Evangelicals & Seduction

By Stephen Best

How is it possible that the majority of white US evangelicals were seduced into Trump’s dangerous political schemes?  How is it possible for so many of their leaders to have encouraged their followers to trust his lies, and enable his malicious and criminal behaviour?  How is it possible that they now share the responsibility in encouraging racism, division, and sedition within the USA?

For at least 60 years, evangelicals throughout the world have appreciated the contribution and leadership that the US has brought to the global work of God.  Yet today, because of their complicity in Trumpism, that testimony and leadership is for the most part unreliable, if not negligent going forward.

If we are honest most Christians outside the USA have found the US brand of Evangelicalism a bit different to begin with.  And that’s mostly due to it’s interweaving of God and country.

The blending of God and country best explains evangelical’s Patriotism, and their subtle relationship with Christian Nationalism.  Christian Nationalism is something rarely imagined let alone understood in other countries.  Nonetheless it is an influential factor within American Christianity and politics, and can happen anywhere.

Expectations Of A Christian Society

Historically the USA has flirted with the concept of ‘Manifest Destiny’.  New York City journalist John Louis O’Sullivan first used the term in 1845.  In reference to annexing Texas, O’Sullivan said it was ‘America’s destiny or mission to expand its influence across all of North America’.  This ideology would find support and later influence America’s wars with Mexico and the Indians, and their expansion into Alaska.  Some think that parts of ‘Manifest Destiny’, particularly concerning the mission of promoting and defending democracy throughout the world, continues to bias American ideology and politics.[1]

With ‘Manifest Destiny’ in the mix, we add to the American vision the fascination with the ‘New Jerusalem’.  The early Puritans left for America with the sense of being an oppressed people.  Nevertheless, while crossing the Atlantic Ocean, John Winthrop gave a sermon that would cause the Puritans to envision themselves differently.  He spoke these words aboard the ‘Arbella’,

“The eyes of the world will be upon us. We are as a city upon a hill, raised up. You may think we’re in the howling wilderness. You may think we’re out beyond the farthest beyond. But in fact, God’s providence is such that as the latter days begin to unfold, this may indeed be the city, the new Jerusalem that’s unfolding before not only our eyes but the eyes of the world.”[2]

Upon arrival in America, the Puritans aimed to build the Kingdom of God or their version of a Christian society.  It would be a blending of religion and politics. 

‘Manifest Destiny ‘ and ‘New Jerusalem’ have meaningfully influenced a nation, and a growing ideology that is now described as Christian Nationalism.  Paul D Miller describes this system of belief this way,

Christian nationalism is a political ideology about American identity … It idealizes and advocates a fusion of Christianity with American civic life … Christian nationalism believes that the American nation is defined by Christianity and that the government should take steps to keep it that way to sustain and maintain our Christian heritage. It’s not merely an observation about American history. It is a prescription for what America should do in the future … (to) sustain and continue our identity as a Christian nation.[3]

Christian Nationalism is considered to be a collection of cultural myths, traditions, religion, and historical interpretations.  It uses religious symbols and language to invent a spiritual narrative that serves a national political agenda.  It embraces loyal supporters.  It is a religion in itself.

Christian leaders and politicians alike have reinforced this ideology throughout America’s history.  They have encouraged the belief that the USA models the city of God, the New Jerusalem or the Kingdom of God to the world.  They have blended church, culture, and politics into a belief system that contributes to Christian Nationalism.

(Elle) Hardy has followed the so-called Seven Mountain Mandate, or 7M, a conservative Christian movement that she says believes in a “God-given authority” to “take over the world.”

It boasts some high-profile adherents, including U.S. President Donald Trump’s spiritual advisor Pastor Paula White.

White led a prayer during the Trump rally that preceded the riot on Capitol Hill. Evangelical Christians are among Trump’s biggest supporters.[4]

At first glance this seems harmless, but is it?  A neo-Christian nation upholding Christian laws, Christian education, and Christian interests is enticing particularly to Christians.  It simplifies things – it’s like recreating heaven on earth.  But is this what God intended?

To effect such a thing and insistent it upon a secular society is not only dangerous, but also unbiblical.  It is to outwardly impress upon a secular society a supposed sense of godliness, which is contrary to Jesus saying, ‘the Kingdom is within.’  Yet this is the motivation that unites Trump and Evangelicals.

Fear Sets A Stage

There has been an increasing sense of fear amongst white US evangelicals.  Some say it goes back as far as the Puritans, but let’s focus on how fear influences the present.  Evangelicals believe they are in a struggle with liberalism, and or a socialism that threatens their way of life, or the America they’ve known.  They feel mocked and dishonored, unheard and marginalized.  Amid working class jobs disappearing, the perceived risk with immigrants, the LGBQT influence expanding, law enforcement weakening, abortions persisting, support for Israel declining, and Evangelicalism diminishing, Evangelicals genuinely feel their backs are up against the wall.

Since so much confidence and hope has been placed in the ideology that the USA was divinely chosen by God, and since much of that confidence has been lost through an invasive liberalism, Evangelicals needed help from Donald Trump to recover their America.

Trump believed … that if he gave them “the policies and the access to authority that they longed for,” then “in return they would stand behind him unwaveringly.”  Tim Alberta, America Carnage

Trump clearly sees white evangelicals as a means to an end, people to be used, suckers to be played. He had absolutely no interest in evangelicals before his entry into politics and he will have absolutely no interest in them after his exit. [5]

By no means was Trump perfect, but he would get the job done – he would be their king Cyrus.[6]  Trump was and in some cases is the answer to the Evangelical fear despite his faults.

