Election Results: Why So Many Christians Support Donald Trump – and Conventional Morality

Readings for 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time: Wis. 6:12-16; Ps. 63: 2-3; I Thes. 4:13-18; Mt. 25:1-13.

Last Thursday, Juan Gonzalez of “Democracy Now” provided the best post-election analysis of voting trends that I’ve heard. It sharply departed from the conventional wisdom that, he said, routinely wonders about the “under performance” of black and brown voters in the just-completed general election.

Instead, Gonzalez pointed out that African American, Latinx, Chicanx, and even Native American voters stepped up in an unprecedented way with more of them voting than ever – and most of them, of course, casting their ballots for the Biden-Harris ticket.

True, he said, there was a 2% increase in the number of them voting for Donald Trump. But he pointed out, it’s not percentages that win elections, but actual votes cast. Gonzalez asked, “Would you rather have 70% of 12 million votes, or would you rather have 68% of 20 million votes?”

The real surprise, Gonzalez noted, was in the increase of white suburbanites – and especially white suburban women – who voted for Donald Trump. If anything, that was the real “under-performance” calling for further analysis.

Why is it that Republicans are increasingly becoming America’s “White Party” with white women exhibiting decreasing difference in their voting preferences from white men who actually shifted a bit away from Trump?  And why do so many Christians continue to support someone like DJT?

Gonzalez answer? There is a surprisingly significant number of Americans – white, black, Latinx, gay, straight, atheist and Christian – who are quite comfortable with Donald Trump’s imperialist message of “America First” global dominance. Whether they’re aware of it or not, they (at least subconsciously) don’t want the sun to set on the declining U.S. empire. So, they respond positively to imperialism’s conventional wisdom of maintaining “full spectrum dominance” over the rest of the world. It’s an American thing divorced from any “identity politics.”

Today’s Readings

I bring all of that up because today’s readings call attention to the difference between the conventional wisdom that Gonzalez decried and the radical wisdom of Jesus the Christ who had no time for empire or for making Rome or even Israel great again.  

To show what I mean, here are my “translations” of the day’s selections related to Jesus’ profound wisdom – with a surprise twist in today’s Gospel parable of “The Wise and Foolish Virgins.”

There, the anonymous and conservatively Jewish evangelist called “Matthew” turns the unconventionally wise Jesus into a teacher of the world’s conventional wisdom of taking care of #1. In effect, he transforms Jesus from what we might call a “progressive” (or what I would call an anti-imperialist “radical”) into something like a contemporary Republican. No wonder today’s Christians feel comfortable supporting Donald Trump!

Please read to original texts here to see if I’m exaggerating. The first three readings reflect Jesus’ approach to wisdom. The last one seems to contradict it.

Wisdom 6: 12-16

Goddess-like Wisdom is easily encountered by those who seek her out. In fact, she lovingly looks for us even before we start our search for her. She is nearer to us than our jugular veins. Honoring her is actually the height of informed intelligence. You might say that human beings are naturally wise. 

Psalms 63: 3-8

Whether we know it or not, wisdom is our shared quest. It’s more valuable than life itself. Without wisdom our lives are parched, meaningless and deprived. Wisdom’s nourishment brings us gladness and everlasting joy.

I Thessalonians 4: 13-18

But what about those who die before achieving the full enlightenment offered by wisdom’s goddess? Have their lives been wasted? “No,” says St. Paul.  Mysteriously, even they will be enlightened by the same cosmologically irresistible powers that were manifested in the person, life and teachings of the master of wisdom, Jesus the Christ. This is no idle fantasy, though the hopeless claim it is.  

Matthew 25: 1-13

Even the evangelist called Matthew found Jesus’ unconventional wisdom about sharing to be a bit much. So, in his version of Jesus’ parable about the wise and the foolish bridesmaids,” he turned Jesus into a teacher of a conventional wisdom that the world could more easily endorse. “Take care of yourself  first,” he has Jesus teach in his story. “Your selfishness will be rewarded,” Jesus seems to say. ‘Foolish people – especially thoughtless women – will be shut out of God’s kingdom, just as they deserve.”

Jesus Republicanized

Let me say a bit more about the parable that tries to domesticate Jesus. It’s about those who embody the characteristics of wisdom described in the first reading – the wise virgins. It is also about those who lack such qualities – the foolish bridesmaids. The wise ones brought enough oil to keep their lamps alight while they waited to escort an unexpectedly delayed bridegroom to his ritual rendezvous with his intended. The foolish ones made no such provision.   

Obviously, this is a women-oriented story. And that’s quite fitting for exploring the topic of wisdom traditionally identified as feminine – almost as a goddess.  The story is full of wisdom symbols: not only wise and foolish virgins, but wedding feasts and bridegrooms, sleeping and waking, lamps, oil and light, closed and locked doors. All of these are archetypes. Their richness suggests an enlightened storyteller; it suggests someone like Jesus.

