Justin Brierley finds out why popular author and broadcaster Eric Metaxas is backing Donald Trump
Eric Metaxas is dressed down in a T-shirt on the day I meet him. The trademark round-rimmed spectacles are firmly in place, but he has forgone his usual outfit: a suit with a pocket handkerchief.
I am similarly attired, as New York, where Metaxas lives and works, is experiencing an unprecedented summer heatwave. The air-conditioned studio on Wall Street in downtown Manhattan – where he records his daily show, syndicated nationally across 300 Christian radio stations – provides welcome relief from the blistering heat outside.
THAT’S THE NATURE OF TRUTH. IT’S WILD AND ALL OVER THE PLACE
This radio role is fairly new. Until recently, Metaxas was primarily known as the witty and intellectual evangelical author of popular William Wilberforce and Dietrich Bonhoeffer biographies. His Socrates in the City events in New York and Oxford, during which he interviews Christian thinkers, have also reached many people.
Yet Metaxas’ interests lie beyond the purely highbrow. His past writing credits include children’s books and scripts for Christian cartoon series Veggie Tales. He also enjoys exploring the experiential dimension of faith alongside the intellectual. His conversion took place when he was 25 and was sparked by an extraordinary dream; a story he tells alongside many other supernatural accounts in his 2015 book, Miracles (Hodder & Stoughton).
Commencing his weekday radio show 18 months ago has given him a fresh outlet for his funny side. The guests he interviews are diverse, but the listeners keep coming back for Metaxas’ gregarious personality and engaging style.
The author’s profile reached a new peak in 2012 when he gave the opening address at the National Prayer Breakfast with President Obama seated next to him. Obama’s policies on abortion and religious liberty had long been anathema to many evangelicals, including Metaxas. That he was able to make Obama laugh while delivering pointed criticisms of the president’s administration is a testament to Metaxas’ rhetorical ability (whatever you make of his politics). He even made sure the POTUS left with a copy of his Bonhoeffer work in hand.
The title of Metaxas’ latest book, If You Can Keep It (Viking), is a reference to Benjamin Franklin’s response to a woman who asked him, as he left the Constitutional Convention in 1787, “Dr Franklin, what have you given us, a monarchy or a republic?” He answered, “A republic, madam, if you can keep it.”
Metaxas fervently believes that America is on the edge of losing that ability to govern itself unless it returns to the common values of freedom and liberty on which the republic was founded. He admits that the current
presidential race represents a “terrible choice”, but he has (along with a handful of other high-profile US evangelicals) chosen to publicly back Trump, believing Clinton will send America teetering over the edge of the precipice.
He acknowledges that it is a messy business and one for which he has drawn criticism, (Metaxas stridently criticised Trump during the nomination process) but, like so many of his evangelical contemporaries, Metaxas believes that loyalty to his country, and the Christian values it was founded upon, means that compromises have to be made for the greater good. Religion and politics are a combustible mixture in the US, and for Metaxas and his fellow countrymen, this year’s election is proving to be no exception.