Today’s evangelicals seem to think God can be defeated

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Pete Wehner, a NeverTrump conservative, weighs in on Evangelical Christianity in the Trump era:

I recently exchanged emails with a pro-Trump figure who attended the president’s reelection rally in Orlando, Florida, on June 18. (He spoke to me on the condition of anonymity, so as to avoid personal or professional repercussions.) He had interviewed scores of people, many of them evangelical Christians. “I have never witnessed the kind of excitement and enthusiasm for a political figure in my life,” he told me. “I honestly couldn’t believe the unwavering support they have. And to a person, it was all about ‘the fight.’ There is a very strong sense (I believe justified, you disagree) that he has been wronged. Wronged by Mueller, wronged by the media, wronged by the anti-Trump forces. A passionate belief that he never gets credit for anything.”

The rallygoers, he said, told him that Trump’s era “is spiritually driven.” When I asked whether he meant by this that Trump’s supporters believe God’s hand is on Trump, this moment and at the election—that Donald Trump is God’s man, in effect—he told me, “Yes—a number of people said they believe there is no other way to explain his victories. Starting with the election and continuing with the conclusion of the Mueller report. Many said God has chosen him and is protecting him.”

Emphasis added. One wonders how Jesus would be received in this crowd.

After all, Jesus wasn’t exactly known for his earthly victories, or for his fighting. When the special prosecutor of the day came calling, Jesus ended up in custody — and, ultimately, on the cross. It was only by his losing, in a very conventional sense, that Christianity as we know it exists.

But Wehner points out the concerns of modern evangelicals are, well, temporal:

Many white evangelical Christians, then, are deeply fearful of what a Trump loss would mean for America, American culture, and American Christianity. If a Democrat is elected president, they believe, it might all come crashing down around us.

Paradoxically, to be a Christian should meant that you believe you’ve already won the ultimate victory, but that victory won’t be of an earthly nature. Matthew 6, for example, is full of admonishments to Jesus’ followers not to worry about earthly rewards but to store up treasure in heaven.

16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

I always thought this heaven orientation of Christians made other elements of Christianity possible. If you know that’s your ultimate destination, you don’t have to worry about earthly persecution so much — you can suffer for the sake of your faith — because it’s going to come out OK. Today’s evangelicals don’t seem to have that orientation.

To put it another way: Today’s evangelicals seem to think God can be defeated. Which is one reason they cast their lot with Trump — as a hedge against that defeat.

Here’s where I offer some sympathy: I don’t always believe in this eternal outlook myself. The less I do, the more I’m willing to depart from what I’d otherwise consider non-negotiables of Christian belief and living. My pacifism for example, slipped around the same time my belief in the eternal faltered. So I get it. Heaven is a promise, but the world you live in is the world you live in — one might be real, but the other is for sure real. Most days, it feels like it’s the only thing that matters. Even now, I can’t say for sure it’s not. So really, who am I to criticize evangelicals for their approach?

Wehner offers some hope, at least.

Evangelical Christians need another model for cultural and political engagement, and one of the best I am aware of has been articulated by the artist Makoto Fujimura, who speaks about “culture care” instead of “culture war.”

According to Fujimura, “Culture care is an act of generosity to our neighbors and culture. Culture care is to see our world not as a battle zone in which we’re all vying for limited resources, but to see the world of abundant possibilities and promise.” What Fujimura is talking about is a fundamentally different set of sensibilities and dispositions from what we see embodied in many white evangelical leaders who frequently speak out on culture and politics. The sensibilities and dispositions Fujimura is describing are characterized by a commitment to grace, beauty, and creativity, not antipathy, disdain, and pulsating anger. It’s the difference between an open hand and a mailed fist.

I want to investigate this concept further, but on its face “culture care” seems counter-cultural. I’m not sure how much traction it can gain in today’s polarized political atmosphere. But it seems worth striving for.

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