Trump’s Transaction with the Evangelicals

Feb 22, 2024 | America

A Heart Cry for America Part Two: Trump’s transaction with the Evangelicals

Strange things are happening in America, in both national politics, and in the heart of the Church in the nation. A friend from Chester days, who has lectured extensively in the States, wrote to me recently having spent a couple of months on both the East and the West Coasts. He is concerned about the forthcoming Presidential election, but even more disturbed by what he sees happening amongst the Christian evangelical constituency. David writes,

“I put ‘evangelical’ in quotation marks, since there is very little about them that I can identify with as an evangelical as I understand the term. In fact, it seems to me, the mainstream of conservative evangelicals has now strayed into heresy, in that they are preaching a false gospel. This gospel is far worse, I think, than the ‘prosperity gospel’ that many evangelicals (and charismatics) got involved with. That was a false teaching, but at least Jesus was still preached as the only way to salvation. Now we have two levels of salvation being advocated: not as alternatives (political salvation or religious salvation), but the one identifying as the other. So, it is no longer ‘Christ saves’ but ‘Christ through Trump saves’ or just ‘Jesus/Trump saves.’”

Such a statement sounds absurd, but I was watching closely when a fervent-for-Christ couple were challenged about the idolatry of Trump that has risen within the Church. ‘We’re not idolising him,” the couple replied fervently, “he’s our saviour!”

David continues,

“Old churches are being left and new online gatherings of ‘believers’ are forming. The situation is getting dangerously near that of Germany in the 1930s, when Hitler effectively managed to take over mainstream Protestant (Lutheran evangelical) churches, with only a small ‘Confessing Church’ resisting. A new biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer brings this point into clear focus. Hitler intended to restore Germany and thus the German church: Trump is to restore America for and through the Evangelical church.”

“With heresy being peddled, demonic forces of deception are given free rein and are now deeply entrenched in a fixed mindset and a spiritual bankruptcy. As you have recently suggested, Robert, I do believe that God is watching to see if the people insist on having their king’. (1 Samuel 8) Practically, America is highly likely to will step away from the rest of the world, and to concentrate on its borders and its own narrow self-interests. For Ukraine this will be catastrophic. At best, Trump may use his leverage to force a cease-fire.

Other ungodly features of this heresy are the insistence on arming oneself through gun rights; the insulting and belittling of all opponents; and the growth of paranoid theories. This of course alarms and horrifies many Americans exactly as it does us. So, the country becomes still further divided and disunited. I feel so so sorry for all this, and for the many Christians there who are seeing their faith being led away from the true gospel. Others are still trying to ignore it, but as prophetic watchers we cannot and must not do this.

When God gives a nation up to its own follies, how can there but be much distress. But there is a faithful remnant who will gradually speak out, at whatever cost, as occurred with the Confessing Church in Germany, and the Spirit of God will still move. There is a spiritual residue that the new ‘Trump religion’ can by no means drain away.”

From the ends of the earth we hear singing: “Glory to the Righteous One.” (Is. 24:16)

The faithful people of God in America bring to the Body of Christ around the world so much that is precious and beautiful. I have been so blessed by the pure and deep worship of Jesus Image, a community of believers in Florida, whose mission is ‘to bring Jesus to the world, by the power of the Holy Spirit.’ May you likewise enter in to the presence of God as you join them.

There are so many Americans who gather thus to pour out their hearts in love to the Lord Jesus, but my cry at this moment is for the nation as a whole. ‘In God we trust,’ is the motto of the United States, but in this article, we are going to burrow down into the ways in which Church and politics have become entwined in such a way as to become idolatrous; for idolatry is the inevitable consequence of elevating anyone or anything to the place that rightfully belongs to the Lord Jesus.

You will remember how perturbed I was by the prospect of a second Trump presidency in 2020 because of the spirit of revenge and ‘rule breaking’ that would proliferate under it. It is reckoned that 84% of white evangelicals voted for him in that election – one third, that is, of his entire vote. Now, however, we are seeing a renewed surge of support for this deeply compromised man who so determinedly tried to undermine an entirely legitimate election.

However dismayed and even disgusted some evangelicals may be by Trump privately, millions have been prepared to settle for the ‘transaction’ he made in which he promised policies favourable to them in return for their electoral support. Mark Wingfield has written an insightful article on this subject in the Baptist News.

