For almost five years now I have been asking the same question: Why do evangelicals love Donald Trump so much? On the surface it seems like a ridiculously strange pairing. So many of the same people who told me not to “cuss, drink, chew, or date people who do” have not only supported Trump’s ascendency to the highest office in the land, they have done so enthusiastically. This isn’t a deal where people are holding their noses and voting for Trump, you know, because of her emails. In some ways it’s reached the level of a kind frenzied worship.
What happened to the values, to the stringent purity codes that, in my youth, would have led me to not associate with someone like Donald Trump, because you can’t be unequally yoked (where are my youth group kids at on this one?). This has vexed me for years now.
There are some obvious reasons:
Trump has stoked the racism and white supremacy that has been bubbling under the surface. When Trump denies systemic racism or says that there are good people on both sides he is legitimizing, normalizing, and embracing white supremacy.
There are also those who will ignore just about anything to stack the Supreme Court, and courts all over the country, with conservative justices. America is legit falling apart at the seams, and all of this has happened under Trump’s watch. Yet, there will be those, many I’m afraid, who will stick with him because of his promise to seat conservative justices.
There are plenty of surface reasons for a large percentage of evangelical’s unholy union with Trump, but I think the core of it goes a bit deeper. Last night, while we were getting our kiddos ready for bed, I had a flux capacitor moment.
[For the uninitiated, this is a reference to the 80s classic movie Back to the Future. In the movie the inventor of the time machine, Doc Brown, comes up with the flux capacitor (that makes time travel possible) after bumping his head.]
I was in the middle of our ordinary bed time routine, and a realization dawned on me: Evangelicals support Trump because Trump actually embodies some of the qualities of a particular image/understanding of God. As someone raised with this understanding, it makes complete sense.
God is punitive, so is Trump.
God is concerned about being worshipped and adored, and so is Trump.
God demands the fiercest loyalty, so does Trump.
God is on the side of the powerful, so is Trump.
God wants all the credit for the good and no blame for the bad, and so does Trump.
God is willing to leave a trail of bodies to get what *He* wants, and so is Trump.
I could go on, but I think you get the point. How we think about God matters, because it literally touches every part of who we are and who we are becoming.
As Rob Bell puts it:
“We shape our God, and then our God shapes us.”
For this reason, I believe the work of reframing what the word God means is vital. Can we come to a different understanding of God that makes peace, justice, and compassion possible in our world? Can we move beyond the punitive and retributive desire to get even, and instead embrace mercy and forgiveness? Can we come to see all human beings as beloved image bearers of the Sacred? Can we make the flourishing of all human beings our goal?
If our God is compassionate, how will that shape us?
If God is more concerned about the creation of a just world than being worshipped, how will that shape us?
If God doesn’t demand that we spout the party line, but is open to our questions and doubts, how will that shape us?
If God is on the side of the oppressed, and wills their liberation, how will that shape us?.
If God is present with us in all of life’s joy and pain, how will that shape us?
If God wills human flourishing, how will that shape us?
If we can bring into our consciousness and experience an understanding of God that is compelling and universal, maybe everything would change. After all, we shape our God, and then our God shapes us.