Friday, January 15, 2021

Trump-supporting evangelicals may face a reckoning; it's a divide that should be explored by rural journalists

Pastor Bob Rodgers of Louisville cursed those who oppose Trump
and "have stolen this election." (footage captured by WXIA-TV)
In the wake of the Capitol riot, some Christian leaders are calling on fellow American evangelicals to consider how their overwhelming support for President Trump may have helped fuel the insurrection. 

Ed Stetzer, head of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College in Illinois, told NPR's Rachel Martin that evangelicals "sold out their beliefs" and seem to have changed their moral stances to accommodate their support for Trump. 

"Part of this reckoning is: How did we get here? How were we so easily fooled by conspiracy theories?" Stetzer said. "We need to make clear who we are. And our allegiance is to King Jesus, not to what boasting political leader might come next." Evangelicals must ask themselves why they were drawn to a candidate whose life and practices are not aligned with Biblical beliefs, he said. 

According to research, respect for an authoritarian leader was the biggest indicator of support for Trump among voters. That resonates strongly with white evangelical Christians, many of whom view the world through an authoritarian religious lens. 

Many evangelicals acknowledge Trump has moral failings, but believe he was chosen to work God's will on Earth, by appointing conservative, anti-abortion judges, for example. "Images and references to being on the march for Jesus were common at the massive Jan. 6 rally — and later, riot — including among a segment of American Christianity that believes it has the power of prophecy," Michelle Boorstein reports for The Washington Post. "Some experts say charismatic, prophetic Christians who operate largely outside denominations make up U.S. religion’s fastest-growing subset. In recent decades, millions have been increasingly seeking out these prophets and apostles on YouTube channels, in books, group prayer calls, via regular group text chats and at conferences where breakout groups practice faith healing and raising people from the dead. And nothing has focused this disparate, independent group like Trump."

This brand of "neo-charismatic" Christianity is different from earlier ones because it's invested so heavily in Trump, said Peter Montgomery of the progressive advocacy group People for the American Way, who has studied right-wing religious movements for decades. "Many of these prophetic leaders in 2015-16 said Trump was anointed by God, divinely assigned to save America and protect religious freedom," Montgomery told Boorstein. "And now with them believing that Trump is standing in the way of Christianity being criminalized in the United States, this is an existential moment."

To these Christians, who seek divine intervention, Trump's struggles in office are no deterrent to support. "The high-octane, emotional fight for Trump makes sense for these believers, who take the stories of Christian scripture literally and see daily life as a visceral struggle between God and the devil," Boorstein reports. "Spiritual warfare is constant. Signs and wonders are everywhere. So as time passes and Trump’s options disappear, God’s move to keep him in power will be even more spectacular — evidence even more likely to spark a religious awakening or revival." In other words, the worse things look for Trump, the mightier God will look when He keeps Trump in office. 

Some evangelical leaders who continue to support Trump are getting blowback, though. "A group of Louisville clergymen on Wednesday condemned a sermon by the pastor of the Evangel World Prayer Center in which he falsely claimed the 2020 presidential election was 'stolen' and placed a curse on those allegedly involved," Ayana Archie reports for the Courier Journal.

The Rev. Bob Rodgers had said: "Father, those that have lied, those that have stolen this election, those that have cheated, I place the curse of God upon them. I curse you with weakness in your body. I curse you with poverty. I curse you with the worst year you've ever had in the name of the Lord."

The Rev. Tim Findley of the Kingdom Fellowship Christian Life Center called the sermon "irresponsible" and "dangerous" in light of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, Archie reports. Another Black evangelical pastor, the Rev. Mario Martin of Praise Nation Contemporary Church, said evangelical support of Trump advances "the spirit of white supremacy and white privilege through white prophecy," Archie reports. The Rev. Frank Smith Jr. of Christ's Church For Our Community said during the livestreamed presser: "I know there is much talk about the Christian right, but this is not Christian and this is not right."

UPDATE: David Brooks, a moderately conservative columnist for The New York Times, did some reporting and found a great divide about Trump "inside evangelical Christianity and within conservatism right now. As a conservative Christian friend of mine put it, there is strife within every family, within every congregation, and it may take generations to recover." Some excerpts: 
On the one hand, there are those who are doubling down on their Trump fanaticism and their delusion that a Biden presidency will destroy America.

“I rebuke the news in the name of Jesus. We ask that this false garbage come to an end,” the conservative pastor Tim Remington preached from the pulpit in Idaho on Sunday. “It’s the lies, communism, socialism.” . . . 
On the other hand, many Trump supporters have been shaken to the core by the sight of a sacrilegious mob blasting Christian pop music and chanting “Hang Mike Pence.” There have been defections and second thoughts. The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, who delivered a prayer at the Trump inaugural, told his congregation Sunday, “We must all repent, even the church needs to repent.”

"This divide probably exists in most American communities. Rural journalists should report on it," said Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, publisher of The Rural Blog.

Brooks concludes with some advice of his own, such as not tolerating "cyberterrorism within a community or congregation." He adds:

Others have to be reminded of the basic rules for perceiving reality. They have to be reminded that all truth is God’s truth; that inquiry strengthens faith, that it is narcissistic self-idolatry to think you can create your own truth based on what you “feel.” There will probably have to be pastors and local leaders who model and admire evidence-based reasoning, wrestling with ideas.

On the left, leaders and organizations have arisen to champion open inquiry, to stand up to the cancel mobs. They have begun to shift the norms.

The problem on the right is vastly worse. But we have seen that unreason is a voracious beast. If it is not confronted, it devours not only your party, but also your nation and your church.

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