Evangelicals scrambling to oust belief in Trump as congregations are torn apart

Evangelicals scrambling to oust belief in Trump as congregations are torn apart
President Donald J. Trump and First Lady Melania Trump, joined by Vice President Mike Pence and Mrs. Karen Pence, attend a dinner in celebration of evangelical leadership Monday, Aug. 27, 2018, in the State Dining Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by D. Myles Cullen)

In an extensive piece in the Atlantic, former George W. Bush speechwriter Peter Wehner explained that some evangelical leaders are picking through the wreckage of their congregations that were torn apart by the influence of former president Donald Trump.

Wehner, a highly vocal Christian, has been no friend of Trump and is worried that the Christian faith has been damaged by the embrace of the one-term president by high-profile evangelical leaders which, in turn, has left some congregations in tatters as Trump supporters drag his politics into the daily church dealings.

Case in point, he notes, is a battle at a Virginia church where congregants were influenced by Trump's toxic rhetoric.

"The election of the elders of an evangelical church is usually an uncontroversial, even unifying event. But this summer, at an influential megachurch in Northern Virginia, something went badly wrong. A trio of elders didn't receive 75 percent of the vote, the threshold necessary to be installed," he reported before pointing out that "… church members had been misled, having been told, among other things, that the three individuals nominated to be elders would advocate selling the church building to Muslims, who would convert it into a mosque."

According to Wehner, David Platt, the 43-year-old minister at McLean Bible Church had already been facing accusations " … by a small but zealous group within his church of 'wokeness' and being 'left of center,' of pushing a 'social justice' agenda and promoting critical race theory, and of attempting to 'purge conservative members.'"

As Wehner explains, what happened at McLean Bible Church is not an isolated event.

"What happened at McLean Bible Church is happening all over the evangelical world. Influential figures such as the theologian Russell Moore and the Bible teacher Beth Moore felt compelled to leave the Southern Baptist Convention; both were targeted by right-wing elements within the SBC," he explained. "The root of the discord lies in the fact that many Christians have embraced the worst aspects of our culture and our politics. When the Christian faith is politicized, churches become repositories not of grace but of grievances, places where tribal identities are reinforced, where fears are nurtured, and where aggression and nastiness are sacralized. The result is not only wounding the nation; it's having a devastating impact on the Christian faith."

Speaking with Wehner, historian George Marsden explained that "political loyalties can sometimes be so strong that they create a religious like faith that overrides or even transforms a more traditional religious faith," the author recalled.

"When Trump was able to add open hatred and resentments to the political-religious stance of 'true believers,' it crossed a line. Tribal instincts seem to have become overwhelming," Marsden explained before adding that Trump's Christian followers, "have come to see a gospel of hatreds, resentments, vilifications, put-downs, and insults as expressions of their Christianity, for which they too should be willing to fight."

"For many Christians, their politics has become more of an identity marker than their faith. They might insist that they are interpreting their politics through the prism of scripture, with the former subordinate to the latter, but in fact scripture and biblical ethics are often distorted to fit their politics," Wehner wrote adding, "The former president normalized a form of discourse that made the once-shocking seem routine. Russell Moore laments the 'pugilism of the Trump era, in which anything short of cruelty is seen as weakness.' The problem facing the evangelical church, then, is not just that it has failed to inculcate adherents with its values—it's that when it has succeeded in doing so, those values have not always been biblical."

You can read more here.

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