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Trump’s mistaken tweet reveals troubling tribalism

February 2020

For a few hours on the evening of 20 December this newspaper was caught in a bit of a storm because the US President Donald Trump had mistakenly tweeted ‘I won’t be reading ET again’ when he meant to say ‘CT’. As a result, ET staff had to deal with an angry online backlash from Trump-supporting evangelicals who thought our publication had called for him to be removed from office.

Without wading into the murky waters of whether his impeachment is right or wrong, the reaction of people calling themselves ‘evangelical’ is troubling. There is a tribalism that surrounds President Tump which makes it almost impossible to have any rational debate once his name has been mentioned. His name attracts blind hatred on one side and unquestioning praise on the other. Worryingly, this tribalism appears to have reached into segments of the evangelical community.

Here’s a perfect example. In June an evangelical pastor in the Washington DC metropolitan area was informed, with hardly any notice, that President Trump was going to be attending his Sunday service. The pastor decided to pray for the President during the service, taking up the words of 1 Timothy 2, that prayers be made for people in high positions that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.

The pastor then discovered that some people in his congregation were offended because he had prayed for Donald Trump. He wrote a letter to his congregation, saying that some people had ‘valid reasons’ to be hurt. This in turn caused a backlash from Trump supporters who regarded his letter as an unnecessary apology. The pastor was caught between these two warring tribes.

This newspaper had a small taste of that when President Trump sent out his mistaken tweet. Surely people calling themselves evangelicals should be able to rise above the partisan politics which generates so much heat and hatred. There is much about President Trump that appals us, but there are some policies which may be welcomed. A rational debate about these matters is good and healthy, but political tribalism is not. Especially among the people of God.