Donald Trump is on the cusp of indictment and yet Christians are still flocking to his political rallies, crying “God, guns and Trump”. Jared Stacy looks at the reasons why
Former President Donald Trump launched his 2024 presidential campaign at a rally last weekend in Waco, Texas. The pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, Robert Jeffress, who endorsed Trump in 2016 and 2020, was on hand to pray God’s blessings over him and the United States.
The rally featured a recorded performance of the J6 Choir — men charged for their role in the January 6 Capitol Hill riots. Now, they’re martyrs of the ‘Make America Great Again’ (MAGA) movement, singing the national anthem with footage from the insurrection playing in the background. This all set the stage for Trump, who rose and declared that this campaign will be the “final battle”.
Some Christians are radicalised. They are well along the road to extremism
I’ve recently come to an unsettling realisation: America is experiencing a civil war. This war is not playing out with cannon and smoke stretched across the farmlands of Virginia, or the hills of Pennsylvania, or the creeks of Tennessee. The new civil war is playing out in our grocery stores, our schools and our churches. Here, in the most everyday of places, Americans live under a tyranny of violence, erupting both from an existential crisis and the barrels of guns.
You can read it in the manifestos. You can see it in the body cams. You can feel it in the pain, the rage and confusion. Insurrection and terror. Casualty upon casualty. Extremism is in the air of our very existence.
Imagining that America is engulfed in a civil war is not an incitement to violence, nor is it a call for secession like you hear from our politicians. It’s a way of seeing the world, of paying attention, which I believe is right and proper for Christians. Faith is, as Philip Yancey observes, paranoia in reverse.
In this new civil war, the American moral imagination is collapsing in on itself. This is tragedy with its own apocalypse: it is an unveiling of a Church that has been captivated by the logic and demands of America more than the Kingdom. In fact, it may even treat those stories as one and the same. This explains why Christians might once again flock to a wolf.
The question of why Christians support Trump has no single answer. We no longer live in the collision of competing realities like North and South in the 1800s. Instead, we are caught up in the endless creation of realities through our screens. This is the existential crisis that breeds extremism. And the possibility that America is waging civil war, a culture war gone hot, makes Trump something of a General.
This means the MAGA banner is one beneath which Christians of all persuasions and motivations can choose to rally. Because it represents the best chance of winning this culture war. Some Christians are radicalised. They are well along the road to extremism. As journalist Jeff Sharlet observes in his book The Undertow (W.W Norton & Co), some take the misspellings of Trump’s social media posts as cryptic conspiracy theories, quite like the way they’ve been taught to read biblical prophecy. They see Trump as a warrior against the deep state, the leader in a war leading towards an apocalyptic final battle that will reveal evil and which requires the use of justified violence.
But then, there’s also Trump’s ‘respectable’ supporters. Not every church is a MAGA church. For every pulpit whose gospel is dressed in conspiracy theory you will also find a pulpit dressed in respectable middle class piety. Here, you may not hear about Trump at all, instead you’ll hear “we don’t talk politics”. Which of course is a political stance itself – one that proves anaemic and shrinks back from proclaiming the whole counsel of God, in favour of a gospel that confirms the comfort of a particular way of life. One that chooses the optics of righteousness over the costly and disruptive prophetic voice.
In order to understand why many different kinds of Christians raise the MAGA banner, you have to imagine the Church deciding over again that winning matters more than witness. You have to consider the Church coming to believe that winning is witness.
The great irony of the American Church is that we believe ourselves free so long as we have political liberty. But we forget that the freedom of the Church is not determined by political liberty, but by the clarity of its witness to Jesus Christ. And a church determined by anything but Jesus Christ will lose its ability to preach a free gospel in the land of the free.
The real gospel is one that makes peace, creates communion and beauty, and confronts injustice with righteousness indiscriminately and in abundance. This is the freedom the Church in America gives up when it rallies under the banner of those who promise victory at any cost.