*A contributor who wishes to remain anonymous helped with this article. *There is a video version of this article at the bottom of the post.
Three lies we have believed as Evangelicals. God have mercy.
1. We Believed Actions Were More Important Than Communication and Character.
We believed you could untangle these three elements of life.
The gospel of Matthew records, “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” What we produce both reveals who we are and produces who we are becoming. We believed Donald Trump could act justly out of a corrupt character and while communicating with vileness. We were wrong.
Similarly, we believed we could engage each another in hostile arguments online without damaging “real life.” And many of us have realized the “real world” and the “virtual world” of social media are not easily separated. There are folks in church we don’t like so much anymore, people we take a wide path around in the parking lot because that social media confrontation has us wary of face-to-face interaction. Social media emboldens us to say things we would not in person. We are disembodied and fooled into thinking communication in virtual space gives us license to berate one another. Communication, action, and character are knotted up together.
Throughout the last four years, we have told ourselves time and time again that actions were more important than character and communication. Evangelicals accepted Donald Trump on the grounds that he would do our bidding, even if he did it in a vulgar manner, even if his past was tainted with vileness, even if he openly said vile things. We hung our hats on the argument that character and communication can be separated from action. As long as President Trump appoints conservative judges, stands up to China, and doesn’t raise our taxes, we don’t really care what he says or how he does it.
Every act is communication, to be is to communicate. As I sit in this coffee shop typing silently, I am communicating to those around me. My values, my tastes, my choice of clothing, my flavor of latte – we communicate through our presence in the world. In this way my communication is at once revealing who I am and creating who I will become. It is utterly foolish to believe communication can be untethered from identity. Joshua Gibbs said, “Every act of imitation is an act of becoming.” Yet somehow as the white evangelical church we were fooled into believing Trump’s positive actions could somehow outweigh his questionable character and reckless communication. It is not a matter of one “outweighing” any other – these elements of being are not separable. We act out what we are moving towards. You cannot act justly and communicate unjustly, nor act justly and maintain vile character.
The past week of mayhem serves as a culmination of the last few years and a final revelation of the absurdity of this notion. Donald Trump’s communication, character, and action cannot be untangled or essentialized. Who we are is fundamentally composed and expressed in each of these elements. A virtuous leader must display the integration of wisdom in communication, character, and action. Going one for three will get you into the baseball hall of fame – it makes for a really lousy leader.
2. We Believed Donald Trump Was a Christ Figure.
The church is a bride, and the white evangelical church wed itself to a man who was not Christ.
The language and symbolism of Trumpism casts Donald Trump as a Christ figure. He is said to have “come down the escalator to drain the swamp.” From his high position, Trump is said to have descended to lead the people. He enters into a realm said to be corrupted and dirty (a swamp) to do the work of making the land “great again.” This is clear language of a Christ figure. Jesus himself descended from heaven into a dark land to inaugurate a new kingdom.
In the Christian account, the hero is abandoned by all those closest to him in his final hours. This is significant because Christ is not simply on the side of truth, he is the truth incarnated. As Christ prays in the garden, his disciples fall asleep. At the last supper, the traitor leaves to do his work. After his arrest, Christ is denied by Peter, abandoned by his followers, and convicted by the court system. He goes to the cross alone.
We have been telling this story and replacing Christ with Trump, sometimes without realizing it, and sometimes intentionally. We have become so convinced of his righteousness that his words alone are truth. He has become the symbol of truth. He has been rejected by those near him, by the religious leaders, and by the court system. Yet many Evangelicals remain confident in his words. Trump has even coined a term for anyone who would deny him, “RINOs” Republicans in Name Only. Christ said “Whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven. (Matthew 10:33)” Trump has said to be Republican is to stand with him to the bitter end. He has positioned himself as a Christ figure, and we have largely accepted him. Anyone who denies the “Christ” is anti-Christian.
However, Donald Trump is not the truth incarnated. He is not the Christ. And it is for good reason he is being denounced and abandoned, from his own staff and the Republican Party to Christian leaders across the nation.
The Inner Circle
In the days after the insurrection in which Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, scores of folks once loyal to Donald Trump have jumped ship. As of the writing of this article, more than nine members of the Trump administration have resigned from their posts including: Elaine Chao (transportation secretary). Betsy DeVos (education secretary). Mick Mulvaney (former chief of staff, current special envoy to northern Ireland). Mulvaney said, “You can’t look at that yesterday and say I want to be a part of that in any way shape or form.” Stephanie Grisham (First lady’s chief of staff). Sarah Matthews (deputy press secretary). Matt Pottinger (deputy national security advisor). Rickie Niceta (White house social secretary). Ryan Tully (National Security Council’s senior director for European and Russian affairs). Tyler Goodspeed (Chairmen of the white house council of economic advisors). Republican Senator Ben Sasse said, “Lies have consequences. This violence was the inevitable and ugly outcome of the President’s addiction to constantly stoking division.” Trump is being abandoned by those once loyal to him who realize how insanely he’s behaving, how dangerous his claims are, and how he’s “disregarded his oath of office.” These include Lindsey Graham and his own Vice President – and this is certainly for good reason.
