Avatars of Dishonesty: White American Evangelicals and Trump
Many wise writers about political theology have argued that the choice for president is not a matter of sin: it doesn’t matter who you cast a vote for, as long as you are following your conscience. Certainly, hypothetically, my hypothetical vote for a hypothetical candidate based on the hypothetical shaping of my hypothetical conscience could produce a moral action. But after four years of white American Christians failing in their testimony before the world through their support of Donald Trump, after four years of increasingly disingenuous rationalizations of his (and our own) sin, it’s clear that white evangelicals are not just championing a man who lies, they are championing a lie itself.
What is Trump but an avatar of dishonesty, the incarnate revelation of a life separated from the responsibility of truth? We should look on this symbol of our national sickness with shame. Instead, Christian loyalty to him has unearthed the roots of our facile manipulations of the truth: pride and selfishness. For what does dissembling unveil but the way we build structures to avoid truth? What are lies but the tools by which we cling to every cherished sin? What is the essence of dishonesty but the failure to die to self?
Our own dissembling, our own lies, our own dishonesty, have taught the world the extent of white evangelicals’ nationalistic idolatry. Counting ourselves positionally truthful, we have become enmeshed in the cheapest, the most humiliating, of falsehoods: propaganda and conspiracy. We have alchemized our godless fear of a changing status quo into a fuel that powers and disperses deceit. We have conducted lies into the public sphere through our social media, through our conversations with coworkers, through our disdain for the process of establishing truth. We have set off land mines of hypocrisy, reassuring ourselves of our ability to walk circumspectly, while ignoring the damage and debris in our wake.
And all for such a person. With the power of the heavens on our side, we turned our face to an obviously manufactured calf, a shabby, grotesque substitution of a different way, a better way, the way of Truth and Life. We sold our inheritance for a bowl of pottage that feeds only our resentment, our fear, our anger, our paranoia: the life-sustaining nourishment of love, joy, peace, goodness, and self-control cannot be found here. We have mocked the mercy of God by continuing in our racism and xenophobia — daring Him to forgive sins that so fundamentally defy His nature and creation — and rather than stopping there, we wove, and continue to weave, those sins into our theology, our worship, our piety.
We have praised our non-American brothers and sisters for enduring faithfully under corrupt governments, while we belie our claims in the sovereignty of God by handing the keys of our own kingdom to a corruptive force, deputizing him to triumph for us, asking him to allay our fears, asking him to harm others, asking a sinner to use his sin for our benefit.
And he has sinned. Repeatedly. Loudly. Openly. (And not that this matters in the eyes of the righteous God of the universe, but rarely for the benefit of people of faith.)
Because of our loyal support, each time he sins, he does so in connection to us: instead of throwing ourselves into a fiery pit to be rid of this millstone, we have fastened this albatross around our own necks, taking his sin upon us, inextricably linking our faith to it. When he preaches the tenets of white supremacy, we believe in it; when he proclaims anti-Semitism, we echo it. When he lies, we deny the truth. And if all that fails, we silently ignore him.
Instead of being a light shining before others, we have become a siren of deceit — a new avatar of dishonesty — that will resonate for decades to come, maybe for the rest of our lives. In one sense, we have already lost this battle; no matter how we vote in November 2020, the world — not just our country — will always know how destructive our grasp for power has been. We have not imitated the psalmists’ prayers for the defeat of the wicked: We should have prayed for Trump’s advisors to ignore his whims, for everyone around him to reprove him, to refuse to lie for him. We should have asked God to humble him every day — to destroy every crutch of sin Trump relies on to draw strength. We should have prayed for God to open his eyes to his sin. We should have prayed that he be thwarted in his efforts — the effectual fervent prayer of the righteous avails much.
And we should have matched prayer with action. We could have voted differently in the first place. We could have spoken to the people responsible for restraining him, begging them to do right. We could have voted out those who failed in their duty to do that. We could have and should have repudiated the fountain of filth that proceeds out of his mouth daily, his degradation of truth, and the destruction of our fellow citizens.
But we did not, and in a few days it will be too late for us to do what we should have done every day for the past four years. So I am left repeating my own prayer of the last four years: May all the Christian supporters of these lies — this lie — repent, and, for the sake of our souls and our witness, may it happen quickly.