30 Evangelical Christians on Justice, Truth, and Moral Integrity
Edited by Ronald J. Sider
Cascade Books (Wipf and Stock), 2020
A Review by Dwight A. Moody
I’m not sure who the editor and publisher have in mind for readers of this book—it is hard to see it making any impact in our polarized population. These writers are little-known scholars and not well-known leaders in the Evangelical world. I was familiar with only eight of the thirty, and I have been reading and writing in the Evangelical world for decades.
Many people need to read this book, though—it is a powerful critique of a president who, according to Christopher Hutchinson, “lies blatantly, repeatedly, and without remorse” (207). Hutchinson is the only pastor in this writing bunch, and therein lies the problem of impact: seminary scholars have little chance to sway their Evangelical tribe when the chiefs among them are powerful and popular pastors who fill sanctuaries and screens with their adoration of Donald J. Trump.
But now, I have this question for the Reformed Hutchinson: could Trump sustain membership in any congregation shaped by a covenant? Or perhaps I should put that question to the larger-than-life referee of all things Christian, the Reverend Albert Mohler, a recent convert to Trumpism but a long time proponent of Reformed religion and just the kind of populist leader this book is meant to counter.
These authors, of course, catalogue the many failings of the Donald: lack of humility (43) and compassion (55), to name two. Then there is Chris Thurman and his chapter, with the unambiguous title: “Immoral, Spineless, Demonic, Prideful, Blind, Stupid, and Lacking in Grace?” (131-138), wherein he names those who lead this Trump Tribe.
The influential writer and editor Ron Sider pens the most powerful and important chapter, “President Trump and the COVID-19 Epidemic” (62-69). He exposes the ultimate failure of our President to lead and protect the people of the United States in this worst of all tragedies. This catastrophe is both intensely personal (people dying) and expansively social (economy collapsing). Sider offers little commentary along with his recitation of the facts, and no lament—none is needed, for this epic presidential failure will go down as the epicenter of his concentric circles of incompetence.
Not everyone in this volume sees the Christianity Trump is violating the same way. Some are focused on a scheme of personal righteousness; and here I mention Irene Fowler, who lists “the core values of Christianity” as humility, truth, personal righteousness, love of God and others but not the world, and care of the oppressed” (48-49).
Others understand the faith in more social terms; and I offer as evidence the wide-ranging moral vision of Steven E. Meyer, who names economic values (rich over the poor, even before the greatest crash since the Depression), environmental issues (deleting hundreds of regulations designed to protect this good earth), and foreign policy (favoring the strong man over the immigrant and the refugee). His 14-page essay (181-194) is the longest in the book: “Quo Vadis, America?”
Perhaps the best piece is one borrowed from The Atlantic, written by Peter Wehmer and entitled “The Deepening Crisis in Evangelical Christianity” (73-77). He locates Evangelical support for Trump in their “existential struggle against a wicked enemy—not Russia, not North Korea, not Iran, but rather American liberals and the left” (74). He writes further: “Many evangelical Christians are also filled with grievances and resentments because they feel they have been mocked, scorned, and dishonored by the elite culture over the years” (75). Against this “culture war” mentality on which they have been fed (by politicians and preachers longing for political power), Wehmer puts forth the suggestion of Makoto Fujimura of “culture care”. This has great promise and had it taken up more space in this volume would have made the a more valuable antidote to all things Trumpian. It offers a different way to be Christian, to remain Evangelical, and to engage as a citizen of the country and, indeed, of the world.
What is strangely under-represented in the book is the issue of race. Black Lives Matter was just bursting on the social scene as this book went to press. White supremacy in the church and in the country is a much bigger issue than this book of essays reflects; it is a much larger component to the Trump Effect than this book allows. Thanks to Napp Nazworth for holding up this banner in the anti-trump parade (with his article “Race-Baiter, Misogynist, and Fool”, 32-41).
But no book can address everything, and who knows what new cultural touch point will emerge before this remarkable year ends! But I can say that the ending of this book is so unremarkable that it calls for a response. Sider himself concludes with an evangelical call to three things: prayer, listening, and talking (218). He did not even mention voting, nor any of the other common means of civic engagement.
All of which makes me ready to launch my own SWEAT team; by which I mean, Southern White Evangelicals Against Trump. I could launch it right here in Glynn Country, Georgia, where was lit (on February 23, in the murder of Ahmaud Arbery) the fuse that burned all the way to Minneapolis, there to ignite the global movement for social justice.
Maybe I will.