“When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.” Matthew 16:2-3, Jesus to the Pharisees and Sadducees.
When Donald Trump spoke at a Liberty University convocation in January, Jerry Falwell, Jr. gave him a rousing, glowing introduction. The secular media picked up on Falwell’s enthusiasm. Trump was presented as an independent, politically detached success story, and most importantly a “protector of Christianity,” both by his own rhetoric and the rhetoric of those like Falwell sharing the stage. Many students and observers cheered.
It’s important to note, though, that many others didn’t.
Yesterday was “Super Tuesday” for the U.S. election cycle. Trump appears to have rounded the bases to a substantial victory. The comments from my friends, self-professing Christians and otherwise, on social media read much the same: “Who’s voting for this guy? He’s made one racist and insensitive remark after another. He’s all rhetoric and no substance. Look! – a John Oliver video!“ (Oliver points out Trump’s shortcomings in a way of genius that I’ll not dare to attempt.)
So who’s voting for this guy? Well, a lot of people.
Popular Christianity (do I call it Evangelicalism? I confess the terms are blending and muddling in my still half-Catholic mind) still loves a man in a suit. You smooth talker, you. And sure, the hair, but you sir are a beautiful man with beautiful (ex-)spouses, but never mind that, you have beautiful children. You sure are strong. You seem like “our people,” never mind what vitriol actually comes out of your mouth. It calls to mind Malcolm Gladwell’s example in Blink of President Warren G. Harding, a man who everyone wanted to be president until he was. Because, well, he looked good in a suit. Says Gladwell of Harding:
“How did this man become president? He looked the part. Consciously we listen to facts and political discussion. Unconsciously we respond to stereotypes and looks.”
I say that Trump is a gift to Christians. Because this whole debacle doesn’t end when Trump goes home. It had better make us wake up and start reaching beyond our insular communities of believers. Start listening to people who are scared. People who see Muslims or Hispanics or anyone they’ve never met as an enemy (and admit, let’s all just please admit, that this temptation lies within us all). People who are subjected to bad, misinformed, intentionally naive “Christian” leaders and their worse teachings, who are only wolves in sheep’s clothing and long ago put the mission of their personal influence and career above the mission of God. We know what Jesus had to say about bad and selfish religious leadership. (TL;DR – he really, really doesn’t like it.)
Now I’m venturing into (
possibly crazy-town) my own speculations, but people voting for Trump are scared. They’ve lost good jobs overseas, or have jobs that crush them down and don’t pay them a secure living wage. Or, they might be young Christians that have been told over and over that Christianity is threatened (by what outside force it’s threatened by changes based on the speaker and the day) and it’s okay to make some moral compromises to save it. They’ve been told that politics in Washington is corrupt, but this guy will make everything a-okay. Fix things, please, Sir Trump.
To be honest, I’m not as worried about Trump, as I am worried about what comes after him. The next candidate or leader that builds off of this apparent success. The spirit of this world pushes people like him to the forefront through fear and through spirits of hopelessness. Calls of safety and security have derailed many a good land.
The Spirit of God, though…it leads through peace. Calm, not fear, in the midst of storms, and jobless numbers for March, and ISIS. Perfect love casts out all fear, as I seem to recall reading somewhere. And I hate that this sounds like a platitude, because it’s actually Scripture and God has actually told us this so that we would get off our asses and start engaging with people who are scared. Love spreads when Christians spread it. Y’know.
If you’re upset about Trump today, I understand. Oh, do I. But he can make us better Christians. The Spirit of God has given us Trump as a gift.