Christians, beware of the demagogue. The election of Donald J Trump to the presidency of the United States of America is a massive challenge to Christians and their effective witness in public life.
As Christians, we should get wisdom and discernment to understand the peculiarity of our time. It also means taking action to restore civility in public debate and protecting institutions that safeguard us all.
Christians beware; truth and the demagogue.
A demagogue is ‘a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than using rational argument.’ (OED). His origins are in the ancient democracy of Athens and he soon became associated with the politician who whips up the crowd for their own purposes.
Many other countries around the world are facing their own demagogues. Christians need to get wise to their dangers because there have been some dark forces unleashed in a lot of countries.
I believe what we’re witnessing is as much a spiritual battle as a political one. Truth has come under attack like never before. It has been bent, distorted and broken to serve political agendas.
This is not to single out any particular political point of view because truth has come under attack from both the left and the right in politics. However, Trump today represents a particular attack on truth.
One year on in the life of a demagogue.
The chaos and craziness of the Trump presidency have just passed its first year.
There’s never been a presidency like it. The wearying daily dramas, innuendos and occasional scandal fill the airwaves and our Facebook feeds with depressing regularity.
What we’re witnessing day by day has now gone way beyond usual partisan differences or political preferences (despite disengagement from many Republicans). It’s hit at the very foundation of the Republic with its separation of powers, independence of the judiciary and press freedoms. These have all come under unprecedented attack.
This is indisputable, whether you are for or against Trump.
There’s currently a compulsive liar occupying the West Wing who’s attempting (and so far I believe failing) to keep his authority with a barrage of misinformation and sometimes attempted manipulation of popular opinion.
This compulsive lying is also indisputable. Politifact, an independent fact-checking website, has summarised twenty-six pages of statements by Trump and the accuracy of them. A bare-bones 16% of Trump’s public statements are demonstrated to be verifiably true or mostly true. 15% is half true.
But it gets worse.
The rest breaks down into 22% being mostly false; 47% completely untrue and 15% of his statements being ‘ridiculous falsehoods’. In other words, proper liar, liar, ‘pants on fire’ lies.
Should Christians be bothered?
If we carry any sense of integrity (regardless of your political views) then we damn well should be. We should be caring a lot.
Reasons for Christians to worry about the demagogue.
What me, worry?
Yes, for the stability of the free world itself. Because for me it’s kind of personal. My Grandfather’s generation and my family fought against fascism.
And I invoke that word, fascism for a reason.
America’s dream has soured and hope has grown cold. People are angry and disillusioned. The old ‘solutions’ aren’t solving our many economic and social problems.
But the signs were always there; an economy not working for the majority of the people; a shrinking middle class and a political establishment talking to itself and against itself.
Perfect conditions for the demagogue to rise.
When a society has complicated problems that no ordinary person or group of elected representatives can easily solve, the easiest solution is to elect a ‘rescuer’ figure who always promises much. They will blame complex problems on a group or groups.
It’s much easier to project our fears, uncertainty and insecurities onto someone else. In the past, it’s been different religious or ethnic groups. These days it is immigrants.
The concern over fascism is justified. Events at Charlottesville, in an extreme way, underline the problem we face. It’s telling that the white nationalists feel completely comfortable with a Trump presidency.
Why Christians should beware of liking a ‘good’ demagogue.
But I understand the reasons why Christians vote for a populist. They vote for the same reasons as others, because of a genuine concern about the direction the country is going.
However, we must accept the consequences of our vote, well-intentioned as it may be. This is not a vote for a person or a movement that will heal and restore but rather for one that will divide and rule.
So we must hear what our scriptures say again and again; the psalmist writes ‘do not put your trust in princes, in human beings who cannot save.’ (Psalm 146:3).
Yet we do it, again and again. ‘This leader has been sent by God’, many proclaim.
The demagogues have not been appointed by God, they have been elected by human beings who can be just as self-centred and self-serving as the people they represent.
The demagogue will speak sweet words appealing to Christian values and goodness but privately, behind the closed doors of power, the stench of falsehood, deception and corruption hang heavy.
The demagogue ‘beast’ is everywhere.
But the problem isn’t just in America.
People from all over the world today are having to deal with this many-headed beast. It’s present and strong in France, the Netherlands, Austria, Hungary, Greece. The recent rise of nationalist hard-right parties and leaders in Europe have come mostly as a response to the migrant crisis.
But also notably in Russia, Turkey and the Philippines. All are playing at populist sentiments from the fringes while concealing darker motives, a nationalism that is, boastful, haughty and aggressive to those that don’t support the supposed ‘majority will of the people’.
The awful truth about the demagogue is that when he (or she) gets power, he morphs into a demi-god. Power is his sole purpose, the more power, the more godlike.
If you really believe that God requires a demagogue to fulfil his plans and purposes in this world then you’ve made a big mistake. God relies on no one person, apart from the work done in the work of Christ.
As believers we are part of a real insurgency, we are activists not of any one party or movement.
A Scripture for our time.
For the Psalmist writes:
‘3 Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.
4 When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
on that very day, their plans come to nothing.
5 Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God.
6 He is the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them— he remains faithful forever.
7 He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free,
8 the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous.
9 The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.’
We must get God-given wisdom with how we deal with the world at hand and how we deal with the demagogue.
And pray with all our hearts, souls and minds that, ‘your kingdom come, your will be done’.
Then the demagogues will one day be defeated.
Jeremy – Not Only Sundays (About Us).
If you’d like to discover your unique life calling, download my free e-guide here.