News comment: The last Trump?
Donald Norwood considers Christians’ response to Trump
If you try and separate politics and religion, you end up with Trump. Or so it seems to me, after reading Sarah Posner’s Unholy: Why white evangelicals worship at the altar of Donald Trump. The Pilgrim Fathers did not know this when, in 1620, they set sail from Plymouth to found a new colony based on religious convictions banned by politicians in England. Because most of those on the Mayflower were Congregationalists persecuted by the government, the United Reformed Church has a family interest in American politics and its religious base. Trump and Trumpism pose a special challenge for us.
The current media, which is not desperately interested in religion, repeats the half truth that ‘white Christian voters’ vote, and voted for Trump. They don’t stop to explain who, or why. It is not because Trump is a white Christian. All US presidents have been Christians and all except Obama have been white. All except Kennedy have been Protestants of one sort or another. This is not because the constitution says so. It is just the way it is. No need to enquire what sort of Christian a candidate is. Just ask instead: ‘Is he the sort of politician who will get what you want done?’
What some but not all Christians want is a politician who will stand up for family values and oppose abortion and gay rights, make folk proud to belong to a great Christian country that protects its borders against people of other faiths and a man (preferably a man) who speaks their language. One of Trump’s megapastor supporters, Robert Jeffress, said that God hates abortion and loves Israel. What evangelical Christians like him expected Trump to do was to revive the status of Jerusalem and appoint a good Roman Catholic, a mother of seven who was opposed to abortion, to the Supreme Court. This Trump did, and had their vote.
Evangelicals never asked if Trump was evangelical. Had he been saved by the precious blood of the Lamb? Did he believe the Gospel? Had he ever read a Gospel? Evangelists like Jerry Falwell supported Trump in 2016 and secured his election as President. He would not have won without them, and without him white evangelicals feel powerless. But the price of such a partnership is giving up the right to probe into your President’s beliefs or practices. As Posner notes: ‘When Trump did launch his presidential bid in mid-2015, few believed that a twice divorced, proudly philandering casino mogul could win over evangelical voters.’ He did…
Donald Norwood is author of Democracy and the Christian Churches: Ecumenism and the politics of belief (T&T Clark, 2018)
This is an extract from an article published in the December 2020 / January 2021 edition of Reform