As a Christian and former evangelical pastor who strongly opposes Donald Trump and the current leadership of the evangelical movement, I believe this: The blueprint for stopping them can be found in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, who devoted himself to strengthening the downtrodden and exposing the evils of religious leadership. With many political experts predicting a pretty bad performance for the Democrats in 2022, and the possible or probable return of Trump two years later, it's a dangerous time. I think that would be bad thing for this country, very bad for the Christian faith and very, very bad for anyone on the wrong side of advantage in America.
If we look at the life of Christ, the central message was clear. Attacking Caesar and Rome — or, today, attacking Trump or anyone else who wields power — is not the path. The answer lies within the people that the church has typically ignored, while revealing the hypocrisy of the leadership and expose the modern-day Pharisees, a role now being played by evangelical leadership.
I must admit, as a side note, that my faith in the Democratic Party is not strong. I believe we need more political parties in the U.S., as that large corporations seem to be controlling everything from a celebrity's voice to the news media to politicians of both parties, the health care industry, the justice system and also, most certainly, the church. It often feels like too much to take on, and truly living a life of integrity has become more and more difficult. What I do see clearly is that Trump's form of leadership is dangerous for America. Stopping him is by no means the end of the battle, but it's a start.
To start off with, I think the tactic of attacking Trump and his followers is a mistake that only makes him and his movement stronger. Calling his followers a basket of "deplorables" only encourages many more people to jump into the basket. Hell, when I heard that comment from Hillary Clinton back in 2016, I felt much more "deplorable" than not. I not only voted for Clinton against Trump, I believe she would have been a more effective president than her husband, and perhaps than Barack Obama. But the language of the downtrodden is the language of humility, and an understanding that we have failed in life in ways that makes us feel more deplorable than not. Trump was unapologetically deplorable and that felt good for the millions of Americans who have lost a hundred times over in their lives. So stop that approach, because it's not working.
I want to be clear that I am not talking about reaching a certain type of Trump follower. I'm not quite that naive. For instance, during my last haircut I was advised to watch out for the Nazis who were trying to check my vaccination status. After a remarkable conversation not based on any understanding of history or anything logical, I can only conclude that person is unreachable. There are millions of others who are simply too far gone, lost in a system of control and manipulation. But those people do not represent all Trump voters any more than my liberal neighbors in Cambridge, Massachusetts, speak for all Democrats.
In the ministry of Jesus, his church and message welcomed all who were willing to improve themselves through humility, forgiveness and grace. It did not matter what was happening in their life, how much or little they owned, what sins they had committed in their life or what their social station might be. His followers until that time had no agency, no voice, no acceptance. In a sense, that is how liberal or progressive leaders should approach these next two years. Learn the stories of all those who have struggled with the American dream. Provide them a voice, embrace them as brothers and sisters, and show them a path that leads to their own success, whether materially, spiritually or otherwise. Do not speak from a place of arrogance, success and superior knowledge but a place of humility and empathy.
In the ministry of Jesus it was equally important to show the great divide between the religious leadership and the needs of their followers. The Pharisees presented themselves as the arbiters of God's justice and as people of purity and goodness, while hoping to shield their misdeeds and hypocrisy in darkness. Things are much the same today: Nothing the evangelical leaders do is for their followers. They only seek to lift themselves up, and to be seen as both righteous and powerful. They have set themselves up as the gatekeepers to God's love, but in the words of Matthew 23, they have neglected "justice and mercy and faithfulness" and they serve the devil, making their followers "twice as much the children of hell" as they are.
Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.
In truth, I am no one and I am everyone. I am a liberal, a deplorable, a minister, a father. I am alone and a failure. In the end I am just a man with two coat hangers, trying to solve a problem much bigger than I am capable of solving. About a year ago, I was locked out of my car at night, in the winter, in a state park with a closed gate, a dying phone and no coat. AAA turned me down, and the cops wouldn't open the gate. I had to run four miles back to my car, with no way of reaching anyone and with nothing more than two coat hangers, in an attempt to break into my car and get out of my jam.
My best friend and soulmate, who has asthma and is massively allergic to dogs, was stuck in a car with my mom, who has a dog and wasn't wearing her mask correctly. I needed to solve this issue with my two coat hangers and no phone signal. My friend was worried about me and told my mom, "Listen, Nate will die out there. He will not give up." She knew me well. That struggling, relentless part of me is a part of every working person in this country. None of us quit. We keep fighting, in spite of the structures that let us down, in spite of the God that seems to ignore us and in spite of our own personal failings, armed with our two coat hangers and the hope — or the faith — that somehow we will find our way through.
I say all this because I want those people who have power, voice and agency not to give up on the "deplorables." This country is heading in the wrong direction and the only way through is to look to a very old formula: one that goes back 2,000 years or so: Expose the hypocrisy of the religious leadership, lift up the downtrodden and reclaim the American dream. Our nation's "greatness" is not found on a slogan, at a fancy hotel or on an exclusive golf course. It is not found in the top circles of the news media, the deep pockets of the Hollywood elites or in any political party. It is certainly not found in the church. It is found with the people who understand what it is like to take on some of life's most difficult problems with a couple of coat hangers, your strength of will and a little hope.
More from Nathaniel Manderson on Christianity in America: