In the flurry of coverage surrounding the evangelical Christian voting bloc that overwhelmingly supported Donald Trump, I’ve seen many images of happy people holding “Thank God for Trump” signs and commentary about conservative Christians who are deliriously happy about new protections for Christian liberty and proposed “pro-life” legislation.
The thing is: Donald Trump as the savior of Christian America is far from the whole story behind his evangelical support. A distinct subset of evangelical Christians know that Donald Trump is bad news for the entire world—and they’re really, really excited about it.
I know this because I used to be one of them.
Back in the ’90s, I was bright-eyed, home-schooled, and evangelical on a farm in rural Ohio. Although my family’s church attendance was spotty—we didn’t really trust the church system—we were very Christian and the Bible was the last word in science, education and morality.
We also had a proclivity for prophecy chasers and “end times” preachers. We owned a copy of The Late Great Planet Earth and watched “Jack Van Impe Presents” every week on our local Christian station, gathering around the TV to discuss biblical perspectives of the news from around the globe. In 1997, the rapture was nigh. Every news story fit the prophecy. After one weekend viewing of Mr. and Mrs. Van Impe, I heard my parents speculating that we’d probably be raptured within the next few years, tops.
As a pre-teen homeschooled kid, my takeaway from that statement was that I would likely never make it to college and was therefore off the hook for learning algebra.
Fifteen years, a college degree, and several remedial math classes later, I left the apocalypse bunker for good and fell in love with a world that might have a chance of surviving after all—if we could just take care of it.
But many people still live in the bunker. Recently, I was disheartened to discover that a close relative is reposting material from the personal Facebook page of Scottie Clarke, a self-proclaimed biblical prophecy expert and sole proprietor of Eternal Rhythm Flow Ministries. ERF follows the reliably profitable cosmology-meets-Revelation-meets-tinfoil-hat message that most recently blipped the secular radar screen in the form of John Hagee’s 2013 bestselling book, Four Blood Moons. Clarke’s distribution isn’t huge—around 10,000 on Facebook and 60,000 on YouTube—but he’s on his way. His posts get shares and the comment sections are hopping.
To peruse his universe—and against my own better judgment, I did—is to fall down a rabbit hole into a reality that is both chilling and, for me, as familiar as my own childhood. Clarke and his followers talk enthusiastically about events they clearly perceive as eventualities: signs in the heavens, the bloodshed of nations at Armageddon, the final destruction of non-believers in the winepress of God’s wrath.
And here’s the thing: they’re excited about all this. Opinions on Trump’s purpose vary, but the overriding plot point is that Trump was ordained by God, and if he brings chaos, terrific! Bring on the end days! The tone is jovial, even smug, as if they’re discussing the plot of a popcorn flick that doesn’t affect them.
Because in their world, it doesn’t—they’re going to be raptured, just like my family was supposed to be back in ’97. I know this story well.
It’s easy to dismiss Clarke, his followers, and all the other prophecy gurus as anecdotal evidence of wack theology and extremism. And, on the surface, it is. The majority of evangelicals probably don’t spend their free time discussing the effect of a rogue planet on the state of Israel. But every extreme idea gets its DNA from a more legitimate idea—usually from one that is innocuous on the surface—and even mainstream evangelicalism is saturated with ideas and narratives that enable a certain apathy toward the human consequences of political action.
Consider the refrain “in the world, but not of it,” the insistence that earth is just a place of trial and suffering before the final destination of heaven. Consider the popularity of Left Behind, the wildly popular book series that paints the destruction of human life as regrettable but necessary collateral damage in Christian victory. Or consider a milder form: “God is in control,” the ubiquitous phrase used all over social media to comfort those scared for their lives after the election of Donald Trump.
“God is in control.”
Was there ever such a whitewashed sepulcher of a phrase? Was there ever a slogan so beautifully engineered as to simulate theological uprightness while simultaneously exempting the wielder from any hint of personal responsibility?
I can speak of this cup because I have drunk deeply of it. For the first sixteen years of my life, I, too, was a practical nihilist. I was convinced that the end times were upon us, that the planet would end—sooner or later—in blood and fire. What’s worse, I believed that this was all somehow a good thing.
So I know: overcoming differences of opinion with many evangelical voters is not merely a matter of untangling social, political, economic, or even moral disagreements. The problems lie deeper, in the theological narrative that undergirds the entire movement. It is one thing to scuffle about how to save the world, but it is quite another to disagree whether the world should be saved at all.
And if you’re eager to get Armageddon over with and move on to heaven? Well, Donald J. Trump seems as good a choice as any.