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To understand why evangelicals support the president, look to the first Protestant.
April 19, 2018
illustration above by Sabine Formane
Billy Graham is also referenced in this connection as are 15+ million American Southern Baptists (SBC). The article below rings chillingly true. American White Evangelicalism emerges as perniciously violent and unmerciful — in direct opposition to Christ. It can be consequently stated that as a collective in America, it has been in fact too readily the anti-Christ over its long history.
Dr. Richard Land, former longstanding head of “The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission” of the SBC, with whom I dialogued on capital punishment in Alaska on March 22 1997, is classic representative of this profoundly unmerciful/anti-Christian stance. He was also author of the infamous “Land Letter”, a horrific tract fully giving then President George W. Bush license to wage a universal War on Terror that has wreaked incalculable murder, mayhem and destruction the world over — not at all unlike Hitler’s will to power and a “thousand-year Reich”… Only the Americans have been so engaged since the dawn of the last century — and really since the beginning of their violent nationalism in the 18th century.
Finally, the outstanding book by Michael Massing, Fatal Discord: Erasmus, Luther, and the Fight for the Western Mind, fully in line with Ron Dart’s Erasmus: Wild Bird, is must-read for all seeking to understand Trump and America’s White Evangelicals. (There is however so much more in this 1000-page tour de force! It contains biographies of the aforementioned protagonists, set against the 16th-century tectonic cultural shifts that created the modern Western cultural and intellectual landscape. It is…
A deeply textured dual biography and fascinating intellectual history that examines two of the greatest minds of European history—Desiderius Erasmus and Martin Luther—whose heated rivalry gave rise to two enduring, fundamental, and often colliding traditions of philosophical and religious thought.)
The support of white evangelicals for Donald Trump continues to exasperate and perplex. About 80 percent of them voted for him in 2016—the most recorded for a Republican candidate since 2000—and his approval rating among them remains high. In June, some 1,000 evangelical pastors plan to meet the president, both to “celebrate” his accomplishments (as one leading pastor put it) and to rally Christians for the midterm elections. Neither Trump’s relations with Stormy Daniels, nor his endorsement of alleged sexual abuser Roy Moore, nor his reference to “shithole” countries, nor his toxic tweets, recurrent racism, or general crudity, have proved a deterrent to most conservative Christians—to the dismay of many commentators.
Peter Wehner, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush, took to the op-ed pages of The New York Times in December to explain “Why I Can No Longer Call Myself an Evangelical Republican.” Throughout his life, Wehner wrote, he had identified with evangelicalism and the Republican Party, but Trump and Moore were causing him to reconsider his affiliations: “Not because my attachment to conservatism and Christianity has weakened, but rather the opposite. I consider Mr. Trump’s Republican Party to be a threat to conservatism, and I have concluded that the term evangelical—despite its rich history of proclaiming the ‘good news’ of Christ to a broken world—has been so distorted that it is now undermining the Christian witness.”
The death of the Rev. Billy Graham in February set off a new round of chiding. In Politico, Stephen Prothero, a professor of religion at Boston University, wrote that “to chart the troubled recent course of American evangelicalism—its powerful rise after World War II and its surprisingly quick demise in recent years”—one need look no further than the differences between Graham and his eldest son, Franklin, who took over his empire. Where the father “was a powerful evangelist who turned evangelicalism into the dominant spiritual impulse in modern America,” Prothero wrote, his son is “a political hack” who “is rapidly rebranding evangelicalism as a belief system marked not by faith, hope, and love but by fear of Muslims and homophobia.”
The alarm over the evangelical embrace of Trump reached a crescendo with Michael Gerson’s cover story in the April issue of The Atlantic, “How Evangelicals Lost Their Way (and Got Hooked by Donald Trump).” Gerson—perhaps the most prominent evangelical writing in the mainstream media—stated that “Trump’s background and beliefs could hardly be more incompatible with traditional Christian models of life and leadership.” The president’s “unapologetic materialism” is “a negation of Christian teaching”; his tribalism and hatred for “the other” “stand in direct opposition to Jesus’s radical ethic of neighbor love”; his worship of strength and contempt for “losers” “smack more of Nietzsche than of Christ.” Christianity, Gerson declared, “is love of neighbor, or it has lost its way. And this sets an urgent task for evangelicals: to rescue their faith from its worst leaders.”
The verdict is clear: In supporting this thrice-married, coarse, boastful, divisive, and xenophobic president, evangelicals are betraying the true nature of Christianity. In making such charges, however, these commentators are championing their own particular definition of Christianity. It is the Christianity of the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus blesses the meek, disdains the rich, welcomes the stranger, counsels humility, and encourages charity. “Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also,” he declares—a most un-Trumpian sentiment.
