Although Donald Trump’s base consists largely of white evangelicals, not all evangelicals see Trump as the Anointed One. To those who do, however, speaking out against Trump, his behavior, or his policies, is akin to blasphemy. Indeed, many evangelicals appear to have embraced the dogma of “Trumpism” as part of their Christian theology.
Last week, however, about 50 evangelicals, concerned about the negative perception of American evangelicals, met at Wheaton College, a conservative Christian school in Illinois, to discuss the future of the evangelical movement in the era of Donald Trump as president. Several who attended the invitation-only gathering left after the first day, offended by the “fault-finding” toward Donald Trump and his supporters, and characterizing the event as a “Trump bashing.”
Many are concerned that, to the rest of the world, including Americans who don’t support Trump, “evangelical” is synonymous with “Trump supporter.” And they’re concerned that “Trump supporter,” in turn, is associated with white racism, divisiveness, and nationalism.
“When you Google evangelicals, you get Trump,” said Doug Birdsall, honorary chair of the international evangelical movement Lausanne, and organizer of the Wheaton event. “When people say what does it mean to be an evangelical, people don’t say evangelism or the gospel. There’s a grotesque caricature of what it means to be an evangelical.”
“Trumpist” evangelicals stress that whomever God puts into office is there for His purpose (except, apparently, Barack Obama). Indeed, it’s easy to see God’s hand in the matter when the one who wins the election appears to further your agenda. The evangelicals are pleased with Trump’s judicial appointments, and they’re over the moon with Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem (putting things in place for some elements of Biblical prophecy to come true, they believe).
Yet, despite Trump’s “pro-Christian” moves (does anyone really believe Donald Trump makes any decision on the basis of its “Christ-centeredness”?) a growing number of evangelicals feel that association with Trump has tainted the movement.
It’s difficult to understand how a group of people who claim to follow the teachings of a man (Christ) who is believed to symbolize goodness, mercy, love, and empathy, can reconcile their political choice of a modern-day leader (Trump) who is the antithesis of those qualities. On the other hand, it’s refreshing to know that some members of that same group find the association with Trump to be repugnant.
“No matter what happens to American evangelicalism, it is here to stay, says Darrell Block, of Dallas Theological Seminary, and a co-organizer of the gathering in Wheaton. Perhaps, but will we ever be able to undo the negative association of evangelicalism with Donald Trump? It may be that the only hope for those evangelicals who don’t want to associate themselves with Trumpism is to change the name of their movement.
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