Just as Secretary of Defense James Mattis had to decide whether he could (in good conscience) remain in Trump’s administration, Christian conservatives must grapple with the dissonance between what is preached from the pulpit at Christmas and what is being tweeted by the bully from the White House.
I still reject the premise that Donald Trump defines conservatism, but the more the two blend, the harder it will be for believers to square our political home with our eternal one.
In fact, as another year ends, I’m left wondering: Will “Christian conservative” be an oxymoron in 2019?
Before we go any further, I should confess that I have never actually identified myself as a Christian conservative, because the term conjures visions of “religious right” figures like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.
However, I am a (very flawed) Christian and a (somewhat conflicted) conservative. These two identities—the sacred and the secular—once coexisted happily. Not so today. Increasingly, my faith and my political loyalties are at odds, and sometimes even seem to be mutually exclusive.
Trump’s fundamental character deficiencies are part of the problem. We all fall short, but Christians aspire to bring about the fruits of the spirit (love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control). These virtues aren’t just out of step in today’s society—they are utterly countercultural in Trump’s Republican Party.
Unlike Ronald Reagan’s sunny optimism, rooted in faith in America’s future, Trump motivates via fear. His worldview is rooted in a scarcity mentality that says someone else is stealing your share of the pie. This carnal mindset clashes with a faith that calls us to gladly give to others (I’m speaking here about personal charity, not redistribution via the tax code)—and trusts in God to provide for our daily needs.
Of course, I haven’t even delved into the personal baggage. I’m no prude—or saint. I pray and take my kids to church, but I freely admit that I am a sinner in need of grace and constant forgiveness. God’s mercy humbles me daily. Donald Trump, however, revels in at least five of the seven deadly sins: pride, greed, lust, envy, and wrath.
This isn’t a new development, of course, but with every passing minute it becomes clearer that it would take a miracle for him to change.
What is more, we are now seeing a mass exodus of “adults” who once helped rein him in.
Here is where things get messy. Trump occasionally gets things right. Sometimes he does something that any decent conservative would support, and then I find myself saying so. This did not compel me to vote for Trump, but many otherwise decent conservatives entered into this devil’s bargain in 2016—and may do so again in 2020.
Unfortunately, my Christian conservative friends don’t really have anywhere else to go.
As someone who believes protection of the vulnerable extends to the lives of the unborn, switching teams is not an option for me.
Progressives are driven by their own set of perverse incentives, and their pursuit of power can be as vicious and cloying as the degradation seen on the right.
Those who have entered politics from the left side of the aisle, who genuinely pursue justice and mercy, have to fight their own temptation to let the politics of the moment shape their faith rather than letting their faith shape their politics. They have their own cross to bear.
Meanwhile, I’m focused on how to align my values and my politics, and that means prioritizing my values—rather than reverse-engineering them to fit my politics.
The dichotomy between this season of peaceful reflection and the state of American politics is stark, but it’s not new. It is perhaps appropriate that many of us find ourselves politically homeless during this season.
Now more than ever, we should reflect on and observe the important rhythms and religious practices that help center and sustain us in an increasingly unpredictable world.
And then, get to work.