As a left-leaning evangelical Christian, one of the most disheartening anecdotes of the election was the discovery that a whopping 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump. To most of them, Trump’s outrageous behavior on the campaign trail didn’t matter. All that mattered was that he made the right clucking noises about ending abortion and rolling back marriage equality.
Well, a pastor who is part of the 19 percent of white evangelicals who didn’t vote for Trump got a lovely reminder of why he didn’t do so this weekend. He took his 11-year-old daughter to Trump’s big rally in Melbourne, Florida over the weekend, hoping to give her a civics lesson. What both he and she got was an object lesson in just what Trump has unleashed in the last two years.
Joel Tooley pastors Melbourne First Church of the Nazarene. He didn’t vote for either Trump or Hillary Clinton, but when he heard Trump was coming to Melbourne for a rally, he decided to go. What he experienced was enough for him to write about it in a lengthy Facebook post on Saturday night.
Tooley thought it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the president come to his town, so he bought two tickets and convinced his 11-year-old daughter to come along. The first sign that something was about to go sideways was when “God Bless The USA” blared over the loudspeakers, and many people in the audience raised their hands. It made Tooley feel “completely uncomfortable.” Why? As he saw it, it sounded like everyone was there to “worship an ideology along with the man who was leading it.”
His unease only increased when a local pastor praised God for “making this the greatest nation on earth.” Tooley was appalled; he believed that any Christian–especially a pastor–would know that “the greatest nation on earth does not exist.” As far as he was concerned, that pastor was looking to “a different kind of ‘greatness’ and certainly a different kind of kingdom.” It didn’t get any better when Melania Trump led the crowd in the Lord’s Prayer; to him, it seemed “theatrical and manipulative,” with the crowd reciting it like “a pep squad cheer.”
When Trump launched into an attack on the media, Tooley thought he was hearing “the words of a bully.” He couldn’t believe that “the most powerful leader in the world” would act this way. He got the response he wanted; the crowd started yelling at the reporters on hand. Tooley was particularly appalled that this came on the heels of the Lord’s Prayer.
When two women near him started chanting, “T-R-U-M-P–that’s how you spell bigotry!”, two pro-Trump women near them started yelling in their faces, and one man near them grabbed one of the protesters by the arm. Without even thinking, Tooley yelled at the thugs to back off–even as the pro-Trump women started dropping F-bombs with “demonic anger.” To his mind, this was evidence that “demonic activity was palpable”–and it was coming from the Trump supporters. Tooley’s daughter couldn’t believe what she was seeing, and broke down sobbing.
Tooley didn’t back down; he firmly told the Trumpites that the protesters had every right to protest as long as they were doing so peacefully. Two others helped him protect the protesters. Another F-bomb-spewing Trump supporter barged in and threatened to beat one of the protesters up. That woman had an eight-year-old daughter on his back, and Tooley’s fatherly instinct kicked in as he comforted her. He told her that she had a “brave” mother, and promised to protect her from these “angry, awful people.”
By then, Tooley realized what he was seeing.
“I realized then that we were not listening to someone presidential, we were listening to someone terribly powerful.”
How powerful? Powerful enough to generate “thick anger and vengeance.” And powerful enough that he didn’t think Trump would have needed much effort to incite “some kind of riotous reaction” from the crowd. It got so bad that he felt he had to leave early.
Tooley was sad for his daughter. He knew she wouldn’t remember seeing the president in person, but only the “demonic vitriol” from Trump supporters. It convinced him that he can’t possibly support Trump, because he isn’t the one to whom his message is directed. It was people like “the angry, F-word-spewing man” who attacked the protesters.
Surprisingly, most of the reactions from Tooley’s Facebook friends have been positive. That’s refreshing, to say the least. However, he got a very telling reminder of what much of the sentiment still is in the evangelical world that when he called his mother to ask for prayer on Wednesday morning, she told him that she hoped no one thought he voted for Hillary. When basic decency makes you a liberal squish, something is very wrong.
Tooley dropped by CNN to talk more about his experience. Watch here.
Tooley thinks the nation is “very emotionally involved” in the events of the day. However, he believes his fellow evangelicals have to remember that they can’t let “our own desires for safety and security” get in the way of seeking justice. Sometimes, it means “doing things that are awkward.” He thinks that it’s time to “take a shift away from the anger.”
Hmmm, I have to wonder if the most famous living Nazarene in the nation, James Dobson, was listening. I hope that other Christians were listening as well.
(featured image courtesy Tooley’s Facebook)