Many ask the question why would believers vote for someone who has so clearly revealed himself to be full of malice, deceit and disorder? The answers are both simple and complex. I have pointed out in detail elsewhere that Trump knew very well that he would need the vast evangelical vote, and therefore deliberately set out to woo it. (See also this article in Time Magazine.)

Picking up on David’s letter above, what happens when the hearts of those who love the Lord become ensnared by idolatry, so that they end up they lend their support to people and policies that in so many ways distort and deny the values of God’s Heavenly Kingdom?

An important part of the overall picture is that the American church – and perhaps the nation itself – is heavily influenced by the belief that the US is a chosen nation. There is no question whatsoever that it is the Lord who has raised it up to be the world power it has long been, which in turn means that the decisions it takes have the power to impact the whole world, whether for good or ill. I don’t doubt for one moment that God fully intended to bless the world through America, both in terms of exporting the gospel, and of supplying aid of all kinds to many nations. But, ‘make America great again?’ Maybe, but great and special in order to serve, not for its own sake.

In his letter to the Philippian church, Paul magnificently endorsed his son in the faith, Timothy, whilst at the same time having to sadly relate that his other fellow leaders were primarily concerned with their own self interests. (Phil. 2:19-20) I look at America and feel a similar concern: the American people, and the evangelical church in particular, seem to be less interested in their global role and more with what is happening in their own backyard – and this at the time when the world is in tremendous need of US aid and leadership. (Britain has much to answer for in this area too, having greatly reduced the aid it gives to other nations.)

The impact of a ‘mesmerising’ spirit

When our hearts are vested in our own self-interests and desires, then they cannot but affect the way in which we vote. Donald Trump is leading people – ‘mesmerising’ them, one might say, and millions of believers among them – into believing that he will make America great again.

I was once present when a visiting speaker was ministering in ‘power’ but not in love. It was a profoundly disturbing sight. The congregation were eager to receive everything they possibly could from the event, and I was aware that most of them were not seeing the dynamics at work, that were actually promoting ‘the man and the ministry’ rather than Christ Jesus. I asked the Lord to make it really clear to people what was going on.

He did! A few moments later, the speaker declared that he never needed to pray because he had ‘only to command.’ Given that Jesus went regularly up into the hills to pray to His Father, this was a very clear signal that something was amiss. Even so, I asked for more – and actually rejoiced when the speaker went on to give the date of Christ’s return, for that was the point at which the audience began to question his authenticity.

I am inclined to look on Donald Trump’s explicit warnings about how he will not honour America’s NATO commitments along similar lines. His heart is being made clear for all to who have eyes all to see, certainly insofar as the way in which he fires those who do not toe his line. This is painfully reminiscent of Putin’s methods, a man for whom Trump has long expressed admiration.

Where idolatry holds sway

During the 2020 election campaign, there were a plethora of ‘prophecies’ claiming that Trump would retain the presidency. Some of these even continued after Biden won the election, suggesting that something would happen to stop him from taking office. But the vote was closed, and the results deemed fair and legal, the attempt at inciting a riot on Capitol Hill mercifully did not prevail – and the ‘prophecies’ went unfulfilled. Even so, some senior pastors and prophets continue to this day to depict those charged over the January 6th invasion of the Capitol, as being ‘hostages’, and as being persecuted as Christ was, for the sake of righteousness. Really?

Some of these same leaders are firmly convinced that the Lord will return Donald Trump to the White House in the forthcoming election. As the Lord has not said anything to me on this subject, I cannot comment on such predictions, but what I do see as needing unpacking, is the whole concept that Paul is at pains to explain: we reap what we sow. If we place our trust in the things of earth rather than in God Himself, we veer ever more dangerously close to realms of idolatry – which is permitting things (or people) usurp, that is, the place that rightfully belongs to Him. The Lord, however, has a plumb-line, and He measures according to it.

Jesus was clear: where our treasure is, there also will our heart be. (John 6:63, Gal. 6:7, Luke 12:13-34) And so we find Ezekiel spelling out the truth that, when people set up idols, the Lord will answer them in keeping with their idolatry, and the prophets will prophesy according to their delusions and imagination. Do read Ezekiel 14:2-6 and also chapter 13 to hear first-hand what God has to say on this matter. But the lovely thing about this very unlovely warning, is that the Lord says and does these things in order to recapture the hearts of His people. I long to see this play out for the Church in America, and all around the world where hearts have similarly been led astray.

