Stanley Hauerwas, one of our very best contemporary theologians, disagrees with those who say that Donald Trump is not a religious man:
Trump is quite pious and his religious convictions run dangerously deep. But his piety is not a reflection of a Christian faith. His piety is formed by his understanding of what makes America a country like no other.
Hauerwas notes that Trump has already added a blatantly Orwellian feast day to America’s liturgical calendar:
Trump proclaimed Jan. 20, the day of his inauguration, a “National Day of Patriotic Devotion.” Patriotic devotion? Christians are devoted to God, not to any nation. Trump defended his call for a day of patriotic devotion by drawing attention to his other claim — taken on faith — that there are no greater people than American citizens. Faith in Trump’s view, though, requires belief in those things for which we have insufficient evidence.
A keystone of Hauerwas’ work over the years has been his rejection of the gospel of American Exceptionalism, the very gospel which Trump’s rhetoric invokes:
There is nothing, in Trump’s view, the American people cannot accomplish as long as we believe in ourselves and our country. But Christians do not believe in ourselves or our country. We believe in God, but we do more than believe in God. We worship God. Nothing else is to be worshiped. Christians have a word to describe the worship of that which is not God: idolatry.
Hauerwas draws the logical conclusion:
Trump’s inauguration address counts as a stunning example of idolatry. His statement — “At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America and through our loyalty to our country we will recover loyalty to each other” — is clearly a theological claim that offers a kind of salvation.
The evangelistic character of Trump’s faith should not be missed. He suggests that we will rediscover our loyalty to one another through our total allegiance to the United States. Trump, in his mind, is not just the president of the United States. He is the savior.
I do not doubt Trump thinks of himself as a Christian, but America is his church.
And what a great church it is, or at least will be again: a huge beautiful church filled with winners rather than sinners, the proud rather than the humble, the forceful rather than the meek, and with the stars and stripes flying triumphantly overhead! Not for this church the humiliation of the cross; to paraphrase then-candidate Trump, "I like people who weren't crucified."
Stanley Hauerwas is not impressed:
Christians have a church made up of people from around the globe. That global interconnectedness might just produce a people with the resources to tell Trump “no.” At the very least, Christians in the United States have little to lose by beginning to reject our long love affair with American pretension.
The correct answer to “Is America a Christian nation?” is, of course, “There’s no such thing as a ‘Christian nation’.” Stanley Hauerwas has been making that point for decades, and Trump Nation may be the very epitome of what Hauerwas has been warning us against. We would be wise to start paying attention.