The Dangerous Idolatry of Christian Trumpism

We can pray peace will prevail, but we’d be fools to presume it will.

This is a grievous and dangerous time for American Christianity. The frenzy and the fury of the post-election period has laid bare the sheer idolatry and fanaticism of Christian Trumpism.

A significant segment of the Christian public has fallen for conspiracy theories, has mixed nationalism with the Christian gospel, has substituted a bizarre mysticism for reason and evidence, and rages in fear and anger against their political opponents—all in the name of preserving Donald Trump’s power.

As I type this newsletter, I am following along with a D.C. event called the Jericho March. Eric Metaxas, a prominent Christian radio host, former featured speaker at the National Prayer Breakfast, and the best-selling author of Bonhoeffer is the master of ceremonies; former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn is a featured speaker. The event also includes a flyover from Marine One, the president’s helicopter.

Flynn, readers may remember, recently called for the president to implement “limited martial law” to hold a new election. Metaxas told the president himself in a radio interview: “I’d be happy to die in this fight.” He said, “This is a fight for everything.”

Last week Metaxas also interviewed Charlie Kirk, the co-founder of Turning Point USA and a frequent featured speaker in American churches. As my friend Rod Dreher reported, Metaxas made a series of stunning statements about the election:

“It’s like stealing the heart and soul of America. It’s like holding a rusty knife to the throat of Lady Liberty.”

“You might as well spit on the grave of George Washington.”

“This is evil. It’s like somebody has been raped or murdered. … This is like that times a thousand.”

And here’s what he says about Americans who disagree, who believe that Trump lost the election:

Everybody who is not hopped up about this … you are the Germans that looked the other way when Hitler was preparing to do what he was preparing to do. Unfortunately, I don’t see how you can see it any other way.

That’s right, you’re like the Germans who didn’t object to the rise of Hitler. And is this deep conviction built on unassailable evidence of mass fraud? No, not at all. He doesn’t even really care about the courts:

So who cares what I can prove in the courts? This is right. This happened, and I am going to do anything I can to uncover this horror, this evil.

Later he says, “We need to fight to the death, to the last drop of blood, because it’s worth it.”

At the Jericho March itself, the founder rested his convictions on a vision:

Christian leaders are joining and supporting frivolous litigation—like the Texas attorney general’s lawsuit the Supreme Court unanimously rejected on Friday evening—intended to disenfranchise tens of millions of Americans. In fact, every court that has heard challenges to the vote has rejected efforts to overturn its result. Yet important Evangelical leaders have still supported calls for state legislators to unilaterally defy their own voters to appoint pro-Trump electors. 

And when the Supreme Court ruled Friday night, the head of the Texas GOP called for a separatist “union of states that will abide by the Constitution.”

When I wrote in my book that American politics were growing so toxic that important political leaders may soon call for division, I did not envision that “soon” would be “now.”

I’m going to be as blunt as possible: Language like Metaxas’s, like the Texas GOP’s, and like some of the statements you’ll read below embody a form of fanaticism that can lead to deadly violence. There isn’t a theological defense for it. Indeed, its fury and slander directly contradict biblical commands. When core biblical values are contingent, but support for Donald Trump is not, then idolatry is the result.

We’re way, way past concerns for the church’s “public witness.” We’re way past concerns over whether the “reputation” of the church will survive this wave of insanity. There is no other way to say this. A significant movement of American Christians—encouraged by the president himself—is now directly threatening the rule of law, the Constitution, and the peace and unity of the American republic.

It’s clear now that when many of those people declared Trump to be “God’s anointed” they did not mean that his presidency was “instituted by God” in the same manner as other governing authorities, as described in Romans 13. (By conventional Christian reasoning, Joe Biden’s upcoming presidency is also instituted by God.)

No, they believe that Trump had a special purpose and a special calling, and that this election defeat is nothing less than a manifestation of a Satanic effort to disrupt God’s plan for this nation. They were not “holding their nose” to support him. They were deeply, spiritually, and personally invested in his political success. 

Look at these clips. In the first one, Eric Metaxas is hovering in the background:

Watch the next clip. Listen to the words. Feel the fury. Look at the men behind the preacher with the rifle images on their shirt, and ask yourself, is this not dangerous?

And incredibly, even as the rally stoked fury and threatened violence, it still found space for the grift:

I’m not writing to engage in a serious theological debate with those who’ve committed themselves to dreams and visions of dark conspiracies. I’m writing as a warning and as a call for action. Here’s the warning: While I hope and pray that protests remain peaceful and that seditious statements are confined to social media, we’d be fools to presume that peace will reign.

Here’s the call to action: It’s time for conservative Christian leaders to shed any form of fear and to speak against conspiracies and against slander with the same boldness that many of them spoke for Trump. Again, this isn’t just about “witness.” It’s about justice. It’s about law. It’s about peace.

Why do I keep mentioning fear? Because we all know exactly what happens when a prominent conservative opposes Trump. It’s been the same playbook for more than five years. They receive vicious personal attacks. Trumpists try to intimidate dissenters into silence. Trumpists try to destroy dissenters’ reputations, destroy their careers, and sometimes even destroy their lives.

We know that mainstream American Christian leaders can unite to condemn secular and progressive movements and ideas they find biblically problematic. For example, late last month the presidents of Southern Baptist seminaries united to declare that “affirmation of Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality and any version of Critical Theory is incompatible with the Baptist Faith & Message.”

As I’ve written, critical race theory has its uses and its flaws, but I wonder—how many critical race theorists are in conservative Christian pews? But how many more election conspiracy theorists and Christian nationalists are sitting right there, including in my own denomination, fervently believing lies and fervently praying for actions and outcomes that are fundamentally unjust?

Simply put, there should be at least as much concern about injustice and sin from the religious right as from the secular left.

I’ve often thought about what a persecuted first-century Christian would think of the rage and panic of all too many American Evangelicals. They would be stunned at the sheer size of the American church. They’d be in awe of our wealth. They’d be amazed that the most powerful man in the world courted our favor. And then they’d be even more astounded at the fanaticism and fury displayed in the nation’s capital yesterday.

The disconnect with the teachings of the apostles could not be more profound.

In a much more desperate time and in a much more dangerous place, the prophet Jeremiah told the people of Israel, “Seek the peace of the city where I have exiled you. Pray to the Lord for that city, because when it has peace and prosperity, you will have peace and prosperity.” Yet now a Christian movement seeks conflict. It traffics in lies. It pursues profound injustice. Who will stand against it?

One more thing …

I so appreciate your prayers for my daughter Camille and her daughter Lila. Tomorrow is the day. Camille delivers in Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, and then we expect immediate surgical intervention on Lila. We don’t know what to expect, but we know God is faithful, and he loves Camille, her husband Jarrett, and beautiful, brave Lila more than we can possibly comprehend. 

One last thing …

I’ll be honest. I wrote this newsletter angry. I don’t like to write angry. But there are times when the lies are so blatant and the dangers so profound that anger isn’t just appropriate, it may even be necessary. I believe now is one of those times.

So how do you end with a note of peace and hope? How about with a song I’ve attached before, one that should remind us, both in source (Hillsong, which is struggling through scandal) and substance, that there is still beauty in God’s church, God is still sovereign, and He will prevail: