There were many prophecies in 2020 that Donald Trump would win re-election. And interestingly, many of the prophets that foretold a Trump triumph have now come out publicly to repent.1
Two ‘stars’ aligned in 2016 heralding in the reign of Trump. The American Alt-Right’s radical nationalism and the American Evangelicals conservative Christianity. The first was trying to make America great again. The second believed it was ushering in God’s kingdom on earth.
More worrying than this (as if this isn’t bad enough) is the Alt-Right’s bed fellows. Atheists and agnostics mixed up with Neo Nazis, white supremacists and the Klu Klux Klan.2
How can any Christian church justify such antichrist alignment? Is the answer to such an unholy alliance found in the synthesis of Christ with Culture? A cultured church “more concerned about the defence of the culture synthesised with the gospel than about the gospel itself.”3 (See my last blog on culture and the church Trump’s False Prophets: This is not America.)
This is not America
Many of us were initially surprised, then puzzled, on how many Australian Christians who had no real interest in politics in Australia, let alone the US, became invested in Trump’s rise to presidency. American politics always attracts some passing interest here. But nothing like what Trumpism inspired.
The cult of Trump became a fandom comparable to what Aussie Rules team you barrack for. But unlike the friendly banter and rivalry around the footy in Melbourne, holding a view on Trump more often than not degenerated into diatribe around the office water cooler and weekend BBQ gatherings.
How can this possibly make sense in Australia?
The rise of the politics of rights and tribes has much to do with the way the world has changed in recent decades. (See my post Ground Zero 20 Years On: 9/11 and the return of the king on the politics of rights and tribes.)
Recent decades have seen trans denominational movements erode denominational loyalties while tolerance of others in our communities waned. Multiculturalism has given way to identity politics (rights) and we have retreated from globalism (as we once understood it) to nationalism (tribes).
Paradoxically, these fractured, self interested politics have globalised by escaping their native soil moorings to go viral so that a Trump (or any other charismatic self proclaimed prophet with a big enough platform) can take on messianic overtones, representing not just the local constituent tribe but the branded global masses identifying with the politics of rights and tribes of the regionalised tribe leader.
Each expression of the church is called to discern its own season
In the wake of Dominic Perrottet’s installation in 2021 as state Premier of NSW, John Sandeman, also the editor of Eternity News, wrote in an opinion piece for the Sydney Morning Herald, against the perception of a conservative Christian takeover of power in their state.4
What is striking in Sandeman’s opinion piece is the concern not to be branded fundamentalist on the one hand but on the other, a melding together of Catholics, Sydney Anglicans and Hill Song Pentecostal churches as conservative Christian movements.
The message is abundantly clear. Sydney conservative churches are not fundamentalists. And not only are we not fundamentalists, we are not trying to usurp elected state governments. We argued our case strongly against NSW’s decriminalisation of abortion and lost, opines Sandeman.
Although not explicitly stated, the sub text is – we are not the American Evangelical Alt-Right circus rioting at the White House in protest of an illegitimate election. We are not Trump’s false prophets.
And this sits well with a recent assessment of evangelicalism within Australia by Hugh Chilton in Evangelicals And The End Of Christendom. Australians are at pains to demonstrate their Christian movements are authentically Australian, differentiated by earlier British imperialism and more recent American cultural hegemony. We sit somewhere between North and South. “As representatives of a settler society located in Asia [Australians can] join with Africans, Asians and South Americans in challenging the perceived imperialism of Britain and the United States.”5
I wrote on how I believe the challenge for the Australian church is different to our brothers and sisters in America in my post, What The Bloody Hell Is An Australian? The Australian church’s challenge lies in the slaughtered Aboriginal skeletons of our Commonwealth cupboard that we are still trying to cover up. The secrets of our past have traumatised us and manifest in a fear of alien invasion.
Discerning the prophetic voice in Australia surely must include addressing this trauma. How? By being inclusive of all aliens – convicts, immigrants and Aboriginals – and the Australian church is in a unique place to do this if we can deepen our understanding and perspective on “the multi-centric nature of post-imperial evangelical networks of influence.”6. If we can hear God’s call to our nation and rise to the challenge, we might yet see revival.
If we can hear. Which means not getting distracted by false prophets. Despite the denial of fundamentalism by Sandeman and the recognition of multi-cultural opportunity by Chilton, the Australian church is not immune from American infections.
