For many people the Christian support for Donald Trump is one of the most mystifying and worrying aspects of US politics. It was no surprise to see Jesus banners amongst those carried by those who stormed the Capitol building.
Four years ago, an old school friend, Nick Miles, wrote a guest post on why he, as a Christian, was voting for Trump. I still shudder at the almighty debate it stirred on Facebook. Blending religion and politics is always incendiary but nothing creates as much heat as arguments about national identity.
And of course, all this has become far more toxic and bitter than ever with recent events. David French, a conservative Christian summed up ‘Trumpism’ well:
“A significant segment of the Christian public has fallen for conspiracy theories, has mixed nationalism with the Christian gospel, has substituted a bizarre mysticism for reason and evidence, and rages in fear and anger against their political opponents—all in the name of preserving Donald Trump’s power”
One of the people I have become increasingly fascinated by is the Christian writer and broadcaster Eric Metaxas, who first came to my attention when he wrote a biography on the German pastor and theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Metaxas has also written on anti-slavery MP William Wilberforce, wrote the cartoon series Vegetales and has interviewed many esteemed people such as Tom Wright and Jonathan Sacks in the Socrates in the City series. He is fluent, passionate, ironic and combative.
Initially, I saw him as someone able to provoke and challenge the evangelical world towards greater concern for justice.
But in recent years, Metaxas has become fanatically pro-Trump.
In the weeks since the election, he has furiously stoked the flames of the conspiracy theories around the election fraud and mixed it all in with pious theology. After the election he tweeted:
Trump will be inaugurated. For the high crimes of trying to throw a U.S. presidential election, many will go to jail. The swamp will be drained. And Lincoln’s prophetic words of “a new birth of freedom” will be fulfilled. Pray.
In a broadcasted phone call with Trump, Metaxas said that this is a cause for which he is prepared to die. He has said that supporters should fight ‘to the last drop of blood’ to preserve Trump’s presidency, and that those who disagree are the same as Germans who stood by and did nothing to stop Hitler.
To protest the ‘stolen election’ he organised a Jericho March which brought thousands to Washington in the belief they could pray Trump into power. And after the riot at the Capitol, he tweeted:
There is no doubt the election was fraudulent. That is the same today as yesterday. There is no doubt Antifa infiltrated the protesters today and planned this. This is political theater and anyone who buys it is a sucker. Fight for justice and Pray for justice. God bless America!
Michael Gerson wrote:
“There is something pathetic about Metaxas’s panting desire to be cruise director on Trump’s sinking ship…but I don’t think his attitude is merely the result of ambition or hero worship. Metaxas seems to be a man in the grip of a powerful delusion.”
Metaxas believes what he is saying and appears gripped by beliefs in which he is deeply invested. Voting for Trump is one thing, but many Christians in the US believe that Trump has a God-ordained calling to lead the greatest nation on earth and that Satanic activity is disrupting God’s plan.
And Metaxas has become High Priest of the Trump cult. It is a cause which has possessed him.
It is important to say that these fusions of nationalism and religion is not just an American problem.
In previous generations similar beliefs corrupted Christianity in the UK. In the 19th century, Britain conquered a significant chunk of the world through military strength and economic exploitation. And an imperialistic form of Christianity helped many believe the cause was noble. Many really did believe that ’God is an Englishman’.
Our nationalism may have been less brash than Trump’s, but it was no less corrupt.
The best response to these corrupted forms of faith is the most obvious. Because nationalism looks nothing like the values of Jesus.
In Luke chapter 4, Jesus returns to his hometown and preaches his first sermon about ‘good news to the poor’ and ‘release of the oppressed’. The crowd initially love what they hear and are full of praise for their local boy. But things change when he tells them how stubborn both the town and nation is, and how God often works his purposes through blessing foreigners. The crowd erupt in rage and drive him out of town.
The New Testament radically critiques nationalism because the Church was from the very start such a multi-ethnic and multi-national movement. God shows no favouritism. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). This is the belief that Bonhoeffer gave his life for – in opposition to the nationalism of his era.
Jesus reveals a God who breaks down barriers of nationalism, racism and xenophobia between people. And we should do likewise.