Civil religion

Nov 20, 2017 by

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I cannot judge who is Christian and who is not, but when I read “Evangelicals and Trump: From Skepticism to Embrace” (World & Faith, Oct. 23), the question begged to be asked: Are evangelicals still Christian?

Evangelicals have become the face of Christianity in America, even calling themselves “values voters,” as if they are the only voters with values. They conflate the gospel of Jesus Christ with American Civil Religion, a body of beliefs that lurks under the surface of our political discourse. ACR is replete with theological assumptions that seem to have inspired Trump’s speech at the Values Voter Summit. Unlike the God embodied in Jesus Christ — who calls his followers to act justly and mercifully, especially in relationship to the poor — Trump’s speech depicted a deity who affirms the American creed that God helps those who help themselves and supports cutting taxes for the wealthy.

While the deity of ACR is limited to a particular territory, the God of heaven is the Creator of all, including those who have not fared well in the Trump administration — Mexicans and Muslims who attempt to enter the U.S., people who are not heterosexual, North Koreans and others Trump is anxious to bomb.

God does not only help those who help themselves but “raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap” (1 Sam. 2:8). The deity of ACR, in whose name Trump speaks, seems to help those whose incomes are high enough to use their tax cuts to pay health insurance premiums.

Evangelicals have compared Trump to King Cyrus, whose right hand God would “take hold of to subdue nations” (Isaiah 45:1), presumably this time to make America great again. They might consider whether Trump is more comparable to Thomas Jefferson’s fire bell, which awakened him and filled him with terror, as he feared it was the death knell of the Union [due to the 1820 Missouri Compromise]. Similarly, evangelicals might consider whether their allegiance to Trump is a hazard to, if not the death knell of, their theological integrity.

Bruce Bradshaw
Nashua, N.H.

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