Sunday, March 13, 2016

Evangelicals Anxiously Forgotten the Way

Like Charles Krauthammer’s baffled response to evangelicals’ support of such a vulgar, egotistic leader, Donald Trump (“Defender of Faith” March 5), I too ask how a large mass of Christian evangelicals have become so far removed from the core ethic of the Christian Tradition in their craze with Donald Trump. The answer might be complex, albeit Trump helps to diagnose the problem. Trump’s own rhetoric has been able to tap into their anxieties--anxieties that surface as fear of impotence, negation, and disempowerment.
What’s worse is the shift to a leader like Trump is further evidence that a mass of evangelicals
are far removed from their namesake, the “good news.”   The evangelion or “good message” pronounces an enduring vision of the kingdom of God that protects and advocates for the exiled, the poor and parentless; and supports organizations that offer a vision and concern that has echoes of the Great Reversal (e.g., economic and racial equality). Instead, a great host of traditional evangelicals, it would seem, just want “someone to protect them” at the expense of choosing a toxic leader who reverberates strong tones of bigotry and racism.
Such regression, not to speak of sour interpretation due to an inability to set aside personal and ideological biases, means instead of becoming part of a life-changing and transformative encounter with the current culture, they are quickly overtaken by another’s weak promises and have quickly adopted his caustic ideology.
Trump offers strength against what these lost evangelicals fear. Yet he offers very little in the way of solutions with substance while rallying people about dividing groups, building walls and name calling. He motivates vigorously while under protest from others while his numbers continue to fathom many. This is the force of anxiety being feed like a cancer.
Anxiety, especially since 9/11 has become a pronounced feature of our time and Trump profits on people’s fears. While anxiety certainly has its place in the psyche and can be a motivating force, Trump is spreading societal anxiety epidemically. This pandemic can be interpreted through the insight of Edwin FriedmanA Failure of Nerve. The Five Characteristics of Chronically Anxious Societies (2007).
 First there is “reactivity.” No doubt, many evangelicals feed on the distraction of a 24/7 news litany that is destructive to their consciousness and have become acquainted and comforted by Trump’s reactive nature and his quick fix solutions that are mixed with his own anxious rhetoric.  Friedman explains that highly reactive groups “are in a panic in search of a trigger.” In this case, Trump supplies the trigger.  Second is the impulse of “herding”, a regressive tendency to reverse one’s direction of “adaption toward strength,” while organizing one’s survival around the least mature, the most dependent, or dysfunctional member of a group. As Krauthammer points out, “a more scripturally, spiritually flawed man than Trump would be hard to find.”
 “Blame displacement” is one of Trump’s fierce tactics which focuses on pathology rather than strengths. This is well exemplified in Trump’s naming all the ills and isms he promises to protect against with “a not-going-to-take-it-anymore defiance” absent of policy and substance. Trump feeds the primal instinct for mimetic scapegoat mechanism with his call to ban all Muslims from entering the US.  This and his mantra “I will build a great wall” are examples of the fourth characteristic of chronically anxious groups, a “quick-fix mentality”. Chronically anxious societies and groups find solace or obsession with technique and method over maturity.
Lastly, the above characteristics of chronically anxious groups lead to the creation and dependence of “poorly defined leadership” whose motivation revolves around crises while lacking distance to discern clear vision and is thus unable to develop a well-principled presence.
 It may well be too late, as evangelical’s insular need for protection results in an inability to function in a position of strength and to appreciate areas of consensus and agreement; hence preventing them from influencing the surrounding society with a range of concerns that religious and secular traditions all have in common, such as the sanctity of life, the well-being of the family, justice for the poor, economics of inclusion and equality, care for creation, peace, freedom and racial justice.
For Krauthammer, Trump appears like a malignancy, which can only be eradicated by an intense, all-out attack, leaving evangelicals on the right in a position of significant weakness and loss of an already weakening influence on the body politic.  We all do well to hear the often repeated message, “Be not afraid.”