Politico is out with fresh analysis of the apparently confounding alliance between President Trump and the religious right. This comes in the wake of the President’s appearance at the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s annual event last Thursday, literally coincident with former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The piece, queasily subtitled “A Match Made in Heaven,” is an even-handed treatment of the segment of religious conservatives that maintains staunch loyalty to President Trump. Writer Tim Alberta recognizes a distinction between what might have motivated evangelical Christians to vote for President Trump in an election with limited options and the affinity that led many to support him so enthusiastically—and that still leads some leaders of the religious right to defend him in practically any circumstance.
Alberta has tapped into a similar cultural marginalization experienced by both the President and conservative Christians. His diagnosis begins thus:
Dismissed by the cultural elite. Disrespected by the mainstream media. Delegitimized by the American left. And desperate to stop the bleeding. This is the story of Donald Trump, the perpetually insecure 45th president whose conquest of the White House was fueled by the contempt of a political class that never took him seriously. But it is equally the story of American evangelicalism, whose adherents feel marginalized in a culture that they believe no longer reflects its core values or tolerates its most polarizing principles.
This is perceptive, if not altogether a new idea. It is illuminating that conservative Christians would identify with someone so unlike them because of a shared sense of alienation. In his remarks, President Trump played on this theme heavy handedly. “We’re under siege. You understand that,” the president said. “But we will come out bigger and better and stronger than ever.”
This may reveal one source of attraction between the President and religious conservatives, but it does not explain such strong allegiance to a leader who has shown such little Christian virtue. Here again, Alberta has uncovered the answer. The article’s quotes from religious leaders are striking:
- “Donald Trump fights. And he fights for us.” – Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition
- “I believe we’re winning this battle.” – James Dobson, chairman emeritus of Focus on the Family
- “They want someone who’s a fighter, and they view Trump as a fighter,” – Travis Korson, senior vice president of Madison Strategies
The martial language makes perfect logical sense. It is only natural for a group that feels marginalized to rally behind strength to defend its cause, even if that involves compromises.
The problem is that Christians are not supposed to behave naturally, but supernaturally. That King David would be mentioned as an example of the “divine irony” of God using flawed leaders for His purposes is indeed ironic. So too is the mention of “spiritual warfare.” What these leaders want is obviously warfare, but it is neither spiritual nor anything like David. They want to fight on the battlefield of politics, and they want to win. If anything, they want their own Goliath—and if a boastful, taunting disposition is any indication, they seem to have him.
If there are any examples from biblical history of self-protecting alliances made with worldly strength, they are negative. (See, for example, the warning to Hezekiah about joining forces with Egypt in Isaiah 30.)
Much easier to find are stories of God delivering His people in His way. At the Red Sea, the Israelites had only to be still while the Egyptian army was destroyed. At the foot of Moreh, Gideon defeated Midian after God winnowed his forces down to 300, leaving no doubt Who was responsible for the victory. And in the Valley of Elah, the young David himself slew Goliath, not because of his superior fighting prowess, but because he came in the name of the Lord of hosts.
This David also wrote in Psalm 20:
Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. (verse 7, ESV)
David was weaker than Goliath, but defeated him anyway because God willed it. Later, he was weaker than Saul, but refused to kill him when he had the chance because he knew God would not approve. Even though David had been promised the crown, he stayed his hand because he understood that if God can be trusted with the ends, He can also be trusted with the means. The place of testing is where this kind of trust begins, not where it ends. Such was David’s trust.
One wonders if the leaders at the Faith and Freedom Coalition quoted above have ever sung something akin to “God will make a way when there seems to be no way.” If so, their unwavering allegiance to a Goliath-like strongman because “he fights for us”—all while shamefully invoking the repentant David’s moral failure—demonstrates the limits of their belief in those words. This is chasing after chariots and horses, not trusting in God. The greatest tragedy is that it is not even necessary.