Vail Daily column: The Republican Party at prayer
White, born-again evangelical Christians are the Republican Party at prayer. Around 81 percent of these believers prayed and then voted for President-elect Donald Trump. Evangelicals form the GOP’s largest, most loyal voting bloc.
Why do these Christians align their beliefs with Donald Trump who rejects much of what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)? Here Jesus defines how a Christian acts. Christ pits virtues against vices: sharing vs. covetousness; humility vs. pride; serving vs. winning at all cost; and modesty vs. materialism. Christians are not to feel comfortable when others are vulnerable nor let complacency isolate them from the economically distressed.
Evangelicals call themselves “values voters.” Taking-over the GOP’s political table, they pray to push through an agenda by which Jesus’ virtues are supposedly lifted up. By a landslide, Evangelicals voted for President-elect Donald Trump. He’s his own greatest fan who basks in the glare of private success, an ethic in conflict with Jesus’ teachings.
What gives? How do Evangelicals reconcile their endorsement of Trump with Christian virtues? “Christian Century” magazine publisher Peter Marty lists these traits: “Practice the beatitudes of Jesus [in the Sermon on the Mount], and you’ll never be tempted to bully. Speak truth to power. Do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God.
“Weak and vulnerable people need our embrace, not our mockery. Let’s welcome the stranger, build bridges of hospitality, and cherish grace. Remember that once you speak a word, it’s impossible to unspeak it. Resist fear. Insist on extending hope to others. Never view yourself as above forgiveness” (Christian Century, p. 3, Dec. 7, 2016).
When Sen. Eugene McCarthy ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968 and 1972, he lost these campaigns but won the faith contest among candidates. He possessed a finely tuned Roman Catholic faith. McCarthy mastered Christian theology.
Using dry wit, he mentioned that presidential runs featured only two kinds of religion: “vague beliefs strongly affirmed and strong beliefs vaguely acknowledged.” For instance, President Ronald Reagan made hazy references to Jesus that sounded orthodox but drifted in folksy religiosity—vague beliefs strongly affirmed.
In contrast, Evangelicals strongly affirm trust in Jesus and picture him as a budding capitalist. Didn’t he recruit disciples to work hard, risk often and reap dividends from their labors?
Evangelicals call this blend of entrepreneurial success with free-market capitalism “The American Way.” Trump personifies it. Consequently, he captured the Evangelicals vote because of his faith in capitalistic success, not Jesus.
My solidly Republican hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan, has always been sold on the American Way. I was introduced to it by attending Grand Rapids Christian High School in the 1960s. Students attended assemblies in the gym. Co-founder of AMWAY (American Way), Rich DeVos spoke. He challenged us to link faith with the American Way in order make our Christian nation flourish. An engaging motivational speaker, DeVos merged confidence in Christ with wearing capitalism on his sleeve, like generals who sport medals on dress uniforms.
Evangelicals expect their preachers to sell Christianity. They don’t wait for people to come to church, as do Lutheran, Episcopalian and Presbyterian clerics. Evangelical preachers take faith beyond churches and sell Jesus one-on-one in the marketplace. They believe the next church hire, after a preacher, is a tech-savvy layperson who claims the media for Christ.
Sounding like traveling salesmen, Evangelical preachers clinch deals for Christ. That’s why Evangelicals didn’t consider it strange when Donald Trump broke from his campaign to sell real estate in Scotland and Washington DC. Evangelicals consider such conduct Christ-like.
Kenneth L. Woodward, former religion editor of “Newsweek” magazine, shows how entrepreneurial hustle is a requisite for candidates to win Evangelicals’ vote. “The genius, the energy, of Evangelicalism lies in its protean drive to fashion ever-new ministries and movements in order to segment and target new audiences as markets for spreading the Gospel and converting individuals to Christ.
“It is this entrepreneurial character that makes Evangelicalism an especially American form of Christianity, and helps explain the strong affinity between Evangelical Protestantism and free-market capitalism …” (Getting Religion: Faith, Culture, and Politics from the Age of Eisenhower to the Era of Obama, p. 130, 2016).
Who cares if Donald Trump’s theology is thin, his mastery of the Bible sketchy, and his conduct with women like that of a tomcat? He’s a matchless entrepreneur that wins Evangelicals’ votes.
Moreover, Evangelicals trust in what sociologist James Davison Hunter calls “the great man theory of political engagement.” All it takes for right to triumph over evil is for an entrepreneurial Christian politician to “stand at the crossroads and change things for good.”
Since President George W. Bush left office in disgrace, Evangelicals have supported economic saviors such as: Sara Palin, Michele Bachman, Rick Perry, Ben Carson and Ted Cruz. When their stars are eclipsed, another meteor lights up the Evangelicals’ heaven. None shines brighter than loadstar Donald Trump.
Was the baby born in Bethlehem’s manger blessed with genes to grow into a crackerjack entrepreneur, endowed with winning capitalistic instincts? Was Jesus a religious version of Donald Trump, as Evangelicals make him out to be?
The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax exempt Creative Growth Ministries (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.