Surely you have wondered, as I have, how can Evangelical leaders flirt with voting for Donald Trump. His unfiltered locker-room rhetoric is much more at home on the Howard Stern show than in a Christian church. His explicit objectification of a woman’s body is habitual and would deeply shock the Sunday School class at any Christian church. His grossly exaggerated philanthropic behavior reeks of hypocritical dishonesty on a level and in a form that would be hard to justify by even the most creative interpreters of the New Testament. What happened to the Social Gospel and Liberation Theology? Support Donald Trump???????
The best answer I know can be found in Chris Lehmann’s The Money Cult: Christianity, Capitalism, and the Unmaking of the American Dream. While it would be more fair for the title to say “The Prosperity Gospel Version of Christianity, . . . .”, the Puritan roots of American Christianity link directly to the Prosperity Gospel ministry of the Joel Osteen’s and the aptly named Creflo Dollar.
- Donald Trump seems to be rich
- “Rich” is another word for “success” in a culture soaked in market thinking and phraseology.
- Wealth is God’s reward to those who seize on their numerous opportunities to “advance” themselves.
- In that Trump has the markings of having seized on the opportunities available to him (Remember, he is rich.), he seems to be one on whom God is smiling.
Lehman has much to teach us about the long American history linking wealth to Christian practice.
But so far all we have above is a portrait that could justify Evangelicals’ support for Hillary Clinton. I think 2 things are missing that Lehmann does not emphasize.
- Support for Trump requires a variant of Christianity that celebrates the individual and his/her choices as the ultimate driver in shaping the human condition. Listen to Trump’s explanations for his place in the world. There is only one primary cause—TRUMP. This illustrative American Individualism is essential to Capitalism and its sanctification of the consumption behavior of individual choosers and individual entrepreneurs. This cult of the individual erases consideration of the shaping power of external factors that we in no way control.
- Trump’s history melds smoothly into a Christian narrative of redemption and forgiveness. Trump now says he has seen the light. Perhaps I missed his rejection of the dark, but for those who wish to believe that he is now an Evangelical of some sort, a familiar narrative of “being lost, but now found” is available.
Any alternative hypotheses for Evangelicals’ tentative embrace of Trump?