Blind evangelical support for Trump is theological malpractice

Blind evangelical support for Trump is theological malpractice
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Republican threatens to push for Rosenstein impeachment unless he testifies Judge suggests Trump’s tweet about Stormy Daniels was ‘hyperbole’ not defamation Rosenstein faces Trump showdown MORE recently hosted evangelical leaders at the White House for what turned out to be nothing more than a political pep rally.

The president, according to reporting by The New York Times, urged clergy to use their pulpits to turn out voters for GOP candidates in the midterm elections. Otherwise, Donald Trump warned, Democrats “will overturn everything that we’ve done and they’ll do it quickly and violently.”

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The rhetoric is striking and dangerous. For those who attended the dinner — including some of the president’s staunchest supporters in the evangelical community — anything but a full-throated condemnation of the president’s remarks is theological malpractice.

No one has the right to claim God for one candidate or political party over another.

So far, unfortunately, the president has only received praise from these faith leaders. Robert Jeffress, who as the president noted at the dinner has called Trump the “greatest leader for Christianity,” issued a statement to the Christian Broadcasting Network in which he claimed to have spoken at the dinner in support of the president’s political goals, receiving what he called “enthusiastic applause” after saying Democrats would attempt to paralyze Trump’s agenda or impeach him. 

Evangelical leaders have sacrificed their moral leadership for access to Trump. 

I’m no stranger to religious gatherings at the White House; I attended several when Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaJudge denies bid to move lawsuit over Trump national monument rollbacks to Utah Tomi Lahren to former first lady: 'Sit down, Michelle' The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump questions Kavanaugh accuser's account | Accuser may testify Thursday | Midterm blame game begins MORE was in office. Obama often talked policy with faith leaders but never used the White House to discuss partisan politics with clergy. His events, which often included interfaith leaders and not merely evangelical Christians, had guests who agreed and disagreed with him on important issues. Obama is a person of deep faith and knew better than to politicalize Christianity in the way Trump has.

Melissa Rodgers, who served as the executive director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships under President Obama, said on Twitter that the dinner demonstrated “official favoritism for evangelicals, esps b/c it was billed as a kind of state dinner.  Once again, the Trump WH appears to favor evangelicals (more specifically, a partic kind of evangelical) over others, while claiming to promote religious freedom.”

Religious freedom is a bedrock American principle. In the Trump administration, sadly, it is a freedom under attack, particularly for Muslim Americans. No president should favor one faith group over another in the way Trump has. 

There is a misperception that Christians in general support Trump’s policies.  The truth is that many Christians — along with Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and other people of faith — are working to challenge the president’s agenda on immigration, climate change, foreign aid, police reform, health care, tax reform and a host of other issues.

Twenty clergy from various traditions were arrested while praying at the Portland, Ore., offices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on Aug. 30. I was one of those arrested by the Federal Protection Division. The protest, meant to draw attention to immigration policies considered unjust by many people of faith, was organized by the Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice.

Nuns on the Bus, led by Sister Simone Campbell, are back on the road this October for the first time since 2016, “to hold members of Congress accountable for their votes on the 2017 Tax Bill and the many attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.” The nuns are headed to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate. “Our nation was founded not in policies that benefit the few, but on the principle of the common good,” Sister Mary Ellen Lacy said in a press release. “This is the vision that we need to recover, to reaffirm that our lawmakers must enact policies that invest in our shared future, not ones that threaten our communities and our families.”

Those evangelical Christian leaders who met for dinner with Trump make a mistake in equating the president — or his policy positions – with God’s agenda. Scripture makes clear that God stands with the oppressed over the powerful. It is always a mistake to say one politician or another is the “Christian” choice. 

God also demands that we be humble in our pronouncements. The best we can do is act out of our theological understandings of God’s will, pray that we are on God’s side — and not the other way around — and always recognize that Jesus revealed himself in company of the poor and powerless, not kings or other rulers. 

The Rev. Dr. Chuck Currie is the director of the Center for Peace and Spirituality, university chaplain and assistant professor of religious studies at Pacific University. Follow him on Twitter at @RevChuckCurrie