From the earliest days of the faith, this militant strand has coexisted with the more pacific one. And it was the former that stirred the founder of Protestantism, Martin Luther. In his fierce ideas, vehement language, and combative intellectual style, Luther prefigured modern-day evangelicalism, and a look back at his life can help explain why so many evangelicals support Trump today.
In defending the cause of Christ, Luther was uncompromising. No one, he wrote, should think that the Gospel “can be advanced without tumult, offense and sedition.” The “Word of God is a sword, it is war and ruin and offense and perdition and poison.” In Luther’s famous dispute with Erasmus of Rotterdam over free will and predestination, the renowned Dutch humanist suggested that the two of them debate the matter civilly, given that both were God-fearing Christians and that the Bible was far from clear on the subject. Exploding in fury, Luther insisted that predestination was a core Christian doctrine on which he could not yield and that Erasmus’s idea that they agree to disagree showed he was not a true Christian.
Another key feature of evangelicalism is the central place of the Bible, and here, too, Luther provided the foundation. In his view, neither popes nor councils nor theologians have the authority to define the faith—the Bible alone is supreme. In his famous To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation Concerning the Reform of the Christian Estate of 1520, Luther described his world-altering concept of the priesthood of all believers: Every lay Christian, no matter how humble, has as much right to interpret the Bible as any pope or priest. Luther was thus shifting the locus of authority from credentialed elites to ordinary believers, empowering them to define their own faith.
In Europe, however, these populist ideas were quickly snuffed out. Kings and princes together with bishops and abbots cracked down on all who sought to apply them. The most dramatic case came during the German Peasants’ War of 1524–25, when farmers and laborers—inspired, in part, by Luther’s tracts—rose up against their secular and spiritual overlords. They were put down in a savage bloodletting that left more than 100,000 dead. Luther himself—fearing anarchy and furious at those who invoked his writings to better their lot—endorsed the slaughter in a lurid pamphlet titled Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes of Peasants. “Let everyone who can, smite, slay, and stab” the peasants, he wrote. “It is just as when one must kill a mad dog; if you do not strike him, he will strike you, and a whole land with you.”
Although the killings had started before Luther’s pamphlet appeared, he was strongly urged to retract his screed. He reluctantly prepared An Open Letter on the Harsh Book Against the Peasants, but, rather than disavow his position, he restated it in even starker terms. To those who said he was being unmerciful, he wrote, “this is not a question of mercy; we are talking of God’s word.” Luther was incapable of apologizing.
Luther’s peasant tracts badly damaged his reputation not only among the peasants but also among many of his fellow reformers. The experience hastened his own retreat from his early radicalism into a reactionary intransigence in which he opposed all forms of resistance to injustice and maintained that the only proper course for a Christian was to accept and acquiesce. He took as his watchword Romans 13: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities.” It was the individual who had to be reformed, not society. Luther also believed in the concept of the “two kingdoms,” the secular and the spiritual, which had to be kept rigorously apart. Christ’s Gospel was to apply only in the spiritual realm; in the secular, the government’s role was to maintain order and punish evildoers, not to show compassion and mercy. The Lutheran churches in Germany and Scandinavia (like most established churches in Europe as a whole) became arms of the state, developing a top-heavy bureaucracy that bred complacency, discouraged innovation, and caused widespread disaffection.Not so in America: With no established churches to confront and freedom of worship guaranteed by the Constitution, American Christians have been free to create their own spiritual pathways. Over time, Luther’s core principles of faith in Christ, the authority of Scripture, and the priesthood of all believers became pillars of American Protestantism—especially of the evangelical variety.
…Many evangelicals see the proper role of the government to be imposing order, not showing mercy.Billy Graham himself was deeply affected by Luther. From the fall of 1949, when he led his first major crusade, until the 1980s, Graham was the face of evangelical Christianity in America. Invoking the Bible as his sole authority, he offered a simple message centered on Christ’s atoning death on the cross for humankind’s sins and his resurrection from the dead for its salvation. “No matter who we are or what we have done,” Graham observed in Just as I Am, his autobiography, “we are saved only because of what Christ has done for us. I will not go to Heaven because I have preached to great crowds. I will go to Heaven for one reason: Jesus Christ died for me, and I am trusting Him alone for my salvation.” This intense focus on the Bible and on salvation through faith in Christ came directly from Luther.
