here is a price to be paid when Christians refuse to live as if God is real, when they attempt to accomplish great things under their own authority. In the Election of 2016, the political wing of the evangelical movement made just such a bold grab for power, and we’ve only just begun to understand the fallout. One such consequence of the evangelical rush to crown Trump as the their new savior is just now coming into focus: With Trump, evangelicals have lost their cultural standing to speak to the sordid stories emerging from southern California and New York. An opportunity to witness to society this powerfully comes only once every few generations–but evangelical Christians will largely miss it because of what they gave up for fear of Hillary.*
Evangelicals have been vainly competing with Hollywood for the attention of society for more than two decades. We have claimed again and again that our way is better because our way is based upon actual truth–the way this world was made to work. Hollywood, as the torch bearer and disseminator of secular mythology, has vehemently denied that, and they’ve kept up the ruse that secular ideology can result in real morality. But now, with the revelations of widespread sexual abuse from some of the biggest names around, that house of cards is tumbling down. This is a real chance for Christians to stand up and say, “See? There is a better way! Let me show you.”
But what do modern evangelicals have to offer these days?
They have just spent the past two years pushing and praising Donald Trump, a man who is clearly cut from precisely the same cloth as the average Hollywood abuser. He is a wealthy man with his daddy’s money, famous for being famous, who has demonstrably used his power to abuse others–specifically women. Worse, men like Jerry Falwell, Robert Jeffress, James Dobson, and others have taken ownership of him and lauded him as a leader of their movement. Trump has a list of abuse allegations (some of them undoubtedly true) behind him a mile long. It would, perhaps, be another issue if Trump had, of his own accord, come clean of his misconduct, but he has never publicly acknowledged doing anything wrong. In fact, Trump has famously said he’s never asked God for forgiveness for anything. Of course, he later amended it to say “hopefully…[when he faces God he] won’t have to be asking [forgiveness] for much.”** Comments like these are a slap in the face to the many people whom Trump has wronged–especially victims of unwanted sexual advances.
So, instead of reaching out to Hollywood from a position of consistent moral strength, instead of being able to say, “Life can be different–we can show you,” Evangelical Trump cheerleaders are left, at best reading, to offer the milquetoast defense of their former enemies: “Well, everyone does it.” “It was just locker room talk.” etc. etc. In fact, a fair reading by most reasonable people will be much less kind. Unlike the Hollywood liberal elite, evangelicals have been screaming their superiority from the moral high ground for decades. They have spent much of that time condemning fornication, homosexuality, and pornography. That makes evangelicals worse than consistent liberals: it makes them proven moral pretenders, people who can’t stand up within the very moral boundaries they used to condemn others.
Therefore, evangelical conduct in 2016 has turned an opportunity on its head. For Christians associated with Trump to speak out on the abuses of people like Weinstein or Spacey isn’t to say something morally positive in the culture war. It is, to anyone paying attention, a stark reminder of “Christian” hypocrisy.
“But there was no way we could have known this Hollywood scandal would come out!”, some might say. Bosh. Christians are not called to follow Christ based on a certain knowledge of the future. Instead, we are called to obey in the moment and trust to Him that He will honor our commitment. If we all had, if we had associated ourselves with even an approximation of the kind of man our own Bible tells us we should, the American conservative church would be able to speak with clarity and strength at what is likely a key moment in American cultural history. Instead, the best we can hope for is that no one holds 2016 against us as the chance to speak passes us by.
In the end, this is a stark reminder (one of many still to come) to Christians who sincerely believe that it is our job to follow and trust, not plot and scheme. If we really see God as God, it’s long past time we started acting like it.
*Note that there is, of course, a difference between those who “held their nose” and voted for Trump because they felt they had no other option and those who actively pushed him not only as viable but as God’s own choice. Unfortunately, this distinction is now limited in its usefulness because the latter category have been so vocal that, in the eyes of the world, all self-identified evangelicals now face public life with the Trump albatross around their proverbial necks.
**Also, when given the opportunity in this interview to acknowledge Jesus as God, Trump did not. To him, Jesus is merely “Somebody I can revere in terms of bravery and in terms of courage….” This is straight deism culled from the tradition of people like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. Even the idea that Trump believes he must wait until after death to ask for forgiveness betrays such a fundamental misunderstanding of salvation and the Christian faith that one must wonder what his “evangelical” advisors have been telling him. It’s frankly embarrassing for evangelicals to pretend they think he is a believer in a meaningful sense.