Spoiler alert: There will be a new kind of crucifixion in the order of service at churches across the country this Easter.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but Easter 2021 has been hijacked by Donald Trump’s nonstop whining that the presidential election was stolen from him, for which he has the full-throated support of most white evangelical Christians.
These people, overwhelmingly Republican, gave Trump 80% of their votes in 2016 and 2020 and have now so coupled their their faith in the resurrection of Jesus with their faith in the survival of Trump that they are guilty of nothing less than the crucifixion of truth every time they say Trump’s defeat was not valid.
The latest polling shows that two thirds of of them do not accept the election results as believable or that Trump was in any way responsible for the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. They choose to believe only what they want to believe, which is Trump — first, last and always.
Not for them the reviewed and certified election tally from all 50 states; not for them the truth from 60 state and federal courts telling Trump his claims are without merit. These evangelicals have found their sweet spot — “Trump says it, I believe it, that settles it” — and off they go to do his bidding. Jesus should be so lucky.
In the Texas Baptist preacher’s family of my youth a lying king like Trump would not have been imaginable to most evangelical Christians I knew. My father was a fervent evangelical pastor for 52 years and I am grateful he did not live to witness the unmooring of that word from its original intent: the good news.
What an odd and sad paradox that evangelicals are now pawns in a dangerous game of fraud threatening America’s democracy. They aren’t the only players, but they are the ones who should feel the most contrition for having any part in it. Trump’s behavior is easy to understand because his mental default position is to denounce truth as fake unless it serves his purposes, an unfortunate mental tic destined to keep him in court for years to come. The law will take care of him.
What matters a great deal more is whether evangelicals, presumably answering to a higher power than Trump’s prosecutors, can free themselves from allegiance to a man who plays them like a fiddle and laughs at them in private.
Breaking free of Trump doesn’t look promising this Easter, even after he stunned the world by inciting his followers to demand demand the overturn of democracy in his favor. None of that mob wore religious ID badges, but the Christian symbolism on display cannot be denied.
Countless books will be written attempting to explain Trump’s hypnotic appeal to so many Americans, but one rationale too often overlooked in the Trump/evangelical pas de deux is the extent to which evangelicals bought into the theory, frequently advanced by their loudest leaders, that Trump would be president because God had already put his finger on the voting scales in order to accomplish his purposes for America.
On election night of 2016, Franklin Graham, son of America’s most celebrated evangelical, Billy Graham, told Mike Pence to “make sure Donald understands that it’s the Lord.” With that certainty in their minds, repeated frequently for the next four years, evangelicals basked in Trump’s confirmation of their own biases on issues of race, sexuality, immigration, women’s rights, the environment, conservative judges and the press, to name just a few headline grabbers.
But now with Trump in exile at Mar-a-Lago, what’s an evangelical supposed to believe this Easter? Has God opted for a spiritual sabbatical from dealing with American governance? Or did God, all knowing (past and future) and all powerful (nothing is impossible), change his mind about Trump? If God still backs Team Trump, why would he take his finger off the scales last November?
These are not gotcha questions but are useful for anyone hoping to make sense of how Trump’s warring band of Christian soldiers lost its way on the road to Easter. Evangelical Christians have reached a junction and the path they choose will define their future: Accept the complete validity of the election or continue to wallow in Trump’s lair of lies.
It should not be a difficult choice, but if past is prologue they will gather in churches great and small this Sunday celebrating Jesus’ resurrection while still approving Trump’s unhinged anger at Americans exercising their constitutional right to choose a president, a right he then sought to abolish once and forever in a fatal outburst of American autocracy.
This is the truth evangelicals will not acknowledge, and it is the truth they remain guilty of crucifying, even at Easter. As writer Anne Lamott once described her often stumbling belief in God: It’s enough to drive Jesus to drink.
Make mine a double.
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Hal C. Wingo, a Baylor University graduate and member of its board of regents for nine years, was a senior editor at Life Magazine and co-founding editor of People Weekly, published by Time Inc.
Evangelicals have found their sweet spot — “Trump says it, I believe it, that settles it” — and off they go to do his bidding. Jesus should be so lucky.