James A. Beverley is professor of Christian thought and ethics at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto. He lectured on Trump at a recent international conference in Taiwan. Find more of these columns at www.FaithToday.ca/ReligionWatch
Pollsters agree an astounding 81 per cent of white evangelical voters chose Donald Trump for president back on Nov. 8, 2016. Trump’s actions, policies and tweets have caused no end of battles since then. At press time the latest fury involves a former White House worker who goes by the name Omarosa, but who Trump defenders call Judas.
Past and present evangelical support for Trump, various scholars suggest, is a disaster for the gospel. In his book Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump (Eerdmans, 2018), evangelical historian John Fea argues the 81 per cent betrayed the Christian faith in their drive for access to the White House. He dedicates his book "to the 19 percent." No surprise, Fea has been largely ignored by Fox News.
While nothing will bridge the divide over Trump, here are six questions to help us reflect on his presidency, God and the gospel.
Where can I find reliable information about why evangelical Christians voted for Trump? Read David Brody and Scott Lamb, The Faith of Donald J. Trump(HarperCollins, 2018) and Stephen Strang, God and Donald Trump (Charisma Media, 2017). Brody works for the Christian Broadcasting Network and had unprecedented access to Trump. Strang is head of the Charisma Media empire and was a strong supporter of Trump for president.
Is it a mystery that so many Bible-believing Christians voted for Trump, given his two divorces, immoral lifestyle (think of the Billy Bush tape), ignorance of the Bible (remember his 2 Corinthians comment) and lack of asking for forgiveness? This mystery vanishes once you realize three things. First: the ABC factor (Anybody but Clinton) worked. Second: pro-Trump evangelical leaders such as Jerry Falwell, Jr., James Dobson, Robert Jeffress, Pat Robertson, Paula White, Tony Perkins, Jim Garlow, Rodney Howard-Browne, Franklin Graham, Darrell Scott and Wayne Jackson argued persuasively that Americans were electing "a commander-in-chief, not a pastor-in-chief." Third and most important: Trump’s views were in line with major evangelical and conservative values on terrorism, economic recovery, immigration, foreign policy, gun rights, Supreme Court appointments (think Neil Gorsuch), health care and social security. These were the top eight issues in a Pew Research Center poll on why white evangelicals supported Trump. Contrary to popular opinion abortion did not rank as one of the top issues.
Before Trump became the Republican candidate, why did Evangelicals support him ahead of mature Christian politicians such as Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee? First: Trump, never in politics, picked up on America’s fatigue with politicians. Second: Trump was the most adept of the 17 candidates at building on nativist and populist issues and fears (such as Islam, immigration and guns). Third: Trump was helped by enormous media coverage (ironic, given his bad relations with media). Nate Silvers of The New York Times estimated Trump got $2 billion worth of advertising from the media onslaught. Fourth: Trump got pictured early on (thanks especially to Lance Wallnau, a major Pentecostal leader) as a Cyrus figure as depicted in Isaiah 45, chosen by God to save America and even help rescue Israeli-American relations from the damage done by Obama.
Did various Pentecostal and charismatic prophets really predict Trump would become president and that he was God’s choice? Believe them or not, there’s no doubt such predictions were made – some even before he won the nomination. By the way, evangelical Trump supporters such as Falwell and Jeffress would give no place to the gift of prophecy for today while others such as Strang and Paula White would support it. (See my Amazon e-book Donald Trump, God and Christian Prophecy.)
Do evangelical Trump supporters believe Trump is fulfilling Bible prophecy? Some do. See Paul McGuire and Troy Anderson’s popular Trumpocalypse(FaithWords, 2018). They paint Trump as a key player in the run-up to the rebuilding of a third Temple in Israel, a worldwide revival, and the return of Jesus. Is there a way to bridge the evangelical divide over Trump? Realistically, no, but all Christians should pray for our leaders, as the Bible commands. As well, we can learn to think more carefully on topics (for example, did Trump really say all Mexicans are rapists?), be more precise in judgments (how dangerous are immigrants, really?), avoid simplistic adoption of a party line or a media report, and, above all, anchor our lives in God and the good news in Jesus, the gospel that will survive every political storm.