As someone who grew up steeped in the conservative political world of the Evangelical Christian movement in the US, I was continually stunned by the ability (and willingness) of Evangelicals to continue to make excuses for the seemingly un-Christian behavior, attitudes, and rhetoric of Donald Trump. In his book, Believe Me, John Fea (my colleague at Messiah College) shows how Trump successfully played into what he calls “the playbook of the Christian right”.
Fea traces the history of the Christian right, as well as the long history of the interaction of Christians with politics in our country. He traces how Trump came from an afterthought in the Republican primaries to the widely endorsed “obvious” choice for many Evangelical Christians. For those who wondered how the same Christian leaders who decried Bill Clinton’s immorality as proof of his unfitness for the office of President came to say that Trump’s moral shortcomings didn’t preclude his fitness for office, Fea’s work helps to connect the dots hiding in plain sight. He lays out three key dichotomies that will affect our political mindset:
- Do we vote out of fear or out of hope? Christians are called to be people of hope. How can we as Christians justify a politics based on fear of those we deem “other” in light of a faith which says we are to love even our enemies and that in Christ there is no Jew or Greek?
- Do we value power or humility? Christ lauded the humble and attacked the powerful. Should Christians support and value candidates that lack humility and seem eager to garner personal power which they can use to impose their ideas?
- Do we view history through nostalgia or do we look for the truth? As someone who is white, it is easy to view American history with nostalgia for other eras of our common history that were “great”, but can I admit that people of color might not find those periods nearly as great for them?
Fea is not advocating for Christians to become liberal and vote for Democrats. He spends no time attempting to show that Hillary Clinton was a good “Christian” choice. It is clear from this book that Fea is a dedicated Christian and politically conservative (he calls abortion “a horrific practice” at one point). However, he does not allow his politically conservative views to convince him that he must support Trump and ignore his short-comings. His conclusion is simple:
“Evangelicals can do better than Donald Trump. … It’s time to take a long hard look at what we have become. Believe me, we have a lot of work to do.”
Disclosure: I was given the opportunity to read an advanced copy of this book. Page numbers may have changed before final release and are therefore not referenced in this review.