During this particularly awful political moment, I allow myself a sigh of relief when I read news articles about Evangelical leaders and institutions embracing the current president. Whatever Trump’s approval ratings may tell us, we have nothing qualitatively similar to Franklin Graham’s and Liberty University’s unabashed support of the president—or to the agonizing this has caused among politically dissenting Evangelicals of various kinds. Fortunately for me, the Latter-day Saints are better known for supplying a handful of prominent anti-Trump conservatives like Mitt Romney, Jeff Flake, and Evan McMullin, and I’ve been spared the spectacle of my church leaders putting their ministries and institutions at the service of the Trump presidency.
At the same time, it’s probably for the best that church leaders have not issued the same kind of condemnation of Trump as the Episcopal leaders of the National Cathedral have, no mater how tempting I find the idea. Trump is a gross person and a terrible president who is spreading evil in the world and making the USA a weaker and more divided country, and I would like nothing more than some Old Testament-style prophetic proclamation of divine wrath upon the head of state, like Nathan upon David or Samuel upon Saul.
But as tempting as that thought is, I fear the consequences. I have friends and family members who support Trump and identify strongly with him, and it is true that he has delivered measurable progress on some issues that they care about. (Guys, appointing a raft of conservative judges isn’t worth it, any more than gaining the world while losing your soul, but that’s a topic for another time.)
The American demographic most at risk of leaving the church — young men, and since we’re talking about church members, that’s mostly young white men — is also a demographic with considerable support for Trump, and a demographic at risk of drifting into toxic milieus and destructive activities if they are rejected by the institutions that help integrate them into society. While it is deeply satisfying to imagine the prophet laying down righteous wrath on Trump, the fallout, in my ward and my family, from kicking Trump supporters in the teeth could be immense. As much as I regret to say it, it’s fortunate that church leaders haven’t denounced the president.
So the church continues, keeping up traditional appearances and pushing back where it must. A choir performance here, a statement supporting humane treatment of immigrants there, a firm correction about the incompatibility of the gospel and white supremacy when necessary. It would be nice if this were over soon, but there’s no guarantee that it will ever change. Hands-off, arms-length neutrality seems dissatisfying until you consider the cost of writing off half your ward members and nearly half the people in your community.