Trump’s Brand of Christianity is a Threat to the First Amendment

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Downtown Rochester. The intersection of Church and State Streets. 12/24/16 [Photo: David Kramer]

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George Payne

A graduate of the Rochester Colgate Crozer Divinity School, George Payne teaches philosophy at Finger Lake Community College and Niagara County Community College.  He is the founder of Gandhi Earth Keepers International.

Trump’s Brand of Christianity is a Threat to the First Amendment

The Pew Research Center came out with a finding the day after the election, “How the faithful voted: A preliminary 2016 analysis.” According to this report, “White, born-again/evangelical Christians,” voted for Trump in monumental numbers. He received 81% of their vote, which was more than Romney received in 2012.

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30 Church St. Old Federal Building (now City Hall). [Photo: Richard Margolis]

In the process of brandishing Americanized Christianity as a downtrodden white man’s religion in need of fortification, Trump was successful in convincing the vast majority of the white, born again, evangelical voting population [representing about 26% of the electorate] that he is the unconventional redeemer they have been waiting for.

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North Fitzhugh Street. Across from City Hall. Downtown United Presbyterian Church. Christmas Day, 2016 [Photo: David Kramer]

It should come as little surprise that our new Messiah-President will find the compulsion to violate the Constitution almost impossible to suppress once he steps into the Oval Office.  Although this living framework explicitly states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” we need be wary that Trump and his advisers will begin to  institutionalize their version of Christianity as a national religion.

In fact, during one of his campaign speeches the president-elect foreshadowed these unlawful intentions: “I’m a true believer. And you’re many true believers — I hope all — is everybody a true believer in this room? I think so. But Christianity is under tremendous siege…The power of our group of people together, I mean, if you add it up … it could be 240, 250 million. And yet we don’t exert the power that we should have. Now, I think some of the churches are afraid of their tax status, to be honest…But you know the fact is that there is nothing the politicians can do to you if you band together. You have too much power. But the Christians don’t use their power,” Trump said. “We have to strengthen. Because we are getting — if you look, it’s death by a million cuts — we are getting less and less and less powerful in terms of a religion, and in terms of a force,” he continued.

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Napoleon crowning himself as the Holy Roman Emperor, Jacques Louis David, 1807 from A Trumprenuer on the road at Trumpmania

This rhetoric is not good. It amounts to a feckless political strategy that has nothing to do with the authentic path of universal love, cosmic hope, and international justice. It has nothing to do with Jesus Christ. Besides, think about Rome in the time of Constantine or Jerusalem in the 12th century. Think about England under Cromwell or Berlin in 1933. Wherever Christianity is elevated at the expense of other religions it always ends up degrading itself. In other words, when Christianity is enshrined as the authorized faith of the government it always ends up seeking power over compassion. When this happens, a life giving force degenerates into a parasitical virus that infects every capillary of society. And it does happen. The transformation of Christianity from a pure and beautiful expression of God’s love into a force of intimidation, ignorance, and impunity has happened far too many times in history to be written off as unwarranted pessimism or fear mongering partisanship.

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The United States’ Constitutional Convention

It certainly smears the basic integrity of the U.S. Constitution. In Jefferson’s first draft he nailed it:

We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Sadly, far too many of Trump’s proposals resemble the ideas and techniques of history’s worst autocrats. Talk of Muslim registries, deportation squads, border walls, legalized torture, arresting flag burners, proliferating nuclear weapons, threatening political opponents, undermining free press, demeaning the disabled, pillaging the earth for material resources, encouraging cyber attacks, and generally dividing human beings into artificial categories in order to confuse and manipulate them, are all recycled moves from the playbook of yesterday’s defeated tyrants. They are also fundamentally un-Christian.

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