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Book Review: The Spiritual Danger of Donald Trump: 30 Evangelical Christians on Justice, Truth, and Moral Integrity

Monday, 19 October 2020  | Robert Wolfgramm

The Spiritual Danger of Donald Trump:
30 Evangelical Christians on Justice, Truth, and Moral Integrity

Edited by Ronald J. Sider

(Oregon: Cascade Books, 2020)


I like Ronald Siders edited collection of 25 essays from 30 Evangelical Christian contributors, not just because they are well aware of the problem Donald Trump poses for thinking Christians everywhere, but because the title for their volume is a straight-forward ‘The Spiritual Danger of Donald Trump’, and because the book is on my side of the opinion spectrum. It would be superfluous and tedious to rehearse all of the Presidents known and well-publicised lapses, and daunting to try to review in detail all 30 chapters of this excellent volume, but a summary of how Trump is a ‘spiritual danger’ is required here to explain why these contributors consider it necessary to warn their fellow Christians: those who are, like me, deeply disgusted by the man and his methods; those who are cultic in their attachment to him; and the many others who are conflicted about him because of his contradictory excesses.

This is that rare kind of book you can judge by its cover. I enjoyed the contributions immensely, and not just because of having many things in common with my own understanding of what a biblically-informed critique of politics should be like, and of Trumps politics specifically, but because the several authors gave me new factual knowledge about the global menace that Trump represents, a greater appreciation of the American political and religious intersection generally, and, especially, more ammunition for future arguments with my dear friends who support Trump from afar – here in Australia and in the Pacific.

Sider divides the contributions into three sections: the first deals with specific charges against Trumps public character and apparent values (chapters 1-8); the second explains and laments evangelical Christian support for him (chapters 9-17); and the third part discusses theological, historical and constitutional issues that intersect with Trumps presidency (chapters 18-25). Each of the chapters deserve a review in its own right.

Sider bookends the volume with an introduction and an afterword, as well as contributing two chapters. He writes that a ‘deep sadness and persistent hope’ has led to this book in the face of ‘current politics [which] is so divisive and dysfunctional’; in closing he notes that America is ‘in deep trouble because the political divisions are so deep’, politicians are not listening to each other and there is thereby ‘a destructive gridlock’ permeating Washington. Sider opens by affirming the common commitment to Christ’ of the book’s contributors and closes by suggesting five practical steps Christians can take to help find a way out of Trump-world. In the end Christians must pray. Amen to that.

One of Sider’s two chapters deals with Trumps handling of the coronavirus pandemic, while the other asks: ‘will the evangelical center remain silent in 2020?’ Sider argues that Trumps management – or mismanagement – of the COVID-19 crisis should be factored into consideration of who to vote for at this years election. And in his other piece, Sider summarises Trump’s many failures (as outlined by the various contributors to this book) and concludes that, ‘by his words and his policies, Trump contradicts and violates’ many of the biblical principles Christians should uphold. Silence on these contradictions and violations is not an option.

This is a book I could not put down, but by the end of it, I was exhausted. Its thoroughness is its defining characteristic. A second edition needs a bible text concordance because most of the chapters are loaded with scripture quotes, bible references and biblical contexts. Many of the contributors have anchored their critiques in the word of God, citing book, chapter and verse, so this book stands or falls on its biblical basis. Without that comprehensive coverage, without tying comments to biblical injunctions, the book would be just another rhetorical discourse, weightless repetition and cheap criticism.

Sider expresses ‘deep sadness’ that such a book has had to be written. I concur. I too have been shocked and numbed by the fact that fellow Christians support Donald Trump in overwhelming numbers. By one measure, the contributors to this volume are like Martin Luthers ‘blunt axe’ laying into a tough knot’ called Trump. Or like Christian soldiers requiring Trump to run the gauntlet. But from another angle, the books authors fall short of stating outright what seems obvious to me: their President is a con man. A parvenu, plain and simple.

There is a sophisticated way to dress up my summary assessment and it is missing from this extraordinary book. To explain: my response to Trump in 2016 was to see him in terms of Max Webers theory of ‘charismatic leadership’, giving ritual ‘virtuoso’ performances in the public arena (The Theory of Social and Economic Organisation, 1964). Webers original characterisation of charisma has been modified more recently to include the notion of ‘manufactured charisma’ – adapted for our media-savvy age – and that of ‘evil charisma’ (as Henry Etzkowitz and Ronald Glassman have it – see their 1991 work, The Renascence of Sociological Theory). Trump is an example of both: he is manufactured in the media sense, and evil in the moral sense. As Glassman puts it, ‘charismatic leaders may be possessed of the gift of the devil, as well as the gift of grace’. In my own research (Charismatic Delegitimation in a Sect, MA Thesis, Chisholm/Monash, 1983), I found that charismatic leaders are impossible to de-legitimate – once revered, they may be knocked down, but never out. We can expect the cult of Trump to persist whatever happens in the November election. Will he not fake more evangelical piety for the sake of votes this time around? Holding up a bible in front of a Washington church, as he did during the George Floyd protests, may be the signal of more pious humbug to come.


Robert Wolfgramm is a Fiji-born Australian citizen, former Monash sociologist, now retired in Ringwood and still committed to holding all that we are and do to biblically-informed examination. 

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