One of the most ironic things about the 2016 campaign is the willingness of the Christian conservative world to so eagerly embrace Donald Trump. This painfully long self-defense of this support is one of the latest examples, and the Jerry Falwell, Jr. speech at the Republican convention praising Trump is another. Sandy Rios from the far right Christian group American Family Association (AFA) leapt to Trump’s defense on the Khan family controversy by saying, “From my perspective, it is the responsibility of Mr. Khan to distinguish himself from Islamists, from the Muslim Brotherhood, whose treatise is to destroy us from within,” Rios said. “If he is a patriotic, loyal, American Muslim, then we want to hear that, that’s great, and we grieve with them over the death of their son. But do not disparage Americans or Donald Trump for having concerns about Muslims in our midst.” If that isn’t pure bigotry, I don’t know what would be.
On a purely political level, it isn’t especially surprising that extreme conservative groups and people like these would support Trump. But in thinking about the bigger picture, whether the people who claim to be loyal followers of Jesus of Nazareth could support a man like Donald Trump, this is a puzzle. As numerous commentators such as Jimmy Kimmel have pointed out, Trump is the living embodiment of the seven deadly sins. Even if you limit Christianity to the most traditional conservative version promoted by people like Falwell and the AFA, Trump should be out of bounds. His core business is building casinos, which Christian groups have strongly opposed. He has been married three times, and has freely admitted, even bragged about, his infidelity in the first two. He has talked on shows like Howard Stern about which famous women he would like to have sex with, in terms not exactly Christian. He has spoken with lust about his own daughter. He has throughout his career insulted and demeaned many different women for how they look. Although he now claims to be against abortion, he has said he was pro-choice most of his life, and his position on the issue during the campaign has wavered all over the place. His position on LGBT rights is confusing at best.
These contradictions are so blatant that Lauren Windsor and Andrea Haverdink from The Undercurrent web show (which my organization American Family Voices proudly sponsors) recently started asking conservative Republican members of Congress whether Trump was a good Christian role model. The questions were mostly ducked, although there were some lame responses, mostly along the lines of “well, Hillary is worse” and “none of us except Jesus is perfect”. The funniest thing about the video below, though, is the priceless looks on their faces when asked the question,check it out:
In this video, Lauren takes the question a step further and asks a rather pointed follow-up, which leads to Sen. Jeff Sessions taking about 4 seconds before he can think of something to say in response- this is truly wonderful:
So what is the justification these conservative Christians are using for supporting Trump? In the first piece cited above, fundamentalist religion professor Wayne Grudem makes the argument that even if Trump is a little squishy on the whole Christian morality thing, the greater good is for Christians to swallow their morality qualms and support him anyway because Christians are told in the book of Jeremiah to “seek the welfare of the city” they reside in. And then he talks about how appointing conservatives to the Supreme Court is important, which is the standard line. Falwell mentioned Supreme Court judges as his reason for endorsing Trump as well, along with the Iran deal (I guess it is important the Christians oppose peace-making) and guns (because Jesus apparently would have been very pro-gun, had guns existed 2,000 years ago).
Thankfully, there is another version of Christianity around, one that actually seems to follow Jesus of Nazareth’s teachings a little more.
First a note about what he did not prioritize enough to talk about in the words he is quoted as using in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The Jesus of the Christian Gospels never once mentioned abortion, even though women and their caregivers commonly aborted their fetuses in that era and there was no law against it. Jesus never said a word in the Gospels about homosexuality, even though it had been a well-known and celebrated part of the dominant Greek and Roman cultures. He never complained about Roman taxes being too high, or their big government bureaucracy. In fact, his only complaint about the Roman government was that they oppressed the poor and did too little to help people in poverty.
There is no virtue of selfishness here, there is no “greed is good,” there is no invisible hand of the market or looking out for Number One first. There is nothing about poor people being lazy, nothing about the undeserving poor being leeches on society, nothing about how I pulled myself up by my own bootstraps so everyone else should, too. There is nothing about charity or welfare corrupting a person’s spirit.
In fact, as I have noted in the past, before Jesus was even born, his mother Mary said he would “pull down princes from their thrones and exalt the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things, the rich sent empty away.” In Jesus’ very first sermon to begin his ministry, in the Gospel of Luke, he said that God “has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives and to the blind sight, to set the downtrodden free, to proclaim the Lord’s year of favor” (which was a reference to a year in which everyone in debt would have their debts forgiven). And while he didn’t mention what modern Christian conservatives obsess about in terms of abortion and homosexuality, not even once, Jesus talks about mercy to those weaker and needier than oneself 24 times, tells people not to judge others 34 times, tells people to love and forgive even their enemies 53 times, tells people to love their neighbors as themselves and treat others like you would want to be treated 19 times, and tells people to help the poor and/or spurn riches and the wealthy 128 times. He talks of humility and making anonymous donations.
And Jesus was a really serious class warrior, too — he wasn’t just into helping the poor; he didn’t seem to like rich folks very much. In Matthew 6, he focuses on the love of money as a major problem. In Luke 11, he berates a wealthy lawyer for burdening the poor. In Luke 12, he says that the wealthy who store up treasure are cursed by God. In Luke 14, he says if we throw a party, we should invite all poor people and no rich people, and suggests that the wealthy already turned down their invitation to God’s feast, and that it is the poor who will get into heaven (a theme repeated multiple times). He says that the rich people will have a harder time getting to heaven than a camel trying to pass through the eye of a needle. He chases the wealthy bankers and merchants from the Temple.
One final note: anyone know who the Samaritans were in the Jewish world that Jesus was preaching in 2,000 years ago? They were people of a different faith, outsiders to Jewish culture and religion, and strongly disliked by the Jewish people. They were to that era’s Jews the same as Muslims and immigrants are to Trump’s supporters, a disliked people not to be trusted. What did Jesus say? That Jewish holy men passed the man in need on the side of the road, but it was the Samaritan, the Muslim, the Mexican, who took care of him and saved his life. Jesus asked who was the good neighbor in this parable, and said it was the Samaritan who showed mercy- that is who you should model yourself after.
Does this any of this sound like Donald Trump? You know the answer to that question. And it doesn’t sound like Jerry Falwell or any of the other so-called Christian leaders who have contorted their morality to find a way to support Trump.
The ironic thing about this race is that Hillary Clinton is the one who believes in the Jesus of the Gospels more than Trump ever has or will. She was raised in the kind of Midwestern Methodist household that I grew up in, and she knows the teachings of the Gospels well. That Methodist quote Hillary mentioned in her acceptance speech — “Do all the good you can, for all the people you can, in all the ways you can, as long as ever you can” — was hanging on my mother’s wall for as long as I can remember, and it is the perfect summary of the Methodist social gospel. What motivates Hillary Clinton more than any other thing is that faith that tells her to help people in need and improve their lives.
For those people who call themselves Christian and still support Donald Trump, they need to go and actually read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Those four books couldn’t be any clearer about who Jesus expected his followers to be. And it wasn’t Donald Trump.