Is Donald Trump actually a Christian? You may find it unseemly to question the authenticity of Trump’s professed faith. However, this question preoccupies a lot of evangelical leaders in this country.
Despite the fact that support for Trump from evangelical voters is not predicated on his professed Christian beliefs, evangelical leaders have been desperate to paint him as part of the club — a true man of faith — ever since he started leading in the Republican primaries. They’ve gone to great lengths to convince Christians that Trump is a consenting instrument of God’s will.
The Faith of Donald J. Trump, by David Brody and Scott Lamb, is the latest in this effort. The authors do not disappoint in their ability to rationalize every ill-considered utterance and misstep as yet more proof that Trump is the greatest presidential ally Christendom has ever witnessed—even though heroic perfection is not required when one’s audience is so willing to accept the premise right from the start.
The book’s purpose is the same as that of the evangelical leaders you see debasing themselves on Fox & Friends every week or so, which is to convince viewers that, first, they need not wish for a godly president, and second, Trump is, in fact, a godly president.
Donald Trump himself was so inspired upon learning how strong his own Christian faith is that he pitched the book to his nearly 50 million Twitter followers.
That’s quite the witness.
With careful planning, the authors do not specifically claim the book will answer the questions surrounding the legitimacy of President Trump’s faith (to do so would be to admit it must be legitimized). Instead, they intend to demonstrate that Trump is a consenting instrument of God’s will through his acts. But the impression they’d like to leave is clear: Trump is God’s faithful servant.
As a personal aside, I will not in any way dispute that he is a Christian. I do not believe it is my place to judge the content of a man’s soul, despite how much I might be able to garner from his words and actions.
Devoted Christians sin just as often or little as committed atheists. The entire nature of Christianity rests in the idea that we are all fallen, so for me to decide based purely on the outward sins of a man that I am certain of his eternal destiny would be a bridge too far for me.
Donald Trump says he is a Christian. I accept his belief.
The real question isn’t whether he is a Christian. The real question is why evangelical leaders insist on spinning every Trump misstep into an example of divine guidance. Why are they so intent on supporting the “Trump as a Christian leader” narrative?
The answer is simple: ends.
What matters most, above all other considerations, to these evangelical leaders is the goal, or the ends — not the means one might undertake to achieve those ends. If evangelical leaders can convince faithful Christians that Donald Trump is the vessel through which God’s goals will be achieved, then there is virtually no limit to the actions that can be excused in its pursuit.
At the Weekly Standard, Erick Erickson offered this same takeaway in his review of The Faith of Donald J. Trump:
Brody and Lamb’s book exposes how the leaders of the evangelical movement, long treated as outcasts from mainstream culture because of the charlatans in their midst, now enjoy an utterly transactional relationship with Donald Trump, each using the other for an end they believe justifies the means.
Ends have been a main focus of the modern evangelical movement for some time, perhaps even before Trump appeared as the natural extension of that philosophy—a man who consistently vocalizes his support of Christian priorities even as he defiles Christian doctrine along the way.
While there may be scattered discussions among evangelicals about the morality of the means through which the ends are met, more often than not there is a sense that relativism is a perfectly acceptable substitute when balancing an immoral cost against a moral outcome.
The quintessential example of this mentality is the “lesser evil” argument embraced by many Christians who found Trump to be immoral but voted for him anyway in 2016.
Moral relativism is used in the service of these all-important ends. Too many false dilemmas and “lesser evil” choices can weigh on the morale of any population, and American evangelicals are no different. So, in an effort to keep the flocks from feeling like they’d sold their souls down the drain of moral relativism, American evangelical leaders in the Trump era have taken it upon themselves to spin bad things as good things and temper the uncertainties of followers by providing poorly constructed biblical rationalizations.
Take, for example, Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. citing scripture on CNN to propose that Trump’s character is of no significant importance to a Christian, or the narrative that Donald Trump is comparable to the pagan king, Cyrus, a pragmatic vessel that God will use for His purposes.
Between relativism and rationalization, American evangelicals have designed an impenetrable fortress of self-delusion, one that allows open-eyed embrace of hypocrisy without the cumbersome shackles of moral absolutism.
The Faith of Donald J. Trump simply adds a table of contents.
In their book, the authors hope to help evangelicals feel confident that Trump is not simply an ally, but a true Christian leader. Making this case will go a long way toward resting fears about relativism and immorality. Once people believe Trump is “God’s guy in the White House,” everything becomes in the service of God’s larger purposes.
The authors provide moments where they speak on President Trump’s behalf, as a way of saying “what he really meant,” which is often in direct defiance of what he actually said.
For example, when they refer to an infamous Trump moment from 2015. While talking to interviewer and pollster Frank Luntz, Trump answers the question of whether he has ever sought forgiveness for his sins:
I am not sure I have. I just go and try to do a better job from there. I don’t think so. I think, if I do something wrong, I think I just try to make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t.
