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Donald Trump

Donald Trump, Apocalyptic Theology, and Evangelicalism

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Donald Trump, Apocalyptic Theology, and Evangelicalism

After watching this video by John Oliver on the RNC, it made me think again about why Trump appeals widely to white evangelicals in America.

Trump's appeal is not so surprising when you think about how American evangelicalism was shaped by the Great Awakenings, its emphasis on salvation as an individual decision or moment (read: emotional experience), and its focus on personal piety/inward purity as taking precedent over social justice issues or outward works/actions.

I remember experiencing a lot of angst as a teenager about God's disposition toward me because mainstream evangelicalism is all about being inwardly pure and having devotional feeling towards God. I knew that I was a sinner (y'know, stuff like pride, getting mad at my siblings not sharing my stuff), but I had no dramatic testimony and so I was at a loss as to know what I should be *doing* other than trying to feel right towards God and cut down on the pride and not annoy my little sister.

I had essentially no framework to do or be good because I knew from a tender age that it was all about what Jesus did on the cross, and I couldn't add anything to that. And since the whole point was Jesus saving my individual soul, the only "good" thing I could even do was evangelize to people so that Jesus could whisk them out of the world, too. I felt I had no power to affect change in the world, nor any sense that "saving the world" meant anything more than God redeeming peoples' hearts. It was all very apocalyptic in a narrow sense.

It's this apocalyptic theology that Donald Trump appeals to. His message is: "America was once great, but now it's not (because of all the Muslims, Mexicans, woman, and black people), so let's take back America by kicking out folks who don't belong." His message is completely antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ that began in Genesis. 

I know many people have said this before, but we need to begin our Gospel story in Genesis 1 and see it through to the present day and beyond. The story begins with God creating the heavens and the earth and filling it with all forms of life. After forming each aspect of the world, God declares it good--and by the end of it, he sits back in his throne, looks at it all and declares it "very good"--exceedingly, overwhelming good. He creates the humans in his image (in the ancient Near East, a regal role--the humans are monarchs of the earth, appointed to manage, tend, and care for the earth and its creatures). He gives the humans and animals food to eat.

The humans have but two tasks: eat and cultivate the earth (so that all may eat). God blesses them and the other animals to multiple throughout the earth, and as they do, they are to eat and tend. But then a serpent draws the humans' attention to the one fruit that God had told them not to eat. They began to believe that God was withholding something good from them, that he was not to be trusted, that in fact eating the forbidden fruit would make them like gods (ironically, they are already like gods by virtue of their status as God's images).

Instead of eating the good food of their creator and basking in the delights of the garden, they fixate on this other fruit and end up breaking their creator's trust. And when the humans began to distrust the goodness of the world their creator had made, they actually started to live that way. They could not trust God. They could not trust each other. And people have been warring with each other ever since, and the whole earth has felt its effects. Because we believed the world was evil, we actually began to make it evil.

But since then, God has been calling human beings to start listening again to his voice and making the earth good again--not by ridding the land of people we perceive as threatening, but by loving the world, caring for it, and feeding it. And indeed, much of the earth's goodness still remains, though we still have much to do. In Jesus, we know what it looks like for a human to believe in God and work this out--not just a pious feeling, but embodied action. God becoming human in the person of Jesus is the affirmation of this good creation. If we are in need of an apocalypse, we have it right there: Jesus dying the death of the world and then rising from the dead to show that even the earth in its broken state can't keep humans and God from partnering together to fix it, to make it yield life.

Trump does not believe the earth is good. He doesn't believe it is worth saving. His message is not salvation, but purging. In Trump's world, only certain kinds of humans deserve to eat. The gospel of Trump is not "cultivate and keep," but stockpile and batten down the hatches. And Trump may try to convince people that he's got great food that will make us like gods, but don't be fooled: that fruit's rotten to the core.

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