Opinion: Evangelicals conforming to the world

File photo/Jordan Gale/The New York Times / An opening prayer takes place in Iowa City, Iowa, on Friday, Oct. 20, 2023. A majority of evangelical voters in Iowa favor former President Donald J. Trump over GOP rival and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. But some say they fear Trump is backing off on abortion.
File photo/Jordan Gale/The New York Times / An opening prayer takes place in Iowa City, Iowa, on Friday, Oct. 20, 2023. A majority of evangelical voters in Iowa favor former President Donald J. Trump over GOP rival and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. But some say they fear Trump is backing off on abortion.

More than 150 Iowa "faith leaders" have announced they are supporting Donald Trump in the state's forthcoming caucuses. At the same time, Bob Vander Plaats, an influential Iowa evangelical leader, is supporting Ron DeSantis. Predictably, Donald Trump slammed Vander Plaats as a "scammer."

Could this suggest a division within evangelical circles?

These endorsements came days before the release of Tim Alberta's book "The Kingdom, The Power, And the Glory: American Evangelicals in an Age of Extremism." Alberta, a writer for The Atlantic and other publications, and an evangelical Christian, quotes Donald Trump as saying during the 2016 race that those Christians who supported Texas Sen. Ted Cruz for president were "so-called Christians" and "real pieces of s—t."

When that gets around to those who have had blind faith in Trump, seemingly more than the faith and trust they are commanded to put in the God they claim to worship, will this break the super glue-like attachment so many evangelicals have for Trump? Will they continue to dismiss his un-Christian language and behavior?

Alberta spent four years embedded in evangelical churches and conservative political circles, persuading many to talk about the reasons they continue to support Trump. The twisting of Scripture — "God has used bad people in the past to do his will" — is just one of many rationalizations Alberta heard.

The book is an indictment of those who have diluted their faith with the cold brew of politics. Have they forgotten the statement by Jesus: "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36) and what James wrote: "You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God." (James 4:4). How do Trump's evangelical supporters rationalize those statements? They can't, so they ignore them or choose other verses they can twist to wrongly justify the unjustifiable.

Too many have exchanged the power that comes with faith for temporal power that quickly fades away.

I recall what Franklin Graham said after Trump won the 2016 election: "God showed up." I wondered at the time if God only showed up when Republicans win elections, but apparently is on vacation when Democrats win. It is the modern form of idol worship — specifically condemned throughout Scripture (including the First Commandment). When King David ruled over Israel he wrote: "Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing ..." (Psalm 146:3-4).

There is considerable harm being done by evangelicals because of their devotion to Trump. What Christians call their "witness" to others is contributing to more unbelief, especially among younger people, who increasingly respond "none" when asked about their religious faith. A recent Associated Press headline said: "America's nonreligious are a growing, diverse phenomenon. They really don't like organized religion."

Tim Alberta's book is not a screed, rather a revelation of how many biblical illiterates exist in the evangelical fold. One can be for Donald Trump; just don't mix him up with the kingdom of that other world, or the one who is truly "King of Kings and Lord of Lords."

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