Do we need Trump to defend us?
When the Christianity Today article advocating President Trump’s impeachment came out, I had by chance just finished reading Dostoevsky’s novel The Devils. The editorial and the reaction against it by Evangelical Christian leaders reminded me of a scene in the novel where the character Shatov argues with young intellectuals against the rising western European influence in 19th century Russia. He is particularly critical of Roman Catholicism. To him, the church’s long history of depending on political and military power was a problem. He averred that Roman Catholicism “proclaimed a Christ who gave into the Devil’s third temptation” (Matt. 4:8-10), accepting the premise that “Christ cannot survive on earth without having an earthly kingdom.”
Mark Galli, who wrote the CT editorial in support of impeachment, is himself an evangelical Christian, but those who regularly speak for the religious right have now disowned him and his view on Trump’s impeachment. These leaders insist that Christians should support Trump because we need his political leadership. Franklin Graham says of Trump’s presidency, “God has placed him there to defend the Christian faith.” Tony Perkins says, “I am grateful for his leadership.” Trump “has saved this republic.”
If President Trump were an exemplary Christian, it might seem reasonable for Christians to support him. But given his obvious flaunting of values that were so central to Jesus’ work and teachings—like love and compassion for others, concern for the poor, truthfulness and godliness—why does the evangelical Christian community align itself with him? Is it because evangelical Christianity has identified so strongly with a certain political party that it has come to depend on political power? Does it see its purpose as doing political work rather than doing Christ’s work? In intertwining its identity with politics and making Donald Trump its champion, one could argue like Shatov does in the novel that it is giving in to the devil’s third temptation. It is saying Christ is not enough.
In the July 2018 Christian Leader, Tabor College explains its theological identity as embracing an Evangelicalism that transcends American politics. It also embraces Anabaptism as exemplified by Menno Simons’ statement “True evangelical faith … cannot lie dormant, it clothes the naked, it feeds the hungry, it comforts the sorrowful, it shelters the destitute, it serves those that harm it, it binds up what is wounded, it has become all things to all creatures.”
In his September 2019 article in the Christian Leader (Living as evangelicals and Anabaptists), Don Morris cautions our denomination not to be so accepting of the political significance of our “Evangelical” label and to be mindful of the Anabaptist part of our heritage. I agree. I think following his advice and that of Menno Simons frees us from the perceived need to be so supportive of a political organization that we are willing to give “savior” status to a man of questionable moral character like Donald Trump.