For those outside of Christian spaces, it may seem counterintuitive that Donald Trump, a twice-divorced, ribald and obscene reality TV star and real estate tycoon, captured the vote of 81% of white evangelical Christians. But to those of us Christians who witnessed the religious right’s backlash against the Obama administration, the rise of a man whom I will call “White Jesus” is both unsurprising and expected.
White Jesus is a work of fiction, a tool that Christians have historically used to seize political power and justify the logic of colonialism and imperialism. Donald Trump is a man made in His very image.
Most of us are familiar with a particular image of Jesus: a light-eyed, clean-shaven, long robe-wearing man with flowing hair. Common images of Jesus in the United States depict him as a white man who looks more like Kenny Loggins than a man of color from antiquity. That’s not the real Jesus. The real Jesus lived in the 1st century A.D. and was an impoverished Palestinian who spent his life primarily among other impoverished and disenfranchised people of color.
White Jesus arrived in America when white people did. The early colonizers needed to justify the brutality of Manifest Destiny ― massive land theft, genocide and enslavement. From the earliest days of U.S. colonization, it was vital that their God agree with their hostile takeover of the continent, and their desire to dominate, suppress and eliminate anyone who resisted. Jesus was the key to their success, but not just any Jesus. They needed permission and anointing from White Jesus.
“Donald Trump is America’s White Jesus, and evangelical Christians follow him as Lord.”
White Jesus is not a person, but a tool, a tool that has been used by the religious and secular white alike to justify voting for Trump.
We must consider how one can use the name Jesus ― a marginalized Palestinian who espoused non-violence, love, inclusion and a preferential option for the poor ― to endorse a president whose violence, bigotry and love of money is unprecedented.
People vote with their values, and when “Christian values” bring us to Donald Trump, we can tell that we have lost the real meaning of Christ along the way. But there’s not a problem with Scripture or with Jesus; the problem lies with a community that has so lost the image of God in itself that it worships the idol of a White Jesus who endorses every political leader that they back.
Evangelical Christians, a denominationally varied community, make up over 25% of all Christians (and over 35% of the electorate) in the U.S. In the last century, they have been associated with the myth of the U.S. being a Christian nation, pro-military rhetoric, a rejection of secularism, anti-abortion activism and the creation-evolution debate. Because of the potency of evangelicals in the religious right, conservative politics and evangelical faith expressions are often inextricable. Evangelicals have so worshipped and elevated White Jesus that their politics, ideologies and theologies are indistinguishable. It is notable that not all Christians, nor evangelicals, voted for Trump or identify with the religious right; however, American cultural Christianity has created the landscape for Trump to rise to power regardless of a lack of unanimous support from all Christ-followers.
Enter Donald Trump and his message to “Make America great again.”
The irony should have struck Christians at the start, but we missed it. Jesus, coming to Earth in the form of a marginalized human, constantly defined being “great” as becoming the least, the most vulnerable, the weakest and the most gentle. Donald Trump looks nothing like the Jesus of the Bible; however, he is the spitting image of White Jesus. Coming in the name of country, of racial superiority, of patriotism, of acquisition of wealth, of garnering and maintaining power through violence. Donald Trump and White Jesus are one and the same.
“White supremacy and the values of evangelical Christianity are so intertwined.”
A reality TV star has become synonymous with our Sunday morning White Jesus ― one who will entertain, comfort and maintain moral power while allowing Christians to hate and oppress whom they will because they believe their God is on their side. As such, Donald Trump is less a president than he is a tool that is being used to reinforce, empower and uphold white supremacy, all with the consent and tacit approval of white evangelical Christians. Trump is America’s White Jesus, and evangelical Christians follow him as Lord. White Jesus now lives in the White House.
It is notable that Trump has not been subtle about this lack of Christlikeness. His sexually problematic treatment of women, his exclusion of the “foreigner” or “stranger,” his siding with corporate wealth over caring for the poor, his ego-centered communication and hyperbolic-inflation of his popularity all are only heightened by his clear lack of knowledge and adherence to basic Christian values and practices. Yet, over the last year, white evangelicals’ worship of him has sanctimoniously upheld him in spite of this fact. He receives passes for his misogyny and sexual assault, his militarized violence, his lack of environmental care, his failure to decry overt white supremacist activity, his mockery of the disabled and his own overt racist activity.
Voting for and upholding Trump are inherently not about Jesus or the principles of the Bible but about spiritualizing and “Christianizing” right-wing politics. The irony of an evangelicalism that it is so obsessed with the elevation of reason, logic, post-Enlightenment thinking and grounding apologetics, is that they have elected the most sensitive, irrational, emotionally driven, unqualified and insecure president to date.
Much like our colonial forefathers, evangelicals are committed to having a divine justification for the political values that they espouse. If they hate Muslims, so does Jesus. If they want to maintain patriarchy, so does Jesus. If they are homophobic and exclusive, it’s because Jesus ordained it. If they are afraid, it’s because they are persecuted. If they are anti-abortion but pro-war, it’s because White Jesus protects only the lives that they believe matter. Certainly other religious communities throughout history as well as Christians of color have used their versions of God to justify their own prejudices and collective political decisions; however, in the 2016 election, it was the power of whiteness and a commitment to White Jesus that ushered Trump into the White House.
It seems as if white evangelicals will overlook every moral inconsistency and offense if it means ushering in the Kingdom of White Jesus. They will overlook the assault and dehumanization of women if it means stopping legal access to abortion. They will overlook the belief in traditional family models if it mean having a president who will espouse and protect “traditional marriage” despite having been in multiple problematic marriages of his own. Trump allows white evangelicals to protect whiteness and its benefits and tenets because white supremacy and the values of evangelical Christianity are so intertwined.
Trump has become a Christian savior, with white evangelicals casting votes and giving alms in the form of political donations at the altar of this false image of God. Trump has and will uphold white supremacy at all costs, and all Christians will have to stand before the real Jesus when he says, “Whatever you did (or did not do) for the least of these, you did (or did not do) for me.”
Brandi Miller is a campus minister and justice program director from the Pacific Northwest.