Lately I have made an effort to read articles & op-eds from those whose political and social views differ from my own. I often start with Drudge Report as it links to many news sites, most of which are right-leaning.
Last week Drudge grabbed my attention by promoting an article which suggested that Bible studies were becoming a frequent activity in the Trump White House. I had seen other stories indicating a Christian influence in the White House. Considering the overwhelming evangelical support of the Trump-Pence ticket, I thought it would be interesting to read the ongoing claims of Christian influence in the Trump administration.
If you follow my writings in the various outlets I publish, it will not be a surprise that I am no supporter of Donald Trump. I have frequently written against the claim that voting for Trump is a morally good choice or a biblical choice for Christians. Yet what I find interesting about the CBN article referenced above is how it seems to soothe the evangelical soul for the support of a man whose actions so often directly contradict the values spoken of in the Bible. As long as there are acts that seemingly correspond to what evangelical leadership says is acceptable, then the current administration will be titled “Christian.”
Religion in general, and evangelicalism in particular, has reduced faith to moralism – looking “good” and believing all the “right” things. Dualistic thinking, which divides our communities, runs rampant in our society. The Church is not spared from this form of thinking. You are either on the “right” side or the “wrong” side, and there is an ongoing battle for being “right.” The last several decades have shown us that the “Christian” way to vote is to align with the Republican party. While that trajectory itself might problematic, the dire turn was taken in the last 18 months – the support for Donald Trump, who in his sexist, racist, and xenophobic perspectives has somehow become the “Christian” choice due to supposedly Christian values and the promise of Christian affluence. As long as the right words are slipped in between countless egregious acts, then all is seems to be in order.
When faith is reduced to (supposedly) holding correct beliefs and performing correct actions, it becomes easy to excuse characteristics that are contrary to that of Christ. If Bible studies are attended, if prayer is offered, and if Christian leaders have a presence in the White House, then all of the vile actions committed by this president are ignored (notice, that the word forgiven was intentionally not used there).
There also lies a theological confusion that continues to muddle the minds of American Christians who support Trump. Love, as the Apostle Paul writes in one of his letters to the Corinthians, is the theological virtue that underlies each act. While good works may not constitute faith, good, loving works exemplify the true faith that one may have. President Trump has acted and continues to act in deviance to the message of Christ. Yet we have so settled ourselves in the dualistic understanding of supposedly Christian “rights” and “wrongs” that appearance is given far more weight that the substance of one’s character or the faith in which one professes. Quotes in the CBN article verify the sad reduction of Christian faith to mere appearances. It is said that “Mike Pence has respect for the office. He dresses right…,” Ralph Drollinger writes. Pence, despite his unwavering support of the vicious character that is President Trump is also compared to the Apostle Paul.
President Trump has violated nearly every Christian virtue that has ever been taught in our churches and Christian schools, yet the Christian support remains. Having pastors in the White House to take pictures with, and testify to, the president’s engagement with Bible studies soothes the evangelical conscience. It helps get us by. It’s time we admit that we, as Christians, have become the Pharisees we preach against. We are comfortable sitting back, determining what is right and wrong, and meanwhile excuse our behavior as we actively ignore Christ.
It’s past time that we as a Church, regardless of political bend, come together to recognize that we have misplaced our faith in our politics and that we have substituted Christ for figures that speak Christ’s name but do not embody Christ’s character. Right now the Church is not better than a person like Donald Trump. We’ve allowed ourselves to sink to his level. Thankfully there is a Gospel that we claim to know that can rescue us from our own shortcomings.
So when I see that the President prays with faith leaders in the White House, I personally pray that humility might fall on him, that empathy stirs in his heart, and that a sound conscience might become him. Yet I also pray for myself that in my opposition to the things he stands for in between his prayers that I myself do not succumb to a character similar to his. And that is my prayer for the Church as well.