In the recent eulogizing of Graham, there has been a tendency to gloss over his aggressive early evangelism. He was a strident anticommunist, a tireless critic of pornography, and a fawning supporter of presidents. While he insisted on integrating his crusades, he shunned the broader campaign for civil rights. Graham refused to participate in the 1963 March on Washington and dismissed Martin Luther King Jr.’s conviction that political protests could create a “beloved community” in which, even in Alabama, “little black boys and little black girls will join hands with little white boys and white girls.” Graham declared that “only when Christ comes again will the little white children of Alabama walk hand in hand with little black children.” In both his obsequiousness toward the powerful and his opposition to social change, Graham was very much Luther’s heir.
Many evangelicals are animated by the same type of faith- and Bible-based individualism that Luther espoused. This outlook can be seen in the motivational sermons of Joel Osteen, the purpose-driven appeals of Rick Warren, and the defiant statements of Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who in 2015 refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and went to jail for it. She said:
I never imagined a day like this would come, where I would be asked to violate a central teaching of Scripture and of Jesus Himself regarding marriage. To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God’s definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience. It is not a light issue for me. It is a Heaven or Hell decision…. I have no animosity toward anyone and harbor no ill will. To me this has never been a gay or lesbian issue. It is about marriage and God’s Word.
These remarks recall Luther’s concluding statement at the Diet of Worms of 1521. Ordered by a representative of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V to recant his writings, Luther resisted: “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason…I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted, and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience.” Luther’s bold defense of his religious conscience has become a hallmark of the Protestant tradition, and Davis, consciously or not, stands squarely within that tradition.
Protestantism, in short, arose as a revolt against the elites, and Luther’s early appeals to the common man and his disdain for the entitled lent the movement a spirit of grassroots empowerment that remains alive to this day. His insurgent nature further implanted in the faith a reflexive adversarialism—a sense of being forever under siege.
Luther’s rebelliousness was, however, paradoxically joined to an opposition to real-world change. While rousing the masses, he refused to endorse measures that would concretely address their needs. This combination of incitement and passivity is apparent in contemporary American evangelicalism, with both its ceaseless agitation against the centers of power and its shunning of any real program to address the underlying sources of resentment and dissatisfaction. In accord with Luther’s doctrine of the two kingdoms, many evangelicals see the proper role of the government to be imposing order, not showing mercy.
Donald Trump has followed this approach. On the one hand, he has played on the conviction of evangelicals that they are an oppressed minority who have been prevented from practicing their religion as they see fit. He has vigorously defended the right of the faithful to say “Merry Christmas,” of pastors to speak freely in their pulpits, of church-run hospitals and health-care organizations to refuse to offer contraceptives. He has also appointed judges committed to those principles (and adamantly opposed to abortion, a key issue for this group). At the same time, Trump has carefully avoided taking on the powerful financiers and magnates who have helped to create the economic system that has inflicted such hardship on his base. Trump’s insults, invective, and mocking tweets against enemies real and perceived seem a long way from the Sermon on the Mount, but they very much mirror the pugnacity, asperity, and inflammatory language of the first Protestant.
Please click on: Luther, Trump and Anti-Christ
- An abstract of a superb paper (a Master’s Thesis by Daphne M. Olsen entitled “Luther and Hitler: A Linear Connection between Martin Luther and Adolf Hitler’s Anti-Semitism with a Nationalistic Foundation”), on this issue reads:
Two of the most notoriously unshakable Anti-Semitics were the Protestant reformer Martin Luther and German Chancellor-turned dictator Adolf Hitler. But who exactly were Martin Luther and Adolf Hitler? Although four centuries apart, both Martin Luther and Adolf Hitler had a remarkable impact on both Germany and the world. Luther is renowned still today as the initiator and leader of the Protestant Reformation. Centuries later, Lutherans and Germans alike admire and honor him for his bold and daring actions against the Catholic Church in the 1500s. Hitler remains one of the most hated men in history. The similarities shared between Luther and Hitler were not limited to their hatred for anything Jewish, however. Both men were led by a strong sense of German nationalism and a yearning for unity among their fellow Germans.
What exactly was it about these two men that allowed them to start a rebellion and garner support from their fellow Germans? More importantly, what led them to live a life filled with rage and hatred, and why was it directed toward the Jews? Was there something about the German people in particular that allowed them to be susceptible to the leadership of Luther and Hitler? Martin Luther and Adolf Hitler are inseparably linked with their extreme anti-Semitism and nationalism. It is impossible to assume that Luther did not have any influence on Hitler and his views, for it cannot be mere coincidence that Hitler’s anti-Jewish sentiment of the 1930s and 1940s mirrors that of Luther’s anti-Semitism of the 1500s. This paper will explore the connection between Luther and Hitler; it will attempt to illustrate the similarities between their German nationalism and anti-Semitism, and explain how Luther laid the foundation for Hitler’s holocaust.