And yet there are also elements in today’s gospel that suggest a voice that does not belong to the prophet from Nazareth. For one thing, this is perhaps the only instance in the gospels where women are presented in a negative light. Here I’m thinking of the foolish bridesmaids. Throughout the Gospels, women appear consistently in a positive light. It seems Jesus took care not to reinforce the prejudice against them that so endemic to his deeply patriarchal culture – and to our own.

For another, this parable doesn’t contain any of the reversals or “unconventional wisdom” that we’ve come to associate with Jesus’ teachings and method of story-telling.  Parables, you’ll recall, are stories which present a problem meant to engage their audiences. They do so by addressing a real-life concern (often expressed in a question presented by one of Jesus’ opponents). Typically, Jesus’ answer turns the tables on the questioner surprising him with some version of Jesus’ great dictum: “The first will be last and the last first.” Think of the “Good Samaritan” or the “Prodigal Son.” We don’t find any of those kind of surprises in the parable of the wise and foolish virgins.

On the contrary, instead of unconventional wisdom and surprising reversals, we find that this story concludes with a highly conventional moral. It’s embodied in the strange refusal of the wise virgins to share their oil with the foolish ones.  Again, the lesson seems to be “Be prepared and take care of #1. Let the improvident take care of themselves and reap the consequences of their ‘foolishness’.”

Of course, that runs counter to a theme that earliest Gospel traditions firmly centralize, namely that of sharing even in the face of scarcity. As you recall, that motif appeared in the feeding of the 5000 in Mk. 6:30-44 and in the feeding of the 4000 in 8:1-10.  Both instances embodied a “miracle enough” made possible because Jesus inspired people to overcome selfishness and share the little they had. The surprise was that in sharing scarce resources (five loaves and two fishes) there was more than enough for all.

The bottom line here is that Matthew seems to have domesticated Jesus – as I said, making him very Republican-like.

Conclusion

Last week in OpEdNews, RJ Piers wrote an extremely insightful article called “Letting Go of Christianity During the Trump Era.” There the author recalled years of commitment to a Christian faith that required faithful observance of conventional morality centered around avoidance of drinking, drugs and premarital sex.

In the light of his abstinence, the author found it more than disappointing to see Christians rallying around a character like Donald Trump with his three marriages, assaults on unsuspecting women, and separations of children and babies from their mothers and fathers. For Piers (as for so many of us), Christian faith was all about conventional morality. And to see Christians deserting that morality to endorse someone like Trump was enough to suggest his own abandonment of Christian faith itself.

Personally, I found the argument intriguing.

However, even a casual reading of the Gospels reveals that Jesus was not about such conventional expectations. His focus wasn’t drinking, drugs, or premarital sex. On the contrary, he transgressed community moral standards at every turn. He repeatedly broke the sacred Sabbath law, forgave a woman caught in flagrante with an anonymous man, was accused of being a drunkard and friend of prostitutes, intermingled with despised foreigners, heretics, and n’er do wells. He finished his own life completely disgraced on death row, a victim of torture and of a form of capital punishment specifically reserved for enemies of Roman imperialism.

Remembering all of that is important not only for helping us see how churches have followed Matthew’s lead in domesticating Jesus.  It also helps us see Jesus for who he was despite that process of normalization that began less than two generations after his assassination.

Matthew’s parable of the ten bridesmaids is a case in point. Ironically, its domestication of the radical Jesus juxtaposed with the rest of today’s readings calls us to return to the master’s unconventional wisdom. That wisdom rejects obsession with conventional morality.

Again ironically, Matthew’s attempts at taming Jesus remind us of the master’s more important focus. As shown by his crucifixion, it must have been on politically radical rebellion against the kind of imperialism that Juan Gonzalez correctly suggests has seduced so many of our fellow citizens despite their claims to be followers of Jesus the Christ.

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Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 45 years. Three grown children. Six grandchildren.

35 thoughts on “Election Results: Why So Many Christians Support Donald Trump – and Conventional Morality”

  1. Thanks for the link to the interview. VERY interesting! So much work to do. We need to be civil to each other. Where has that value gone to? Keep up the good work.

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  2. Mike, it seems to me that you have taken the message of Trump’s many and extremely wealthy opponents *about* Trump, over the actual words and history of Trump himself.

    Decades ago, Trump didn’t agree with the Vietnam War. His enemies attack him for not having volunteered for Vietnam — although many of these same people acknowledge the war crimes of the Vietnam era.

    Trump didn’t agree with the Iraq wars and Middle Eastern invasions, and if I recall correctly he took out a full page ad in a major metropolitan newspaper explaining why.

