Trump: the turning of the tide?
David Holloway addresses whether Trump represents a reversal of an extreme secular culture from a British post-Brexit perspective
On 20 January 2017 Donald J Trump became President of the United States of America. His inaugural message gave rise to this headline in Time magazine: “The new President reverses course on a century of U.S. leadership.”
Trump, with his concern for “America First”, wants to be more of a national executive than the leader of the free world. But then came the demonization and some violence in response. Clare Poges (formerly David Cameron’s speech writer) comments, “millions are in the grip of Traumatic Trump Syndrome … Of course, we are entitled to feel concerned by some of his policies, not least the three-month suspension of arrivals from seven Muslim-majority countries … Strangely there was not the same outcry when Obama banned refugees from Iraq for six months in 2011.”
Nor, we should note, was there an outcry when Hilary Clinton voted successfully for the start of the Mexican wall in the 2006 Secure Fence Act resulting in 700 miles of the wall having been built already.
So what was and is going on? After all, 60 million people democratically voted for Trump, who was judged by them the best of two very flawed candidates; and he is doing just what he told the electorate he would do. Why such vitriol?
In simple terms Trump is rolling back aspects of the extreme secular culture that progressives thought was theirs by right and have been promoting for the last eight years.
According to one commentator, Richard Merry, they have never addressed five reasons why Trump is where he is. First is his blowing apart a political correctness that curbs free speech and rational discussion.
Secondly, there is his concern over illegal and uncontrolled immigration that among other things can destroy a nation’s values, culture and freedoms (which in the US have a Christian basis).
Thirdly, he wants to stop blue-collar middle-class poverty with its attendant social havoc of divorce, alcoholism, drug use and crime.
Fourthly, he is a nationalist and so an internationalist rather than a cosmopolitan globalist.
And the fifth reason for his election is the coarsening of American culture. Since the sixties there has been an assault on traditional sexual morality and marriage and an increase in drug use, bad language in the media and pornography. All this helped pave the way for Trump’s own rude and crude language and allowed the other four factors to secure his election.
Behind everything are fundamental questions of life – what is its meaning and how should you live? For many of the anti-Trumpers that meaning comes from the contemporary secular philosophy, popularly called “the Religion of Me.”
Its roots are in the 18th century Franco-German Enlightenment that taught that if there is a God, he is distant from this world and certainly doesn’t interfere in it. Furthermore, there is no such thing as “sin”, for man is, in principle, good and not bad, and is perfectible through evolution or education.
Two centuries and two World Wars later, when this deism had morphed into plain atheism, in 1947 this philosophy led the famous French philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre, to publish his book Existentialism in which he said this:
“If I’ve discarded God the father, there has to be someone to invent values … To say that we invent values means nothing else but this: life has no meaning a priori. Before you come alive, life is nothing, its up to you to give it a meaning, and value is nothing else but the meaning that you choose.”
And that existentialism combined with fashionable Marxism gave rise to an entire sexual revolution 20 years later. For, by now, it was argued that the true “me” is made up of my instincts that are inherently good and so must be expressed and not suppressed.
Influential in 1972 was the best-seller, Open Marriage, by Nena and George O’Neill, which in a few paragraphs opened a new door to marital infidelity. That was soon followed by a clever, but to many shocking, drive to normalize homosexual acts that became an obsession with people like Hillary Clinton and David Cameron. However, in America more than in Britain, there was organized resistance. Rich Lowry reports:
“A fight has raged here since the 1970s over such issues as abortion, school prayer, traditional sexual mores, gay rights, religious displays on public property, pornography, graphic content in television shows and movies and school curriculums. The combatants have been, roughly speaking, secular coastal elites on the one hand and a religious heartland on the other.”
This “fight” put the brakes on the secular landslide. But President Obama’s election in 2008 signalled full speed ahead in the previous direction. “Traditional marriage continued to decline, the entertainment culture got more coarse and old-fashioned sexual morality became the stuff of mockery. The rout on gay marriage has been so complete, with the Supreme Court making gay marriage legal throughout the land, that the left has moved on to the new cause of transgender rights.”
The Christian view
Then came Trump. He is hardly a Christian culture warrior with his record regarding women and wives. But what he has done is to change the agenda of the culture war.
He accepts gay marriage and allows transgenderism but is anti-abortion. However, he is concerned with general issues such as defeating political correctness; changing a biased mainstream media; and restoring the nation to its proper place as an essential social unit for business and as a culture carrier helping to maintain virtues and values, something a global culture cannot do.
But how should Christians react to a leader such as Mr Trump? The apostles Paul and Peter are of help.
First, Paul says, we are to “be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Rom. 13.1).
Secondly, as Paul goes on to say, “one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience” (Rom. 13.5) or “for the Lord’s sake” (1 Peter 2.13). So one obeys not only because of the governor’s power (wrath) but because of “conscience” – because it is right, not merely prudent, to obey.
Thirdly, that means that Mr Trump has a genuine God-given authority, not just power. And that is why a “governor” should be “honoured” (Rom 13.7; 1 Peter 2.17) – not because he is a nice man, which he may or may not be, but as we “honour” parents, because they have God’s authority.
Fourthly, Mr Trump’s job along with his Government is to “to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good” (1 Peter 2.13).
And, fifthly, Mr Trump’s job along with his Government is also to work for a polity where citizens can “lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Tim 2.2) – “godly” is being right with God, “dignified” is being right at the human level.
However, John’s vision in Revelation 13 of a great blasphemous beast (traditionally seen as Rome at a time of Christians being persecuted) is also important. It prefigures all evil totalitarian rulers or Governments. Instead of punishing those who do evil and praising those who do good, Governments may punish those who do good and praise those who do evil. Such an evil doer must be disobeyed when you are required to do what God forbids, or forbidden to do what God requires.
As “Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men.’” (Acts 5.29). But Trump is in no way such a ruler. Therefore, he has to be “honoured”.
That should happen in the US, as the Traumatic Trump Syndrome dies down. Then changes will take place, which because of our Special Relationship are bound to affect post-Brexit Britain. This, then, is an ideal time in both the US and Britain for evangelism and church growth. For however much you may dislike aspects of his agenda, Trump, having made some good appointments, is causing cracks in the godless mainstream secular culture.
Godly Living – praying comes first, for President Trump and Mrs May that both may seek God’s will for our nations and praying for their own godly living. And pray at this strategic time that all of us “seek first God’s kingdom” in all areas of our lives in accordance with our verses for the year, Matthew 6.33-34.
Church Growth – prayer and appropriate action is needed for our Founders’ vision of “the maintenance and promulgation of sound, scriptural and evangelical truth”. For “maintenance”, at this time of serious sexualization and compromise in the Church of England, we need prayer for the Holy Spirit’s power, compassion and courage to help those with various confusions (Jude 20-23); and for “promulgation”, prayer for the Holy Spirit’s guidance as we need radical changes in the Church of England for evangelism and church planting.
Changing Britain – in this Lutheran 500th anniversary year, let’s pray for a new Lutheran confidence, one, that God is there and in control; two, that the new nationalism is “under God” and open to peaceful, moral, non-violent migrants and not a dangerous godless nationalism; and, three, that, as we can, we graciously, firmly and openly apply our faith in Christ in the wider world as “salt and light” (Matt 5.13-14) and we, too, help roll back the godless secular culture.
David Holloway is Vicar of Jesmond Parish Church in the Church of England