René Breuel is a native of Brazil who currently pastors an evangelical church Rome. He has led evangelical student movements in Brazil, Germany, Canada, and Italy and is the author of The Paradox of Happiness: Finding True Joy in a World of Counterfeits. Over at Christianity Today, Morgan Lee (have I mentioned she is a former student?) talks to Breuel about how evangelicals outside the United States view American evangelicals’ embrace of Donald Trump. Here is a taste of their conversation:
Do you remember any moments from his presidency when leaders outside the US expected white evangelical leaders to say something to rebuke him, and they did not?
Rene Breuel: Yes, I did. In all honesty, there are so many moments where you wish they did. Maybe this time, maybe this crisis, maybe this tweet, but often it did not come close to the moment which I think struck me the most, which was before his election in 2016 when the Access Hollywood tape came out. It was heartbreaking to see someone boasting joyfully of adultery, sexual assault, and grabbing women.
How can someone justify that? But people found a way, saying it’s locker room talk. I was very appreciative of people who spoke out, like Beth Moore. I think John Piper wrote an article about that. I remember, on the other hand, many who kept on, saying “Oh, the other side is worse. We cannot support it.” I remember specifically, I taught theological seminary for the first semester back then. One of the books I had assigned for people came from Grudem. Then he came out very strongly even after the Access Hollywood tape, suggesting Christians should vote for Trump.
There were a number of leaders, some who spoke out against, but I sense that many either didn’t or those who did, were lost in the course of those who supported the deceit vert strongly….
Do you remember hearing a different tone or a way of relating to things from American evangelical leaders who lived overseas or who were a bigger part of international communities?
Rene Breuel: Yes, I have. Certainly, I think it helps a lot when one lives outside the country and especially outside the media ecosystem, in being able to listen to a number of views and receive news in different languages. My experience is seeing people who retained their convictions and maybe aren’t as vocal because it’s a different society. At the same time, many who come to get a greater sense of perspective are able to see things more critically. Normally it becomes a matter of soul searching and pain.
There is division within families. For example, a missionary couple of mine here in Rome who do wonderful work was sharing with me how he was interacting with their parents who live in the Midwest and who have supported Trump throughout.
It was some delicate conversations right between children and parents of those who live outside the country and those who live within it. I had my own conversations with cousins who have moved to the US and are strong supporters. We have some good conversations, respectful conversations, but one gets the sense that it matters a lot where you live and the kinds of news you receive.
Do you think that the last four years has hurt the credibility of the American evangelical church? And if so, in what ways?
Rene Breuel: Yes, I’m sorry to say, but I think in part it has, though of course, it’s not a blanket statement. We can see nuances and they may be people who did not support Trump or voted for him reluctantly, the tough spot people of faith find themselves in a two-party system. But people being vocal, like Black Christians being vocal, was very helpful.
There is a feeling that the American evangelical church, at least in the past four years, lost part of its moral authority and spiritual leadership. Too many leaders, unfortunately, supported Trump noncritically, too many churchgoers supported Trump joyfully, and then too many prophets in the charismatic movement predicted a second term, which did not come to pass.
I sense that people are clear on the gospel of Christ, the cross and repentance, and faith in the new birth, but when it comes to the church’s relation to society, I think there’s something which will be helpful to think a little bit more about, like to what extent should we get involved in politics? How can we conceive of a public sphere in ways that are not political, trying to seek the common good without falling into partisanship? I think these are some key questions which of course I’ve been asked in the United States and people around the world as well.
As we can see, movements like that can happen and are happening in other countries. How we can be more nuanced and more thoughtful when it comes to supporting parties and candidates? Even with sharing some policy platforms, we can try to be a little bit more thoughtful about that.
Listen to the entire podcast interview here.
Breuel is correct, but the people who need to hear his words will either not listen to them or dismiss them. When your faith tells that you that the United States is exceptional because God has blessed it more than other nation, why would you listen to Christians from other countries?