Franklin Graham commenced night four of the 2020 Republican National Convention with a prayer.
The continued exposition of Christian nationalist rhetoric in his prayerful prelude highlights the danger in placing a cross-shaped rubber stamp of approval from religious leaders on national party platforms and leaders.
Graham placed Trump’s White House leadership front and center, making Trump and Pence sound like idols worthy of our American praise.
The two were presented as messianic figures who have come to save the soul of America from the “anger and despair [that] have flowed into the streets,” rhetorically functioning as a masked nod of approval to Trump’s portrayal of Biden and Harris as “the radical left” or “the Socialist/Communist left.”
Graham prayed, “We thank you for the great bounty you have bestowed on this nation and the many blessings we have received the past four years. We are forever grateful. … I thank you tonight for our President Donald J. Trump. We pray that you would give him wisdom from on high, clarity of vision and strength as he leads this nation forward.”
That fourth night, though, will go down as one of the many dark days in American politics.
More concerned with self-preservation and self-image, President Trump again escalated his image as the monolithic figure to usher in “American greatness.”
Trump held his acceptance speech as the nominee to the Republican Party at the people’s house, the White House’s south lawn.
Large signs with his name plastered on them stood as a frame to the stage with himself, American flags and the White House in the center.
His performance pressed the rubber stamp of approval in the shape of the White House upon a Republican Party platform, which is a reaffirmation of the 2016 platform.
The 2020 RNC resolution promotes the “America First” agenda and unequivocally supports the president as its platform.
This blank check of approval is clearly more concerned about Trump than substantive policies.
An evening of American jingoism and Christian nationalistic rhetoric struck an ironic chord as off in the distance sounds of protests in the form of air horns, yelling and police sirens could be heard.
Trump told viewers, in explicit apocalyptic terms, “our opponents say that redemption for you can only come from giving power to them. This is a tired anthem spoken by every repressive movement throughout history. But in this country, we don’t look to career politicians for salvation. In America, we don’t turn to government to restore our souls; we put our faith in Almighty God.”
Yet, this is Trump’s America.
Trump is the supposed outsider who is not a career politician. With Christianity continuing to be a vital tool to Trump and his American exceptionalism talking points, the message this week to viewers has effectively been only Trump can save you.
This Christian nationalist assumption that to be American one must become Christian is not only antithetical to Christian thought but is emboldening further dangerous policy, reckless action and violence that exposes our systemic brokenness.
Christian theologies should not be tools of the state. They are practices of hospitality, peace and faith for communities of Christians to work out their life together striving toward Christ. The one who is both fully human and God embodied in life, ministry, death and resurrection.
Of course, we cannot act as if this is not political. Claiming to be people of resurrection means we participate in the “good trouble” of the gospel of Christ loving self, neighbor and God.
Resurrection demands we all live as if a different world were possible.
Trump is a symptom of this pandemic of emboldened 17-year-old vigilantes, pastors who bow down to Trumpism and a brand of Christianity that is more interested in American exceptionalism than the hard work of listening and working toward the flourishing of life together.
This is not just a spiritual platitude but a call to vulnerable relationships with one another fighting together for peace, justice and equity.
In this wilderness season, embroiled in pandemics of systemic inequality, racism and COVID-19, we must stand together and refuse Christian nationalism. Christianity is not America; America is not Christian.
Among the speeches, fireworks and musical pageantry, all we were missing was a benediction to sum up the night – one voiced in the white Christian nationalist name of the American flag, the Pledge of Allegiance and the Trumpian spirit.