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Why Donald Trump is Good for Evangelicals

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During the current race for the White House, like it or not, politicians, pundits, and the press are once again regarding evangelical Christians as a significant voting block. Currently, a good number of those evangelicals have thrown their weight behind the billionaire mogul, Donald Trump. Their support has plenty of people, including a lot of other evangelicals, scratching their heads. (Some are actually pulling out their hair.)

Trump’s arrogance, bullying, mockery, misogyny and strip club ownership, racism, Islamophobia, name-calling, put-downs, inhumane policies, disrespect for war veterans, his threat to hit back harder anyone who hits him, are blatantly antithetical to the teachings of Christianity and have nothing in common with the Jesus Christians claim to follow.

In their article, “10 Reasons You Can’t be a Christian and Vote for Donald Trump,” Baylor University sociology scholars Christopher Pieper and Matt Henderson write,

“A Christian who supports Trump either does not understand this person and his positions, or supports him in spite of Christian convictions” (emphasis added).

As Mr. Trump’s toxic rhetoric and the list of his offenses continue to pile up, growing numbers of evangelical Christians are taking Mr. Trump to task.

Evangelicals: Who Are We?

The topic getting the most attention centers on our core identity as evangelicals. What is an evangelical? What do we believe that connects us with Christians throughout history and elsewhere in the world? How do our beliefs impact our political convictions and loyalties? How have American values, politics, and culture wars taken our Christianity hostage and pulled us off mission? More importantly, how do we as individuals and as a body reflect the counter-cultural life, teachings, and mission of Jesus in the public square?

I welcome this development. It can be both healthy and refining for us to look in the mirror and ask ourselves honest questions about who we’ve become and how we’ve lost our way.

We have Donald Trump to thank for raising issues that compel us to reflect on what it means to be an evangelical.

Thank Trump for compeling us to reflect on what it means to be an evangelical. Click To Tweet

Evangelicals and Masculinity

One of the important (but less acknowledged) questions Mr. Trump’s candidacy raises for evangelicals concerns the definition of manhood. Much of what one hears from Donald Trump can only be described as machismo. The tougher than tough-guy posturing (threating not only to kill terrorists, but their families too) conjures up images of “El Chapo” or a mafia kingpin. Make no mistake about it, Donald Trump is a macho man. But here is the rub for evangelicals. Does the Donald really embody the evangelical conception of manhood? Three wives, mistresses, strip clubs, casinos, vulgarity, demeaning the physical appearance of women, mocking the disabled—are these manly traits Jesus would commend?

Definitions of manhood vary from culture to culture and from one era to the next. But the common thread that winds its way through every society is historic patriarchy. Patriarchy is a social system that establishes male authority over women, children, and also other males. It creates a matrix of human power pyramids where there is little room at the top and where a well-populated base is essential.

Patriarchy and the Malestrom

I recently finished my book on the Bible’s view of manhood,  Malestrom: Manhood Swept into the Currents of a Changing World. In it I argue that one of the greatest threats to men (as well as to women) is the lingering patriarchy that shapes much of our world. The malestrom is comprised of powerful cultural forces that drag men down and distort them from being the men God created them to be. Trace any current of the malestrom to its roots, and you’ll end up looking at patriarchy.

If I were still writing Malestrom, I would be sorely tempted to feature Donald Trump as an iconic example of a malestrom casualty.

Although the destructive effects of patriarchy on women are well-known, patriarchy is also destructive to men. The competition it produces goes beyond toxic verbal political battles. It produces the violence that began when Cain killed Abel and that we witness daily in wars, on city streets, and behind closed doors. Patriarchal notions mean manhood must be earned, that it is out of reach for some men, and that it is perpetually in jeopardy for all the rest.

Patriarchy drags men down & distorts them from being the men God created them to be. Click To Tweet

Barbara Walters powerfully demonstrated that fact when she interviewed Donald Trump as one of her 10 Most fascinating People of 2015. The man who prides himself on being “successful,” “rich,” and “a winner” wasn’t prepared for what she would ask. She caught him off-guard and exposed his vulnerability to the malestrom when in her characteristic blunt manner she asked, “If you lose the republican nomination, are you a loser?”

Stunned and momentarily deflated, Trump paused before reluctantly replying, “In a certain way, yeah. Hate to say it. If I lost the nomination, yeah, I guess I’d call myself a loser. I never said that about myself before.”

