Writing at First Things, Peter Leithart believes that Donald Trump may represent a “cleverly disguised” answer to the prayers of American Christians in this time of great tribulation. Leithart notes that God has been known to send both chastisement and redemption in unexpected ways:
Faithful Israelites ask the Lord to purge idolatry, throw out unscrupulous kings, drain the swamp. And he sends . . . Nebuchadnezzar, who burns the temple and cracks the walls of Jerusalem. Habakkuk doesn’t much like this answer: The law is ineffective, injustice spreads, and things are horrible. But the Chaldeans? Really, Lord?
Leithart, of course, believes himself and his like-minded Christian brethren to be the “faithful Israelites”; it’s the rest of us who constitute the swamp—and oh, have we ever mistreated the faithful:
Over the past several decades, American Christians have felt a growing sense of marginalization and ostracism. We’re mocked by popular and elite culture and our beliefs are trampled in law and public policy. Even uttering traditional Christian views of sodomy (sin, unnatural act) is condemned as bigotry.
In the God-fearing olden days when Christians ruled the cultural roost, it was acceptable to call a sodomite a sodomite; it was also acceptable to ostracize said sodomites, to refuse to hire them or to rent to them or to allow them into respectable Christian society. Alas, the shoe of marginalization has now been forced onto the Christian foot, and Peter Leithart does not like having to wear it; that shoe, after all, was expressly designed for sodomites and other hell-bound types.
But fear not, for God has heard the prayers of the faithful:
If we moderate our expectations and hope for nothing more than someone who will protect our right to be ourselves, a Trump presidency looks more promising.
Self-protection doesn’t seem a high-minded political agenda. Christians are other-directed, and rightly so. But that can turn into political masochism: We defend everyone but ourselves. That’s a practical problem, and also a theological mistake. Protecting Christian interests is a legitimate Christian interest.
We say we represent God to the world. “I’ll curse those who curse you,” God told Abraham, and we think we’re Abraham’s children. That may be a delusion, but if it’s true, it means that messing with us puts our opponents at some considerable risk. Jesus is a slain Lamb who offers himself for his bride. But lay a finger on that bride, and he can be an awfully ferocious Lamb.
Mr. Leithart is nothing if not artful, employing an image of sexual assault on behalf of those who wish only to be allowed once again to put sodomites in their rightful place (i.e. on the road to Hell):
We defend ourselves to uphold God’s good name, which we bear. We defend ourselves to carve out freedom to speak God’s word. As the early Christian apologists knew, defending Christians isn’t just pragmatic self-interest. It’s an evangelical interest.
One way to measure Trump’s presidency is: Will believers be freer to be believers under Trump than they have been for the past twenty-five years? Will Trump threaten the tax-exempt status of Christian colleges and ministries that reject same-sex marriage? Or will he challenge the fascist regime of group-think and group-speech? 1 It’s pretty clear already: Trump may not share our convictions, but he shares our enemies. And that’s not nothing.
Given the Lord’s sardonic track record in answering prayer, we should at least entertain the possibility that Trump is a cleverly disguised Yes.
Attributing to God a “sardonic” nature puts an entirely new spin on what Christians have always called the “Good News”; it suggests that the Lord may have something entirely different in mind than what the faithful consider “good”.2 It’s even possible that, from God’s point of view, the sodomites aren’t the problem, but rather those who judge sodomites in God’s name.
If I had to bet on whether God cared more about sexual behaviors or about self-righteousness and spiritual pride, I know which way I’d wager.
1 It takes admirable chutzpah to complain about the “fascist regime of group-think and group-speech” while defending Christian colleges which, among other things, routinely impose creedal requirements and behavioral codes on students and faculties alike, and which do not hesitate to discipline or expel any professor who questions (let’s say) the Trinitarian nature of God or who claims (let’s say) that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.
Christians, it must be said, have never lacked for chutzpah, having appropriated for themselves the sacred books of another faith (whose adherents they marginalized and ostracized for centuries); even today, Christians like Peter Leithart think that the biblical stories of Israel are really about them.
2 If one credits the gospels, it's clear that Jesus' "good news" was neither recognized nor accepted as such by respectable believers; rather, it was embraced by what Paul called "the scum of the earth" (or what David Bentley Hart has called "Christ's rabble"). Does Peter Leithart, president of the Theopolis Institute for Biblical, Liturgical, and Cultural Studies, really see himself as belonging among the scum of the earth?