Many evangelical Christian leaders, both progressive and conservative, express profound, faith-based opposition to Donald Trump. But the reasons for our opposition mainly differ. This difference is often lost on outside observers.
Progressive evangelicals mainly worry over Donald Trump’s xenophobia and bigotry, considering these a violation of core Christian moral values. Conservative evangelicals mainly worry over Trump’s disinterest in a conservative Christian social policy agenda, also believed to be at the heart of Christian moral values. (Both worry over his character and temperament.)
One way to tell the difference between these two kinds of opposition is to consider our conflicting reactions to the departure of Ted Cruz from the presidential race.
As a progressive evangelical Christian, there was very little about Ted Cruz or his platform that appealed to me. I thought Senator Cruz was one of the most effective Christian Right/social conservative Republican candidates for president to be seen since the rise of the Christian Right in the late 1970s. The script was old; the messenger was new, and ruthlessly effective. He did much, much better than the other Christian Right candidates on offer in 2016, including Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum.
That Christian Right script is worth recalling, if only to consider its contrast to the message of Donald Trump:
America was once a devout Christian country, but it has been drifting from its (Judeo-)Christian moorings since the 1960s. God once blessed our country for its faithfulness, but now it appears that God’s hand of blessing has been withdrawn because we have turned from him.
We need to turn back to God. We need to overturn social and legal changes that reflect rejection of God’s Law. Chief among these (right now) is recognition of gay rights, but also very high on the list is legal abortion. We also need to support Israel unequivocally, for the rebirth of Israel is part of God’s plan for this dispensation of history, and true Christians must stand with Israel and whatever Israel does to regain and protect its God-ordained territory and security.
We need to elect morally upright, socially conservative, devoutly Christian politicians who will lead our nation back to God and God’s will. The presidency is especially important, not just because it is the highest office in the land but because of the president’s power to appoint judges to the Supreme Court who will overturn ghastly decisions on abortion and gay marriage.
It also happens to be the case that the conservative Christian agenda for American politics includes a robust and hawkish approach to American military engagement, as well as a low-tax, low-regulation economic regime. I will advance this entire agenda if you elect me president.
If Ted Cruz had become the GOP nominee for president, this would have been his agenda. He would have pushed hard to roll back gains for LGBT equality as well as abortion access. Anti-LGBT legislation such as that passed recently in such states as North Carolina would have been lifted up as admirable. Anti-abortion legislation such as that emerging from Texas and other states would have been actively supported. And everything would have been lathered in public expressions of Christian piety.
Ted Cruz had quite a run. But, just like everyone was (once) talking about the “ceiling” on Donald Trump’s support among GOP voters, we now see that the real ceiling was on Senator Cruz and the Christian Right agenda. All over the Bible Belt and much of the rest of the country, GOP primary voters chose a man whose agenda (and style) is almost completely antithetical to everything just outlined as the Christian Right script — the social issues, for sure, but all the rest of it as well, including the stance on Israel, the moral uprightness, and the visible piety.
And (a slice of) GOP evangelicals have played a key role in pushing this man, Donald Trump, very near the finish line, the sole survivor of the Ultimate Political Reality TV Show.
I have written ten articles in this space in less than a year expressing my profound opposition to Donald Trump and my great fears about his character, all from a Christian perspective. That has led some people to wonder whether I was secretly Cruzin’ for Cruz.
Not hardly. I have opposed the narrative, style, and (most of) the agenda of the Christian Right for the better part of two decades. I am not sad to see it go down to defeat (again) this year. I think America’s Christians can and must do a whole lot better in articulating a public ethic.
I just wish the Republicans could have found someone, anyone, to nominate other than the one who has finally prevailed.