Title: Believe Me:
The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump
Author: John Fea
Genre: Theology/Politics/History
Pages: 208
Rating: 3.5 of 5
Future Release Date: 8/30/18 (Thank you to the author and publisher for a free eARC through NetGalley…this does not affect the content of the review)

My earliest clear memory of American politics is of conservative Christians howling “Character counts! Bill Clinton is not morally qualified to be president and must be impeached!”.  Fast forward to 2016 and many of these same voices eagerly led 81% of white Evangelical Christians to vote for a profane, lecherous bully…but it’s okay because “we’re voting for a commander in chief, not a pastor in chief and he’s going to appoint such good supreme court justices.” Major cognitive dissonance! This book, written by a self-identified Evangelical historian who is appalled at this pragmatic hypocrisy inconsistency, explores how this came about.

His main premise is that the evangelical “political playbook” has been driven by three factors:

  • Fear: “If you don’t vote for/donate toward/support [fill in the blank] you’re going to lose your religious freedom (and guns)!”
  • Power: “We must have people in positions of high authority who are on our side or we cannot properly influence society!”
  • Nostalgia: “We need to get back to ‘the good old days’ when everyone acted like Christians and things were so much better” (as long as you were white, male, and born in this country)!

He seeks to demonstrate that these three factors have long been a part of the American political landscape and have caused a variety of sinful/hypocritical behavior along the way (racism, or at least calloused insensitivity toward people not just like me, being a major focus). Because he is primarily historian, the author doesn’t offer a lot of commentary on what could have been done differently. However he does suggest that rather than play power games, maybe Christians need to take the role of outsiders “speaking truth to power” with hope for the future…more like prophets than courtiers.

I greatly appreciate the main thrust of this book, and it has helped me think through some things related to the unedifying spectacle that was the 2016 election. That said, I don’t know how convincing the book would be to someone who wasn’t already inclined to agree with the author. His presentation isn’t always carefully argued/sourced, as he occasionally takes an approach that sounds like “most scholars agree on [insert interpretation of data without presenting the data itself in any detail]…”. Another issue was that along the way I spotted a couple factual errors (the worst being identifying DACA as pertaining to children born in the US!), which made me question his credibility a bit.

Overall, I think that this is worth reading as a critique from someone within the Evangelical movement even if not all of his arguments are as fleshed out as they could be.

4 thoughts on ““Character Counts!”

  1. I remember as a teen in the 90’s talking to a great uncle of mine about how my generation was going to change the nation by electing those with our ideals, etc, etc. He didn’t say anything, just shook his head and I remember thinking, “ha, you old fogey, you just wait and see”. Fast forward to now and I’m realizing that Christianity will never be spread through government regulation. Actually living out what I believe and interacting with my neighbors, that’s hard stuff…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yep, in the salt and light passage (Matthew 5:13-16) we’re supposed to live so that people “see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” not so that they “are compelled to toe the line once you have seized the levers of power.”

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This sounds interesting, if just to clarify some thoughts on my end, though I completely agree with you about not knowing with DACA actually is hurting the author’s credibility. Definitely worth a skim, at least. Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have become increasingly disillusioned with the political side of Evangelicalism, and I found that this author helpfully articulates many of the reasons why. Russell Moore did much the same during the 2016 election and nearly lost his position in the SBC as a result.

      Like

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