On the other side of the Atlantic, weird things are happening. To us Brits, the whole Trump phenomenon is puzzling. Why are so many Yanks giving passionate support to someone who says all the things he does? And one significant group allegedly seems to adore him – the American ‘evangelical’ Christians, allegedly. Why are so many of them treating him like God’s anointed?
He does tick some of their important policy boxes, like claiming to be anti-abortion, and pro-gun. But a great many so-called 'evangelicals' are African-Americans, Hispanics and young people who can't stand the guy, so the secret of his success must lie elsewhere.
So consider this- that Christianity’s greatest weakness and strength as a faith has always been its adaptability. In a strange way, it ‘evolves.’ Throughout world history, successful expressions of the faith adapted themselves to fit (and then subtly subvert) the mindset of whatever culture they existed in. In Roman Britain, Christianity began as an underground, often-illegal ‘house-church’ thing, the refuge of slaves and servants and not-a-few soldiers- similar to many in China today. But when the Emperor Constantine became Christian at around 400 AD, the game changed, and local Christian leaders found themselves taking on new responsibilities, which included tackling poverty and hunger. Food banks aren’t new.
When the Romans left, this urbanized model of Christianity collapsed, then revived as Celtic missionaries brought it back from Scotland and Ireland, spreading the Word from community to community. As whole Anglo-Saxon kingdoms converted, the old temples had churches built on them, inhabiting the same sacred spaces. Ancient festivals were rebranded, so Samhain became All-Hallows Eve (Halloween). That’s the way Christianity has always worked. Make a home among the people- then later challenge the awkward bits that need to change- like child sacrifice or the gladiatorial arena.
But it can also go the other way. Sometimes, the local culture infects the Christianity with its own prejudices- so in Georgian Britain and the USA, African slavery was justified because it was happening out of sight and wow, it was profitable! (The ‘African trade’ paid for a good many shiny new church buildings in Bristol, Liverpool and London.) Today, the Russian Orthodox Church seems to think that President Putin is a Good Thing because he's making Holy Mother Russia great again. So it goes.
So when does Christianity lose that prophetic ‘edge’ to challenge the status quo? Perhaps it’s when we think we can use politics or power to persuade people, instead of reasoned argument or good old-fashioned compassion. Perhaps it’s when we put our own wants before the demands of Justice. Or perhaps it’s when we hold back on saying the right thing, because it’ll offend the powerful.
Mr Trump seems to think that waving a Bible and attending a few prayer breakfasts will persuade a lot of people that he’s enough on the side of the angels, to win their votes in a few days. Interestingly, surveys reveal that the less often, his allegedly ‘evangelical supporters’ go to church, the more likely they are to support him. I wonder why?