The recent death of Christian evangelist Luis Palau, the Billy Graham of Latin America, makes me reflect on how the Trump era affected the ability of Christians to share the good news of Jesus’ salvation with a diverse and diverse world. skeptical. According to his New York Times obituary, Palau was particularly aware of the common assumption that evangelicals are rabid right-wing extremists, so he sought to compensate by hosting festivals in progressive cities. In New England, when you say Christian, they mean these right-wing maniacs, Palau told The Times in 2001. I want to show that we are not maniacs but that we are well educated. It’s a rational faith, but a faith that sets you on fire. If you believe, as Palau did (and like me), that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, then it makes sense to share the good news with everyone you canyes, including townspeople and city dwellers. progressive college graduates. This is what Palau did.
But what happens when so many of Christ’s messengers have sacrificed their credibility and high moral standard by allying themselves with a controversial political figure such as, say, Donald Trump? What happens when the Jesus brand ambassadors to many Americans are Donald Trump and Jerry Falwell Jr., not Billy Graham and Pope Francis, let alone Jesus himself? In today’s climate, you might be forgiven for thinking that Christians are, as Palau is concerned that we are being seen, maniacs.
Evangelical Christians thought lining up behind a Trump was worth it; they couldn’t be more wrong. The cost-benefit analysis that led them to support it as the lesser of two evils in 2016 failed to take into account the long-term damage it actually still suffers.
I recently wrote about how the Trump era undermined the Conservatives’ ability to effectively sound the alarm bells on government spending, debt, and deficits, a development that could have serious consequences for our time-based political world. But the consequences of undermining Christian witness are even more serious. For believers who take John 14: 6 seriously and literally, anyone who undermines the Church’s ability to credibly evangelize in a fallen world is guilty of sending other human beings, people who would otherwise have been receptive to a message of salvation to eternal damnation.
Do you think winning a few Supreme Court seats guarantees a lasting legacy? Consider the consequences of … eternity. It puts the political compromises of so many evangelicals in a more complete perspective. It also highlights the potential consequences of one side of the political aisle trying to monopolize an entire religious faith.
According to political scientists David E. Campbell and Geoffrey C. Layman of the University of Notre Dame and John C. Green of the University of Akron, authors of Secular Surge: A New Fault Line in American Politics, this corruption is already happening. . They designed an experiment to test whether the rise of Americans who identify as non-religious was the result of a backlash against the Christian right. The experience consisted first of asking participants about their point of view on faith, then exposing them to reports mixing religion and politics; The experience ended by questioning the participants again about their religious identity.
In an interview with Religion News Service, Campbell said that simply exposing people to such a story was enough to keep a significant number of people away from having a religious affiliation. It’s a story at one point, and we can get that effect, he said. Imagine what happens when people are exposed to hundreds of stories for many, many years. It would only reinforce this idea that religion and the Republican Party go together, and that if you’re not sympathetic to the Republican Party, you don’t want anything to do with religion.
The connection between Christianity and the Republican Party has existed for four decades. But it’s fair to say that associating religious faith with the sunny optimism of Ronald Reagans or the compassionate conservatism of George W. Bush does not have the same level of negative repercussions as adopting the MAGA ethos.
As Daniel K. Williams writes in The Politics of the Cross, [J]As some evangelical supporters of Republican conservatism in the 1970s and 1980s confused the fears of middle-class white suburbs about rising crime rates and welfare costs with Christian tenets, some evangelical supporters of the Contemporary Republican Party have confused class fears of immigration, gun control and cultural change with Christianity.
The result may be even more catastrophic for the gospel than was the Christian conservatism of the late 20th century, as the Christian nationalism of the contemporary Republican Party is even further removed from historical evangelism and certainly further removed from Christian principles. historical, at least in his attitude. towards immigrants and marginalized racial minorities.
This problem is not limited to religion alone. In my opinion, Trumpism has tarnished many causes, including (but not limited to) our credibility when it comes to 1) compassionately advocating for the unborn child and the sanctity of life, 2 ) question the wisdom of spending $ 1.9 trillion, and even 3) celebrate the values, traditions and works of art of our Western civilization. In a recent episode of the Bulwark podcast, Charlie Sykes reflected on this development, lamenting that Western civilization has been co-opted by white nationalists and racists.
To put it in business terms that a consumer society can understand, we have a branding problem. If you’ve never heard it, Grover Norquist, the conservative anti-tax crusader, uses a rather colorful hypothesis to explain the importance of brand management (when it comes to tax cuts): Coca-Cola spends a lot of time checking the quality of the Coca brand. Cola, he said. Everyone knows what’s in Coca-Cola. And in order for you to be able to buy a bottle of Coke, take it home, you don’t have to ask what’s in it, or read the ingredients, or ask your friends. [it], he keeps on.
Finding Donald Trump as the de facto leader of your movement in the eyes of many Americans is at least a bit like finding a rat’s head in your Coke bottle.
But if you get two-thirds of your Coke bottle and look inside and there’s a rat’s head in what’s left in your Coke bottle, you don’t say to yourself, you know, I wonder if I’m going to finish all the rest of that bottle of Coke tonight … It hurts the mark.
Republican elected officials who vote for tax increases, Norquist concludes, are rat heads in the Coke bottle. They damage the brand for everyone.
This colorful metaphor could be extended to other realms. Trumpism, I would say, damaged the Christian brand, as well as the conservative brand.
The good news is that Trump does not exist in a vacuum. Others seek to reach disparate communities and separate the gospel message from the toxic politics. In this regard, Luis Palau and his successors (people like Christian leaders, including New York pastor Tim Keller and Ethics and Religious Freedom Commission chairman Russell Moore) offer a glimmer of hope and a hopeful alternative.
Yet finding Donald Trump as the de facto leader of your movement in the eyes of many Americans is at least a bit like finding a rat’s face in your Coke bottle. But the consequences are even darker. In some cases, Trumpism lasts forever.
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