Trump's toxic legacy is a huge problem now for US evangelicals

The disgraceful and repulsive scenes in Washington DC have been condemned by just about every right-thinking person everywhere.

Needless to say, that does not include the 45th President of the United States – that manipulative fantasist Donald J Trump who apparently 'loves' the protesters, according to his brief statement last night. Although, of course, he did add a rather brief enjoinder telling his supporters to go home – having previously spent much of the day hyping them up into a frenzy.

And I hate to say I told you so... But in 2016, before he was even elected, I did something extremely unusual: in a church service I was leading, I felt compelled to speak publicly in prayer against Donald Trump. I have never done anything like this before or since. When it came to Brexit, for example, my views were so well-concealed that I had church members on both sides of the debate speak to me in ways which clearly conveyed the impression they had no doubt I would of course agree with them. I smiled, and listened – for all of them – and they were none the wiser either way. I very much doubt anyone could guess my voting record in general elections either.

But the thing about Trump was this: even then, back in 2016, it seemed so eminently predictable, so transparently foreseeable, that the very essence of the man would be toxic for US democracy, for the office of President, and for the global standing of that great nation.

It wasn't that I was keen on Hillary Clinton. I wasn't. The fact that the States could only come up with these two candidates as their main contenders to be President was deeply depressing. But say what you like about Hillary – and many people did and do, of course – she was plainly not in the 'barely connected to reality' category of people as Trump has so clearly been since he began his presidential bid.

And there was an additional danger with Trump: for in the tragically polarized culture of the US, many American evangelicals had apparently decided that their best bet for preserving Christian values in their nation was to hitch their wagon to the unstable and unsavoury star of Donald and hope that however erratic he was, they could somehow coax him along the straight and narrow.

Well, all credit to Mike Pence, who will probably emerge in due time as the quiet and godly man who saved the US from an even more complete cataclysm and meltdown – not only in his actions in Washington over the past 24 hours but I suspect in innumerable other ways behind the scenes over the last four years. I guess he won't be thanked by many, either. Just as well the Lord sees.

But despite the best endeavours of the good vice-president, and others, their hopes have proved unfounded. The past four years of Donald Trump, and the association of many evangelicals in the US with him, could well be the most effective 'reverse act of evangelism' for a generation. I can't imagine a more complete way of rendering the gospel completely toxic and repulsive to teenagers, twenty and thirty-somethings than to brand it with the stamp of Donald J.

On top of that, there is the huge legacy of damage Trump leaves to American democracy, and the corrosive effect of the lies, fantasy and delusions which he has drip-fed like a slow poison into the psyche of much of the US. His most recent wild conspiracy theories about the election have been debunked by figures as various as Attorney General Bill Barr (himself a Trump supporter), the Election Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council (GCC), two sets of international observers (from the OAS and OECD), and judicial authorities in all but one of approximately 60 court hearings. But some people still believe Trump – and the damage is done.

Happily, of course, the Lord is not constrained by the legacy of the President's narcissistic behaviour. The power of the cross can break through in any and every situation, even in contexts hardened against the gospel by the toxic association of evangelicals with the current occupant of the White House. Nothing is impossible for God.

In the past, the US evangelical stable gave us figures such as Jimmy Carter – whom history has rightly come to look on with more kindness than voters did at the time. It also gave us George W Bush, who – to English eyes at least – seemed pretty hard to comprehend when in office, but who now, by contrast with Trump, seems a towering figure worthy of having his face carved onto Mount Rushmore. Perhaps, one day, in the future, there will be a Democrat, Republican – or other – President who has a true and Godly faith, and brings honour to the gospel through his (or indeed her) conduct in office.

I guess it's time to start praying afresh, then. God save America.

David Baker is a Church of England minister, Contributing Editor at Christian Today, and Senior Editor of Evangelicals Now.