I read a great book this week (got it from my local library - you gotta love that place) called "Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump” by John Fea. I realize that my opening sentence inspires controversy, but whether you are Trump supporter or not, this book is worth reading. I actually think every American Evangelical Christian needs to read it. Let me tell you why. Fea, who has a Ph. D. in American History takes a long look at what has happened in the good old USA (since 1776), highlighting and exposing the cultural trends around the relationship between protestant Christianity and American Politics. Specifically he addresses the factors that led over the last 40 years to the election of Donald Trump with the support of 81% of white evangelicals. Regardless of how you feel about Trump, it’s hard to deny the reality that he has a very checkered moral past and a few pretty obvious tendencies toward materialism, arrogance, and pride. What confused me about his election was that American Evangelicals, who have normally pushed for candidates of character and morality, solidified en masse behind this man who has left two previous wives to marry his mistress, made huge amounts of money from the gambling industry, and when asked if he has asked God for forgiveness responded by saying, “I am not sure I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don't think so, I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don't bring God into that picture. I don't." What caused the shift from morality and character in a candidate to supporting Trump? I have asked myself that question over and over in the past 2 years. Fea helped me out in understanding the larger picture.
Fea has a chapter tracing what he calls “A Short History of Evangelical Fear” in which he lays out the tendency of Christians to live in fear of what might happen. It’s an amazing exploration of Christian History in America. We typically define an enemy by identifying what it is that they are trying to take away from us and then unite against that enemy. It makes us feel as if we are doing something “Christian”, as if we are standing for the truth. The irony is that the Bible tells us over and over again, “Do not fear.” It was one of the first things that Jesus said to the disciples after the resurrection. (Matt. 28:10) Everywhere I go I hear people talking about what the others (Liberals, government, elites, etc) are taking away from them and how if we could just stop these bad people, everything would be fine. It’s like we’ve forgotten the constant drumbeat of Scripture which comes back over and over again in words like these…
Lives that flow from fear of loss are always focused on themselves and maintaining what we have. The truth is that followers of Jesus have something that no one can ever take away from them. We can rest in the fact that even if they take our lives that God will hold us safe and ultimately bring us to Himself. The American Church seems to invest a lot of time, energy, and resources in trying to control the American government. I find it a striking contrast that Paul never once seemed to want to take over the Roman Empire. He called us to pray for our leaders and to submit to them unless their instructions caused us to go against the will of God. Then he focused on living as a follower of Jesus in the midst of an empire that was going the opposite direction. He was not afraid of Rome, or that they would take his freedoms away. He knew that his freedom was deeper than anything Rome could ever control.
I think the biggest lesson that American Christians need to learn is not to spend so much time concerned about the future. Do we need to speak to power with a prophetic voice of truth, calling it back to what God is saying? Of course, but that is done from a place of confidence in the fact that there is One who rules over the whole earth (Psalm 2). Donald Trump will not be the saviour of American Christianity, nor will he bring about its end. That’s far above his ability or his pay grade. So let’s stop getting so distracted by the political fighting and choosing of sides, the constant listening to CNN and/or Fox News, and move to a quiet trust in the One who is really in charge. Stop demonizing the other side. Get to know those who think differently than you do. God so loved THE WORLD, not just the members of your political party, and as a Christian you are called to do the same. Republican Christians are to love Democrats. Democratic Christians are to love Republicans. That one action would make a huge difference in the American context right now. Vote your conscience, that’s your political right and responsibility, but remember that never has a president of the USA threatened the power of God. We can rest that the church and our own lives are in hands that are far bigger than those of our elected officials. It’s time that Christians started living based on that truth instead of feeling like we have to elect the right person to keep us safe.
“So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6)