John W. Eyster: Evangelical Christians and Trump

 

How can “Evangelical Christians” support Donald Trump?

I've been wrestling with this question since Trump announced his candidacy to be U.S. President articulating attitudes and behaviors which starkly deny Christian attitudes and behaviors.  I've read and read trying to understand and to find a rationale and thoughtful clarification.

I was surprised to find the Christian response articulated by a fellow at the Ethnics and Public Policy Center, but I was very grateful for the opinion statement by Peter Wehner, a Senior Fellow at that Center who served in the last three Republican administrations (Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush), published by the New York Times yesterday, “What Wouldn't Jesus Do?”

I urge you to read this opinion column.  If you identify yourself as an “Evangelical Christian” and you support Trump, I hope you will explain your support of Trump with a comment.  I promise to be reading as I want to understand.

I agree with Wehner assertion that one of the most inexplicable developments in this bizarre political year is that Donald Trump is the candidate of choice of many evangelical Christians.  The enthusiasm of “Evangelical Christians” for Trump was represented on Norwegian Broadcasting's daily TV news program, “Dagsrevy” by a segment featuring Robert Jeffress, Pastor, First Baptist Church, a mega-church in Dallas, TX.  Pastor Jeffress stated, “I believe Donald Trump can be an outstanding president of the United States because I think he has the strong leadership qualities that are necessary for a president.”  Responding to the Norwegian reporter's question about Trump's assertion that Muslims should not be allowed into the U.S., Pastor Jeffress defends the necessity of the government to protect the people and adds, “I believe that most Americans probably agree with Donald Trump more than they do with Pope Francis on the idea of protecting our country.”  As a “native born” U.S. citizen who chooses to be identified as a “Christian,” I was totally embarrassed by the reality of “Evangelical Christians” supporting Donald Trump as reported on Dagsrevy last evening!  I am unable to explain to my Norwegian friends how “Evangelical Christians” are able to support Trump.  Can you help me, please?  Watching for your clarifying comment.

Complementing my concern of Pastor Jeffress' strong endorsement of Trump, Wehner reviews the fact that Trump, “…won the glowing endorsement of Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, who has called him 'one of the greatest visionaries of our time.' Last week, Pat Robertson, the founder and chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network, told Mr. Trump during an interview, 'You inspire us all.'”  If you identify yourself as an “Evangelical Christian,” will you help me understand, please?  Watching for your clarifying comment.

I appreciate Wehner direct challenge to the “Evangelical Christian” endorsements, “If this embrace strikes you as discordant, it should. This visionary and inspiring man humiliated his first wife by conducting a very public affair, chronically bullies and demeans people, and says he has never asked God for forgiveness. His name is emblazoned on a casino that features a strip club; he has discussed anal sex on the air with Howard Stern and, after complimenting his daughter Ivanka's figure, pointed out that if she 'weren't my daughter, perhaps I would be dating her.' He once supported partial-birth abortion and to this day praises Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest abortion provider. He is a narcissist appealing to people whose faith declares that pride goes before a fall.”

Here's the bottom-line of Wehner's critique with which I agree, “Mr. Trump's character is antithetical to many of the qualities evangelicals should prize in a political leader: integrity, compassion and reasoned convictions, wisdom and prudence, trustworthiness, a commitment to the moral good.”

I gained helpful perspective reading Wehner's reflection, “Part of the explanation is that many evangelicals feel increasingly powerless, beaten down, aggrieved and under attack. A sense of resentment, or a “narrative of injury,” is leading them to look for scapegoats to explain their growing impotence. People filled with anger and grievances are easily exploited. As the great Christian apologist C. S. Lewis wrote, 'We must picture hell as a state where everyone is perpetually concerned about his own dignity and advancement and where everyone has a grievance.'”

Is it true as Wehner asserts, “Mr. Trump's evangelical supporters don't care about his agenda; they are utterly captivated by his persona. They view him as the strongest, most dominant, most assertive political figure they have ever seen. In an odd bow to Nietzschean ethics, they respect and applaud his Will to Power. And so the man who openly admires tyrants like Vladimir V. Putin and praised the Chinese crackdown in Tiananmen Squarebecause it showed 'strength' has become the repository of their hopes.”

Wehner and I are have the same reaction to the “Evangelical Christian” support of Trump, “What stuns me is how my fellow evangelicals can rally behind a man whose words and actions are so at odds with the central teachings of our faith. They overlook, rationalize and even delight in Mr. Trump's obsessive name-calling and Twitter attacks, his threats and acts of intimidation, his vindictiveness and casual cruelty (including mocking the disabled and P.O.W.s), all of which masquerade as strength and toughness. For some evangelicals, Christianity is no longer shaping their politics;with Mr. Trump in view, their faith lies subordinate.”

Wehner and I ask “Evangelical Christians,” what about the fact, “Almost four centuries later, a carpenter from Nazareth offered a very different philosophy. When you see a wounded traveler on the road to Jericho, Jesus taught, you should not pass him by. 'Truly I say to you,' he said in Matthew, 'to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of mine, even the least of them, you did it to me.'”

I share Wehner's interpretation of our Christian faith, “At its core, Christianity teaches that everyone, no matter at what station or in what season in life, has inherent dignity and worth. 'Follow justice and justice alone,' Deuteronomy says, 'so that you may live and possess the land the Lord your God is giving you.'”

I agree with Wehner's assertion that Trumpism is contradictory to our Christian faith.  As Wehner asserts, “In embracing it, evangelical Christians are doing incalculable damage to their witness.”

Watching with hope for helpful explanations from readers who identify themselves as “Evangelical Christians.”  I'll be reading with hope.

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