Donald J. Trump is the antithesis of a true follower of Christ. His xenophobic assault against Muslims, racist remarks about Mexicans, troubled history with women and sympathy for neo-Nazis make him remarkably unqualified to represent God’s teachings.
He has rarely—if ever, really—mentioned faith as an essential force in his life, though, as a presidential candidate and now president, he has been trumpeted by leading white evangelicals like Jerry Falwell Jr. as their “dream president.”
Falwell’s exuberance is warranted.
Eighty-one percent of evangelicals voted for Trump in 2016 and have arguably become his most ardent supporters. They have one of their own in the Oval Office, but not in the way you’d think.
See, Trump doesn’t give a damn about the Bible or Jesus. He’s pimping the gospel, just as he pimped racially insecure “working class” white men and women into voting for him in exchange for an America that doesn’t threaten their whiteness.
Closing the borders and embracing isolationism means more economic prosperity for Americans (read: white people) struggling with economic anxiety, in Trump’s logic. Evoking images of “bad hombres” and “black-on-black crime” in Chicago also enflamed white people’s fears and, ultimately, secured their votes.
Indeed, racism and God are the perfect cocktail for political assent. Trump realized early on that white evangelicals generally share a lot of his sexist, anti-Muslim and anti-black views. Historically, Christianity has often been used to exact violence against anything and anyone that challenges white supremacy.
Anthea Butler, a religious scholar at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote in The Guardian that Trump’s blatant racism against minorities signals to white evangelicals that he embraces their homogenized view of America.
“By othering these groups, Trump allows evangelicals to persist in their belief that white Anglo-saxon protestantism, is the default for true American Christianity and is best suited to lead America as a ‘Christian Nation,’” she wrote.
If you do not believe that Christianity has often been peddled as white supremacist doctrine, you know very little about how it functions in white, mainstream society.
In a piece for the Washington Post, the Rev. William J. Barber II details the racist history of Southern white evangelicalism and how, ultimately, white Christians were taught to build a wall between their faith and their politics, which, of course, relieved them of their obligation to the biblical pursuit of social justice.
This is the genesis of how mainstream Christianity came to be in America and why it has rallied around Trump. It has nothing to do with the word. Jesus was a radical, an activist who spoke truth to power. He protected the poor, never shamed the disadvantaged and rebuked the abuse of power. If there ever was an anti-colonial force on this earth, it was Jesus. But white evangelicals have subverted his words to attack the poor and disenfranchise the vulnerable, all in an effort to protect their white male homogeneity.
In this respect, not only is Trump a practicing Christian, but he is arguably the church of white supremacy’s most active member. One of his first tithes came in 1989 when he spent $85,000 on front-page ads in major New York City newspapers blasting five black and Latino boys as “muggers and murderers” after they were accused of raping a white woman in Central Park. (The city of New York eventually paid the men a settlement of $40 million after they were exonerated.)
In a follow-up interview with Larry King that same year, Trump said America needed to “bring back the police,” a clear nod to white people nationwide that he understood how law enforcement symbolizes the guardianship of whiteness. In 2017 he amplified this symbolism when he encouraged police brutality on national television.
Trump’s white evangelicals ignore this because they believe it maintains the white homogeneous America that Trump vows to maintain and that God intended.
Molly Worthen explains in The Atlantic that the white evangelical movement was born out of America’s revolutionary period, when there were deep suspicions of an encroaching government that put the nation in danger of losing its homogeneity. To counter this, white Christians had no issues aligning themselves with nonbelieving politicians who shared their fears.
There is another quality that Trump shares with many white evangelicals, as Worthen notes: that of the dictatorial know-it-all who professes to return America to the place where whiteness can rule with abandon:
To the majority of Americans—those who did not vote for him—Trump has all the allure of the boorish boss who takes too many liberties at the staff Christmas party. But his authoritarian machismo is right in step with a long evangelical tradition of pastor-overlords who anoint themselves with the power to make their own rules—and, in the event of their own occasional moral lapses, assure their followers that God always forgives.
This explains why many white people of faith were so fast to forgive Trump for his “grab ’em by the pussy” remarks. As long as Trump is resurrecting “God’s country,” his sexism gets a pass. And so does his racism.
We saw white, mainstream Christianity in action after Charlottesville, Va. After sympathizing with Nazis after a white nationalist was charged with running over a woman and killing her during the protests, Trump’s spiritual adviser Paula White insisted that Trump “100 percent is a Christian” and “not a racist.” Megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress dismissed accusations of Trump being racist after his “both sides” comments, saying, “If we’re going to denounce some racism, we ought to denounce all racism, and I believe that was the point the president was making.”
Mainstream Christianity is acting as an enthusiastic cheerleader of Trump’s white supremacist agenda. Of course, this is not the true gospel as Jesus wanted us to practice it. This is a bunch of white men and women co-opting faith and evangelizing millions of white Americans behind the false narrative that God’s word mirrors those of Trump. And it is working. Our white brothers and sisters, fooled by Trump’s false claims that their economic problems are the fault of the immigrant, have accepted the perverted gospel that positions their whiteness over the word of God.
That is how powerful white Christian supremacy is. It can colonize nations, leaving ruin in its wake. And it can colonize faith to the point where Christian leaders use it as a means to justify and ignore the most horrific abuses against humanity without batting an eye. But, most important for the white evangelical who fears that his existence is losing value, white Christian supremacy elected Donald J. Trump. Their God on earth.
For many Americans, my words may come as a shock. But for those of us who understand how faith has been used to justify the rape, pillaging and murder of the disenfranchised, Trump’s rise as a white-evangelical darling is just another reminder of how the teachings of Jesus have so often been twisted to echo the words of Satan.