President Trump: What Will It Take For Christians To Disown Him?

Donald Trump is wasting no time. Since becoming the 45th president of the United States on January 20 he's already set in motion some of his most extreme policy promises, gone on record with some even more far-right opinions than even his critics expected, and of course, kept on tweeting. Anyone who had hoped that Trump the president would have been a much more mellowed version of Trump the candidate has already received their answer in full.

On his first full day in office, Donald Trump signed executive orders in the Oval OfficeReuters

Let's not forget – ever – that Christians put Trump in the White House. One oft-quoted New York Times statistic suggests that 81 per cent of white evangelicals voted for the man, and even if that number is slightly exaggerated (and my own recent travels in the American church suggest it isn't), that demographic is so large that it is easily powerful enough to have swung the election either way.

Some of those Christians were well aware of the shadow-side of their voting decision. They "held their noses" as many put it, because for them the key issue of abortion, on which Trump is prepared to take a conservative stance, outweighs all others. But many other American Christians weren't holding their noses at all; they marched into the voting booths and breathed deeply, inhaling the dubious smell of Trump with beaming smiles on their faces. To them, Donald Trump is 'God's man', put there by him to fight the modern evils of liberalism.

While a few notable conservative Christian voices broke ranks with Trump in the run-up to the election, they quickly got behind him again once that earth-shaking vote came in. Since the election result announcement in November, the Christians who backed him as a candidate, continued to back him as a president-elect and now as president. Men of huge influence such as Franklin Graham, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell jr still believe that this is God's president. Graham even appeared alongside Trump during the then-president-elect's 'Thank you Tour' around key swing states.

Nothing that Trump has said or done so far has dissuaded American evangelicals from the idea that their voting decision was right and justified. While those on the left – and many of us around the world at both ends of the political spectrum – are daily shaking our heads at Trump's early moves in the Oval Office, Trump's faith-filled supporters are nodding along to every pen stroke. As a reminder: Trump has already said that he will cut funding to a range of programmes which build hope, community and justice, programmes such as the Department of Justice's Violence Against Women initiative, the Minority Business Development Agency, and the DOJ's Civil Rights division.

He's also announced funding cuts to a range of environmental agencies and initiatives. He's announced that he genuinely intends to build a wall between the US and Mexico, that he's going to stop accepting refugees from Syria, and initiated a ban on people entering the country on the basis of their religion. And he's moved towards defunding agencies which support abortion, or even mention abortion as a medical option – although of course, that will only increase his evangelical support.

None of this has caused his evangelical support to as much as flinch. To a lesser or greater extent, this is what they voted for. But of course, it's only the beginning.

In his first television interview as President, Trump defended the use of torture such as waterboarding, in the so-called 'fight against terror'. He said that he "felt" that torture works, and added that "you've got to fight fire with fire". So here's the first real surprise of the 45th presidency, arriving less than a week in. The US government is now considering making torture an official tool of its interrogators, the already-thick end of a thicker wedge which almost certainly leads to greater human rights abuses and the probable abandonment of the Geneva convention.

Is this enough to cause Christians to change their mind on Trump? Probably not. So what would the tipping point be? At what stage would Christians start to say: ok, we didn't vote for THIS?

Trump's evangelical supporters won't be offended by unfair rules around religious freedoms, as long as they're the ones getting the better deal. They certainly won't be upset by changes to the rules around women's reproductive health, or the dismantling of free public healthcare. They won't be troubled by policies prejudiced against women's rights, the LGBT community, or perhaps even ethnic minority groups. I can't quite believe I've just written that.

Perhaps though there are policies which could cause some Evangelical Christians to think again. If Trump really is a climate change denier, the small but significant group of Christians who prioritise 'creation care' will be seriously conflicted, as James MacIntyre has recently explained on this site. If Trump's love of corporate prosperity extends to relaxing freedoms around gambling and other morally-dubious activities, a few more may begin to ask serious questions. And if the trend toward defunding programmes which positively discriminate toward minority ethnic groups continues, he'll lost his remaining support in those communities, which is limited but significant.

All of this is still relatively a small slice of the pie, however. Perhaps the only thing which will really turn the whole American Church against Trump is if his policies begin to engender a real sense of domestic threat; if his relations with Russia or China turn sour, and the infamous 'Doomsday Clock' – an indicator of humanity's risk of extinction – moves closer to midnight, having already shifted in that direction since he took office. Of course, they'd also turn on him if he allowed taxes to rise steeply, but of course he never will.

It might seem remarkable, but the chance of impending war is the only scenario in which I can really imagine that the American evangelicals who got Trump into the White House will swallow their collective pride and admit their mistake. And while we should absolutely pray that never happens, every member of the global Church has to ask how we've allowed a huge branch of our family to cultivate such a warped sense of priorities.

If the trends of Trump's early presidential decisions continue, then the next few years should see repentant Christians marching on Washington regularly. They won't. Instead, Evangelical Christianity will become absolutely complicit in what could be one of the world's most terrifying regimes – and I say that as someone who deeply loves the country. So to every American Christian, we your brothers and sisters around the world ask you with deep affection: please think again, and open your eyes. This man is not your Messiah, and worst of all he's only going to block your view of the real one. Jesus calls you to justice, compassion, care for the outsider, radical love. Donald Trump and his government calls you away from these things. Don't get caught on the wrong side of history. Or indeed, of eternity.

Martin Saunders is a Contributing Editor for Christian Today and the Deputy CEO of Youthscape. Follow him on Twitter @martinsaunders.