The First Epistle to Timothy cautions us about a particular trait of “the last days.” Specifically, the presence of “Seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron.” This striking analogy suggests the troubling state of American Christianity, which in many instances appears to have forsaken its commitment to avoiding hypocrisy and instead embracing political expediency at the expense of fidelity to the truth. Especially, it seems, in political alliances. The words and actions of former President Trump and Senator Tommy Tuberville in the current political cycle serve as a potent example of the “seared conscience” of 21st-century American evangelicals.
Donald Trump once famously claimed that even if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue in New York City, his supporters wouldn’t abandon him. A recent survey by CBS News suggests he might be right. The survey, conducted during the week of August 16th, 2023, focused on people likely to vote for Trump in the Republican Presidential Primaries. It found that these voters trust Trump’s words more than other sources like conservative media, religious leaders, or even their own friends and family. This strong support for Trump doesn’t surprise me anymore, but it still disappoints me that many American evangelicals continue to back him in his third run for the Presidency.
Like 2016 and 2020, when about 80% of evangelicals reportedly voted for Trump, it appears that a significant number of them are again planning to support him in 2024. And now as Trump takes a commanding lead in the GOP Primary polls, even among four criminal indictments to date, I’m reminded of a question an ancient leader asked Jesus: “What is truth?” Jesus, the embodiment of truth, was asked this by Pontius Pilate, and unlike some American Christians and most politicians today who claim to follow him, Jesus didn’t feel the need to defend himself. The disposition of Jesus contrasts sharply with the behavior of many of his supposed followers in American evangelicalism.
For instance, Russell Moore of Christianity Today recently spoke with NPR and expressed his frustration with the current state of GOP politics that are so closely aligned with evangelicalism. Moore reported that many pastors citing the Sermon on the Mount in their sermons would then have those messages dismissed by some parishioners as “liberal talking points.” Considering this admission and the CBS News Poll results, it seems that many Trump supporters trust Trump’s words more than they do the teachings and example of Jesus.
I believe most of the people who support Trump mean well, but they’ve been influenced by years of fear-driven messages. These messages have convinced them that their faith, status, and safety are under threat. These perceived threats are often categorized as an “attack on religious liberty,” which politicians use to rally support for themselves or their policies. This is true for Trump and those who share his views. They tap into the fears of white majorities who feel their power is diminishing amidst changing American demographics.
Many GOP politicians, taking cues from Trump, are wielding their political power in ways that harm our cherished institutions and the people who serve them. One example is Senator Tommy Tuberville, a Republican from Alabama. Currently, he is causing delays in confirming military leaders, justifying it by presenting himself as a pro-life advocate. However, his statements to the media suggest that his actions are more likely driven by his concerns about the increasing diversity, both in terms of ideology, race, and gender, within the military and its leadership.
During an interview with CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, Tuberville engaged in a heated discussion about these issues. Collins questioned Tuberville about his past comments where he referred to white nationalists as “Americans.” Tuberville initially stood by his statement that the idea of white nationalists being racist was “some people’s opinion.” He later changed his stance after facing backlash and said that “white nationalists are racists.” It’s puzzling that a politician serving the American people would struggle with such a basic question about the legitimacy of white nationalists serving in the military.
Tuberville’s concerns about the changing demographics and influences in the United States and the Armed Forces appear to be at the core of his opposition to these nominations. He’s currently obstructing the Senate’s confirmation of nearly 300 pending nominations, including the historic appointments of Admiral Lisa Franchetti and Rear Admiral Yvette Davids, who would become the first women to serve in the Navy’s leadership roles. With the Senate in recess until September, more military nominations and key positions are at stake.
Tuberville claims his actions are based on his opposition to a Department of Defense policy that extends reproductive health benefits to service members. This policy ensures that service members can access reproductive health care even if their home state prohibits it. This is particularly important because military members have no control over where they’re stationed. After the recent changes due to the overturning of Roe v. Wade, many military families are stationed in states with restricted abortion access. The policy aims to provide equal health care to all service members, regardless of their location, but Tuberville wants this policy overturned and won’t proceed with any nominations until he gets his way.
Irrespective of one’s stance on the policy itself, it’s important to acknowledge that leveraging service members and military families for political gain is inappropriate. The manipulation of the military to further a political agenda is disrespectful and goes against the principles of patriotism. Tuberville should cease this political spectacle and instead exhibit genuine leadership that places emphasis on respecting the commitment and sacrifices of those who have devoted themselves to safeguarding our nation. Fortunately, Tuberville is encountering opposition from both Republicans and Democrats, as well as from military support organizations like the Secure Families Initiative (SFI), which is dedicated to the welfare of military spouses and families. SFI is circulating a petition to encourage Tuberville to reverse his stance on these appointments.
In my estimation, at the core of the methods employed by Trump and Tuberville to exploit the anxieties of their followers lies the misconception that the teachings of Christianity should be used as a weapon against those who hold differing political policy viewpoints. When Jesus faced Pilate, he didn’t attempt to defend himself or deploy heavenly forces at his disposal. Instead, he spoke and embodied the truth, showcasing it through acts of love and service toward the marginalized, the broken, and the socially disenfranchised. Imagine if we, the modern-day followers of Jesus Christ, followed suit. Consider how our nation and the world might be transformed if we endeavored to emulate Jesus, rather than merely using him to advance our personal political or cultural interests.
I firmly believe that the impact of living in alignment with the ways of Jesus could inspire a profound and transformative change, to the extent that the divisive rhetoric preached and practiced by politicians like Trump and Tuberville would find no ground in a society characterized by love and inclusivity. May the values of Christ’s kingdom manifest swiftly. The “seared conscience” of American evangelicals needs to be renewed by a baptism of Christ’s love, with compassion and empathy for everyone.
Come quickly, Lord Jesus.