My hunch is that at the beginning of this Faustian bargain, most evangelicals didn’t imagine it would come to this, with them defending the indefensible, tarnishing their reputations, and doing incalculable damage to their causes.
This is the worst year for America in more than a half century; a stunning 87 percent of Americans are dissatisfied with the way things are going and only 17 percent feel proud when thinking about the state of the nation, while 71 percent feel angry and 66 percent are fearful. Donald Trump’s presidency is so polarizing and such a catastrophe that a plurality or outright majority of Americans now oppose much of whatever he supports. The mood of the public is the most progressive it’s been in nearly 70 years. During the Trump era, the nation has moved to the left on a whole series of issues, including those that matter most to evangelical Trump supporters.
The Trump presidency, which has produced few significant legislative or governing achievements, has inflicted gaping wounds on the Republican Party, conservative causes, and the evangelical movement.
IN HIS MARVELOUS book The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C. S. Lewis, Alan Jacobs tells about the theater critic and essayist Kenneth Tynan, who, after reading Lewis’s The Hideous Strength, said, “How thrilling he makes goodness seem—how tangible and radiant!” (At Oxford, Lewis was a tutor to Tynan, who was not himself a believer.)
Tynan perceived something essential about Lewis. One of his most impressive qualities was his ability to present the good life—and his Christian faith, which shaped his understanding of the good—as tangible and radiant, a thrilling and captivating journey, a way to find joy and fulfillment.
That was hardly the whole story. Lewis faced a crisis in faith late in his life, when he was overwhelmed by grief after his wife, Joy Davidman, died of cancer—a crisis he recovered from, but that left its mark. Still, because of his faith, Lewis’s life was more alluring, more captivating, more vivifying. It was said of Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien that they never lost their enchantment with the world.
The greatest cost of the Trump years to evangelical Christianity isn’t in the political sphere, but rather in what Christians refer to as bearing witness—showing how their lives have been transformed by their faith.
Much of the evangelical movement, in aligning itself with Donald Trump, has shown itself to be graceless and joyless, seized by fear, hypocritical, censorious, and filled with grievances. That is not true of all evangelicals, of course, and it’s not true of all evangelicals who are Trump supporters. But it’s true of enough of them, and certainly of the political leadership of the white evangelical movement, to have done deep injury to their public witness.