The Court System
For months Donald Trump and lawyers have claimed the election was decided unfairly. They brought allegations in more than 50 lawsuits. However, as Russell Moore writes,
“It is not true – and it never was true – that this election was stolen. That’s why such a charge was never even made in any court of law, where perjury penalties would hold but only in social media streams and demagogic rallies.”
On every occasion (save possibly two) they either lost, had their case thrown out for lack of evidence, or withdrew. “At least 86 judges from across the political spectrum, including some appointed by Trump, have rejected at least one post-election lawsuit filed by Trump or supporters” writes the Washington Post. Donald Trump has lost time and time again even in courts where he appointed the judges. The Supreme Court, three members of which Trump appointed, has refused to hear his case for lack of evidence. In a personal call on which Trump groveled hoping to “find” more votes, Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State refused to be bullied and told him flatly he was wrong. Georgia had already undertaken multiple recounts.
The MAGA Faithful
Yet when we view Donald Trump as a Christ figure, it doesn’t matter how many staff resign, how many courts throw him out, how many leaders speak up to denounce him. Because he is not merely telling the truth; like Christ, he is the truth. Those at the Capitol were not there on behalf of the Republican party or conservatives. No. They were there on behalf of one man only; they flew his flag and marched in his name. They were whipped into a frenzy by his words. They went so shamefully far as to erect a gallows on which to execute the Vice President because he did not side with their Christ.
David French writes, “There was a giant wooden cross outside the Capitol. “Jesus saves” signs and other Christian signs were sprinkled through the crowd. I watched a man carry a Christian flag into an evacuated legislative chamber.” We Evangelicals were present there, like Peter in the garden, whipping out swords for our Christ. To our great shame, we have believed Donald Trump was our Christ figure, and some of us are adamant we will never deny him. No matter the cost: we would drive to D.C. – we would plunder the Capitol – we would die for Donald Trump, our Christ. God forgive us.
3. We Believed the End Was Nigh.
“If you argue that the very existence of the country is at stake, don’t be surprised if people start to act as if the very existence of the country is at stake.” – David French
Every four years Evangelicals are told the current election is all that stands between order and chaos, the 1st world and 3rd world, capitalism and socialism. Once again, for the umpteenth time, we bought the lie that if the Republican candidate didn’t defeat the more liberal challenger, the USA would delve into a socialist state. We think gas prices will soar, they’ll take our guns, our churches will be stormed, and we’ll be pumped full of vaccines. Yet somehow, each and every time, life just sort of goes on. And it will again this time. In four years from now, we’ll hear these same tired warnings, and they’ll be false again. Perhaps even more absurd than the claim that handing power to the opposing party will inaugurate the end times is the remedies we’ve concocted.
Folks on the ground at the Capitol riot say there was Christian music blasting and “Jesus Saves” flags flying. If all the Evangelicals storming the Capitol had been Muslims playing chants over speakers, we’d all be crying “terrorist attack!” MAGA supporters (Evangelical Christians among them) quite literally stormed the castle in a crazed last grab at power. And no, we cannot pin these acts on Anitfa. As helpful as that may be, it’s pretty clear that’s not what happened. When we raise the stakes of which party will lead us for the next four years to the level of apocalyptic existential crisis, we get an insurrection. We get confederate flags marched into our country’s most sacred building. We get those elected to represent the people of the 50 states ushered into bunkers while crazed rioters break through the doors. We get police trampled, beaten with American flags, and killed.
“The crowd showed him no mercy…immediately trampling him, bludgeoning him with objects and projectiles, dragging him down the steps they were storming — pretty much having their way with his limp body as his colleagues tried pulling him away.” (TMZ)
We need to stop reading the end-times prophecy manuals. We need to stop believing the bitter end is nigh every election cycle. It is not only faithless, it’s stupid and wrong and damaging.
We have believed these three lies. That communication was less important than character and action; that Donald Trump was our Christ figure; and that the end was nigh. My fellow Evangelicals, my neighbors, my friends, let us be people of Christ. Let us put this foolishness of Trumpism behind us. With every word and every act we are transformed into who we are becoming; let us speak and act in love that we might become love. May Jesus, through whom all things were made, be our only Christ. May we do the work of believing and put to rest these recurring fears of apocalypse.
“There have been many voices combating the lies of Donald Trump since he descended his golden escalator five years ago, but most have been easily dismissed by his supporters because the truth was coming from those outside the GOP/Conservative/MAGA community. If the country is to emerge from this dark season, it won’t happen simply because Mr. Trump leaves the White House. It will happen because virtuous leaders find the courage to tell the truth to their own followers.” – Skye Jethani
May these three lies, and the Trumpism which brought them, be left behind.