Matthew 4 is an outline of the three consecutive times when Jesus was tempted to compromise himself in exchange for comfort, ego and power. After the final temptation, Jesus responded emphatically:
“Get out of here, Satan. For the Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him.'” (NLT)
In other words, succumbing to any (or all) of those temptations is wrong. Seems clear enough.
Back in 2019 Robert Jeffress stated flatly: “These ‘Never Trump’ evangelicals are morons. They are absolutely spineless morons, and they cannot admit that they were wrong.”
Four years later, the rhetoric from the pastor of First Baptist Dallas church is more muted. He is pragmatic, preferring a wait and see approach before endorsing Donald Trump’s second presidential bid. High profile spiritual adviser Paula White has been uncommonly quiet about the subject as well.
Other evangelicals are less diplomatic. David Lane recruits evangelicals for public office (how is that a job?) and he has said Trump is no longer viable because of his penchant for “personal grievances and self-importance”. Not long ago Trump adviser Pastor James Robison described the former President as “a little elementary schoolchild”.
During Donald Trump’s administration, a large chunk of ‘evangelical royalty’ scabbed on to him in spite of his unbridled narcissism, immorality, and indifference.
Evangelical royalty are high profile christian leaders who have influence because they rule over a religious empire of some sort.¹ Their thrones are stages, boardrooms, private jets, and they reign over expansive media realms. They are popular because they are well known.
They claim to represent God to the masses: their pronouncements untouchable, their wisdom unassailable. Religious royalty maintain their thrones with equal parts brazen confidence, religious lingo and unexamined character.
These pastors and prophets appeared regularly in the White House during Trump’s administration – anointing, praying, declaring, fawning, posing, and laying their hands on the President (eek!). Even so-called moderates like Graham, Dobson and MacArthur softened their non-negotiable morals to sidestep Trump’s indiscretions.
But now Trumpian backsliders have the former President feeling so radioactive that he recently hit them with the “disloyal” label. We should believe him – he has an unusually keen insight into disloyalty.
But wait … aren’t these the same christian leaders who decreed that Trump was divinely appointed ‘for such a time as this’? Didn’t clusters of evangelicals assure us Trump was God’s ‘King Cyrus’ for America? Didn’t they proclaim that God had choreographed Trump’s unlikely win in order to turn us back to righteousness?
Didn’t the evangelical royalty assure us that God had clearly revealed this to them?
Mike Evans was a major evangelical organizer for Trump in 2016 but he is less than enthusiastic now. “Donald Trump can’t save America. He can’t even save himself. He used us to win the White House. We had to close our mouths and eyes when he said things that horrified us. I cannot do that anymore.”
Yes christians can make mistakes but Evans is admitting they knew Trump was bad but chose to support him anyway. At least he is honest. Even more honest is Everett Piper who simply said, “If he is our nominee in 2024 we will get destroyed.”
So there it is: it was never about righteousness or freedom or the common good – it was only about winning. Self-indulgent faith leaders used God’s name to gain prestige and power for themselves. Is this what christian leadership looks like? Apparently. Is this what it is supposed to look like? Of course not.
The former President is right though – the evangelical royals are disloyal: disloyal to him, disloyal to us, disloyal to God. They are royally disloyal.
It seems obvious but I will say it anyway: these leaders didn’t hear from God because God doesn’t give bad advice. These so-called spiritual leaders either thought they heard from God and preached it (foolish) or they pretended to hear from God and preached it (liars).
The former President used the royal evangelicals for his own purposes but it was he who was doomed to be the victim. They never cared about Donald Trump’s soul. Still don’t.
The same could be said about God, who was little more than a convenient noun the royals used to gain political influence. It’s obvious these wishy-washy influencers never heard from God and didn’t care to. Still don’t.
That’s how royal evangelicals operate. They have a soundbite understanding of Jesus where his words are convenient but applying them is not. The more the royal dis-loyalists claim to be wise, the more they become fools.
Look at Jesus: his words, his life, his values. The Gospel isn’t a product to be marketed, it is a Way of living and learning and growing together.
I was thinking today about my faith journey and how much hype, hollowness and hooey I have had to strain out of it over the years. And I realized…
… I am not a christian because of a prayer, a decision, a movie, a book. I’m not a christian through sermons, crusades, famous pastors. I don’t follow Jesus as a consequence of the Bible, apologetics, Sunday School, or emotional experience. I’m not a believer because of hymns, churches, altars, guilt or fear. Not because of emotions or doctrine or a denomination. Some of those things may have benefitted me occasionally but they didn’t drive my spiritual hunger.
However, I am a christian because I have known ordinary people who loved Jesus. These people were imperfect but sincere; broken but beautiful; serious but joyful. I absorbed their humility, kindness and sincerity through the gentle osmosis of being with them … some for years; some for moments.
It seems that opinionated and privileged are not better, they are worser.
Because you see, God’s kingdom always grows from the bottom, not the top. Jesus illustrates this theme through unlikely words like yeast, seeds, weakness, sacrifice and poor. The trappings of royalty – comfort, ego and power – are in fact, counter to what God desires for us.
This recent tweet from @danwhitejr puts it all into perspective:
“If Satan tempted you in the Wilderness with the power to take down your political enemies and enact your social agenda, would you take it?
To think of it any other way would be royally disloyal.
~ ~ ~
¹ My definition and I like it a lot