Late Saturday night, I stumbled on a tweet from Religion News Service (@RNS)
This was an excerpt of a song performed by the choir and orchestra of First Baptist Dallas at the “Celebrate Freedom” rally at the Kennedy Center (video). FBD is a Southern Baptist megachurch pastored by well-known Trump supporter Dr. Robert Jeffress, who also participated in the event. The link to the song lyrics is at CCLI, a service that houses worship music and provides copyright licensing for use in churches.
In the lead-up to last year’s election, I wrote that American evangelicals have a political idolatry problem. Despite Trump’s many personal and moral failings, many Christians saw a Trump presidency as not only a “lesser-of-two-evils” option, but some (like Dr. Jeffress) said it was a most excellent option. Never mind Trump’s history as a serial philanderer (because who needs the 7th commandment when there’s SCOTUS nominees on the line) and his disregard for truth (because who cares about the 9th when the other choice is Hillary). We want a wall, dang it! It’s the immigrants ruining our country, not the sin of our own hearts! And even as Trump’s conduct hasn’t improved since his election and inauguration (and in many ways has worsened), far too many Christians still treat him with impunity.
Now, I know a lot of people who held their noses and voted for Trump reluctantly and painfully. While I disagree with the rationale, that’s not who I’m talking about here. But those who shouted (and still shout) the gospel of #MAGA from the rooftops (or at least their social media feeds) and bared their hypocrisy for all to see undermined the credibility of the church and the Christian faith. And these displays of state-worship like the one Saturday only further contribute to that decline. Why should anyone care about our faith when we act like the only thing that can save us is someone in the White House with an “R” behind their name? Why should they care about our ethics or worldview when we abandon consistency in that arena for political expediency?
And it’s not just a problem for individuals, it seems to affect whole churches. One of the most prominent pastors in America packed up his whole church operation (or at least himself and his music team) and went to D.C. Saturday for something eerily resembling a worship service, not of the only God who is worthy of worship, but of the nation and its leader. I’ve seen some pretty gross displays of civil religion before, but this one takes the cake. As Trump continues to conduct himself beneath the dignity of the office he holds, Jeffress and many other Christians continue to try to prop Trump up as God’s gift to them and America, even as he far more closely resembles a wicked leader raised up for judgment.
And this is a real problem. To help demonstrate why, I will now share President Trump’s tweet from Sunday morning, about 12 hours after the ceremony:
If you follow the link to the original post, what you’ll see is a video of Trump’s pro wrestling appearance in 2007 (yes, he used to do that), only the CNN logo is superimposed on Vince McMahon’s face. Now, Trump’s contentious relationship with the media is nothing new, but it seems to be escalating. He recently lobbed some insults at MSNBC personalities Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski (and more at CNN). Now, say what you want about MSNBC and CNN (I personally don’t have much good to say about their news reporting), but they are news outlets which rightfully have constitutional protections, and they are staffed by human beings who are deserving of basic dignity. Many on the left have cried foul on the video, saying that it advocates violence against the media. I don’t see that; I think it’s even more insidious. The image of a president beating up a media outlet that has criticized him shows contempt for the free press, which is a fundamental pillar of democracy. Like them or not, by holding leaders accountable, the press helps to keep America free, and America is great only insofar as it is free. Trump doesn’t see his critics in the media that way. They are inconveniences that slow him down. They are enemies that he must conquer, constitution be damned.
Too many Christians are missing this. While we are called to pray for our leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-2) and pay honor to them due their positions (Romans 13:1-7), there is a vast difference between that and being complicit in our leaders’ ill-gotten gains. Trump is no friend of freedom. He shows no qualms with undermining the principles of liberty. He will discard and discredit anyone who is not of useful value to him. He is drunk on power. He is morally reprobate. Of course, when the people who are supposed to be worshipers of the true God alone start having ceremonies and (literally) singing praises of Trump as though he is some sort of deity, I guess we can’t be too surprised when he starts acting like one. ♦