An engulfing deception

John Steinbeck wrote that ‘our capacity for self-delusion is boundless,’ a concept I explored further in the final chapter in Vale of Tears, in which I examined the effects of deception that sweeps through a nation, and examined, for instance, the way in which Nazism engulfed Germany.

I am deeply concerned by the deception I see engulfing the evangelical church in America, in the name of ‘making America great again’ – Trumpism, in other words. There are many who are seeing uncomfortable parallels here with what happened in the German church in the years leading up to the Second World War. While there were those in the German church who refused to give allegiance to the spirit at work in Hitler, even to the point of courageously setting up an alternative ‘Confessing’ Church, many in the influential Lutheran church acquiesced ‘in the national interest.’ After the war, many people had to face the fact that they had fallen for the myth of Aryan supremacy spun for them by the dictator – and I am concerned that American believers will face the same reckoning.

I believe that it is vitally important to pray that the evangelical church in America is able to see beyond Trump’s populist slogans and appeals, and to instead weigh his character. Having seen, people remain free, of course, to decide how they wish to respond. It is anything but reassuring to hear many actively arguing that there should be a more authoritarian style of government rather than in the democracy that they have been accustomed to. The enemy will be rubbing his hands here, for he knows that once power is placed in the hands of people he can influence, then he can exploit it endlessly, and ever more seriously.

These are such serious matters. Most believers emphatically do not recognise that they are in danger of being taken in; many may one day have to deal with the trauma of that. The emotions are complex, and the psychological processing lengthy – but being willing to go back to the fork in the road where we allowed a false emphasis to take root is absolutely vital.

My prayer is that the American evangelical church will come to recognise the extent of their idolatry with regards to Trump, as well as its own specific interpretation of what it means to be a ‘chosen’ nation. We may well come back to that theme another time. For the moment, we can only note that the idea still holds sway in the hearts of very many.

In terms of the forthcoming election in November 2024, it would certainly take a significant shift in a relatively short space of time for Trump to lose the overwhelming support he enjoys amongst evangelicals. What independents and others make of him is another matter altogether, and a major factor in how the multi-faceted jigsaw puzzle of issues will play out in the lead up to the election.

Lord, do what is truly best for the United States in the matter of the presidential, Senate and Congress elections, so that Your work may be furthered, and hearts made pure. Deliver people from the extremes of polarisation, so that Americans may know that You are great, and that wonderful nation may serve the world as You have always planned for it to do.

Be at work in the hearts of many, in their consciences, in the quiet of the night, and in their group studies. Decouple people from an overinflated allegiance to Trump, so that they may wholeheartedly ally themselves to You. Soften hearts, Lord, so that they may neither gloat over nor resent the outcome of the election, but rather intercede on behalf of a nation loved by You.

Come, Light, that knows no night,
without whom all remains dull and dark however much it tries to light its own fires,
lighten and enlighten our minds.

Though endless articles and algorithms seek to push their political cause,
and to stir up hatred towards all that does not match and meet our own alignments,
infuse and quicken our hearts to refuse to hate,
but rather to cry to you to bless all who can and wish to be blessed.

Let love push back the frontiers of our shame,
and trust grow strong where guilt and confusion once reigned.
Bid turmoil cease and hope shine through
the clutter of vain and empty thoughts –
For this makes room for You to work
and draws us close to Your heart.

For further exploration

Linda Entwistle and I wrote an article that explore similar themes to these as long ago as January 2017. I think you will find Trends and Currents: Strong winds are blowing an extremely interesting re-read seven years further on, in the light of the advancement of the trends and currents we bore witness to then.

Music to help us pray for America

I wanted to offer some representative pieces of music to help us pray for the three countries we are particularly featuring in this edition: America, Russia and Ukraine. The latter two were an easy choice, but as I couldn’t find anything in our library stock that seemed right for America, I turned instead to this Welsh hymn, both to honour the two million Welsh immigrants who made their home in America (especially in New England, the Carolinas, Georgia and Alabama), and also as representative of the multitude of nations that have combined to make America the nation that it is today. (You can look up an article in Wikipedia about them called ‘Welsh Americans’ for more information.

The hymn is entitled Calon Lân, which means ‘a pure heart’, and the tune is well known from its many sporting associations, but the words, which are almost completely unknown in their English translation, make for a particularly pertinent and poignant prayer for America.

You will find the words of the hymn here on this Soundcloud as you listen and pray for America.

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