Opinion

Opinion | Margery Eagan

Are ‘Trump Christians’ really Christian?

adobe stock

IT’S THE DAY after Easter, 2018, a good time to call out Donald Trump supporters who claim to be Christians.

They’re not.

Here’s the Merriam-Webster definition of a Christian: one who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Advertisement

They don’t.

But this is not me speaking.

This is what’s been argued ever more fervently in Christian and secular circles since Trump’s election. The president has apparently divided a faith just as he has divided this country.

Just days ago, in a dramatic and unprecedented move, 23 prominent Christian leaders — including Bishop Michael Curry, leader of the Episcopal Church; Richard Rohr, Catholic priest and famed spiritual writer; and Jim Wallis, an evangelical and founder of Sojourners magazine — issued a manifesto at ReclaimingJesus.org saying just that. It details what Christianity rejects. And most are policies Trump and his self-professed Christian supporters embrace.

So what can we call such Christians?

Advertisement

Since almost no black evangelicals support Trump, “you can’t call them evangelicals,” Wallis said in an interview last week. “I keep telling the press, call them old white evangelicals, nearly all men, rich, the ones benefiting from the tax cuts.

“Or Trump evangelicals,” he said, “part of a fake church, to use (the president’s) language.”

“Reclaiming Jesus” is less about condemning romps with porn stars and more about condemning tax cuts for the wealthy, cuts to health care and food benefits for the poor, and the shunningof refugees and immigrants. It rejects Trump’s “America First” slogan as “theological heresy,” along with misogyny, racism, xenophobia, and presidential lying.

“How we treat the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the sick and the prisoner” forms Christianity’s radical roots, the document says. It’s a position definitely at odds, say, with deporting young mothers back to Mexico.

But “white evangelicals are not the only problem,” Trinity College religion professor Mark Silk wrote last week on Religious News Service. Silk says it’s white religious people, period.

Advertisement

Silk cites a December Gallup poll: Non-Hispanic whites who described themselves as very religious approve of Trump’s presidency 2-1 while nonwhites, religious or not, disapprove by 73 percent or more. The same poll showed 51 percent of white Catholics approving of Trump, while a Pew poll last month found that 48 percent of mostly white mainline Protestants do too.

This summer, Catholic John Gehring, author of “The Francis Effect: A Radical Pope’s Challenge to the American Catholic Church,” weighed in on the same subject. In “What’s Wrong with White Christians?” he writes that they’re more than twice as likely to blame poverty on individual failings than are those with no religion at all. Citing a Kaiser Family Foundation report, Gehring says that white evangelicals and half of white Catholics are particularly wedded to this view, recognizing few systemic inequalities, like poor inner city schools. Referring to another study, he writes that 36 percent of white evangelicals and 47 percent of white Catholics even recognize America’s enduring racism, though 86 percent of black Protestants do.

“And a majority of the descendants of white Catholic immigrants once feared and loathed in this country voted for a president who ran on an explicitly nativist message,” Gehring writes, calling all this “a crisis at the heart of white Christianity. The dark-skinned Jesus who preached justice to those in the shadow of an empire would likely not recognize many of his nominal followers today.”

Get Arguable in your inbox:
Jeff Jacoby on everything from politics to pet peeves to the passions of the day.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

I’ve thought that often when hearing Franklin Graham demonize Muslims. Or Trump’s religious defenders say they don’t like his tweets but love his get-tough policies. Or seeing Fox News’ Laura Ingraham ridicule a teenage Parkland massacre survivor or provocateur Ann Coulter spout off against desperate refugees — when both so often wear crosses around their necks.

Wallis quotes the New Testament, where Christ made his mission statement clear: “To proclaim good news to the poor. . . . To set the oppressed free.”

“Christians” who don’t support that “are destroying the integrity of the faith,” Wallis said. “That’s why we couldn’t keep quiet anymore.”

Margery Eagan is cohost of WGBH’s “Boston Public Radio.”