The authors, rather than taking a moment to address the underlying problem of professing a Christian faith that excludes the foundational premise of repentance, choose instead to spin, saying, “Ironically, if the truth of the matter is that Trump has never asked God for forgiveness, then if Trump had lied and said ‘yes’ — he could have avoided criticism. That is, lying about his practice of confession would have kept him out of trouble with the piety-inspectors.”
When faced with a look inside Trump’s mind and finding things less than desirable, the equivocation boiled down to, “Hey, at least he didn’t lie!”
What a betrayal of their own commitment to the tenets of Christianity. Certainly, they’re rationalizing, but it’s much worse than just that.
They are arguing that people who believe in the most basic premise of Christianity, the only way to achieve salvation and spend eternity in heaven, the literal function of the Christian faith in which one asks for forgiveness in order to be saved, are pharasiac distractions of “piety inspectors.”
The authors propose that Trump’s revealing comments are the trivial and legalistic criticisms of picky jerks who should be mocked. Further, it’s “ironic” they would care about this minor infraction in light of the fact that lying, a similarly trivial infraction, would have shielded him from criticism.
This reasoning is designed to put the onus of the lie on these “piety inspectors,” as if it’s their fault Trump would have to lie about asking for forgiveness rather than his own fault for having not asked.
It’s a hunt for small victories amid a forest of massive defeats in the quest to design Trump’s character as something other than what it appears to be.
But further analysis of Trump’s comments that day reveal the real problem of his biblical worldview, at least if it’s important that one accept the evangelical premise that he is God’s Christian vessel.
In an attempt to further drive the point they are hoping to craft, the authors quote more of Trump’s controversial comments, in which he replied to Luntz’s request for clarification on his relationship with God:
I think God helped me…God helped me by giving me a certain brain, whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing…I went through phenomenal school, the Wharton School of Finance, which is said to be the greatest business school in the world. I did really well there. I was a great student. So, I mean, I was born with a certain intellect that is good for this.
The implications here are painfully obvious. Trump is looking inward, not upward, when trying to answer the question of where he draws his strength. He is laying out quite well, despite a few passing words about the brain God gifted him with, that it is upon that gift, not upon God’s direction, that he will rely.
The authors took a different view, one that a generous critic would say was merely missing the point and an observant critic would identify as deception. “Trump attributed his intellectual and financial success in life to God’s gifting,” they noted. Then they offered a pious explanation for it, saying, “Such attribution is a common religious practice — thanksgiving.”
Their summary, for many who will read the book and treat it more like gospel than the Gospels, is really all that’s needed. Whatever Trump said, however he said it, whatever truths we might use our brains to discern, can all be discarded in favor of the gift of an evangelical voter with a clear conscience and a neatly tied biblical bow on top. Rationalizations certified by evangelical leaders who increasingly find themselves in positions of power they might not be too keen on losing for something as trivial as biblical consistency.
Most Christian evangelicals would claim that God’s will and the making of His kingdom on earth is of utmost importance. But in the Trump era, it seems clear that this is true even and all the way up to the point of total abdication of biblical obedience. So long as these “greater purposes” are the goal.
The importance of abortion, or gay marriage, or any other number of religiously motivated policy positions must supersede other “small” matters, such as whether or not the person leading the free world is a lying, adulterous charlatan who seeks no forgiveness or, it seems, guidance from the very God his acolytes claim he’s sworn his service to.
Evangelical leaders are pushing, through this book and elsewhere, the narrative of Trump as a faithful instrument of God. They do this to keep voters who might have issues with his actions and behaviors from feeling as though they are violating their religious convictions in their continuing support of everything he does.
They accept apologies he never gives. They talk about the importance of redemption he never sought. And they cite his agenda as the overriding will of God. Because in the end, it’s about the ends. The ends being the full realization of God’s agenda, which evangelical leaders are intent on proving is identical to Trump’s agenda, regardless of what means are deployed to achieve them.
And it feels good to them. It’s easy. The ideology of doing whatever you want with no consequence is being embraced by evangelical leaders in the modern era. It’s created a movement that has no qualms with being cruel, with finding ambiguity in moral questions that used to require conviction. And despite this, they walk around most days apparently thinking God is eminently pleased because they are participating in His works and fulfilling His purposes.
The Faith of Donald J. Trump is simply a marketing ploy. A sales effort. Evangelical leaders working overtime to find a way to give Trump a blanket pass so they can end the exhausting effort of reacting to each individual situation that pops up.
The American evangelical movement is at a crossroads. Having long since abandoned the notion that there are expectations of conduct and morality within the means to an end, they choose instead to forgo any pretense that God’s designs should be trusted over their own. Instead, they have found other places to apply their faith.
They take great comfort in the notion of a bright future through Donald Trump’s “divine” agenda. They enjoy a clear conscience through the guidance of evangelical luminaries. Unburdened of the need to seek out godly leadership, they find a new and satisfying joy in seeking out worldly men who make them feel powerful. And by this joyous and tranquil arrangement, they tell themselves they’ve made God proud. That belief is a testament to their faith in their own efforts.
In other words, faith in themselves.