By Joshua Penduck
My father was a Pentecostal pastor, which meant that dinner conversations when growing up often fell upon some unusual theological subjects (NOTE: I recognise that discussions about theology at the dinner table is an unusual thing anyway… unusual theological subjects makes it doubly unusual…). One of these subjects was the fascinating one about the End Times. I’m from that classic Pentecostal background formed by good ol’ dispensationalism – the Rapture, the mark of the Beast, the great cosmic battle at the end in the actual field of Armageddon, and all that jazz. As Pentecostals we were always looking out for the ‘signs of the times’. This is a particular way of looking at the world: Jesus could return at any moment, so we always keep a look out for the ways that the devil was building his Kingdom to try and stop Jesus’ final victory. So for instance, the rise of the European Union would be seen as a way the Antichrist (the human emissary of Satan in the End Times) would build his internationalist Kingdom; the increasing rise of promiscuity was a sign of the immorality as in the days of Noah; any technology was jumped upon as a way through which the mark of the Beast would be subtly instituted (Credit cards, PIN numbers and even internet passwords were the usual suspects).
I can actually say that some of this was good and useful. It has cultivated in me a healthy suspicion of cultural changes (i.e. not all change is good, and beware of all Utopian schemes and charismatic figures without depth!), and it has given me an awareness of the invisible spiritual realities underlying our world. On the other hand, much of it was simply wacky. Part of the wackiness was trying to predict who the Antichrist could be. Any political figure who was even mildly charismatic could be the Antichrist. Any internationalist organisation (the EU, the UN) could be the means through which the Antichrist could institute worldwide government. There were several different characterisations of the Antichrist which could be summed up in a few bullet-points:
- He would be demonically charismatic and would easily sway people who weren’t ‘keeping watch’ for the signs of the times
- He would claim to bring peace through violence
- He would be unaccountably popular, in that what he said and what he did didn’t always match up
- Many Christians would be swayed by him because of the way he pretended to be a Christian, and therefore would ignore all his flaws; they would sleepwalk into the arms of the devil
- He would be a deeply immoral person (a liar, promiscuous, with a totalitarian personality)
(NOTE: It was always a ‘he’, never a ‘she’. In all the books and all the movies that I consumed growing up – and there were plenty – there was never a female Antichrist).
Of course, most Evangelical Christians (the good ol’ Dispensationalist types) believed they would never be swayed by the Antichrist, because they were the true Christians who read their Bibles and knew what to look out for.
What I’ve been thinking about lately is that the astonishing rise of a figure like Donald Trump would have, at one point, meant that Pentecostals like me would have labelled him with the sign ‘potential Antichrist’. Evangelicals – the good ol’ dispensationalist variety – would have been suspicious. After all, Donald Trump is
- incredibly charismatic and is able to sway people by saying things that would have meant the end of any other candidate’s political career (‘I could shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters’ https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jan/24/donald-trump-says-he-could-shoot-somebody-and-still-not-lose-voters – not even the villainous Nicolae Carpathia, Antichrist in the Left Behind series, could say that; he had to resort to demonic manipulation to be as bold as that!)
- claims to be able to bring peace through violence (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-elections/donald-trump-isis-foreign-policy-speech-us-election-2016-a7004371.html )
- unaccountably popular, especially in that he flip-flops over moral and political decisions more than a desperate man chatting up in a bar a sexy girl way out of his league (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/04/03/donald-trumps-ever-shifting-positions-on-abortion/ )
- swaying the opinion of a vast amount of Christians who ignore all his flaws and seem to be sleepwalking in support of him (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jul/13/evangelical-christians-donald-trump-support-increasing-poll )
- a deeply immoral person, who has been adulterous (http://therightscoop.com/heres-when-trump-bragged-in-his-book-about-his-multiple-affairs-with-his-friends-wives/ ), promiscuous (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yz3-9-Avd7g ), greedy (http://www.dailywire.com/news/3005/donald-trump-says-greed-good-aaron-bandler ), unjust to small businesses (http://architizer.com/blog/the-worlds-worst-client-donald-trump/ ), and a compulsive liar (http://www.dailywire.com/news/4834/trumps-101-lies-hank-berrien )
Am I saying that Donald Trump is the Antichrist? Actually, no. I don’t like to play those spiritual guessing games anymore, and I think they tend to be an inappropriate way of reading the Book of Revelation. On the other hand, the fact that no major Evangelical figure (as far as I know) is calling Donald Trump an Antichrist-like figure demonstrates for me that Evangelicals have lost their spiritual spectacles when it comes to politics.
In short, Evangelicals have come to the point where they’ll support any political candidate, no matter how immoral, no matter how suspicious, as long as he is a Republican candidate.
This is deeply worrying. With the exception of a few (hats off to Max Lucado: https://maxlucado.com/decency-for-president/ ), Trump has been embraced by Evangelicals without too much of a struggle. Let’s leave the reasons for opposing Hilary Clinton out of this (and I understand why many Evangelicals have qualms about her); I’m more worried about the enthusiasm with which Evangelicals have embraced Donald Trump.
My fear is that American Evangelicalism has, for the most part, lost both its political and moral compass and has simply become a sub-department (indeed, the most radical sub-department) of the Republican Party. And because of this, they’d support any candidate, no matter how personally immoral he is, as long as he isn’t a Democrat.
Twenty years ago we’d have suspiciously viewed Trump as the Antichrist. What’s happening American Evangelicalism? Where’s your moral compass? Where’s your spiritual spectacles?