Author and Baptist pastor Rodney Kennedy is no fan of Donald Trump or of the evangelicals who helped put the former president into the White House in 2016. But he’s equally disdainful of those who portray Trump’s conservative Christian base as political dupes.
“I am tired of the liberal media dissing evangelicals as dummies being used by Donald Trump,” said Kennedy, author of the new book, The Immaculate Mistake: How Evangelicals Gave Birth to Donald Trump. “I don’t think he used them. I think they created him.”
Kennedy said his latest project was motivated by a determination to illustrate the cunning and cruelty of white evangelicals so that their ongoing, biblically rationalized efforts to undermine democracy can be countered.
“They are incredibly focused, and with Trump they were determined to stop losing and they were smart and vengeful and angry, and they put everything they had into making this man the president,” he said.
Kennedy previously was the pastor of Southern Baptist churches before taking the pulpit at First Baptist Church in Dayton, Ohio, an American Baptist congregation where he drew attention for mixing Baptist polity and Catholic liturgical styles, including the use of wine in Communion and infant baptism.
Since then, Kennedy has been serving as an interim pastor in ABC-USA churches in the Midwest and Northeast and teaching homiletics at Palmer Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.
And he’s also been writing — an activity that kicked into high gear when Southern Baptist preacher Robert Jeffress, pastor at First Baptist Church in Dallas, began openly and unapologetically supporting Trump’s early presidency despite the former president’s reputation for womanizing, vulgarity and character assassination.
“The longer I listened to what was happening between Trump and Jeffress, the more involved I became in trying to craft a response to that,” Kennedy said. “It took four years.”
“These people want to win, and they will do anything to win.”
He saw an evangelical movement that had been so appalled at having a Black man in the White House for eight years and alarmed by the rapid spread of gay marriage laws that they felt compelled to take “win-at-all-costs” action to stop it all.
“You had Jerry Falwell Jr. say we have to stop electing these weak Republican presidents. These people want to win, and they will do anything to win.”
But this agenda goes back even further, to the 1925 Scopes “Monkey Trial” about evolution and the national embarrassment it brought to evangelicals.
“They have been nursing a grudge ever since,” Kennedy added. “They have become a people of revenge and of getting even and of sticking it to the liberals.”
So, they threw their moral and political weight behind Trump, resulting in 81% of evangelicals voting for him in 2016. That despite the candidate’s life and methods being the antithesis of Christian values, Kennedy said.
“Mr. Trump uses every destructive rhetorical device known to humankind. He does that and he lies constantly, but people don’t care that he lies because he is their strong man, he’s the guy who is sticking it to the liberals,” he explained. “They really wanted someone who could kick butt and take names.”
To square their controversial candidate with their professed adherence to Scripture, evangelicals turned to the “two kingdoms” theory, advanced by Jeffress, that Christians can support a president’s policies without endorsing his personal character, Kennedy said.
That approach was on display in 2018 when Trump’s personal lawyer admitted that Stormy Daniels had been paid $130,000 two years earlier to remain quiet about an alleged affair with Trump.
“And let’s be clear, evangelicals still believe in the commandment ‘Thou shalt not have sex with a porn star,’” Jeffress told Fox News. “However, whether this president violated that commandment or not is totally irrelevant to our support of him.”
That is a classic two-kingdoms answer, Kennedy explained. “There is the kingdom of the church and Jesus and gospel, and there is the political kingdom. These are two completely separate realms and so in the political realm it is OK to be angry and vengeful and to do whatever it takes to get even.”
“In the political realm it is OK to be angry and vengeful and to do whatever it takes to get even.”
One of the things evangelicals most desperately want to get even about is the shaming they have felt for their opposition to abortion, women in ministry, same-sex marriage and immigration, Kennedy added. “The shamers are being shamed, and they don’t like it, and Donald Trump figured this out and he took their shame away. He has become their Christ, which is what makes him so evil because he is the opposite of Christ.”
One part of the solution Kennedy proposes is for progressive Christians to learn how to get across what he believes is their more positive messaging. That’s the subject of a future book he is writing.
“We have made the mistake of not telling our progressive story with enough confidence,” he said. “We are not convincing America there is another way to be Christian that has nothing to do with these evangelicals.”
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