In one of the most profound scenes in cinematic history, Michael Corleone stands in as Godfather for his nephew Michael Francis Rizzi’s baptism. As the priest asks Corleone if he denounces the devil and all his works, his questions are intercut with scenes of the murder of the rival mafia heads. To give him an alibi, Corleone has planned the murders to coincide with the baptism. It’s a quizzical, emotionally wrenching scene that reveals a cultural Catholicism that’s completely divorced from the Gospels.
While every mafioso in the movie would fight to defend the church as it represents an important cultural identifier, their lives are completely divorced from the reality the church represents. But there is no struggle to reconcile their lives with their faith—no cognitive dissonance.
The Christian Trump card
American Protestants are not removed from this phenomenon. There’s a nationalistic Christian identity that runs through the foundation of the U.S. that looks more like an Ayn-Rand fever dream than the traditional Christianity. If you have any question, you only need watch the American political process.
Not long ago, Donald Trump met with hundreds of evangelical leaders and in the wake of that meeting, James Dobson came out to announce that Trump had recently entered into “a relationship with Christ,” going on to say, “I know the person who led him to Christ.”
Within a week, Dobson was soft-pedaling this claim, “Do I know that for sure? No. Do I know the details of that alleged conversion? I can’t say that I do.”
On the other side, a lot has been written lately about the faith of Hillary Clinton, too.
Now, I have no desire to flesh out the faith-claims of these candidates. The bigger question is: Why’s it so important to sell him to us as a Christian?
The answer is simple, evangelicals still have the power to turn elections.
Ever since Jerry Falwell Sr. established the Moral Majority in 1979, conservative evangelical Christians became one of the most courted political demographics. The was solidified with the growth of talk radio and The Christian Coalition.
What’s particularly telling is how quickly after the election it’s no longer important to be photographed coming out of a church. It’s even more interesting to note that neither Ronald Reagan or H. W. Bush attended church very often while in office, but the Clintons did regularly—and not only did Jimmy Carter attend every time he could, he also taught Sunday school.
Do we need a Christian president?
We need to be honest. It’s incredibly significant that the powers that be look at American Christians as people who would rather a candidate identify as one of them than have any understanding of foreign or domestic policy. But you know they’ve done their research, and there are hundreds of political campaign managers helping their candidates learn what to say and how to act in order to make Christians think, “He/She is a Christian just like me!”
In the meantime, evangelical leaders are being courted with state dinners and meet-and-greet events. And even if they’re not being corrupted by political graft and promises, they’re still falling victim to the deadly temptation of personal significance and influence that only powerful people can give them. At the same time, people are seeing these evangelical leader’s social media posts and thinking, “Hey! I have that guy’s study Bible. If he’s hanging around with Trump, it’s got to be a validation of Trump’s commitment to my/Jesus’ values!”
But everyone seems to forget that, even though Jesus was born into a politically volatile environment, he eschewed political discourse. All of Israel was waiting for their Messiah to kick Rome out of Jerusalem and return it to the Jews. In fact, that’s one of the first things that the disciples asked after the resurrection, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6)
Jesus’ message was that the Kingdom of God had come and that borderless kingdom existed everywhere someone’s heart was submitted to him. He wasn’t interested in improving on broken earthly governments. Instead, he was calling people to draw people to his kingdom, to build his church—and that was done through the contrast of the two kingdoms, not by his followers taking control of the kingdoms of man.
Jesus tells his people to watch out for those who appear to be sheep but are really ravenous wolves. This isn’t just about false teachers. It’s anyone who would pretend to follow Christ while using Christians to feed their appetites. Instead He reminds us not to look at the appearance or words of these sheep but to look for their fruit.
As long as Christians are being used as shills to keep politicians in power, we might as well hang it up. We’re serving no Kingdom purpose.
As it is, I don’t feel any obligation to vote someone into office because they tell me they’re a Christian. That doesn’t tell me anything about how they think. Frankly, I’m not sure I want someone with a Lahaye-style Pre-Trib theological dispensationalism making decisions about the Middle East. It feels like too much U.S. involvement in Israel/Palestine turmoil is already influenced by questionable theology.
I don’t care if Trump’s a Christian or not.
Whether Trump legitimately wants to follow Christ or not has nothing to do with his ability to lead a country. I’d vote for a compassionate, informed and intelligent atheist, Buddhist or Muslim before I’d vote for someone who only has their identity as a Christian going for them.
If Christians are going to continue in their entrenchment in Empire politics, we’re going to be responsible for the outcome. We can’t continue to say we renounce Satan and all his works while fighting for political control.
An earlier version of this post was published at jaysondbradley.com.