Trump spoke of dreams, visions and a new national pride to “lift our sights and heal our divisions”. Without a hint of irony, and with his religious advisors looking on, he urged his audience to “open your heart to patriotism”, spoke of the USA shining for “everyone to follow” and repeated the slogan “America first, America first”.
It was a speech which encapsulates the way some parts of the US Church seem to view Christian morality as interchangeable with American exceptionalism and patriotism. Idolatry doesn’t take the form of a golden calf any longer, but it may take the form of the stars and stripes on display at the front of a church instead of an elevated cross.
As Trump’s subsequent executive order restricting travel for citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries began to spark outrage and demonstrations around the world, so we began to see US Church leaders either falling in line with his vision of what it takes to make America “safe again”, and those who believe his order directly contravenes the biblical mandate to welcome the stranger, the alien and the refugee (see News Analysis, p8).
I believe that this US administration represents a tipping point for American evangelicalism that will reverberate across the global Church. It was white evangelicals who put Trump in the White House. In return he’s giving them everything they were hoping for, from defunding abortion providers to a conservative judge on the Supreme Court. But at what price?
I fear that the evangelicals who are hitching their wagon to the most divisive President on record may win a few short-term victories in their long-running culture war, but are about to lose the battle for the heart of the American people, and the rest of the world.
Pertinently, this month Katie Stock tells the stories of refugees, both from overseas (Real Life, p20) and those finding a new life in our own churches (‘Seeking asylum, finding Christ’, p36). We also hear about an unusual friendship that crossed religious lines (‘My friend the Muslim’, p54) as one Christian learned to love her neighbour as herself.
Jesus told many parables, none of which ended with the moral “now go and make sure you lead a safer, more wealthy life”. Jesus will not judge us on how well we guarded our borders and provided for ourselves, but what we did for the strangers, aliens and refugees on our doorstep.