President Trump called for unity in last night’s state of the union speech. Though he lies constantly and gratuitously unlike any President before him, calling for unity is a deeper and bigger kind of lie. It’s not a misstatement of fact as much as a coercive attempt to make us all live in the oppressor’s imagination. In that imagined reality, dehumanizing people does not and should not disrupt American unity. Immigrants and Muslims and people of color should be silent and happy no matter what is said about them or done to them.
Out here in the real world, most of us intuitively understand that domination is not the same thing as unity. In fact, it’s pretty much the opposite of it.
The call for unity was a rhetorical flourish delivered in bad faith, worthy of as much serious consideration as any randomly selected tweet from the President’s stream-of-consciousness thumbs.
If the President wanted unity he would start by offering a public apology for his decision to hate human beings, dehumanize them, and oppress them. He would explain why he did it, why and how he became aware of his evil behavior, and how he plans to make amends.
Once the President does that, we can have a conversation and search for common ground. This is a basic evangelical posture toward an evil ruler. We pray for such leaders, but our prayers center on the need for repentance and restitution. In the absence of repentance, we pray that their evil plans would be frustrated.
In contrast, the court evangelicals not only enable Trump, they take the radically anti-Christian posture that he doesn’t have much to repent of. For people like Franklin Graham and Robert Jeffress, discriminating against gay people and letting white evangelicals visit the White House are key parts of advancing the gospel. Dehumanizing people and hating them are political positions about which Christianity is not concerned.
Here’s what Franklin Graham had to say yesterday:
With the stock market humming, pay raises and bonuses bristling, unemployment down, ISIS largely defeated, and taxes going down, the State of the Union shows glimmers of hope. Yet, we all know that something is missing. The party out of power would prefer failure. We are divided. It takes humility to place your country’s best interests before your own. God’s Word says we all need to humble ourselves before the Lord and He will lift us up in due time. Whatever the State of the Union, as a nation, we need to humble ourselves, pray, and ask for mercy from a God who can sympathize with our weaknesses. Please pray for humility for all those that govern us across this nation, and pray that we the people would humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God.
Sounds nice, huh? Wait, what’s this? “The party out of power would prefer failure. We are divided.” Franklin Graham, an open and ardent Trump supporter, is lamenting that Americans are divided. He believes Trump’s big lie. He doesn’t experience Trump’s dehumanizing words and actions as threats to American unity because they don’t strike directly at his identity and community.
At this point it’s impossible to expect any honest dialogue from court evangelicals, but it would be fascinating to get a real response to a scenario like this: imagine that Trump said native-born white Americans are rapists and criminals in general, that the problem with white evangelical communities is that they have no spirit, that there were good people on both sides after a terrorist attack killed a white evangelical woman, that all Christian immigrants should be banned from entering the country, and so on.
Would the court evangelicals experience these statements as unifying and productive? Would it make them enthusiastic supporters of the President? If they would be bothered by these statements when directed at their own community, why don’t the same statements bother them when directed at other communities? Their refusal to align their lives with the gospel is obvious to everyone but themselves.