BELIEVE ME: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
I bought this book on the belief that it was a balanced approach to help evangelicals like me deal with the bi-polar Trump presidency. I think many of us have questions like…
“How can I reject President Trump’s Junior High name calling, and yet support his Supreme Court picks?” Or, “How can I reject Trump’s exaggerations and past womanizing and yet support his economic policies?” It seems if you say anything positive about Trump, half the world goes nuts believing you are now a flat-earther—and if you say anything negative, the other side of the world now knows you are a socialist.
This book was absolutely no help.
If I understand author John Fea correctly, he sees the evangelical road to helping to elect Donald Trump as paved with fear—fear of the media, of Hillary, of a nation that evangelicals no longer recognize. Fair enough. But, when Trump was elected Fea says, “I was shocked. I was saddened. I was angry.” P. 6 Fea seems to be writing from and having voted from a fear as great as any he is describing in others. That didn’t help either.
The warnings and examples of the seductiveness of political power was well done, especially on page 149. I loved his quote from Henri Nouwen, “The temptation to consider power an apt instrument for the proclamation of the gospel is the greatest temptation of all.” The emphasis that Jesus is the Messiah, not Washington comes through wonderfully—as does the church’s poor witness when we look to Washington as our Savior.
Fea becomes Trump.
One of my problems with President Trump is his overstatements, exaggerations, even lies, whatever you want to call them. I believe Fea is guilty of the same. Here are some examples.
1: Trump Bad. Hillary Good.
Fea spends plenty of time describing Trump’s failings. Of course, there are plenty, his immorality, crude talk, lies, exaggerations, even his lack of biblical knowledge or credibility. But when he finally gets to describing the other choice in the election, He describes Hillary Clinton as, “a devout mainline Methodist,” with “far more experience than Trump,” with a, “position of paid leave that would have strengthened families,” with “a humane immigration policy,” someone who has, “defended the rights of women, children, the poor and people of color.”
Say what? And this is supposed to be a balanced book, written by a historian? Can’t we at least admit that both candidates were flawed and neither choice was easy for any Christian?
I don’t think the women kidnapped and/or killed by Boko Haram as she worked to keep them off the U.S. terrorist watch list would see Hillary as defending their rights. I don’t think the unborn children being killed in the womb would see Hillary as defending their rights either. I just returned from my annual trip to Haiti, and rightly or wrongly, they see the Clintons as stealing much of what was given to them after the earthquake (so far the have received around 13cents on the dollar). Last I checked, Haitians were, “people of color”
I’m not trying to be anti-Hillary here, I’m just saying the author gave her strong points while leaving out her weak ones, and visa-versa for Trump. I bought the book to know how to deal as a Christian with this weird Trump presidency, not to be sold Democratic talking points about how Hillary was the Messiah and we Christians missed the boat.
2: Name Calling
Chapter three is called, “A Short History of Evangelical Fear.” Fea lied. It’s NOT short. And when his conclusion on page 112 lists the likes of Reuben Torrey, Arno Gaebelein, and C.I. Scofield, among others as “fear-mongers” building ‘fundamentalist empires,” with the “iron hand of biblical truth,” I believe Fea is guilty of the same type of name-calling as is Trump. At least Fea didn’t tweet it.
On p.123 Fea states that, “Robert Jeffress, Richard Land, Gary Bauer, and James Dobson have devoted their careers to endorsing political candidates and Supreme Court justices…”
Robert James Jeffress Jr. is an American Southern Baptist pastor, author, Trump supporter, radio and television host. I don’t know much about Robert Jeffress except that he is first known as being the pastor of the 13,000-member First Baptist Church in Dallas. I’m guessing he has devoted his career to teaching and encouraging those who come to his church through the Word of God. James Dobson was president of Focus on the Family. I was on their website just this week, and they still focus on the family. There were tons of issues are there and I didn’t see one about picking people for the next presidential election. Again, this is Fea becoming like Trump. Did they endorse presidents? Absolutely. Did they devote their careers to it? Absolutely not.