“Loser” is one of Donald Trump’s weapons of choice in his demeaning verbal arsenal. Every tactic he deploys against opposing candidates and critics is an effort to put them in the “loser” category and to preserve his status as a winner. His goal is to diminish their manhood to reinforce his own. It is a fight to maintain supremacy—to secure the top spot on the human power pyramid. It reveals Trump’s definition of what it means to be “a man.” Yet, as Walter’s revealed, his brand of manhood is fragile—hanging by the slender thread of his ability to prevail over others.

Walter’s interview forced Trump to admit the possibility that the label he so freely and cruelly attaches to others could one day be plastered to him. It was a reminder that even the top of the hierarchal human power pyramid—be it global, political, corporate, religious, domestic, or otherwise—is not a secure place.

That same vulnerability targets other men, including evangelical white males who have thrown in their lot with Trump. The realities of cultural and economic changes—the rise of women and the shift from an industrial to a service and information economy—have taken a significant toll on men who previously benefitted from a culture that catered to the skills and strengths of white males. They look to Trump because he embodies the “manliness” they’ve lost or are fearful of losing.

Trump embodies the “manliness” they’ve lost or are fearful of losing. Click To Tweet

Kinder-gentler versions of manhood and calls for men to “man-up!” and take charge that thunder from evangelical pulpits and appear in books addressing men merely situate evangelicals on the cultural manhood continuum. Such definitions are woefully inadequate and run the risk that men, like Trump, will take things too far. Worse still, they fail to offer men and boys the indestructible identity, dignity, meaning, and purpose that their Creator intended when he bestowed the imago dei on all his sons and daughters.

Thanks, Trump!

Evangelicals owe Donald Trump a word of thanks. His macho candidacy actually provides the perfect opportunity to ask ourselves some serious questions. Does Donald Trump represent evangelicalism? Does his brand of manhood look anything like Jesus? Trump is raising pressings issues American evangelicals can’t ignore.

Thanks Donald for bringing patriarchy back into the conversation!


Photo credit: Gage Skidmore (http://bit.ly/1nRBAsW)

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6 responses to “Why Donald Trump is Good for Evangelicals

  1. Well, that is a great article and one which I, a non resident of USA, am relieved to read. The rest of the free world is looking aghast at the possibility (which we once would have laughingly denied) that there could be a President Trump. I have found it very difficult to read the endorsements of christians, some of whom I have respected in the past, and have wondered what on earth is happening right now in America. As an Aussie, it may at first glance appear to be none of my business, but the truth is that whoever is president of the USA is leader of the free world… and I find it scary that I don’t get to cast my vote against this beefed up bully who is more reminiscent of Biff in Back to the Future, than I can bear.

    Please God… be in the vote in November, for the sake of the world, not just America.

    1. Bev, Thank you for your comment and for joining us with your prayers. We know the world is watching and, trust me, many of us are chagrined and profoundly troubled by what is happening. It poses an important challenge to the American evangelical church, and I am thankful that many are standing up. It means a lot to have the support of our brothers and sisters around the world. –CJ

  2. agreed .. the only comment i have is that the article didn’t go where i was looking – who is it that evangelicals are really? and do they represent the person and practice of Jesus? i fear not ..

    1. Those are the very questions I think we need to be asking, versus assuming we know who we are and that maybe only a few tweaks are needed. I agree with your “I fear not ..”

  3. What a well put together view point of this current situation. As a Christian male (though of a Spanish/Hispanic decent rather than white) I continue to find myself apologizing to those who I am friends with that don’t share my belief. Even they are able to look at Trump as a person and wonder or ask of me “how are you as Christians endorsing this guy?” I in no way, shape, or form endorse him, but as is the case with so many things when “Christian leaders” (e.g. Pat Robertson, James Dobson, etc.) endorse him they see that as a call to action for all Christians to also endorse him. I have to explain to him that there are many that currently have the microphone, but do not represent what the true nature of Christianity is. Every time I read an article like this I try to plaster it everywhere I can to show that there is another voice of Christianity, which doesn’t always get the microphone, but needs to be heard because it is by far more representative of what I think it is to be Christian than many of the voices that are currently getting heard. Thank you for writing this and I am encouraged that I continue to read more and more voices like yours that are asking questions that need to be asked about those who profess to be Christian, just as Jesus asked of the Pharisees so many years ago…

    1. Thank you Andy. It is encouraging that many Christians are troubled by this situation and speaking out. Glad the article encouraged you.

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