Donald J. Trump the leading choice for president among evangelical voters right now. This isn’t going down well with some of the gatekeepers—and for good reason.
Russell Moore, head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, summed up nicely the problem with Trump:
He’s an unrepentant serial adulterer who has abandoned two wives for other women. He’s someone who has spoken in vulgar and harsh terms about women, as well as in ugly and hateful ways about immigrants and other minorities. I don’t think this is someone who represents the values that evangelicals in this country aspire to.
Moore is right. Yet for now at least, a plurality of evangelicals want just such a man—a serial adulterer who disparages women, immigrants, and minorities—to be their next president.
A lot can change between now and the first primaries. But how did so many evangelicals come to support a man whose values are so very far from theirs?
Maybe it’s because they’re not as far apart as we think.
You see, Donald Trump is a living, breathing, blustering manifestation of our culture’s addiction to outrage.
We live to be outraged, and Christians are no exception. In fact, we’re often the worst offenders.
We’re addicted to outrage because, as Tim Kreider observed, it feels good to be angry. “Somatically it feels a lot like the first rush of an opiate,” he wrote.
Outrage is a means of coping with our fears—rational or otherwise. We’re afraid of those who are different from us. We fear the loss of our cultural dominance. So we turn to outrage because it’s cathartic.
Not surprisingly, rage-filled posts spread more rapidly on social media than any other kind of content. Posts conveying other emotions, such as joy, trail far behind, according to a 2013 study.
Outrage isn’t always bad. It can be a healthy response to real injustice. But like any drug, it can be toxic. We use outrage to dehumanize those we don’t like. Conservatives use it to demonize Muslim refugees; progressives use it to hillbilly-shame Kim Davis.
We use outrage to delineate the boundaries of our tribe—who’s in, who’s out. As one writer put it, our communities are increasingly “defined by an ‘us’ and a reflexive exclusion of ‘them.’ ”
Christians have been doing outrage for years. We’ve spent decades nursing a persecution mindset and a culture-war mentality. We claim to be outraged by all sorts of injustices—some real, some not—but mostly we’re angry and fearful at the loss of our cultural dominance.
So we treat those who are different as enemies… by which I don’t mean we love them like Jesus actually told us to.
We look upon “outsiders” with suspicion, fear, and contempt.
In sermons and in blog posts, we cultivate a siege mentality among the faithful because, as it turns out, making people angry and afraid is a very effective way to build a platform.
But there are consequences.
When you teach people to be outraged all the time, they might end up voting for someone who is the personification of a YouTube comment section.
To those who are shocked and unsettled by Trump’s resonance among evangelicals, what else did you expect?
Donald Trump is exactly the kind of candidate we deserve. He is a reflection of us.
His popularity is an indictment of our addiction to outrage. It’s an indictment of our culture-war mentality.
All these years, when we should have been encouraging Christians to love and serve their neighbors, instead we told them to prepare for battle.
When we should have been opening our doors to let outsiders in, instead we built walls to keep the world out.
Is it any wonder, then, that a man who promises to build an even bigger wall—the self-aggrandizing mogul who preys upon our fear and outrage—is the most popular candidate?
I can’t think of many good things that can come from Trump’s candidacy, no matter how long it lasts. Whether he makes it to the finish line or flames out tomorrow, his presence in the race hasn’t exactly elevated our political discourse, which was already hovering around junior-high-cafeteria levels.
But maybe there is one good thing about Trump’s popularity. Maybe it will prompt us to look in the mirror, to look at ourselves and how we treat others. Maybe seeing all this venom and bile spill from someone else’s lips will cause us to reconsider all the harsh and dehumanizing language that we use.
There is, after all, one thing worse than voting for Donald Trump. And that is being Donald Trump.
But we can renounce our addiction to outrage. We can jump off this train and stop demonizing those we disagree with—or those we just don’t understand. Instead of building bigger walls, we can welcome others into our communities—and maybe learn something from their perspectives and experiences. We can lay down our fear. We can listen to the apostle John for a change and drive out fear with love.
This won’t be easy. As Daniel Kirk recently observed, “The disease [fear] keeps us from the medicine [love].” But we can try all the same.
Love is the antidote to the Donald Trump in each of us.
Photo: Gage Skidmore on Flickr / CC BY 2.0