I currently volunteer for a pregnancy center. The center I volunteer for has an ultra-sound machine that was paid for, in large part, by James Dobson’s Focus on the Family. And it didn’t help get anyone elected.
- 39 “Conservative evangelicals and other pro-life advocates spend billions of dollars to get the right candidates elected because they believe that the Supreme Court is the only way to solve the problem of abortion in our society.”
Not true. This is another Trump-style exaggeration.
I have no idea how much evangelicals give to candidates or to help in court elections. I wouldn’t even know how to do the latter. For me, I’ve never given anything to a candidate. I don’t know if Fae knows either, as he didn’t give ANY proof for his “billions of dollars” estimate. So, that I can’t prove or disprove, but I know of NO conservative evangelical, and I know of plenty, that believes candidates or courts are the only way to solve the abortion problem. Every evangelical I know believes that this is a problem of the heart, not the government. The belief in total depravity and redemption through Christ alone is what makes us evangelical.
On pages 139 – 140 Fea quotes theologians Stanley Hauerwas and Jonathan Trian who offer another approach to the pro-life cause. They suggest, “servicing at abuse centers or teaching students at local high schools or sharing wealth with under-resourced families or apprenticing men into fatherhood”—and the list goes on. But, we ARE doing just that. The Church I am a part of works alongside our Care Net center and others. We share our wealth, I have spoken at local junior highs, high schools, and community colleges, we provide Christmas gifts for under-resourced families, prenatal care, and meals for new mothers in the Care Net center. We have an earn-while-you-learn program for new moms and dads, and we continue to help up to 3 years after the baby is born or adopted. Wake up Fae, Haurwas and Trian, the church has been and continues to be on this offensive in the battle for the unborn. Maybe it’s time you joined us.
But we must also play defense, and that happens in the court.
Change the focus to another crime, for illustration. Let’s say rape became legal in the United States. Should the church then serve abused women, and teach students and share our wealth and apprentice men into fatherhood? Of course, and as that results in people coming to Christ, that is the offensive arm of the church. But, would it not also be right before God, for the good of women, society, and our country, to vote for people who wanted to outlaw rape?
4: Make America Great Again
Chapter 5: Make America Great Again, was a bizarre waste of a chapter. I felt like Fea took a campaign motto and made it into a manifesto, creating a straw-man he could blow down.
It starts by spending half the chapter trying to show that we are not now nor have we ever been a Christian Nation (of course that depends on your definition), but then admits this isn’t something Trump talks about anyway. So, why was it in the book?
But the big question in the chapter to Fea seems to be, “what time is Trump referring to when he says he wants to ‘Make America Great Again?’” He then picks different times loosely derived from different Trump speeches (the time of Andrew Jackson, Richard Nixon, etc) to show that bad things happened during those times.
News flash: Make America Great Again is a MOTTO. That is why Trump doesn’t say what time he is referring to—so that people will look back at what they believe to be a better time and hope that Trump will bring it back. For one person it may be when Detroit made cars, for another when taxes were lower, for another when abortion was illegal.
Fea could have done the same thing with Obama’s motto, “Yes We Can.” Yes we can… what? Fix health care or murder the unborn? Reduce racism or increase violence against police? Yes We Can was an excellent motto, with a similar appeal as Make America Great Again. One looks forward and one looks back, but both are ambiguous and appeal to the desire within us to make our country better—and either one can be torn down as a straw man proving nothing.
The last chapter starts with this sentence. “The evangelical road to Donald Trump has been marked by the politics of fear, power, and nostalgia.” Of course, every campaign has, but that is only part of the story.
It’s also true that the evangelical road to Donald Trump was much the same as the rest of America’s road to Donald Trump. The road was paved by an American distaste for politics as usual in DC, and a democratic candidate so tarnished by past scandals she needed insider help to beat Bernie Sanders. That’s what elected Trump.
But I still don’t know what to do about it.