Evangelicals’ emotional vulnerability to Trump: the sacrament of affectivity

Reading Richard Beck’s recent three-part essay “The Sacrament of Affectivity,” I suddenly understood how Donald Trump exercises such a perverse power over politically right-wing evangelical Christians.  I say “perverse,” because both his personal behavior and his slash-and-burn politics are so antithetical to true Christian faith and practice.

Beck explains how, during the Reformation of the 16th century, “low-church Protestants” moved away from encountering the presence of God’s grace materially (objectively) in sacraments like the Eucharist (Lord’s Supper).  Instead, then and now, they look for affirmations of that grace subjectively via faith.  Such people become aware of grace through their feelings (affectively).

This presents a challenge for preachers and worshippers.

In evangelical spaces, by contrast, where grace is mediated affectively, the preacher has to make you “feel it,” has to emotionally move you…. You go to church, therefore, not to meet something but to feel something. And it’s the preacher’s job to make you feel it.

Consequently, the sacrament of affectivity drives demand…for charismatic communicators, speakers who make you “feel something”…. The goal is to be emotionally moved. That is how you know you’ve encountered God in worship, through your feelings. (Part 2, You Gotta Feel It)

“Trump rally crowd,” U.S. Bank Arena, Cincinnati, OH, by Hayden Schiff on Flickr (10/13/2016) [CC BY 2.0 – Attribution 2.0 Generic].

This is just the charismatic power that Trump uses instinctively.

We may be horrified by his person and his self-serving agenda (and by those who use him cynically as their carnival barker).  But for Evangelicals who are already in the grip of resentful right-wing ideologies, Trump’s preaching makes them feel…something.

It’s the shared feeling of “persecuted righteousness” that Trump stirs up in his crowds so masterfully.  That’s what seduces people who might otherwise suspect or doubt or even be repelled by him.  That is what they want in order to feel justified, included, safe.

And he gives it to them.


Image Source

Trump rally crowd,” U.S. Bank Arena, Cincinnati, OH, by Hayden Schiff on Flickr (10/13/2016) [CC BY 2.0 – Attribution 2.0 Generic].

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