Today at The Atlantic, Peter Wehner writes “when faith is treated as an instrumentality , it’s bad for politics and worse for the Christian witness.” Anyone who reads this blog, or has read Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, knows that I agree with him. In this piece he engages Wayne Grudem’s criticism of Mark Galli’s December 2019 Christianity Today editorial.
Wehner is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.
It isn’t enough for many of Trump’s evangelical supporters to say that, by their lights, he is advancing policies that promote the common good even as he is acting in unethical ways that deeply trouble them. In that difficult trade-off, they could admit, they have decided that the former should take priority over the latter. Instead, they have created a cartoonish image of the president, pretending that his character flaws are trivial and inconsequential, while his policy achievements put him near the top rank of American presidents.
What’s most interesting to me in all this is the psychology at play. From what I can tell, in many cases Trump’s most devoted evangelical supporters are blind to what they’re doing, so in a sense they’re not acting cynically or in bad faith, even as they are distorting reality.
I have observed firsthand that if you point out facts that run counter to their narrative, some significant number of the president’s supporters will eventually respond with indignation, feeling they have been wounded, disrespected, or unheard. The stronger the empirical case against what they believe, the more emotional energy they bring to their response. Underlying this is a deep sense of fear and the belief that they are facing an existential threat and, therefore, can’t concede any ground, lest they strengthen those they consider to be their enemies. This broader phenomenon I’m describing is not true of all Trump supporters, of course, and it is hardly confined to Trump supporters. But I would say that in our time, it is most pronounced among them.
I wish it were otherwise. When I started my Christian journey, at the end of high school, I never assumed that Christians would escape human foibles and human frailties. But I thought that faith would have more power, including more transformative power, than I have often witnessed, and that followers of Jesus would (imperfectly) allow a faith ethic to shape their understanding of things. That more than most, they would speak truth to power. Too often, they have denied truth in order to gain and keep power.
That isn’t to say I haven’t witnessed many lives that have been transformed by faith, including lives that have deeply touched and shaped my own. But neither can I deny what I have seen, which is that, especially in politics, the Christian faith is far too often subordinated to ideology, to tribalism, to dehumanizing those in the other tribe. Faith is an instrumentality, something to be weaponized. That’s bad for politics; it’s worse for the Christian witness.
Read the entire piece here.