Approaching Thanksgiving Day, 2020, time to state what we’re thankful for. Here’s my current edition:
My wife, my sons, my job, and … Donald Trump. “What?!” you say. Yes, I’m grateful to Donald Trump for confirming what I’d begun to believe in recent years, that the assemblage commonly referred to as white evangelicals is in a sad state. Here’s my explanation:
A Monstrous Mating
I was a white evangelical for 45 years. Not coincidentally, I was a conservative Republican for nearly that long. It is not that my views on religion or politics have changed dramatically. Rather, it is that, in my estimation, evangelicalism and conservatism have changed, and they did so by becoming too intimately connected. I find it increasingly difficult to distinguish one from the other. And their co-mingling has corrupted both.
Certainly this is not true of all evangelicals nor of all political conservatives. But, by and large, most of the evangelicals I know and have seen have stirred these two elements into a toxic and potentially explosive concoction that took the warped form of Donald Trump.
Making the pursuit of long-sought evangelical goals—particularly “religious freedom” and a ban on abortion—the preeminent evangelical aim allowed for the support of an unreservedly ungodly man—who promised to champion those goals—to lead this nation. And now, despite volumes of evidence of this president’s corruption, the people who should most value the characteristic of humility are too proud to admit their mistake. Either that or just too hell-bent on achieving the two primary goals cited above. Let’s have a look at those two goals:
A Pair of Pointless Pursuits
“Religious freedom”: I put the term in quotes because the alleged attacks on it are more illusion than reality. As I mentioned above, I placed myself squarely in the evangelical camp for 45 years, and in all that time I never experienced any discrimination based on my beliefs and self-identification. I’m confident that if almost any other American evangelical were to honestly examine his or her life, they’d come to the same conclusion.
Sure, we’ve seen a few cases of alleged discrimination, such as evangelical bakers being “persecuted” for refusing service to gays wanting them to bake them a wedding cake. But such cases are rare. And, really, in the grand scheme of things, would it really hurt the bakers to oblige a customer with whom they disagree on an issue—even an important issue. Why not, rather than refuse service, use the occasion as an opportunity to befriend the couple? Why not, over the course of that friendship, help the couple to experience God’s grace? Why exclude when we can include?
Abortion: I count myself firmly in the pro-life camp. But after 46 years of battling over this issue in the courts and at the ballot box, what have we gained? Through those 46 years, we have had four Democrat presidents and five Republican presidents. Not one of those presidents was inclined to seriously pursue a ban on abortions. So why this insistence on unreserved and intimate allegiance to the Republican Party over this issue?
Evangelicals would be wiser to focus their attention on dispensing God’s grace than on fighting progressives on the political front. Evangelicals would be more productive if they were to seek common ground with their progressive neighbors. It’s much easier to engage with a friend than a foe. Evangelicals should be engaging in cultural conflicts with kindness and grace—as modeled by Jesus—rather than with invectives and vitriol, as modeled by our soon-to-be-replaced president.
So that’s why I’m thankful for Donald Trump, the man who opened my eyes to the need for a new evangelical reformation.
What I Am Not Thankful For
Last year, President Trump paid a Thanksgiving visit to U.S. troops in Afghanistan. But unlike the Thanksgiving speeches his two immediate predecessors gave to the troops there, which thanked those brave folks for their sacrifices, Trump’s speech was all about self-congratulation. For example, Trump boasted: “We flew 8,331 miles to be here tonight for one simple reason: to tell you in person that this Thanksgiving is a special Thanksgiving. We’re doing so well; our country is the strongest, economically, it’s ever been. We have never done so well. We have the greatest economy anywhere in the world. So it’s nice to know you’re fighting for something that’s doing well, as opposed to something that was not doing well just a number of years ago.”
And that was just the start of Trump’s rambling homily of self-congratulation.
But no one should be surprised when a narcissist makes himself the object of thanks on Thanksgiving Day. Donald Trump is, I believe, utterly incapable of empathy, of seeing anything through another person’s eyes; he is absolutely self-focused.
A Recipe for Megalomania
Then, add to his pathological self-centeredness the many proclamations by prominent evangelicals such as Robert Jeffress, Jerry Falwell Jr., Franklin Graham, and even Trump’s former Energy Secretary, Rick Perry, that Trump is “God’s chosen one,” and you have a recipe that cooked up a genuine megalomaniac.
It’s no surprise, then, that Trump still has the support of millions of Americans—many if not most of them white evangelicals. How can any other person be qualified to replace God’s chosen one? And, because those millions of Americans have been conditioned to believe this “chosen one” nonsense, this country is likely headed for a violent future.
Hard to be thankful for that.