The rise of Donald Trump as a likely Republican presidential candidate has been mystifying to me as well as others who I have talked to. His rise in the polls no matter what he says or does defies common sense. As Trump says he could probably shoot someone in broad daylight and still maintain his support. Trump has demeaned or insulted Mexicans, Muslims, women, disabled people, war heroes and that's a short list. Yet, his popularity is soaring. What is especially hard to figure is the enthusiasm of evangelical Christians for his candidacy. Trump is an unlikely champion of the evangelical cause. Three times divorced, a Presbyterian who has never confessed his sins to God (he has none to confess), a tough and pragmatic businessman who has admitted to being greedy, Trump does not fit the evangelical mold at all. His profanity at one time might have excluded him but he can call for a beat down of protestors at his rallies and people cheer. There seems to be no stopping him.
He was in South Carolina over the weekend which is fertile ground for evangelicals. One was asked why he was supporting Trump who is not a traditional evangelical. We are not electing a pastor he said but a president and he speaks for my values. That may be the way a lot of evangelicals are thinking. They want someone who is an outsider and who will stand up to the big challenges America faces in the world. If we are going to be great again we need someone tough like Trump appears to be. The compassionate conservative of the Bush era is long gone. We want muscular Christianity or at least someone who projects strength even if he does not believe just like us.
Trump is taking advantage of the evangelical drift in recent years from faith to feeling. Our faith has become so subjective what matters is a personal religious experience (accepting Jesus as my savior) without much accountability to a confession of faith or a community of believers. Who does Trump answer to? Who functions as his community of discernment? He is not part of the Republican party or a convinced and active member of any church. What matters for his supporters is that he says he is a Christian which can mean whatever any one wants it to mean. Now, it seems to mean more about one's political views than theological views. Who even needs theology when what matters is what is on our hearts. The same heart, Jeremiah the prophet said in the Bible, that is not very trustworthy.
Jesus came preaching the Kingdom of God not just a religion of the heart. He is sovereign over business, politics, all of life 24/7. It is impossible to keep him in an inner box where we go for inspiration but in the real world we need to go with what works. There is this Gnostic thing at work in many parts of the Church today that wants Jesus on our own terms but not as he showed himself to be. We want our personal, private Jesus but in no way do we want to "apprentice ourselves to his way of doing things" (David Dark's words in The Gospel According to America by David Dark). His way is the way of the cross - a term not heard often on the campaign trail as candidates go after the evangelical vote.
When Pope Francis stood on the Mexican side of the US - Mex border he talked about how he could not understand how a Christian could close his or her eyes to the suffering masses of people on the side of the border he was standing on. And do nothing but build better and bigger walls. Some people said he was talking about Trump although he did not mention him by name. He might not even know who Donald Trump is but he knows who a Christian is.