Vail Daily column: The Trump bad rap on evangelicals
The website of the National Association of Evangelicals has the following definition: ￢ﾀﾜThe term ￢ﾀﾘevangelical￢ﾀﾙ comes from the Greek word euangelion, meaning ￢ﾀﾘthe good news￢ﾀﾙ or the ￢ﾀﾘgospel.￢ﾀﾙ Thus, the evangelical faith focuses on the ￢ﾀﾘgood news￢ﾀﾙ of salvation brought to sinners by Jesus Christ.￢ﾀﾝ Like millions of Americans, my personal faith experience, with its imperfections and failings, makes me an evangelical. I￢ﾀﾙm also a pro-lifer who thinks state-law limitations can fill in some gaps in Roe v. Wade and who goes to a church where we pray each week for our national leaders.
It was with dismay that I watched the Republican convention where various evangelical political luminaries and others sincerely invoked the Almighty in support of candidate Trump. We heard from an actor, Antonio Sabato Jr., whose ￢ﾀﾜfaith in Jesus Christ compelled him to speak.￢ﾀﾝ The Arkansas attorney general Leslie Rutledge told us she is a ￢ﾀﾜChristian pro-life gun-carrying woman.￢ﾀﾝ LPGA golfer Natalie Gulbis declared that ￢ﾀﾜGod￢ﾀﾙs timing is perfect.￢ﾀﾝ Dr. Ben Carson told us that Hillary Clinton admires Saul Alinsky and that an Alinsky book credits Lucifer as an inspiration. Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. offered his ￢ﾀﾜsincerest prayer￢ﾀﾝ that Trump be elected. For his part, the candidate ￢ﾀﾜthanked the evangelical and religious community￢ﾀﾝ for supporting him, demurring that maybe ￢ﾀﾜhe didn￢ﾀﾙt deserve it.￢ﾀﾝ Sadly, that￢ﾀﾙs one thing he￢ﾀﾙs right about.
Christians can be Democrats, independents or Republicans. The policies advocated by the political parties often touch chords of Christian doctrine. And I get how some evangelicals might be predisposed to vote Republican. Evangelicals believe that faith is expressed and accepted individually while Republicans believe that individual responsibility and accountability are cornerstones of a properly structured government. That said, I strongly doubt that many evangelicals embracing the Trump candidacy have made more than a superficial assessment of what that political support means for their faith.
Years ago, in an important book, ￢ﾀﾜThe Unequal Yoke,￢ﾀﾝ Richard Pierard observed the apparent connection of people of faith to the political ideology of the right. Pierard challenged this apparent linkage as unfortunate, arguing that the requirements of faith, translated into public policy, may mean something starkly different. The same is true today: despite their Christian trappings and effort to shroud their political agendas in Gospel-validity, politics come first for the evangelical luminaries.
What are the luminaries missing? For starters, they ought to refresh themselves that the good book speaks repeatedly of the obligation to bring justice to the poor, of loving those who are different from you, of ensuring the poor share in your abundance, of caring for those in prison, etc. These commands have obvious implications for political policy, as Pope Francis and many Jewish leaders clearly understand. If the Trumpian luminaries actually believe what they read in Matthew Chapter 25, why have we never heard them apply those teachings to their political agendas?
Christians and churches often beat around the bush when discussing what faith principles might mean in the political arena. But the evangelical luminaries can￢ﾀﾙt duck these questions simply because they have an intense dislike for President Barack Obama or because they think Hillary Clinton should be locked up.
The luminaries must explain how Trump￢ﾀﾙs racist comments concerning a Mexican-heritage American-citizen federal judge, Trump￢ﾀﾙs use of a Jewish star when attacking Clinton and Trump￢ﾀﾙs anti-Muslim rhetoric fits into the Christian article of faith that every person has God-given dignity (￢ﾀﾜLet us make man in our image￢ﾀﾝ). They must explain how the Bible supports Trump￢ﾀﾙs plan to rip apart families and deport millions of Mexican children. They must explain how their Bible could possibly condone Trump disciple Sarah Palin￢ﾀﾙs smear that Black Lives Matter is a farce. They must explain how biblical principles countenance a supposed leader who rebuked a newscaster in disgusting sexual terms, mocked the disabled, viciously ridiculed all of his primary opponents as liars, wimps or bad-looking, slandered a Republican war hero and falsely accused a candidate￢ﾀﾙs father of plotting to kill President John Kennedy.
Add to this the Trump self-idolatry that pervaded the primary season, capped by his grandstand convention entry and ￢ﾀﾜI alone can fix it￢ﾀﾝ, his autocratic threat to House Speaker Paul Ryan that he would pay the price if he doesn￢ﾀﾙt play ball, his threat to cheapen the First Amendment so that he can pummel his detractors with lawsuits, his refusal to disclose his tax returns so the electorate can find out what his charitable values actually are, etc. His family￢ﾀﾙs convention makeover, including the ￢ﾀﾜto whom much is given￢ﾀﾝ reference, does not change who he has told us he is.
￢ﾀﾜYou will know them by their fruits￢ﾀﾝ has particular force here. Or, as my mother used to say, you don￢ﾀﾙt need a house to fall on you to understand Trump￢ﾀﾙs character and how ill-suited he is to be president, even if he could get past the vapidity of his political policies.
No explanations will be forthcoming from the luminaries. That is because the Trump excesses are indefensible when viewed through the prism of the Christian faith. The truth is that Trump is a religious poser. Recall ￢ﾀﾜTwo Corinthians￢ﾀﾝ) who is getting religion for political purposes. (Contrast the genuine Mike Pence and former Jesuit missionary Tim Kaine.) By twisting evangelicalism to embrace Trump, the luminaries lay a bad rap on countless evangelicals and evangelically based social service organizations which (like their Catholic and Jewish counterparts) try daily to live out biblical truths by serving the needy and fighting for equality and justice. They also disregard that Abraham Lincoln, a Republican and one of our greatest presidents, authored the Emancipation Proclamation and secured ratification of the 13th Amendment.
Evangelicals often speak of their faith ￢ﾀﾜwitness￢ﾀﾝ when communicating the Gospel to non-believers. The luminaries should consider the hypocrisy they are modeling and the ￢ﾀﾜstumbling blocks￢ﾀﾝ they are erecting to the non-believer￢ﾀﾙs perception of the Gospel message. The luminaries should stop passing off ￢ﾀﾜgreat￢ﾀﾝ and ￢ﾀﾜhuge￢ﾀﾝ as compatible with evangelicalism and what most evangelicals do on Sunday ￢ﾀﾔ these slogans and Trump himself are nowhere close. Instead, Trump politics should be judged by their own wisdom, without further distorting the Gospel the luminaries also purport to profess.
Charles Jackson is a Chicago lawyer who attended an evangelical college and has been associated for decades with a private Chicago legal aid agency founded by an evangelical church to bring justice to the poor. He and his wife split their time between Chicago and the Vail Valley.