Even as the disgraces, crassness, and affronts to human dignity increase almost daily in the Trump administration, many evangelical Christians continue to stand beside this regime. Although the words and actions of Trump’s government seem antithetical to Christian values, his supporters seem unperturbed by the lies, conflicts of interest, immorality, and lack of compassion that characterize this administration. These contradictions, however, begin to make sense if we analyze this kind of evangelicalism as a political theology directed toward theocracy rather than an expression of authentic Christian faith through political activism.
As a political theology, Trumpian evangelicalism arises from the Christian Right’s history of wedding church and state in order to further the political goals of Christian theocracy and triumphalism. In other words, Trumpian evangelicalism seeks to impose on all Americans a particular brand of evangelical thought and morality through legislation and court decisions that affirm government by the dictates of the (political evangelical) church and the triumph of the (political evangelical) church over other forms of religious and political organization.
Trumpian evangelicalism, then, rests on a number of theological tenets developed through the rise of the Christian Right and refined to direct the most effective political gain:
God sides with the powerful. At the center of Trumpian evangelicalism is a concern with the amassing and enacting of religio-political power. Trumpian evangelicals make no attempts to mask their quest for power because they understand the accumulation of power and winning as evidence of God’s approval. Both Rep. Michele Bachmann and Rev. Franklin Graham, for example, have attributed Trump’s win to God’s intervention. In this modern iteration of a deuteronomic theology—God rewards the good and punishes the bad—power is a reflection of God’s approval, powerlessness of God’s disapproval.
All people are equal at the foot of the cross, but some are more equal than others. In Trumpian evangelicalism, God’s acceptance only extends so far. And so, reflecting God’s judgment against those outside the circle of care, Trumpian evangelicals can insult, exclude, vilify, and discriminate against Muslims, Mexicans, LBGTQ people, people of color, poor people, and people with disabilities. These are not the powerful; they are not the people with whom God sides; and therefore they are legitimate objects of Trumpian evangelical scorn, derision, and harm. For example, Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, pressured Trump and Republicans to oppose providing medical services for transgender military members. In fact, the FRC referred to the proposal to provide services as the work of “the forces of darkness.”
Ends justify means in the struggle for God, gold, and glory. A certain utilitarianism characterizes Trumpian evangelicalism. Within it, no lie—no matter how big; no words—no matter how vile; no action—no matter how violent is beyond the pale as long as it moves government toward the theocratic kingdom Trumpian evangelicals desire. The fact that Sarah Huckabee Sanders, daughter of a Baptist minister, who calls herself Christian, can day after day repeat and defend the outright lies of this administration demonstrates the extent to which Trumpian evangelicals have embraced a utilitarian view that excuses any behavior as long as it advances their agenda. As New York Times columnist David Leonhardt noted in a January piece on the Muslim travel ban, “Let’s not mince words. President Trump’s recent actions are an attempt to move the United States away from being the religiously free country that the founders created — and toward becoming an aggressively Christian country hostile to other religions.”
The “Wall of Separation” is between people, not church and state. Trump’s proposed border wall, like his travel ban, is a physical representation of the psychological, emotional, and relational walls this administration is building between people. Trumpian evangelicals embrace an us vs them worldview that situates themselves as God’s only true people with the rest of us as targets for conversion and/or defeat. Rather than approaching difference with openness and compassion, Trumpian evangelicals are openly hostile toward diverse groups. A 2016 Barna Group study found that “Evangelicals are among the least likely of religious groups to support [Black Lives Matter], and the most likely to hold conservative positions on race.” Trumpian evangelicals have targeted gay rights by arguing their religious freedoms supersede the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer people to equal treatment in public accommodation. A Pew Research poll showed that 76% of evangelicals support Trump’s revised Muslim travel ban.
The political theology of Trumpian evangelicals is a white, nationalist, heterosexist, and patriarchal belief system that reinscribes power in a vision of an America First Christian theocracy ruled by narrow evangelical dictates through any means necessary. This is another gospel, but it is not the gospel of Jesus Christ.