In Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, I argued that American evangelicals must come to grips with a long history of nativism, racism, unhealthy nostalgia, fear, and the pursuit of political power to accomplish the goals of the Kingdom of God. In other words, the election of Donald Trump illuminated the dark corners of the movement–dark corners that have been around for centuries. Those evangelicals who support Trump are the latest (and perhaps most egregious?) examples of this kind of historic behavior.
Trump will be gone soon. And, as Garrett Epps’ notes in his recent piece in The Atlantic, when we awake from this nightmare, the knowledge we will have gleaned from these years is harrowing.
Here is a taste of Epps’s piece:
Consider the devolution of Bill Barr, from an “institutionalist” who would protect the Department of Justice to a servant of Donald Trump. Consider the two dozen House Republicans who used physical force to disrupt their own body rather than allow government officials to testify to what they know about President Trump—because to follow the rules of the House, and the strictures of national security, would threaten their party’s grasp on power. Consider the white evangelical leaders who prated to the nation for a generation about character and chastity and “Judeo-Christian morality,” but who now bless Trump as a leader. Consider, if more evidence is needed, the unforgettable moment at the Capitol on September 27, 2018, when Brett Kavanaugh dropped forever the mask of the “independent judge” to stand proudly forth as a partisan figure promising vengeance against his enemies.
The last incident, I think, sums up the horror of what the nation has learned about many of its leaders. It seems likely that Kavanaugh’s self-abasement was not the impulse of a desperate man, but a conscious choice made because, unless he showed himself willing to fight back viciously, he risked losing the support of the president. That choice had the desired effect. Trump embraced Kavanaugh, and used his tirade to move supporters to the polls that November.
This is the point. These are not victims crazed by “polarization” or “partisanship” or “gridlock” but cool-headed political actors who see the chance to win long-sought goals—dictatorial power in the White House, partisan control of the federal bench, an end to legal abortion and the re-subordination of women, destruction of the government’s regulatory apparatus, an end to voting rights that might threaten minority-party control, a return to pre-civil-rights racial norms. The historical moment finds them on a mountaintop; all the kingdoms they have sought are laid out before them, and a voice says, “All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.”
One by one, they have bent the knee.
This episode, as all things must, will someday end. It may even do so without the erection of a full-blown autocracy on the grave of the American republic. Trumpism may be rejected in a fair national vote, and Trump may in fact leave office. A semblance of rule of law may be preserved.
What then? Like young Goodman Brown, can Americans unsee the lawless bacchanal of the past three years? Can they pretend it did not happen, and that the fellow citizens who so readily discarded law and honesty never did so?
Trump has, one way or another, changed our national life irrevocably. When one side of a political struggle has shown itself willing to commit crimes, collaborate with foreign powers, destroy institutions, and lie brazenly about facts readily ascertainable to anyone, should the other side—can the other side—then pretend these things did not happen?
Read the entire piece here.
I am afraid that Trump, “one way or another,” has changed the church “irrevocably.” When Trump is gone can we just pretend that his crimes, lies, racism, nativism, ugly populism, etc. did not happen? The church will need to reckon with its support of this man in order to move forward in hope and continue its Kingdom work.