The caldron pool website demonstrates a strange brew of right wing fundies and politicians such as professed atheist Mark Latham. This appears to be a much closer alignment of America’s grotesque marriage between evangelicalism and the Alt-Right which makes sense given the internet is unbounded, unrooted in local soil and hence more potent in its contagion. (See my post The Divided Church: Overcoming the politics of fear for more on this disturbing infection.)
Repentance or Obedience?
To conclude this three part series on false prophets, I come back to where I started on the American evangelical romance with Trump. The first word of prophecy is to speak for God in the world in which we find ourselves.
To speak of what God did is history already revealed. To speak of the future is not yet fulfilled. Who knows. God may change his mind if the prophet’s word is heeded. But to speak God’s word to the world as it is now is truly prophetic revelation.
It is the word from God needed now for the church and the world. This is revelation. God’s revelation is spoken in history so it is always clothed in our flesh and blood reality of God’s created order. But it is not pre-determined. Prophecy is dependent on our response. This is because God always offers us an opportunity to turn from evil to good, to God.
To speak God’s word to the world as it is now is truly prophetic revelation.
Jonah ran away from God’s call and was confronted by the whale that turned out to be his salvation at sea from shipwreck. Jonah’s story reads like an expose. It doesn’t pull any punches. God calls Jonah to warn Nineveh it will be destroyed if it doesn’t repent. So what does Jonah do? He runs off to the seaport of Jaffa and finds passage on a ship for Tarshish across the sea in the opposite direction!
Jonah was a reluctant prophet. The whale spits Jonah up on the beach and Jonah trudges off to Nineveh and starts preaching his message of repentance. When Nineveh repents, Jonah gets upset with God and the story ends with Jonah sulking under a leafy plant, which God then takes from Jonah as a parable that God’s grace is not dependent on our works. For Jonah was upset that God had shown grace and forgiven Nineveh.
When we look at Trump’s prophets (and many others) we don’t see anything like this. There is no call for repentance. What we do see is a desire for domination, to take over culture and politics – a spiritual invasion.7
Many evangelicals saw Trump as God’s Cyrus to right the evils of the nation and the world. Neither Cyrus or Trump were believers or God fearers. But the church believed God had called Trump for his purpose. And God’s purpose was to defend the American evangelical gospel of prosperity, triumphalism and sexual-racial purity over the tide of evil threatening to destroy the American way of life.
Any call to repentance in this was lopsided at best. A repentance for transgressions against sexual impurity and my (individual) rights to accumulate wealth, power and prestige. There was no call to repent for injustice to the poor, disadvantaged, downtrodden or exploited.
The Old Testament prophets spoke out about idolatory amongst God’s people, unjustice treatment and oppression of the poor. Trump’s false prophets did not get upset by any of this. They were upset because they had called it wrong. And so this grief was for their own failings. There appears no sign they have turned from their dominating triumphalism.
The real failure here is not that Trump’s prophets called the election wrong. Predicting the future is not a sign that God has spoken. Any fool can take a punt and on the law of probabilities call the right outcome. But predicting the outcome doesn’t make the prediction right.
History is full of false prophets that have backed leaders that have turned out to be antichrists going all the way back to Jesus’ prophecy that there would be many false prophets and Christs to come (Matthew 24:24). It would appear that Trump’s prophets had more in common with Balam and the prophets of Baal who were motivated by money and idols.
The way of Jesus is not triumphalism but sacrificial grace. God’s kingdom does not come through our manipulation of political power but through our obedience to God’s call – the Jesus manifesto.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoner and recovery of the sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (Luke 4:18-19).
This is what we, the church, are called into the world for; not to demand our own self vindication or herald our own self interest.
- Stefani McDade, The Future of Prophecy, Christianity Today, July/August 2021, pp59-61
- Damon T. Berry, Christianity and the Alt-Right: Exploring the Relationship, Routledge, Oxon, 2002, pp4-7
- H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ And Culture, Harper & Row, New York, 1951, p146
- John Sandeman, Sydney’s Conservative Christians Are Not Fundamentalists, Sydney Morning Herald, 6 October 2021
- Hugh Chilton, Evangelicals and the End of Christendom: Religion, Australia and the Crises of the 1960s, Routledge, Oxon, 2020 pp210-11
- Chilton, p211
- Stefani McDade, The Future of Prophecy, Christianity Today, July/August 2021, pp59-61
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