Many commentators confess themselves mystified by continuing HUGE rates of (usually white) evangelical support for an American presidential candidate who in the course of his 70 years appears to have paid more attention to Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Philosophy than to the Christian Gospel.
What could be in the minds of evangelical leaders such as these?
I grew up in a Georgia town at a time when my fellow Southern Baptists decried drinking and had yet to come fully to terms with dancing. Public displays of piety were so valued that the unmarried middle-aged woman who ran the ticket counter at the local movie theater – and was required to work on the Lord’s Day – was the frequent target of gossiping churchwomen who on Sundays managed to attend, conspicuously, both the morning and the evening services.
Against that background, I’ve felt and expressed some amazement about the apparent new leniency that’s benefiting Trump. But now I think I’ve figured it out:
White, evangelical Protestants dominate the South and, like Christians everywhere else, they tend to pick and choose the scriptures they want to emphasize. In places like Georgia (and, of course, Texas, where a man doesn’t want to be known as All Hat, No Cattle), many Christian believers ignore biblical injunctions favoring modesty and humility.
Boastfulness is a competitive sport. The meek are weak – losers and morons whose inheritance will amount to ZERO. Thus they won’t need to engage in tax avoidance, as SMART people like Trump do.
A truly TREMENDOUS champion of self-praise, a WINNER such as Trump, comes across in the regional culture as positively godlike.
Consider these famously TERRIFIC Trump quotations:
- “I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain.”
- “I went to an Ivy League school. I’m very well educated. I know words. I have the best words.” Also: “My Twitter has become so powerful that I can actually make my enemies tell the truth.”
- “It is very hard for them to attack me on looks because I am so good looking.” Also: “My fingers are long and beautiful, as, it has been well documented, are various other parts of my body.”
- “When people wrong you, go after those people because it is a good feeling.”
- “I speak through the applause . . . you know why? Because I’m so excited . . . I don’t want to wait for your frickin’ applause.”
Preachers down south, knowing that boasting is such a big part of the culture, don’t bother much with trying to explain the biblical God’s demand for unlimited praise from the mere humans that He created in His own image. For that sort of discussion, look north to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where Calvinist Baptist theologian John Piper holds forth.
Piper tells the faithful why they should be fine with God’s words as reported by the prophet Isaiah: “You are my servant Israel in whom I will be glorified” (49:3) and “My glory I will not give to another” (48:11).
Trump’s rhetoric about himself begs comparison not only to the Almighty’s but also to that of God’s special servants.
Now that he’s suffering stinging criticism for his treatment of women, for example, the candidate sees himself as the faultless victim of a giant conspiracy by “those who control the levers of power in Washington and . . . the global special interests they partner with.” In that he echoes King David’s lament in Psalm 59 that “The mighty are gathered against me, not for my transgression nor for my sin, O Lord.”
Jesus, according to the New Testament, died on the cross in a divine sacrifice to atone for mankind’s sins. And now we’ve heard Trump asking his supporters in West Palm Beach to see a similar and, yes, CLASSY purpose in the charges against him of personal misconduct: “I take all of these slings and arrows, gladly, for you.”