The self-mutilating apostasy of White American Evangelicalism

The severe criticism of White American evangelicals for enabling the utterly corrupt and apparently fascist Donald Trump is deserved. But if we conceive of this group as a body, it is a headless and heartless body.

Two things I do not mean:

1. I do not mean that every individual White evangelical who has ever voted for or otherwise supported or considered supporting Donald Trump is either headless or heartless. That is not true. Individually these people do have heads and hearts, and many of these heads and hearts are largely Christian.

2. I do not mean that Trumpianity, or Christotrumpism—the syncretistic new religion that seats Trump where he ought not to be and speaks to and about him in terms that a Christian should use only of Christ and his apostles—has no leaders in thought, speech, or action. It certainly has leaders.

N.B. Trumpism is a political movement. Trumpists prefer Donald Trump to other politicians. Trumpianity, or Christotrumpism, is one important component of Trumpism. Christotrumpists claim that Donald Trump is an agent of God in American politics, and that to support Donald Trump is to uphold Christianity, and to oppose and denounce Donald Trump is to oppose God and the people of God. Trumpism is bad politics, antipolitical politics. Christotrumpism is schism, heresy, and often blasphemy. It is apostasy: a falling away from authentic Christianity.

Here is what I do mean:

The leaders of Trumpianity—commonly cited in the news media as “evangelical leaders”—represent neither the Christian mind of American evangelicalism nor its Christian conscience and passion for service and mission. They were never the best and brightest, the most perceptive and faithful, leaders of white evangelical schools, congregations, organizations, and publications. I know some of these institutions and organizations well. I was educated in a couple of them. I do not endorse the inordinate pride they sometimes took in being generative centers of evangelicalism, but they were such centers. Again, I do not assert that one’s value in Christ’s kingdom is dependent on one’s location in the hierarchy of the evangelical establishment. I am just stating that the “evangelical leaders” who have become the apostles of Christotrumpism were not the stars of the establishment-evangelical show. They were on its fringes. That is a sociological observation.

Nor were the people who have become the nationally recognized leaders of Christotrumpism ever the most brilliant and effective exemplars of (White American) evangelical thought. This is an observation in recent intellectual history. Ask two hundred professors at two dozen CCCU colleges and universities: who are the leading lights of evangelical thought? who has influenced you? You will compile a list. It will include theologians, historians, philosophers, and others who exercised formative influence in the rise of neo-evangelicalism, people who inspired evangelical thought and action between 1950 and 2010. Not all of them will be White. None of them went on to become apostles of Christotrumpism.

The leading lights of (White American) evangelicalism die not become prophets of the Moral Majority, and they did not become Christotrumpians. Many of them—the ones who were politically engaged, either in the sense of being vocationally involved in the field of politics, or in the sense of being vocationally involved in theological or pastoral work but thinking and speaking substantively, in an integrated, Christian way, about the responsibilities of faithful Christians in secular society—became either outspoken or soft-spoken never-Trumpers.

And the body of believers that became the infamous 80 percent of white American evangelicalism that supports Trump rejected them.

In so doing it cut off its own head, and it cut out its own heart. I say this not to exonerate White American evangelicalism of its culpability in l’affaire Trump. I say it in order to assert that its apostasy in this matter amounts to an evacuation not only of authentic Christian faith historically, globally, and ecumenically understood (which I have not argued here, but it’s true), but also of its own mind and heart. It is a self-decapitation, an autocardiectomy, a self-mutilation.

Can the head, the heart, and the body of White American evangelicalism ever be reassembled? Not as a characteristically White body. That has now become impossible, and it is a good thing that it is impossible.

Can it be reconstituted, integrated with a larger, nonethnocentric theological movement as a multicolored body worthy of being called American evangelicalism? Only God knows. Should we hope that it can be? I retain enough affection for the evangelical label to hope so. But this is not my highest hope.

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