The president might not be a model Christian in his personal life, they admit, but he delivers what they want, which is power and influence. – Peter Wehner[7]

A convincing narrative was crafted, making the alliance of American Evangelicalism and Donald Trump suitable partners in restoring the USA to a conservative Christian society.  That narrative would intensify Evangelical fear, use religious symbols and rhetoric, fudge ethics and morality, accommodate falsehoods, and cultivate religious predictions.

How do they (evangelicals) view him?  Some have undoubtedly convinced themselves that they have a faith connection with the president, declaring that Trump is everything from a “baby Christian.” to a “born-again Christian.” In 2016, James Dobson, a significant figure in the evangelical political world for decades, said, “Trump appears to be tender to things of the [Holy] Spirit.” Let’s just say Trump has a rather peculiar way of showing such tenderness.[8]

With the background of huge expectation, and the growing loss of influence, the majority of white Evangelicals in the US chose Trump not only once, but twice to save their America.  Their fear and insecurity gave room for rampant deception and animosity including the potential of violence.  Some say they cared only about winning over their sworn enemy.

Before the march on the US Capitol began last Wednesday, some knelt to pray.

Thousands had come to the seat of power for a “Save America” rally organised to challenge the election result. Mr. Trump addressed the crowd near the White House, calling on them to march on Congress …

The crowd was littered with religious imagery. “Jesus 2020” campaign flags flapped in the wind alongside Trump banners and the stars and stripes of the US flag … 

At least one group carried a large wooden cross. Another blew shofars – a Jewish ritual horn some Christian evangelicals have co-opted as a battle cry. Elsewhere a white flag featured an ichthys – or “Jesus fish” – an ancient symbol of Christianity.

For some Christians, seeing religious symbols alongside Confederate flags was shocking.[9]

A Better Foundation

Many of us wonder how some evangelicals were or are so easily deceived.  We think it’s unlikely to ever happen to us.  Yet if we had similar generational expectations that we believed to be spiritual, and if those expectations were trounced upon and fear rose unchecked in our hearts – we really don’t have any idea how we might respond.

To be clear patriotism, Christian Nationalism, traditionalism, evangelicalism, denominationalism, and spiritualism are not sustainable foundations in life.  They are not biblical foundations.  Yet neither is casually saying that ‘we are only loyal to Jesus’, because that really didn’t help Peter when he denied Christ.[10]

Christian foundations are spiritual realities that are understood through Scripture, taught with faith and wisdom, received with sincerity, and realized through the inward working of the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian.  They secure and define new life while not depending on Christian governments, economies, religion, or social norms.  However, little is heard of them from evangelical pulpits.

Christian foundations increase freedom, encourage confidence, and strengthen resolve.  They produce a new identity of righteousness, peace and joy that is not of this world, but of the Kingdom of God.  They drive people toward Christ-likeness, and generate the fruit, power, and gifts of the Holy Spirit.  They anticipate signs and wonders to support the preaching of the Good News.  Christian Foundations are the same in every race, language, and geographical location.  They produce unity and not division.[11]

Being a Christian for a long time, going to church each week, regularly having devotions, attending a Bible School or being a really good person does not guarantee proper foundations.  Proper foundations absolutely change the way you think, change your attitudes, and change your actions and responses throughout life.

Seduction happens to Christians when spiritual foundations are faulty or non-existent.  In the case of white Evangelicals in the USA, their fear and subsequent alliance with Trump has caused them to lose the moral and missional high ground.  The care of the vulnerable and weak, the care of the earth, the care of the sick, the keeping of law and order, and the defending of good character has been forfeited to those who do not openly proclaim themselves as Christians.

The criticism that evangelicals now receive from the media is justified considering the deception they have supported, and the mess they have made.  This disapproval or attack should never be perceived as persecution, but rather as a well-earned shaming, and an indicator that this is not the way.

I do not know if Evangelicals in the USA can recover a sense of credibility, let alone the testimony of Christ when things are so skewed.  This loss equally has a knockoff effect for evangelicals throughout the western world.  It will likely take more than a ‘Sorry!’ or a ‘Whoops – we got that wrong’ to make it right.  But maybe this brand of Evangelicalism needed to end anyways, so that a new move of God could have a new wineskin that represents the glory of God.

In the meantime, we need to re-examine our foundations and see that they are not just evangelical, but genuinely Word and Spirit.  We need to see change that comes from a work of the Holy Spirit that produces love and humility in people, and a better way of gathering together.  We need to focus less on an external kingdom and more on the internal eternal one.  Micah says,

“… The Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”  Micah 6:8 NLT

[1] https://www.cs.mcgill.ca/~rwest/wikispeedia/wpcd/wp/m/Manifest_Destiny.htm

[2] https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/apocalypse/explanation/puritans.html

[3] https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2021/january-web-only/christian-nationalism-capitol-riots-trump-podcast.html

[4] https://www.cbc.ca/radio/day6/mrna-after-covid-19-blowing-up-trump-plaza-crokicurl-history-of-swear-words-and-more-1.5874120/how-a-conservative-christian-movement-became-an-important-part-of-trump-s-political-strategy-1.5874143

[5] https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/10/the-evangelical-movements-bad-bargain/616760/

[6] Is. 45:1-4

[7] https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/10/the-evangelical-movements-bad-bargain/616760/

[8] Ibid

[9] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-55578096

[10] Luke 22:54-62

[11] Acts 2:42, Ro. 6:17, 2 Tim. 1:13, 1 Cor. 3:11-12, Eph. 2:20, Ro. 12:2

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