    Trump confronted and shocked Bill O’Reilly with “There are a lot of killers. You think our country’s so innocent?” (This was taken by his opposition as a sign that Trump is under the control of Putin! If you voice the same thought, is it a sign that you are under the control of Putin?)

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    1. Good reminders, Mary. I don’t think the criticism was that Trump didn’t volunteer for Vietnam, but that he secured a doctor’s excuse from serving that alleged bone spurs or something. Also, the NYT ad I remember is the one calling for the execution of the Central Park 5 after they were acquitted because they must have been up to something that night. Did I get that right?
      In any case, my point wasn’t so much about Trump, but about U.S. imperialism (under any president) and its incompatibility with the project and teachings of Yeshua.

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      1. Mike, Trump wasn’t just trying to get a doctor’s excuse from serving — he disagreed with what was going on. Trump has said so many times over the years.

        Other people didn’t get doctor’s excuses, but went to England or elsewhere in Europe to study etc. It was a horrible dilemma for people of conscience. I remember dreading draft for my brothers, and hoping it would not happen.

        Vietnam was one of several murky military adventures instigated by people unworthy of their power and dishonest about their motives.

        Trump is not a warmonger. Trump has been trying to reduce violence around the world — with staunch opposition from supposed peacemakers who simultaneously encourage violence. Not everyone buys into this.

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  3. Under the rule of Biden/Warren and the powers who put them forward, we will get more of what we’ve suffered for decades: Our soldiers will be sent to take control of foreign treasures. If they are successful, much of that will be handed over to Washington leaders, many of whom seem to be addicted to drugs and alcohol, among other expensive habits.

    What is left of national treasure will be sent out in “foreign aid”, with much of it returned to Washington politicians, as happened with Ukraine.

    U.S. ports on the West Coast, the Northeast and the Great Lakes will be reclaimed by the foreign interests who bought them before Trump intervened.

    And many people will begin to fly the “Banana Republic Flag” — it is comical but also tragic that so many 120 year old dead people voted by the thousands during the 2020 election.

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      1. Jack Dorsey & Company dispute this, but the spooky music is great.

        You will probably think that it was created for Putin! But check it out, just for information’s sake — we’ll see in the coming weeks if it’s accurate, or not. Or maybe we won’t find out anything, if Jack decides that his Vassals are not entitled to investigation of this:

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      2. Why not? Virginia and Arizona were announced by the media as called for Biden while voters were still in line, before all ballots had been received and counted. At this point it’s a free-for-all, and former authorities have little to no credibility. Just as in other Color Revolutions sponsored by our government elsewhere. I invite you to consider all reports, whether reported by a powerful media outlet, or by individuals. You and I are both old enough to have noticed that sometimes there is a difference between the reality and the reporting — not only by the weak, but also by the powerful.

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    1. Don’t know why I typed “Biden/Warren” when I intended “Biden/Harris”. That doesn’t seem like an autocorrect error as so often happens. Sorry. Hopefully you understood what I meant.

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  4. Quick description of what happened: ““Demuro fraudulently stuffed the ballot box by literally standing in a voting booth and voting over and over, as fast as he could, while he thought the coast was clear. This is utterly reprehensible conduct. The charges announced today do not erase what he did, but they do ensure that he is held to account for those actions,” said U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. “Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy. If even one vote is fraudulently rung up, the integrity of that election is compromised. I want the public to know that this investigation is active and ongoing, and my Office is taking every possible step that we can to ensure the integrity of the upcoming primary and general elections in the nine counties of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.”

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    1. This is only one example of a 120-year-old Nevada voter (who voted for the first time in 2018).
      https://elkodaily.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/ballot-probe-finds-120-year-old-elko-county-voter/article_453c6eb8-b5a6-5890-b3dc-f15b0fbf6070.html

      I don’t want to exaggerate — I found a list of deceased voters online a couple of days ago. But it does seem that we have a great number of Banana Republicans making decisions for other people

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      1. And yes, that 120 year old voter in Elko is a typographical error, and it’s funny. But elsewhere some very odd situations have been turning up. I suspect ethical lapses similar to what happened in Philadelphia with Mr. Demuro

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  5. I have met Trisha Meili. Ms. Meili came to speak at a lecture about Forensics given by Dr. Bass of UT – Knoxville. I went with one of my high-school age daughters who had mentioned a slight interest in forensics (she ended up with a PhD in Microbiology after her start at Berea).

    https://www.oxygen.com/martinis-murder/where-is-trisha-meili-the-central-park-jogger-now

    I was also living in NYC at the time of the Central Park assault. Many people had been assaulted in Central Park by marauding strangers. The same night that Trisha Meili was assaulted and left for dead in Central Park, a Brooklyn woman was assaulted by a group of young men and thrown off the rooftop of her four-story apartment building. She survived, but like Trisha Meili, has permanent injuries.

