By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
Revelation is defined as revealing, or something disclosed—especially a striking disclosure (Webster). In theology, Revelation is the last book of the Christian Bible. It presents an apocalyptic account of man’s encounter with God, and the final battle between good and evil.
Donald Trump’s campaign for President over the last 16 months—and the public support he has received—has been a dark revelation of American politics and religion. Trump may not be the anti-Christ, but he has either transformed politics and religion in America for the worse, or revealed their sorry state.
In politics, the popularity of Trump’s neo-fascist campaign has revealed the devolution of democracy in America and the corruption of institutional Christianity, thanks to those right-wing evangelical Christians who are heirs to Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, and who made Trump the Republican nominee for President. Black Christians have supported Hillary Clinton, while White mainline Christian denominations by and large have not sullied themselves with politics.
The election results will reveal the extent of the Trump revelation. If Trump makes a strong showing (over 40% of the popular vote), then his Trumpkins will remain in control of a radical-right Republican Party that will not be able to attract enough voters to win a national election. That is the test of both major parties; it is needed to hold the other party accountable.
If Trump does not receive at least 40% of the vote, then the Republican Party will be in complete disarray and beyond redemption as one of the two major parties, and those loyal to Trump will have lost their credibility. The political vacuum will be filled either by a reborn moderate GOP that could rise Phoenix-like from the ashes of the old GOP, or by a new party (or parties) that could be a viable alternative to Democrats in a national election.
Either way, for a healthy democracy to function, there must always be an alternative to the party in power, whether it is one party, as with the traditional two-party duopoly, or multiple parties that form a coalition to win a national election. The traditional duopoly cannot continue unless both parties have the potential to elect a majority of Congress and win a national election.
The election will also have profound consequences for institutional Christianity. Trump’s campaign was made possible by radical-right evangelical Christians who energetically supported him in the GOP primaries, and also by those moderate but silent Christians who never challenged his distorted values. Trump’s campaign and the election results should be a clarion call for those Christians who wish to save the church from the dung-heap of irrelevant religions.
There has been a popular misconception among traditional Christians that we should not mix religion with politics. Our Constitution doesn’t separate religion and politics; the First amendment only prohibits government from promoting or establishing a religion. Black Christians have long mixed the two, as have evangelical Christians since the 1980s, when Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority gave Republicans a sanctimonious (born again) voice.
If the church is to retain any credibility, it must challenge the legitimacy of radical-right “Christians” who have subordinated the teachings of Jesus to religious doctrines congenial to secular demagogues like Donald Trump. But they do have one thing right—the obligation to relate their faith to their politics. Political activism in a democracy should be a moral imperative of faith. A faith without deeds is as dead as a body without the spirit (James 2:26).
Donald Trump is not the only dark revelation in American politics and religion. Over their lengthy political careers Bill and Hillary Clinton have represented the corrupt combination of big money and politics, and Hillary’s disingenuous attempts to disavow that charge have fallen flat. Voters with any sense of morality do not have a good choice for President.
Democracy and freedom cannot survive without responsible political stewardship, and Christianity cannot survive without the faithful stewardship of God’s love in our politics. The greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors as we love ourselves is a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, and in a globalized world of increasing diversity the love command should be a reconciling force in both our faith and our politics.
Jesus never addressed the issue of political stewardship in a democracy since it was irrelevant in his ancient time, but today loving others as we love ourselves in a democracy threatened by internal dissension, anger and hatred today is a challenge for our faith and politics. It’s not always warm and fuzzy. Sometimes sharing God’s love requires using lethal force to protect others from those who would do them harm, both in our country and overseas.
An increasing number of “nones” have left the church in recent years, many because they see the church as irrelevant; but over 70% of Americans still consider themselves Christians. They can still make a difference, and perhaps even save their church and democracy from demise and irrelevance, if they can relate the transforming power of God’s love to their politics. The question is, how will Christians respond to the new Revelation in American politics and religion?
On whether the Trump campaign has transformed America or simply revealed it, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/what-is-the-long-term-effect-of-donald-trump/2016/10/22/a4cd0f94-8a6d-11e6-875e-2c1bfe943b66_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines&wpmm=1.
For a comparison of Donald Trump’s campaign to fascism, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/10/21/how-fascist-is-donald-trump-theres-actually-a-formula-for-that/?utm_term=.073a8e2fdb04&wpisrc=nl_headlines&wpmm=1.
On the interrelated role of religion, morality and politics, see http://www.inforum.com/variety/4144579-salonen-religion-politics-can-and-should-go-together.
On the greatest commandment as a common word of faith, see http://www.jesusmeetsmuhammad.com/2015/01/the-greatest-commandment-common-word-of.html.