You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? —Matthew 7:16 (ESV)
Some 2,000 years ago, Peter joined Jesus at the Mount of Olives. That fateful night, the man who walked on water foretold his faithful follower soon would walk away from him.
Never, Peter assured.
“Truly, I tell you,” Jesus said, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.”
A Judas kiss and cock-a-doodle-doo later, Peter wept bitter tears.
The rest is history.
Now, two millennia later, history repeats.
In January, World magazine surveyed conservative Christian leaders; 59 percent vowed they “absolutely” would not back Donald Trump.
Last night, the GOP nominee in his dystopian coronation manifesto, gave a shoutout to evangelicals.
With good reason. This month, a Pew Research Center survey found 78 percent of white evangelical voters would pick Trump.
What a difference seven months makes. Seven is a biblical number of perfection. So, the wild swing makes perfect sense as it perfectly denies both Christian orthodoxy and the soul of evangelicals’ long-preached political gospel.
As a registered Independent, I’ve voted for Democrats and Republicans. I don’t have a partisan dog in the hunt.
As a Christian, however, I’m baffled. How can evangelicals hitch their faith to someone as far detached as the east is from the west from the defining marks of Christians that Jesus shared in the Sermon on the Mount?
Blessed are the meek. Who Trump?
Blessed are the merciful. Not if you ask Heidi Cruz or journalist Serge Kovaleski.
Blessed are the peacemakers. LOL!
Still, this modern Mount of Olives moment didn’t transpire overnight.
During the March Super Tuesday races, The Donald failed to convert a majority of Southern evangelicals to Trumpism. Florida was the striking exception — Trump carried the March 15 primary with a huuuuge 49 percent plurality of evangelicals.
Critics predictably cast stones stamped “hypocrites.” No wonder.
James Dobson, former leader of Focus on the Family, once boldly proclaimed, “I would never vote for a kingpin within [the gambling] enterprise. Trump’s tendency to shoot from the hip and attack those with whom he disagrees would be an embarrassment to the nation if he should become our chief executive.”
Now, Dobson sits at Trump’s right hand on his new evangelical advisory board.
Ain’t repentance grand?
As Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, tweeted, “Our secular opponents said all this talk about ‘character,’ ‘virtue’ was really just about power and partisanship. We said they were wrong.”
I sleep better believing something more fundamentally Eden-esque is at work with rank-and-file evangelicals — a deceitful serpentine politics of which the disgruntled faithful have taken a bite.
Division and nativism disguised as domestic unity. Regressive politics camouflaged as law-and-order. Bigotry and misogyny masquerading as forthrightness.
Truth is, evangelical voters often worry less about the Savior, who paid the price for humanity’s redemption, than their ability to pay the mortgage.
As Ralph Reed, who leads the Faith & Freedom Coalition, told Time: Evangelicals “don’t necessarily vote for the candidate who is most like them in terms of religious identity; that is just a myth.”
Still, it’s remarkable how people of faith who cast Bill Clinton into hellfire for his presidential peccadillos now look past the spiritual leprosy of a serial divorcee who regularly avoids church like a biblical plague, brags of sexual conquests, never sought God’s forgiveness, and debases women and God’s brown-skinned children.
Perhaps some take comfort in his anointing Florida televangelist Paula White, senior pastor of New Destiny Christian Center, as a spiritual adviser. God called King David a man after his heart. White — who is giving holy matrimony a third shot — seems a preacher after Trump’s.
What really pricks my soul is that Trump doesn’t necessarily give evangelicals the warm fuzzies. Pew found 45 percent of pro-Trump white evangelicals confessed their vote was “mainly a vote against [Hillary] Clinton.” Only 30 percent called their ballot “mainly a vote for Trump.”
Perhaps they’re doubling down on Romans 13:1: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”
Talk about a faith test.
Still, the flip-flop not only brands evangelicals (read, all Christians) as frauds, but also kamikazes any political moral credibility.
America’s inextricable intersection of politics and religion conceived the immaculate saw: We elect presidents not pastors.
True and no candidate could even carry Jesus’s Birkenstocks.
Yet, I grow increasingly nostalgic for a time when Americans at least cared that our presidential picks tried to reflect our better angels.
Four months until November. The rooster hasn’t crowed yet.
Former award-winning Orlando Sentinel columnist Darryl E. Owens now serves as director of communication at Beacon College in Leesburg, the first higher education institution accredited to award bachelor’s degrees exclusively to students with learning disabilities, ADHD and other learning differences. Views expressed are his own.