A few days ago I called up my conservative friend and former neighbor for another chat. After we caught up on family news we circled around to politics. She offered that she and her daughter resolved to take “a vacation” from politics for the month of December, a vacation they found so calming they extended it through January. She volunteered she still listened occasionally to TV news. I knew from previous conversations that her channel of choice was Fox.
With an even voice I inquired, “Do you still think President Trump is doing a good job?”
“Oh, yes!” she replied enthusiastically.
“Can you give me examples of where you think he is doing good things?”
“Well,…the economy is great! Unemployment is really low. Even minorities have jobs! And President Trump is a good Christian. He hasn’t always been, but he has the approval of Christian leaders like, Billy…no, Billy died…Franklin, Franklin Graham and other Christian leaders. President Trump is a believer. And he moved the embassy to Jerusalem, something other Christian presidents have wanted to do, but President Trump really did it!
If any are wondering why this embassy move is so important to some people read CMR’s Worldview.
Please remember Christian thought is not now and never has been monolithic. Many from mainline denominations and some self-described evangelicals find Trump’s personal and presidential actions impossible to square with Christian faith. Thinking of all Christian church-goers as supporters of Trump and his actions is an intellectual trap to be avoided.
That said, there is a great desire among the most right wing of Christians to think of the Trump presidency as divinely inspired or divinely guided. For years conservative propagandists have been fostering a siege mentality among these people, beating the drum about gay marriage, the sins of the LGBTQ, the depravity and danger of bathroom laws, and the evils of abortion. Feeling deeply maligned, this group now has a savior who has shifted the makeup of the federal court system to come to their defense. Over the last eight years Mitch McConnell engineered vacancies in the Supreme Court (the Merrick Garland stiff-arm) and nearly a hundred vacancies in the lower courts, vacancies now mostly filled by Trump on Federalist Society recommendations. These are judges who will skew decisions in a conservative direction for decades. For many beleaguered right wing Christians this is proof enough of divine guidance of the Trump presidency.
My friend is among those who are sure Trump is truly Christian, a man who, like the Apostle Paul, has undergone Christian conversion from his former ways. After all, Trump chose Mike Pence as his running mate, a politician with impeccable credentials among right wing Christians. Trump burnishes his image with such believers at the National Prayer Breakfast, a venue once considered bi-partisan, but now infused with political rhetoric. One can think what one wishes about Trump’s sincerity in this conversion, but photos of Trump in prayer with evangelical leaders is proof enough for some.
It does not end there: Far right Christian conviction that the Trump presidency is divinely guided is promoted in a movie. The Trump Prophecy played briefly in major theater chains in October 2018, mostly in central and southern states. You can watch it here or buy a DVD this March (websites recommended for perusal, not purchase). The Trump Prophecy was produced at Liberty University where the producer took advantage of student labor, The Trump Prophecy tells the story of a firefighter who received a message from God in 2011 predicting the Trump presidency. This strikes me as bald political propaganda, but it feeds a voracious appetite for confirmation among believers like my friend. (If you are not familiar with Liberty University, founded by Rev. Jerry Falwell in 1971, it is high time you become acquainted. It is a growing political and cultural player, developed expressly as a Christian fundamentalist contrast to “liberal” education.)
For those of a fundamentalist stripe who doubt Trump’s piety, there is a convenient alternative: Trump as a divinely guided tool, Tump as King Cyrus of Persia, the king who freed the Jews from Babylon. King Cyrus is”...the model for a nonbeliever appointed by God as a vessel for the purposes of the faithful.” (Isaiah 45) (The quote is from a NYTimes article well worth reading.)
Surely not every fundamentalist Christian consciously subscribes to one of these Trump justifications to explain their conviction that Trump is wittingly or unwittingly the answer to their prayers, but for many on the right Trump’s sincerity or lack of sincerity as a Christian is irrelevant.
I urge you to engage in listening to Christian friends and acquaintances. Draw them out. Don’t argue, just listen. Once you find someone like my friend there is no point in argument. You will not change minds such as these. They are hermetically sealed. Like McMorris Rodgers, such minds find Trimp’s “positive disruption” as instrumental in furthering the aims of fundamentalist Christian. Instead, listen, learn, and engage with minds that are not yet closed. Offer the contrasting statement of your own values. (See George Lakoff’s Don’t Think of an Elephant.)
Keep to the high ground,