by William Trollinger
It is 2020, Donald Trump has made more than 16,200 false or misleading statements in his three years as president, and yet white evangelicals remain overwhelmingly supportive. Below we have three responses, from a renowned scholar who is renouncing the term “evangelicalism,” from a journalist who delineates one particularly terrifying aspect of evangelical support, and from an interview with a worship leader at a midwestern church who has produced a song that has gone viral, and that challenges evangelicals to live up to their words. Enjoy!
Randall Balmer, “Evangelicalism is Dead. We Need a New Label for Our Faith,” Sojourners
For the past three decades Randall Balmer, John Phillips Professor in Religion at Dartmouth College and author of books such as Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Journey into the Evangelical Subculture in America, has been one of the most insightful scholars writing on American evangelicalism. During this time Balmer, who grew up fully immersed in the evangelical subculture, has expended great effort “trying to call evangelicals back to their own heritage and to their better selves.” But as he notes in this cri de couer, it was “all for naught,” as evinced by the fact that “81 percent of white evangelicals voted for [and continue to enthusiastically support] a thrice-married, self-confessed sexual predator and former casino operator who cannot even feign religious literacy.” While some anti-Trump evangelicals are fervently trying to redeem the label, I (as someone who also grew up evangelical) find it very hard to counter Balmer’s argument that evangelicalism – having been “stripped . . . of all claims to moral credibility” – is dead.
Stephanie Mencimer, “Evangelicals Love Donald Trump for Many Reasons, But One of Them Is Especially Terrifying,” Mother Jones
There is much to like about this well-written, fascinating, and (yes) terrifying article. For one thing, Mencimer nicely establishes that Trump has surrounded himself with apocalyptic preachers and politicians from what the marvelous Diana Butler Bass “delicately describes as the ‘not respectable charlatan wing’ of evangelical Christianity.” Many of these folks understand “war with Iran as a necessary step towards the End Times,” a prospect that they and many of their supporters giddily welcome; as Bass pithily puts it, “when Iran gets into the news, especially with anything to do with war, it’s sort of a prophetic dog whistle to evangelicals.” The Trump Administration is filled with evangelicals – such as Mike Pompeo and Mike Pence – who whole-heartedly share these apocalyptic speculations, and it’s Pompeo “who was reportedly instrumental in pushing for the killing of” Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. Mencimer does not overstate her case. It’s not that the Trump Administration assassinated Soleimani in a deliberate effort to spark the evangelical-imagined Rapture; it’s that Trump’s evangelical supporters (inside and outside the White House) happily cheer that this assassination might produce this result, with the attendant slaughter of billions of human beings. So it is that Mencimer bolsters Balmer’s argument.
Shane Claiborne, “‘Hymn for the 81%’: A conversation with Daniel Deitrich,” Religion News Service
Daniel Deitrich is a worship leader at the South Bend City Church, which he describes – in this interview with Shane Claiborne, co-director of Red Letter Christians – as a “Jesus-centered community . . . where spiritual exiles have found a home, . . . where you don’t have to check your brain at the door, . . . [and where] people who have been excluded from or wounded by the church feel safe and seen and loved.” Deitrich has composed and performed “Hymn for the 81%,” a song that has gone viral in the past week, and that Claiborne has rightly described as “a cocktail of prophetic fire and Christ-like grace.” In the song Deitrich – who (like Balmer and myself) grew up in the evangelical subculture and was taught to heed the words of Jesus – asks how evangelicals could possibly justify the treatment of children at the southern border. And as he sings, “you weaponized religion and you wonder why I’m leaving to find Jesus on the wrong side of your walls.” Anyway, if you have not heard the song, you should click onto the article.