Monday, February 6, 2017

Donald Trump and U.S. Christians, Three Perspectives: "There Is a Sickness in American Christianity, and Trump Is Feeding on It"

Commentator William Saletan, a self-styled "liberal Republican," writes, "There is a sickness in American Christianity, and Trump is feeding on it."

Real Christians measure themselves by their fidelity and service to God. Trump measures them by their fidelity and service to Trump. "We've done very well with the evangelicals and with the religion generally speaking," he told the Faith and Freedom Coalition. He bragged about his "landslide" victories in places "where you had the heavy Christian groups." With his telltale prefix, the, Trump signals that he sees Christians, like "the blacks" and "the Hispanics," as an alien constituency. His bond with them isn't about love of God. It's about love of Trump. "The evangelicals were so incredible," he effused in the closed-door meeting. "They really get me."  . . . 
It would be unfair to dismiss Trump as merely vain or transactional. He also delights in exploiting prejudice. He has warped Christianity, a faith that was founded to be universal, into sheer tribalism. Trump gives Christian audiences the same message he gives everyone else: not God above all, but "America First."

Tablet correspondent Jon M. Sweeney asks Pulitzer-prize-winning novelist Marilynne Robinson (who occasionally preaches at her United Church of Christ in Iowa City),

In light of recent events in the US, where a large majority of self-described Christians have elected a president who advocates positions that unambiguously contradict the teachings of the Gospel, have you found yourself contemplating the rise of the Nazis in Germany in the 1930s, which provoked Karl Barth and others to write the Barmen Declaration, and led Dietrich Bonhoeffer to insist that Christians rediscover the "true church"?

Robinson replies,

I think the Churches have disgraced themselves, more or less, the best by a silence that approaches capitulation, the worst by corruption of various kinds, weaponising piety, among other things. Of course, it has always been true that religion has been put to bad uses, and the emergence of a "true church" is always to be hoped for. But the flagrant use of religion to inflame fear and hostility and resentment that we have seen, has set back American society by 150 years.

Excused as a 'baby Christian' during his campaign, the teen-like Trump continues to expose the hypocrisy of white evangelicalism. . . . 
Trump's need to praise himself at a prayer breakfast might have passed as an awkward moment in civil religion if the actions of his first two weeks in office had not already inspired mass protests. But in the face of the moral outrage that millions of Americans feel, the awkward silence of so-called faith leaders as they listened to a braggart drone on about himself was revelatory. The President went on to say, essentially: the world is a mess. I'm here to fix it. The Bible has a name for this political position: idolatry. 
The emperor had no clothes, but there wasn't a prophet in the house who was prepared, like the boy in the story, to point out the obvious.

(Thanks to Jim McCrea for emailing me the Tablet article.) 

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