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Thursday, November 5, 2020

Why Do So Many Christians Support Trump? (Part I)

Over the last 4 years, I've been puzzled, no, disturbed, no, appalled, by why so many Christians support, and a handful seem to worship, Donald Trump. His presidency will almost certainly be remembered as one of the most corrupt in American history, but a wide-swath of Christians, and in particular evangelical Christians, seem fine with excusing away his many sins. What sins? Consider the following litany by my colleague, B.J. Strawser, an Air Force veteran and philosophy professor, explaining why he would vote for Biden (and not Trump) in this year's election (all of which he posted on Facebook on November 2nd):
  • Biden 2020: He understands and respects our military profession. (He won't pardon convicted war criminals.)
  • Biden 2020: He is a kind and empathetic human being. (He won't mock disabled people.)
  • Biden 2020: He is a decent human being. (He won't defraud charities.)
  • Biden 2020: He will not tolerate hatred and bigotry from his staff. (He won't have an unrepentant White Nationalist as a senior advisor.)
  • Biden 2020: He will fight for both needed, proper police reform and the countless good men & women who serve in our police departments. (He won't encourage police mistreatment of detainees.)
  • Biden 2020: He respects women. (He won't brag about committing sexual assault.)
  • Biden 2020: He respects the American sacred ideal of peaceful protest. (He won't tear gas peaceful protestors so he can pose for a shameful photo-op.)
  • Biden 2020: He will tell us the truth. (He won’t promote dangerous QAnon conspiracy theories.)
  • Biden 2020: He will respect our military; as the father of a soldier can. (He won't disrespect our military, war heroes, veterans, & former POWs.)
  • Biden 2020: He will be dignified and represent us respectfully on the world stage. (He won't be an international embarrassment... that is, he won't suck up to Putin while disavowing our own IC. Sorry, this one really sticks in my craw.)
  • Biden 2020: He will respect the press, even when they represent him in a way he doesn't like. (He won't call the free press the 'Enemy of the People.')
  • Biden 2020: He will act like an adult. (He won't call people names when someone hurts his feelings.)
  • Biden 2020: He will be financially transparent, and has already released the past 22 years of taxes. (He won't refuse to release his taxes.)
  • Biden 2020: He will respect all citizens as equal peers, no matter race, creed, or color. (He won't tell brown-skinned Congresswomen to "Go Back" to where they came from.)
  • Biden 2020: He will respect and heed our nation's intelligence experts. (He won't throw our nation's intelligence community under the bus.)
  • Biden 2020: He is a decent human being. (He won't run ads calling for the execution of 5 innocent black teenagers.)
  • Biden 2020: He is a decent human being. (He won't separate migrant families and put kids in cages.)
  • Biden 2020: He is a decent human being. (He won't prostitute porn stars & then keep them quiet with hush money.)
  • Biden 2020: He respects the rule of law and spirit of the power of the pardon. (He won't pardon a man convicted of lying to cover up his own crimes.)
  • Biden 2020: He will be a calm, reassuring leader in this impossible time. (He won't incite violence against his fellow citizens.)
  • Biden 2020: He will listen to the scientists. (He won't reject science.)
  • Biden 2020: He will take responsibility. (He won't say the buck stops elsewhere.)
  • Biden 2020: He will win honorably. (He won’t lie about supposed voter fraud in a craven plan to throw out legitimate votes.)
What is stunning is that many of the same Christians who blindly support Trump in spite of his many sins, targeted Bill Clinton for his moral failings. Consider, for example, what William Bennett, currently one of Trump's biggest supporters, said about Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal:
It is said that private character has virtually no impact on governing character,” but the truth of the matter is that “a president whose character manifests itself in patterns of reckless personal conduct … cannot be a good president.” (William Bennett, "The Death of Outrage: Bill Clinton and the Assault on American Ideals")

Clearly, in Mr. Bennett's mind, character is no longer a relevant criterion for being President, at least not if they're a Republican. Consider also the Southern Baptist Convention's 1998 Resolution On Moral Character Of Public Officials

Therefore, be it RESOLVED, That we, the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting June 9-11, 1998, in Salt Lake City, Utah, affirm that moral character matters to God and should matter to all citizens, especially God’s people, when choosing public leaders; and

Be it further RESOLVED, That we implore our government leaders to live by the highest standards of morality both in their private actions and in their public duties, and thereby serve as models of moral excellence and character; and

Be it further RESOLVED, That we urge all citizens, including those who serve in public office, to submit themselves respectfully to governing authorities and to the rule of law; and

Be it further RESOLVED, That we urge Southern Baptists and other Christians to fulfill their spiritual duty to pray regularly for the leaders of our nation (1 Timothy 2:1-4); and

Be it finally RESOLVED, That we urge all Americans to embrace and act on the conviction that character does count in public office, and to elect those officials and candidates who, although imperfect, demonstrate consistent honesty, moral purity and the highest character.
It appears that such resolutions only apply to Democratic Presidents.

Aside from the possible harm Trump has caused to American democracy and how for political reasons he exploited the partisan divide rather than heal it, I'm also concerned what damage he's wrought on Christianity. Or rather, the damage that the support of theologically conservative Protestants for Trump has wrought on Christianity

Robert Jones, a former professor and now head of PRRI (Public Religion Research Institute), has argued that long before Trump's election, the attitudes of younger Americans toward Christianity were becoming increasingly negative and pushing them toward other faith traditions. He notes "that the top three attributes young Americans associated with 'present day Christianity' were being antigay (91 percent), judgmental (87 percent), and hypocritical (85 percent)" (Jones, "The End of White Christian America," pp. 131-132). In short, as David Kinnaman, the President of the evangelical polling firm, the Barna Group, has put it, "Christianity has an image problem" (quoted in Jones, p. 132).

Anecdotal evidence suggests that Christianity's image problem has only become worse during the Trump presidency (e.g., see the book, "The Spiritual Danger of Donald Trump: 30 Evangelical Christians on Justice, Truth, and Moral Integrity," ed. by Ronald Sider). Thus, while evangelical Christians may have scored short-term gains (e.g., Supreme Court appointments) by supporting Trump, the long-term damage they have inflicted on Christianity could take several generations to fix.

My plan over the next series of posts is to consider various explanations for why so many theologically-conservative, (predominantly) White Christians supported and continue to support Trump. Some of the causes are demographic. Some are economic. Some reflect pragmatic choices made by Christians who can't stand Trump but see him as a vehicle for pursuing certain policies. Party affiliation also plays a role. But those explanations don't account for everything. There are some who see him as God's anointed agent and come close to worshipping Trump as if he's the Messiah (which, of course, means "anointed one").

I make no promises on how quickly I'll turn these posts out. But I will get them out eventually.

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