Trumpite Evangelicalism or Bidenist Catholicism?

Published April 4, 2024

First Things

Cultural times are hard for traditional Christians. American evangelicalism has proved a fruitful target for those both outside and inside the church who want to stir up popular panic about Christian nationalism, racism, homophobia, and all the other ill-defined but nonetheless mortal sins of our day. Evangelicalism is presented as the root of all contemporary evils. Donald Trump’s recent hawking of a Bible bound together with America’s founding documents simply adds fuel to this fire. But in a week where it seemed that Trump’s would be the most blasphemous action of a leading politician, President Biden outdid him at the last minute, declaring that this year Easter Sunday would be an official day of trans visibility, and predictably characterizing any who disagreed with him as motivated by hate. 

As conservatives decried the declaration, so the president’s supporters pointed out that the trans day of visibility has been held on March 31 since 2009. Its coincidence with Easter this year is just that: a coincidence. But this scarcely exculpates the president. There was no need for a formal White House statement on the day. More importantly, the underlying theology of trans ideology that problematizes the human body and legitimates hormonal and genital mutilation assumes an anthropology at odds with Christian teaching, which requires respect for the human body and the distinction of male and female. So the president was still celebrating the desecration of the image of God, even as his opponent desecrated the word of God. 

The White House statement was very disturbing yet revealing in its rhetoric. Here is a representative passage:

But extremists are proposing hundreds of hateful laws that target and terrify transgender kids and their families—silencing teachers; banning books; and even threatening parents, doctors, and nurses with prison for helping parents get care for their children. These bills attack our most basic American values: the freedom to be yourself, the freedom to make your own health care decisions, and even the right to raise your own child. It is no surprise that the bullying and discrimination that transgender Americans face is worsening our Nation’s mental health crisis, leading half of transgender youth to consider suicide in the past year. At the same time, an epidemic of violence against transgender women and girls, especially women and girls of color, continues to take too many lives.

It is hard to know where to begin in addressing such a bombastic paragraph. Book bans? It is unlikely that the reference is to Ryan Anderson’s book When Harry Became Sally, being (quite literally) banned by Amazon. More likely it is a reference to parents concerned about what qualifies as age-appropriate literature for children’s sex education in schools. “Care for their children”? This is presumably a reference to the kind of transgender treatments for kids that many European countries now consider to be based on ideologies and supported by nothing more than cod science. “The right to raise your own child”? Again, this is probably not a criticism of the proposed (but thankfully failed) California law that radicals in the president’s own party wanted to implement that would have allowed for the removal of confused children from parental care. And he oddly forgot to mention the fear of women whose private spaces have been annihilated, of female prisoners who risk being housed with male rapists, and athletes whose opportunities have been stolen by men. I assume it would be deemed “hateful” to mention such minor matters. 

Given the extremity of the president’s rhetoric and the confident damning of any who might demur, it seems legitimate to ask (yet again) how much gender theory and gender “science” Joe Biden has read. One has to assume he is an expert, given that he feels comfortable dismissing anyone who dissents as motivated by hate and bigotry. If that is not the case, then it is worth noting here that it is not just Trump’s boorishness that damages democracy. It is the practice of dismissing anyone who disagrees with you as evil and hateful. That destroys the kind of forbearance and respectful discourse needed for democracy to function properly. On that score, there seems little difference between Biden and his opponent. In fact, the only difference is that Biden has the presidential seal by which he can add an official flourish to his moral disenfranchisement of great swathes of the American people as bigots and haters. The contempt for the electorate is breathtaking. 

Given all this, it is surely a time for Christians to remember St. Paul’s call to focus on heavenly things, for to put trust in either of these nihilistic “princes” will surely lead to nothing but bitterness and inevitable disappointment. For what do we have? A candidate for the presidency who treats Christians as nothing more than promising marks for his hucksterism and an incumbent who spits on all they hold sacred. Which is more threatening? Trumpite “evangelicalism” or Biden’s brand of “devout” Catholicism? A party whose leader confuses the biblical canon with the writings of Jefferson or a party that is legislating the very abolition of man and gloats about that in its election campaign? Whether anyone at the New York Times or The Atlantic will put the question that way remains to be seen; but it is nonetheless an accurate statement of where we are as a nation and a republic. And it will be a truly difficult one to answer with any great conviction when entering the voting booth.

Carl R. Trueman is a fellow in EPPC’s Evangelicals in Civic Life Program, where his work focuses on helping civic leaders and policy makers better understand the deep roots of our current cultural malaise. In addition to his scholarship on the intellectual foundations of expressive individualism and the sexual revolution, Trueman is also interested in the origins, rise, and current use of critical theory by progressives. He serves as a professor at Grove City College.

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