“Trump preached xenophobia, racism, sexism, Islamophobia, homophobia, and more, and the white evangelical base said ‘Amen.’.” – Deborah Jian Lee, author of Rescuing Jesus.
The decline of Christianity has been the topic of much conversation and concern for mainstream churches throughout the Western world.
Nearly 20 years ago, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, told the BBC that Christianity had been “all but eliminated” as a source of moral guidance in people’s lives. In Australia, church leaders have watched with dismay as once thriving congregations dwindle to a few elderly stalwarts on a Sunday morning.
However, this week in America, Christians reclaimed some political relevance when more than 80 per cent of white evangelicals voted for Donald J Trump to be the next president of the United States of America and leader of the free world.
White Christian voters chose a racist, xenophobic, misogynist reality TV host who has never claimed any religious affiliation over a politically experienced former Sunday school teacher who is a member of the United Methodist Church.
Just how this happened has been the topic of much discussion as people throughout the world try to come to terms with the reality of a Trump presidency.
In February, when the prospect of a Trump presidency was still the punchline of a joke, religious sociologists Christopher Pieper and Matt Henderson wrote an article titled ‘10 Reasons you can’t be a Christian and vote for Donald Trump’.
Alarmed at Trump’s increasing popularity among evangelicals, they stated “… one cannot really love Jesus and wish to follow him and also vote for a person who so clearly embodies the opposite of everything Christ taught, died for and demands of us”.
Pieper and Henderson go on to list ten reasons, complete with biblical references, why Trump should not be president.
In March this year, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat suggested that part of the appeal of Trump for Christians lay in their increasing sense of marginalisation from mainstream politics.
Describing Trump as a “… boastful adulterer and a habitual liar, a materialist and a sensualist, a greedy camel without even the slightest interest in squeezing through the needle’s eye”, Douthat felt Trump’s leadership style appealed to American Christians who felt let down by their own religious leaders.
Throughout the presidential campaign, Trump exploited the fear and anger of groups who feel disenfranchised from the political process. Middle-aged, white, blue-collar workers in particular have felt let down by their leaders. Just as Trump has exploited this sense of disillusionment in the general population, he has effectively manipulated similar sentiments among white Christians.
“…the lure of the strongman is particularly powerful for those believers whose theology was somewhat Trumpian already — nationalistic, prosperity-worshiping, by turns apocalyptic and success-obsessed,” Douthat wrote.
The view that Christians have used Trump as a way to re-assert their relevance is backed up by the comments of the president of the Southern Evangelical Seminary, Dr Richard Land. Land was part of Trump’s evangelical advisory committee and told The Huffington Post that Trump’s election is “a divine intervention” and proves that “accounts of the death of the Christian evangelical right are premature.”
Land’s Faustian statement suggests that just as Trump has used evangelicals, evangelicals have used Trump in their quest for power. As the world looks on with horror we have to ask – has Christianity in the US quite literally ‘sold its soul’?