Evangelicalism’s Trump Problem

A recent article from the Washington Post reveals that 14% of evangelicals have left their church community after the election of Donald Trump. This blow to church attendance and membership may, in fact, grow if the Church continues to pledge allegiance to Republican power.

It would be unfair and untrue to suggest that politics do not impact the religious and spiritual lives of those who consider themselves religious (in this case, Christian). I have found myself in religious communities that largely lean progressive on social issues. I find this neither wrong or misguided. Political influence has historically been entrenched in the Church. Yet Christians find themselves in uncharted waters in a time where a novice celebrity with a heightened narcissistic personality finds himself occupying the most powerful office in the world.

The statistics regarding evangelical support of Trump (81% at the time of the election), and the subsequent statistic of those who have since left the their local church, lies not in political affiliation itself, but the vivid hypocrisy of the Church on moral issues.

Evangelical community has made its supposed moral virtues its mission statement and motto. The Church’s stance on sexual ethics have included not having premarital or extramarital sex, sex only with a spouse of the opposite sex, and the forbidding of any lewd activities including the use of pornography or the degradation of women. Entire organizations have assisted the Church of ensuring that this morality be followed, including the prominence of “true love waits” organizations for teenagers (the results of which are statistically unsuccessful and shame-inducing, but that’s for another post).

All this might be fine an well, but as evidenced by last November’s election, the Church is readily willing and able to abandon its fundamental and essential virtues if it is beneficial to keeping its power and status. Thomas Merton, inspired by the writings and life of theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, writes that “The peculiar evil of our time…is sought not in the sins of the good, but in the apparent virtues of the evil” (Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, 65-66). The Church is playing hide-and-seek with Donald Trump in a vain attempt to find elements of supposed goodness in a man who has little interest in the historical theological and moral virtues.

Trump is one who cannot hide his past vices. In fact, he seems to get a thrill off showcasing how lavish his life has been. Trump’s life has not been short of sexual escapades. The now infamous Billy Bush tapes reveal a man who not only preys on women, but who brags about his ability to get away with it because he is famous and possesses wealth and power. In all my life, I will never understand how evangelicals, who I have spent the majority of my life around, could support this man.

Donald Trump is evangelicalism’s problem. The Church has received a steadying course since Trump’s election, and likely will maintain a renewed sense of social power during Trump’s presidency. Yet in the long term I cannot help but see the evangelical Church lose its prominence and power.As subtle as the Church has been, as indirect as I have seen some pastors and major leaders be, the world has seen the Church’s hypocrisy regarding Donald Trump. Evangelicals have turned their back on the Beatitudes by supporting a man who has publicly shown distain and violence for women, refugees, and the poor and sick.

To again quote Merton, “Beware of the temptation to refuse love, to reject love, for ostensibly ‘spiritual motives’. Consider the awful sterility of those, claiming to love God, have in reality dispensed themselves from all obligations to love anyone, and have remained inert and stunted in a little circle of abstract, petty concerns involving themselves.”

I applaud the 14% who have left evangelical churches since the election of Trump. I’m proud to be one of them. I anticipate that this is only the beginning. As sad as this state may be, I’m excited by the possibility of what the future of spirituality holds.

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