    NYC was not quite as bad as some war zones, but the violence was still far beyond the zone of acceptable.

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      1. I am glad to read your words, Mike, because elsewhere on your blog you have opined that violence is an acceptable response to injustice. Uncorrupted rule of law is essential.

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      2. Not exactly, Mary. It’s more complicated than you indicate. My point has been that there are three main levels of violence: institutionalized, self-defense, and state response in defense of institutionalized violence. Our culture denounces only the second level (especially when engaged in by the poor and exploited) and accepts the other two as normal. In reality, only the second level (self-defense) merits any type of legitimacy. The fact is, most people — in fact most Christians of any stripe — are not pacifists, except when they’re recommending non-violence to those they exploit and violate. Instead, they favor “just war theory” usually alleging self defense related to the property their violent system has expropriated from the poor.

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      3. Thanks for explaining your POV in more detail, Mike.

        — Regarding the deceased voters cited upthread, I posted several more links.

        There is deep corruption in the voting process. If your eyes were open, you saw in in the Sanders v. Clinton Democrat primary. It exists in all the parties — even if Jack Dorsey would prefer that we not discuss this.

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      1. Giulani lodged a complaint today in Philadelphia during his presser. Giulani claims that the deceased father of Will Smith has voted twice since his death, and that the famous boxing champion Frazier has also voted since he passed on. One would wish that those who are no longer incarnate would stop voting, and leave politics to those of us who still have “skin in the game”. Or, do you suppose that maybe someone is impersonating these fine people after they have passed on?

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      2. Mary, are you really saying that the Democrats are the ones who have cheated in this election? Gerrymandering, voter suppression, post office shenanigans, voter intimidation onsite, etc., etc., etc., etc. And are you saying you find anything Giuliani says is credible? Peter Barus was right last night when he said it was a landslide victory. How many people voted? Of course there’ll be irregularities among millions and millions of votes that anyone can point to. It’s statistically insignificant even if true.

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  6. This discussion reminds me that as Jesus and spiritual voices of every religion have echoed for millenia, the real corruption is in our hearts. Until we “experience the joys and sorrows of others equally, without exception” we are not experiencing reality. That last quote is my understanding of the 4th of the 4 Immeasurable Kinds of Love, the meditation that Gotama the first Buddha used to get and stay connected with reality. My mother’s take was similar: her one measure of others was whether they had a good heart.

    A visit to snopes.com and factcheck.org can remedy the facts that folks get wrong. Calling out BS can help folks from chasing false solutions to what is a spiritual sickness. The solution, the one that leads to right action, is spiritual. Without that guiding light in our hearts, when we are in the fog of political warfare we will go astray. Even something as simple as seeing Matthew’s telling of the wedding story as “make others’ happiness as important as your own” gets mutated into a middle-class tale of “husband your resources well so they are available when you need them.”

    How to do the above, at scale, has eluded humankind for millenia.

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  7. And now it comes to light that some 50,000 ballots were left uncounted in Fulton County, Georgia on November 3-5.

    Does “conventional morality” endorse that sort of shenanigan? Something reeks of corruption in Fulton County — or maybe you give this a pass? Everyone has their own response to this kind of thing

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    1. re: 50,000 ballots left uncounted — that was simply because it takes time to count them. They all got counted. In Georgia, the couldn’t count absentee ballots until the 3rd. Some states, like Florida (because of a reform after the “hanging chad” fiasco) allow the ballots to be counted as they come in. That makes more sense to me, as there is less pressure on the folks who process the ballots..

      Liked by 1 person

      1. hankfay you are a trusting soul. As you may have guessed, I suspectthere are games being played with the voting process.

        In my younger days I had some clerical jobs that involved collecting, sorting and tabulating large amounts of information that had been submitted for decisions that involved large sums of money and other resources. I struggle to believe that there is increased difficulty of doing this type of work efficiently and accurately, decades later with more technology and tools to help.

        Blast from the past… do you recall the Democrat primaries, months ago? and the amazing new app that oddly enough, suddenly put Mayor Pete ahead of Bernie Sanders? It was quite something. https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.cnbc.com/amp/2020/02/04/buttigieg-claims-victory-in-iowa-though-no-results-have-been-released.html

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  8. Conventional morality of Jim Biden & Family. This type of negotiation is what many long for as “normal”. Keep in mind that the Knox newspaper that reported this situation is firmly Democrat and loyal to Joe Biden.

    Party/organizational loyalty comes with a certain cost to integrity. I guess you could call it “collateral damage” or some other euphemism. Sasha Stone doesn’t want to confirm his morality to any particular organization — I rather like that about him
    https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.knoxnews.com/amp/4349068002

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