Evangelicals love Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump because they are in love with the world and current Church culture is to blame, according to a novel explanation from the Rev. Robert Cunningham.
"It is clear that evangelical support for Donald Trump serves as a humbling rebuke that we cannot ignore, but what is less clear is what needs rebuking. The easy answer is our doctrine and conviction, but the better answer is our loves," began Cunningham, who leads Tates Creek Presbyterian Church in Lexington, Kentucky, in the conclusion of a blog post on the phenomenon of Trump's political ascension last Thursday.
"Indeed, Donald Trump is a clear indication that the evangelical Church is ignoring the Apostle John's simple command, 'Do not love the world or anything in the world.' Evangelicals in our day are in love with the world and things of this world, and that is why evangelicals in our day are in love with Donald Trump," he ended.
Cunningham began his analysis of Trump's appeal among evangelicals by noting that leading evangelical voice Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said in an op-ed for The New York Times that evangelical Christians would have to "repudiate everything they believe" to support Trump.
"Well six months later it appears evangelical voters have repudiated everything they believe. But what if evangelicals (or any tribe, for that matter) aren't primarily compelled by what they believe but instead by what they love? In fact, what if every one of us will gladly repudiate what we believe before we would ever repudiate what we love? And what if Donald Trump, though contradictory to evangelical beliefs, is the embodiment of current evangelical loves?" the pastor posited.
He further explains his point through a biblical understanding of "love."
"I use love to describe those deeper longing and desires of the human heart. Contrary to Western enlightenment that views us as minds compelled by our thoughts, the Bible views us as lovers compelled by our loves. Ideas certainly inform our loves, but ultimately we are what we love. Or to put it another way, we follow our desires more than our doctrine," he explained.
He said many pundits seeking to explain the phenomenon of evangelical voters supporting Trump have blamed it on problems with evangelical doctrine and conviction but fail to account for the influence of Church culture in informing what evangelicals love.
"All of them (pundits) seem to come to the same conclusion: evangelical support for Donald Trump is a referendum on the current state of evangelical doctrine and convictions. I think these explanations are missing the point. I agree that current evangelical thought is woefully shallow, but it's not like you need to be John Calvin to discern the mess that is Donald Trump. I think we aren't giving the convictions of evangelicals enough credit. They know enough to know what Trump is saying and doing is wrong, and yet they are still supporting him," said Cunningham.
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The point they are missing, he explained, is the influence of culture.
"What happens when the liturgies of our greedy culture train evangelicals to love money and power? ... What happens when the liturgies of social media train evangelicals to love sensational sound bites more than thoughtful discourse? What happens when the liturgies of modern worship services train evangelicals to love novel, flashy, and glib emotional experiences that feel more like a rally than corporate worship?" he asked.
"What happens? Evangelicals in love with Donald Trump happens. Evangelicals don't believe in Donald Trump as much as they love Donald Trump and all that Donald Trump represents. Watch these rallies and you will quickly see they have nothing to do with inspiring ideas and hopeful policies; they're worship services. And standing on the stage before the great throng of longing souls is the manifestation of their common love feeding their hungry hearts with his nonsense."
In a phone interview highlighted in an op-ed in The New York Times Wednesday, Moore appears to agree with Cunningham's assessment that Trump's rise is a reflection of cultural decadence. According to the Times, Moore described Trump as "the personification of the moral decline ... Christian leaders have struggled to halt for the past generation."
"Some high profile evangelicals are completely repudiating the conviction that character matters," Moore said.
He went on to describe the Republican frontrunner as the: "Howard Stern conservative, a reflection of the pornographic culture combined with proletarian demagoguery. Some of the older generation of evangelical leaders standing behind Donald Trump should imagine what they would say if a Democratic candidate had done or said any of the things that Trump has, his boasts of adultery, his profiting from casinos, his putrid speech about minorities and women."
"How do we maintain the witness of the Christian Church at a time when America seems to have gone crazy?" asked Moore.