The Donald is in the White House, and the world nervously holds its breath.
What will he be like as President of the most powerful nation on earth? Will he start a trade war with China? Will his tweets go nuclear? Or will he surprise us all, and settle down to become a responsible President?
Time will tell.
But whatever happens, it’ll be apocalyptic. Not in the ‘end of the world’ apocalyptic sense (at least I hope not!), but in the biblical sense. As Australian theologian Mark Baddeley puts it in his ‘must read’ article on Trump:
…Trump’s election serves us all because it is an apocalypse. It is a revelation; an unveiling of reality. A testament to the real state of affairs going on around us…’
As we reflect on the ‘real state of affairs’ that brought Trump to the White House, here are 4 important lessons for Aussie Christians to take on board:
1) We need the ‘Atticus Finch’ approach to Trump supporters:
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it”.
Many Australian evangelicals (myself included) were shocked that so many American Evangelicals voted for Trump. How could any gospel-minded Christian vote for a man of his character and track record?
It’s easy to judge when you don’t live there. Mark Baddeley makes this important point:
Given our ignorance of the whole story in the United States, we should not be too quick to accuse American Christians of not prioritizing the gospel in their lockstep support of Trump. They have faced eight years of what must seem to them to be very aggressive attempts by the federal government, the media, big business, and the universities to define freedom of religion as simply freedom of worship.
A Clinton presidency would likely have continued, or even accelerated, that trajectory.
It is quite possible that our brothers and sisters did what Christians and others, who feel that they are oppressed by more powerful bodies, have repeatedly done throughout the ages —voting as a unified block in the interests of stemming the pressure on them. As the collapse of Christian communities in the Middle East has demonstrated – Christians sometimes only survive in hostile environments due to the support, or rather benign neglect, of immoral strongmen.
Furthermore, Baddeley points out the common problem of inconsistency when it comes to criticising white evangelicals in their support for Trump:
Criticizing white evangelicals for voting 85% for Trump and, subsequently, for supposedly aligning the gospel with Trump only makes sense if you are prepared to say precisely the same thing for similar levels of support for Clinton among African American Christians, a pattern of voting that has held for decades irrespective of the morality or policies of the Democrat nominees. [Emphasis added.]
Trump’s victory “unveils” the reality of post-Christian America: an America where Christian political engagement is increasingly complicated. In large part because the political world is messy:
2) The political world is messy
We don’t always have good choices at election time.
Up until now, Christians in the West – including Australia – have had at least one (if not two) half-decent candidates they could vote for in good conscience. Imperfect candidates, sure, but candidates you could vote for.
And so we’ve come to think that’s ‘situation normal’. But it’s not. The world is far too messy a place for always having clear cut moral – and political – choices. Sometimes you have to choose between what seems ‘bad’ and ‘worse’. The rise of Trump shows us this reality.
But Trump’s populism also shows us what’s happened to our view of politics, and the world:
3) We’ve turned our deepest problems into political problems
We believe a big and powerful government is the answer to our woes.
A growing trend in our secular age is to politicise our problems. Are our kid’s not doing well at school? Well, the government needs to step in and fix it. Are more of our fellow citizens becoming obese? That’s the government’s problem, too. There’s no problem small enough that some government department can’t address – or at least promise to address.
Commenting on this expansion of government responsibility, theologian Craig Gay writes:
In addition to the tasks of maintaining law and social order, of minting and underwriting a supply of money, and of defending borders, the reach of the modern state now extends rather deeply into cultural territory as well, and even increasingly into the family and the most intimate areas of interpersonal relations.’  [Emphasis added.]
Many American voters have turned to government – and in this case the populist Donald Trump – to ‘make America great again’ – as if only government could do that. And Trump is only too happy to make that promise.
4) Christians must do better at developing a theology of politics
So that we’re ready to make wise political decisions in a post-Christian age.
The rise of Trump has revealed that Christians need great wisdom in navigating our new post-Christian political realities, where we don’t always have decent people to vote for. Are we in Australia ready for such a challenge? Probably not.
What we need is a deeper, more comprehensive political theology, which goes beyond ‘voting for family values’ (as important as that is). Another commentator, Jonathan Cole, writes:
‘[T] choice confronting the Christian is not between a political theology and no political theology. Rather, it is between a robust political theology and a weak political theology.’
The Times They Are ‘A Changin’
Western governments have been – up until recently – heavily influenced by the Judeo-Christian worldview. And so it wasn’t all that difficult for Christians to engage in politics, whether as citizens, or members of political parties.
But the rise of Trump reveals that the times, they are ‘a changin’ – and Christians will need greater wisdom as we engage with politics.
What should Christians learn from the rise of Donald Trump?
 Craig Gay, The Way Of The (Modern) World (Or, Why It’s Tempting to Live as If God Doesn’t Exist) (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1998), 34.