Tuesday, December 15, 2020

What Commentators Are Saying to Evangelicals Speaking Out — Finally! — about Idolatry of Trump: "It's about Time. But It's Too Late"

Some valuable recent commentary about the dangerous idolatory of Christian Trumpism:

Heather Cox Richardson, "Letters from an American: December 13, 2020": 

In an important move today, evangelical leader Beth Moore, the founder of Living Proof Ministries, a Bible-based women's group from Houston, Texas, who has almost a million followers on Twitter, tweeted: 'I do not believe these days are for mincing words. I'm 63 ½ years & I have never seen anything in these United States of America I found more astonishingly seductive & dangerous to the saints of God than Trumpism. This Christian nationalism is not of God. Move back from it…. Fellow leaders, we will be held responsible for remaining passive in this day of seduction to save our own skin while the saints we've been entrusted to serve are being seduced, manipulated, USED and stirred up into a lather of zeal devoid of the Holy Spirit for political gain…."

Moore follows this weekend's statement by evangelical Karen Swallow Prior, who said she was "now embarrassed and ashamed" for voting for local and state Republican candidates (although she had never voted for Trump). "What a bunch of money-grubbing, power-hungry, partisan cowards who care nothing about conservatism," she tweeted. Conservative journalist David French also wrote this weekend that "the frenzy and fury of the post-election period has laid bare the sheer idolatry and fanaticism of Christian Trumpism."

If evangelicals return to their traditional stance that politics corrupts religion, the modern-day Republican Party is in trouble. In this year's election, about 80% of white evangelicals supported Trump. They make up 15% of the U.S. population, but because they turn out in huge numbers, they provided about 40% of Trump's votes in 2020. Since the Reagan years, white evangelicals have been a crucial part of the Republican base. If they are starting to rethink their loyalties, it will be a game changer.

On Sunday, evangelical leader Beth Moore tweeted about the Jericho March, a pro-Trump bacchanal of racism and violence held in Washington, D.C., this weekend. "I do not believe these are days for mincing words,” she wrote. “I’m 63 1/2 years old & I have never seen anything in these United States of America I found more astonishingly seductive & dangerous to the saints of God than Trumpism. This Christian nationalism is not of God. Move back from it."

It's about time. But it's too late. ...

This performance of piety in the face of evil is empty, because it does not deal with the core issue: white evangelicalism's own racism.

Complain as they might about Trump, this president simply tapped into the racist id that has always been a foundation of American evangelicalism. Now that white mobs are marching and inciting violence, they export the racism and violence to a specter called Christian nationalism.

Here's the hard, ugly fact: Evangelicals support the racism, sexism and violence done on their behalf by so-called Christian nationalists. Black Christians have seen this for more than 400 years. We are not surprised, and these evangelical writers shouldn’t be either. Evangelicals’ politics are about their power. They use morality to hide their thirst for it.

Evangelicals know full well the ugliness and perfidy of the people they vote into office, support with their dollars and those they listen to every Sunday in pulpits across the nation. They claim to hate the ugliness, yet they remain in the same pews and support the same political leaders. ...

When white evangelicals ignore race as the motivating issue, I doubt their witness. Their handwringing, the self-abnegation, is meant to assuage their own discomfort, rather than the discomfort, violence and continual distress of Black people in America. I invite them to back up their words with actions, to reach out to those in the crossfire of this racial storm, to stand up against the leaders and associates in your denominations who remain silent because they voted for chaos instead of community.

David French, "The Dangerous Idolatry of Christian Trumpism":

It's clear now that when many of those people declared Trump to be “God’s anointed” they did not mean that his presidency was “instituted by God” in the same manner as other governing authorities, as described in Romans 13. (By conventional Christian reasoning, Joe Biden’s upcoming presidency is also instituted by God.)

No, they believe that Trump had a special purpose and a special calling, and that this election defeat is nothing less than a manifestation of a Satanic effort to disrupt God’s plan for this nation. They were not "holding their nose" to support him. They were deeply, spiritually, and personally invested in his political success. 

This should be a "mirror moment" for all the evangelical Christians out there who at this point have lost all credibility on the world stage. If they cannot tell that Donald Trump is an insincere snake-oil salesman, and that germs are real and masks save lives, why should the world believe anything else they report? They're going to have to start over from scratch now, demonstrating they have any capacity left to distinguish between lies and truth. Right now their "witness" doesn't mean jack.

And, since prominent Catholics are legion in the movement to claim that Mr. Trump won the recent election and it has been stolen from him, and have been legion in serving him throughout his presidency, the Catholics should not be left out of the critique here — hence America's editorial about this matter. 

To make matters worse—and bring them closer to the hearts of Catholics—some of those involved in these affronts against democratic norms are claiming the warrant of the Gospel, both praying for attempts to disenfranchise the populations of entire states to succeed and pretending that they are doing God's will in supporting Mr. Trump's assault on the integrity of American elections. That they have likely convinced themselves of the truth of Mr. Trump’s fabrications about the election being "stolen" from him does not reduce their culpability but instead underlines the degree to which their devotion to Mr. Trump has drawn them away from the facts that form the foundation of the truth.

The danger in such an idolatrous use of the Gospel for nakedly partisan ends is not primarily that it will succeed in overturning the U.S. election. At least at this juncture, the guardrails of the American republic seem to be holding. The danger, rather, is that the association of Christian faith with the corrupt project of installing Mr. Trump in a second term by any means necessary undermines the credibility of the whole church's efforts to evangelize. The riches of the Gospel are being diverted into one of Mr. Trump's bankruptcies.

Here's my own personal response to Beth Moore and Karen Swallow Prior which I shared two days ago on Twitter:

1. Why now? Why has it taken this long for you folks — for you white evangelicals — to see what's deeply wrong about worship of this particular idol? 

2. Why have you not seen these dangers until now, when so many others saw them clearly in 2016, and tried to warn you?

3. Did you not listen to those voices — which turn out to have been so very right — because they were not voices of members of your own tribe? If so, then what does that tribalism say about who you are as followers of Christ?

4. Why now, after infants have been ripped from their parents' arms, children placed in cages, brutal and lethal lies told about a dangerous disease now spreading like wildfire through the country, Black churches set afire by violent fascist thugs?

5. Why only now, when all this cruelty-as-spectacle has been enacted over and over throughout this presidency?

6. What is it about the cruelty that did NOT cause your gorge to rise — as followers of Jesus Christ? 

7. What is about the cruelty that actually seems to have delighted you, allured you, caused you to cheer that person being evicted from the White House all the more?

8. What does the taste for performative cruelty say about you and your Christian beliefs, values, commitments? 

9. The cruelty is the point: you seem to have been drunk with it — for a long time now — and what does that say about you as followers of Jesus Christ?

10. LGBTQ people have sought a hearing for a long time now, to witness to you about the effects of your cruelty: Why have you — and I include many US Catholics among the audience I am addressing here, and not only evangelicals — turned a deaf ear to that witness, seemingly enjoying the cruelty you have practiced towards LGBTQ people? 

Why does cruelty attract you so fatally? 

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