Evangelicals and Donald Trump
Of commentary on Donald Trump, there is no end.
This is true in general, but among Evangelicals it carries a particular bite.
President Trump’s Behavior
The President’s moral behavior has been, for decades, distressing. He has boasted about his many affairs and used crude language to describe women. He has gone bankrupt four times, failing to pay too many contractors to count. His materialism and arrogance are infamous.
His conduct in the campaign? Rage against anyone who represented a threat. Humiliate his competitors. Make fun of others’ appearance and disabilities. Ethnic bias.
From associations with organized crime to his foul mouth, Mr. Trump has personified what the apostle John warned against: “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life.”
It is for these reasons that I voted for Evan McMullen in 2016. Voting for Hillary Clinton was never an option.
I knew that a vote for McMullen might help propel Mrs. Clinton into the White House. But I also knew that throughout their lives, I have been teaching my children that ends do not justify means and that character and conduct are indivisible.
With other conservatives, I was outraged by Bill Clinton’s immorality, lying, and sordid behavior as President. (As one example: remember Mark Rich?)
How, then, could I vote for someone who mirrored Mr. Clinton in character if not political agenda?
Many people I love and respect disagreed. For them, the prospect of another Clinton presidency was too baleful to contemplate. This was especially true given the high stakes, among them Supreme Court appointments who would calcify abortion-on-demand as a matter of national policy and diminish religious liberty in the name of others’ “rights.”
They drew a line between Trump’s past and his supposed present, asserting he was a “baby Christian” or that his past was no longer relevant.
I understand. Consequences count, and those of a Clinton victory would have been catastrophic. I don’t condemn anyone who made this decision.
However, untold numbers of younger Evangelicals do. They are not only disappointed but outraged. How could four-fifths of Evangelical voters have decided for a man of such low character? How could they have rationalized away his history of unethical dealings, objectifying women, and locker room-style attacks on anyone in his way?
This is a serious problem within the American Evangelical community. It is not going away quickly. Young people have a native moral indignation, one easily moved by false prophets masquerading as defenders of justice. They have a limited frame of reference, and thus are more readily offended by what to older people is offensive but not that startling. Frequently, they show a lack of grace; their contempt has not yet been tempered by a recognition of their own hypocrisies.
They are also rightly disappointed by the failure of conservative Christian leaders to be as publicly critical of President Trump as they were of Presidents Obama and Clinton. To the contrary, the President’s Evangelical defenders sometimes have been as fierce as he is, minimizing his outrageous comments or actions or, more often, remaining silent about them.
Why? Why do they express praise for those of his policies they like but not criticism of his crude language, slashing personal attacks, and racial insensitivity?
One reason is that most Evangelicals like what the President is doing. From federal court appointment and tax reform to rebuilding our national defense and supporting religious liberty, he is doing many of the things he promised in the campaign — things Evangelicals consider high priorities.
For another, they know that this volatile man cuts-off people who attack him. They deem their access to him too valuable to lose.
Human nature being what it is, some of them no doubt want that access as an end in itself. Being greeted in the Oval Office by the welcoming smile of the President is, for them, all that really matters.
But most of those leaders who talk with President Trump do so either to encourage him to pursue policies they believe good for the nation or, when in private, encourage him in his spiritual life and also challenge him to behave with greater self-restraint.
Some no doubt worry if they express public dissatisfaction with Mr. Trump’s crude remarks or boastful silliness, their influence on him, personal and political, will decline, if not end. So, they hold their tongues even as their faces are slapped, repeatedly, by those calling on them to speak out.
They are, to put it mildly, over a barrel: Express their genuine repulsion and see the President gravitate away from Evangelical social concerns, or stay quiet, at least publicly, and keep accruing the scorn of many serious believers, including a large swath of those under 40.
How to Move Forward
I have no neat solution to this dilemma. But here are a few thoughts about how, as followers of Jesus, Evangelicals can move forward together.
- Pray. Pray for the President. Pray for the Christian leaders counseling him about political and personal matters. Pray for God’s mercy on our country.
- To those distressed almost to the point of incoherence by Mr. Trump and Christians who back him: Be less vituperative in your attacks on the President and those brothers and sisters in Christ around him. Do what Paul says: Be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:13).
- Provide firm but calm-voiced and gracious criticism when and where it is needed. This can be done with friends and pastors as well as letters to the editor or signing petitions.
Bold and Courageous
Some prominent Christian writers and thinkers seem to believe righteous indignation and almost hysterical outrage are identical. They are not. As to the former, God incarnate, the Lord Jesus Christ, had every right to whip money-changers out of the Temple. But we never read in the New Testament of any of the apostles wrapping cords around their wrists and doing the same.
Instead, Christians are called to be bold and courageous, speaking with prophetic firmness about issues of sin when such speech is called for. But we are also to be full of grace and mercy. We should call sin what it is, without neglecting to offer the hope of redemption along with it.
- Recognize that Donald Trump is president of the United States. Not should be. Not shouldn’t be. Is. Scripture teaches us he merits respect and supplication. Period.
- Communicate privately with leaders who have let you down. Letters and emails work. And sometimes requests for personal conversations can get you through to people you might think are too elevated to talk with you.
- The body of Christ is multi-generational. And those generations need to talk with one another, listening well and sharing concerns in a spirit of humility and affection. Broken fellowship should occur only when there is unrepentant sin in doctrine or practice. Any other kind is merely pride by another name.
And, as ever, Christians should place their faith not in the princes of men but the Prince of Life. He alone never fails, never disappoints, and will triumph completely and eternally when the politics of this world shall be no more.