, I heard from a close friend whose heart is breaking because she finds it too painful, too disillusioning, to attend her church anymore. It’s gotten to the point where the language she has shared with them feels meaningless. When those whom you thought of as “the church” embrace a man who has inspired a huge and powerful movement of men and women to rally around slogans that flagrantly contradict the central teachings of Jesus, what does it mean anymore to be part of “the body”? How does one worship in the midst of obvious hypocrisy, or sing praises to a God of love in a chorus with those who will turn around and throw stones at their neighbors minutes later, or who think that God’s love only extends to them?

This isn’t a case of “Well, it’s always this way: we’re all sinners, and any church is going to be imperfect, so grin and bear it.” This is a severe turn. I feel speechless when my students go out of their way to inform me that, for all of my references to Christian faith in the classroom, they want nothing to do with it because they’ve seen just how useless and contradictory Christianity has been in the communities where they grew up. This is happening more and more frequently. “My parents are Christian, but I’m not. I cannot support what the church in this country endorses.” One woman told me that she has never read the Bible, and, in fact, she’s made a promise to herself *not* to read it because she’s horrified at what it turns people into. And I get it. Why would they want to join a church that is embracing, more and more every day, a Nazi playbook?

It doesn’t shake my faith in Christ, who told us that many would come in his name and deceive many. He saved his strongest rebukes for religious hypocrites. He refused to make his mission into one of coercive political power. He told those who loved him best that their journey would not be one of worldly prosperity but of carrying crosses. It’s just particularly sickening when his name and vocabulary have been stolen and subverted by those who reject his exhortation to welcome refugees and immigrants and foreigners and the poor.

If you’re wondering about this post’s title, then consider what The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer writes (emphasis mine):

When Trump told these women to “go back,” he was not making a factual claim about where they were born. He was stating his ideological belief that American citizenship is fundamentally racial, that only white people can truly be citizens, and that people of color, immigrants in particular, are only conditionally American. This is a cornerstone of white nationalism, and one of the president’s few closely held ideological beliefs. It is a moral conviction, not a statement of fact. If these women could all trace their family line back to 1776, it would not make them more American than Trump, a descendant of German immigrants whose ancestors arrived relatively recently, because he is white and they are not.


Trump’s supporters offered feeble, incoherent attempts at defending his remarks. “Clearly it’s not a racist comment,” Representative Andy Harris of Maryland, a Republican, told a Baltimore radio station, according to The Washington Post. “He could have meant, Go back to the district they came from, to the neighborhood they came from.’ ” The Fox News personality Brit Hume argued that “Trump’s go back’ comments were nativist, xenophobic, counterfactual and politically stupid. But they simply do not meet the standard definition of racist, a word so recklessly flung around these days that its actual meaning is being lost.” A Trump-campaign official, Matt Wolking, declared on Twitter that “anyone who says the president told members of Congress to go back to where they came from is lying.”

These defenses are comical. The president clearly said “country” in his tweet telling the representatives to “go back”; the remark assumes that the citizenship of the representatives is conditional because of their ethnic backgrounds; and Wolking’s defense requires ignoring the president’s own words. But self-deceit is, in a sense, necessary for the president’s advocates: To reconcile the America they say they believe in with the one they actually do believe in, they cannot be honest with themselves about what the president actually said.

What’s particularly alarming is the extent to which so many self-proclaiming Christians have thrown in their lot with Trump, and in the process, rejected moral principles that they once proudly, and even defiantly claimed. Writes Peter Wehner:

There’s a very high cost to our politics for celebrating the Trump style, but what is most personally painful to me as a person of the Christian faith is the cost to the Christian witness. Nonchalantly jettisoning the ethic of Jesus in favor of a political leader who embraces the ethic of Thrasymachus and Nietzsche — might makes right, the strong should rule over the weak, justice has no intrinsic worth, moral values are socially constructed and subjective — is troubling enough.

But there is also the undeniable hypocrisy of people who once made moral character, and especially sexual fidelity, central to their political calculus and who are now embracing a man of boundless corruptions. Don’t forget: Trump was essentially named an unindicted co-conspirator (“Individual 1″) in a scheme to make hush-money payments to a porn star who alleged she’d had an affair with him while he was married to his third wife, who had just given birth to their son.

Many American Christians are concerned about the current cultural zeitgeist, and what that means for the Church — and I share some of those concerns. I certainly worry about the Church’s future and its ability to speak prophetically and preach the Gospel of Christ to a hurting world. But though it might face external threats in the form of secular culture, progressive elites, and other evangelical boogeyman, it’s equally threatened by the unchecked hypocrisy and pursuit of worldly power lurking within its walls.

Put another way, when I read anecdotes like the ones shared by Overstreet — of students rejecting their parents’ faith, of people refusing to read the Bible because they’re afraid that it’ll warp them — I may be sad and frustrated, but I get it. In Trump, we have a man who, among other things:

When you consider that so many self-described followers of Christ tout their adherence to traditional and family values even as they ally themselves with a man who basically encourages the basest human impulses in both himself and his followers, is it any surprise that people want nothing to do with Christianity? Is it any wonder that people are abandoning the faith of their parents? As Overstreet puts it so bluntly, “Why would they want to join a church that is embracing, more and more every day, a Nazi playbook?”

Trump represents the sort of behavior that decent human beings ought to reject, and yet, those claiming to have the highest moral principles unashamedly embrace and defend the man. The cognitive dissonance is enough to induce migraines but it’s the spiritual dissonance that truly leaves me feeling sick and exhausted. I’m heartsick to see:

  • People that were once held up as exemplars of the faith (e.g., James Dobson) become mere mouthpieces for the Trump campaign and its cruelty
  • People who pilloried Bill Clinton for his sexual misdeeds and claimed that he disgraced the entire nation fall over themselves to give Trump a “mulligan” for his own sexual sins
  • Religious leaders with influence over thousands of people officiate disturbing marriages of the Church and nationalism, further conflating the Church of Christ with a worldly kingdom
  • Religious leaders tossing discernment out the window simply because Trump supports their political goals
  • People who profess faith in Christ and wail in protest when their religious liberties feel threatened completely turn a blind eye to the most basic Biblical precepts of justice, mercy, and faithfulness

I’m exhausted by the daily onslaught of Trump’s shameless behavior, the GOP’s feckless responses, and the Church’s moral and spiritual compromise. Those first two are the most obvious, but it’s that last one that hurts the deepest — a long, dull ache.

As a youth group kid, I was often taught that the world will hate us Christians for our beliefs (1 John 3:13), but that we should understand that hate as a result of our devotion to Christ (John 15:18 – 21). But we’re fast reaching the point — if we’re not there already — where, if the world hates the Church, it’ll be our own fault, and all because we sought the sort of earthly power we’re supposed to reject, or at least view with deep skepticism.

We’ll have all the political gains that we could possibly want, and all it will have cost us is our souls.

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