“Things do not always happen as a man would expect…” - C.S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet
These are bizarre times in which we live and move and have our being. It is 2018, and John Le Carré’s definition of “progressive” as those who, “defend the individual against the state," is largely an example of a center which has failed to hold. On the opposite side of the same coin, conservatives largely represent simply another iteration of a big government administration. They’ve simply duped us with a clever bait and switch in which they’ve redefined the phrase “big government” to mean progressive, and its inverse to mean conservative, all the while shuffling government expansion through the back door (or, over the southern border, as it were) with dreams of a massive wall and infrastructure injection.
Regardless of what the current political spectrum actually looks like (or how it got to looking like it does at the moment), what is perhaps most discouraging is the state of Christian (!) engagement in politics, or, more specifically, Jerry Falwell’s engagement in politics. At this current moment in time, Jerry Falwell, Jr. is perhaps the most visible (and simultaneously worst) representative of popular Christianity. I have neither the space nor time nor bandwidth to gather all the evidence for this claim—though this piece certainly pushes the conversation forward—so instead of providing a database of troubling tweets and statements, I would like to offer just one tweet as a test case:
A lot of things are troubling about this statement, not least of which is the fact that we have a conservative—and a conservative Christian, no less—who, instead of asking one Donald J. Trump to live up to the office he currently occupies, has endeavored to bring the office down to his level. Now, Falwell defines Trump’s deviancy down by couching it in the language of, “success,” and Trump’s “down to earth”-ness. But what does President Trump’s “success” consist of? Legislatively, the claim is suspect, since aside from Justice Gorsuch and a fairly standard Republican tax bill, there’s not much to show for Year One. Economically, the jury is probably still out for the time being. Optically, President Trump has been a disaster. And what of DJT’s appeal to the “common man”? Honestly, from my bean bag chair, this looks like a disappointing and uninspired attempt at explaining away the President’s varied and sundry problematic comments. All that notwithstanding, his emphasis on Trump’s “authenticity,” also seems problematic to me as well. Inherent in Falwell’s praise of Trump’s “authenticity” is a general approval of Donald Trump’s behavior, of his way of acting. But alas, as Jonah Goldberg writes, authenticity is not an end in itself. Even if it were, I’m not sure it’s appropriate for a Christian leader to to endorse another fallen human’s own autonomous arbitration regarding what is acceptable or correct behavior.
Falwell’s endorsement of President Trump amid the myriad embarrassments brings to mind this quote from the French existentialist, Jean-Paul Sartre:
"There is no traced-out path to lead man to his salvation; he must constantly invent his own path. But, to invent it, he is free, responsible, without excuse, and every hope lies within him."
The only difference is that, for Trump, there is a lack of responsibility and no shortage of excuses. Christians are called to do the opposite of defining deviancy downward. If anything, we should define moral behavior upward (Gal. 5, Col. 3:1ff, Eph. 4:1).