Evangelicals and Donald Trump

By Rob Schwarzwalder Published on April 9, 2018

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.”

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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?

Consequences Count

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.

Younger Evangelicals

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?

Priorities

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.

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  • Jim Walker

    Can we just move on to other news?
    I’ve had enough of this.

  • Chip Crawford

    This is a re-litigation of a same subject.

  • John

    And yet the subject matter needs addressed and to be healed. We have more elections ahead, and will face even harder decisions.

  • I agree with the other comments. Get over it. But I will say this, there is absolutely no comparison between Trump and Clinton in terms of character, and we proudly support Trump in our household even with qualifications.

  • Paul

    My main reaction to this article is my thanks that more people didn’t follow suit casting a throw away vote and usher in Hillary. We’re talking about politicians here, choosing between the lesser of two evils is the norm in our two party system. It is important to clearly see the fruit of a candidates life and how it reflects their character (both good and bad), and it is also important to consider their policy agendas (both good and bad).

    The whole concept of “ends don’t justify the means” is actually quite subjective in how it is applied. In this case Rob is saying the means of a sinful man winning an election doesn’t justify the ends of a better policy direction in govt for the next 4 years. But that really isn’t what the phrase is illustrating, rather it is speaking to the use of sinful choices to achieve good ends. Robbing a bank to fund the new church building would be a clear example. But how many righteous pastors would reject the financial contribution of an adulterer or liar whose finances were lawfully obtained? Did they compromise the ends of their ministry by accepting the means from a sinner? Where does this line get drawn?

  • Janet Johnson

    I think young Christians might not understand the pivotal nature of this election. I felt that four more years of liberal policies, judicial appointments, open borders, abortion on demand right up to the birth date, gun control, anti-Christian sentiment, LGBTQ activism, contempt for the Constitution, would have all joined together to make it nearly impossible for conservatives ever to be able to turn it around. We might never be able to win an election. There would have been little to stop us from descent into a second rate socialist nation. Not to mention that Hillary is not exactly a poster child for honesty and rectitude herself.

  • Nick Stuart

    What about “Evangelicals and Hillary Clinton?” If 4 of 5 Evangelicals voted for Trump, then 1 of 5 Evangelicals voted for Clinton (or a third party candidate). Clinton, the candidate who: supports abortion at any time, for any reason, paid for by the taxpayer; had extremely questionable “pay-for-play” transactions as Secretary of State (Uranium One); had committed acts that would have landed any regular citizen in prison (e.g. mishandling of classified information, compare to Kristian Saucier, the former U.S. Navy sailor who served a year behind bars for taking photos of classified areas in a nuclear submarine); demonstrated egregiously poor judgment (e.g. laughing about the overthrow and murder of Muammar Gaddafi, which by the way precipitated anarchy in Libya and a refugee crisis both of which are still with us) ; flat out lied to the American people (e.g. the riots at Benghazi were precipitated by a video); was nowhere to be found the night of the Benghazi attack (we still don’t have the timeline of where either she or President Obama were or what they were doing that night, probably never will). These are just items quickly picked off a very, very long list.

    What about Evangelical voters who voted third party or stayed home? A number of these folks stated explicitly that because they lived in deep blue states it didn’t matter so they’d sit the election out or vote third party. The result being that Minnesota narrowly stayed blue and Trump lost the popular vote giving rise to an unending screech by disappointed Liberals that he didn’t really win the election. McMullin voters and stay-at-homes own this component of our ongoing national divide.

    What about the highly malodorous sanctimony outgassed by a great many Evangelical Never-Trumpers? These folks have made it very clear that they were operating off a lofty set of principles far, far above those of the grubby Trump-voting pragmatists, that would never allow them to debase themselves by voting for Trump, even if that meant Clinton would win the election (notoriously, that was the stand World Magazine took when the Access Hollywood tape was released). I spent a couple of years on a Presbytery committee that dealt with pastoral misbehavior and in that time worked with cases of: embezzlement, adultery, homosexuality, falsification of credentials, suspected accessory to murder, and more. I have to wonder what would come to light if every minute of every day of some vocal Never-Trumper’s lives were exposed to the kind of scrutiny that Trump has received?

  • bill wichterman

    Well written. Careful, thoughtful, and balanced. Maintaining integrity of our witness is very difficult in this political moment.

  • Sapient

    The entire premise of your assertion rests on your supposed superior moral expression for a candidate. Balderdash! Had enough of our population breathed your rarified air and been so morally superior as to throw away a vote for that other guy, we’d be in a h*** of a spot right now! You would have lost the Supreme Court and this country would have been far less fertile for Christian expression of all sorts! Perhaps we should have recruited this guy named Jimmy Carter to run…I hear he was a Baptist Sunday school teacher…I bet that would work out well for us. And, your assertions about Mr. Trump having an ethnic bias…He wants to protect our borders, he wants to limit travel from terroristic states and you have the gall to assault him with allegations of ethnic bias? Just what we need…a Christian soaked in mainstream media political propaganda telling the rest of us how we should have voted for Aron McStuffin or whatever his name is…That would have given us exactly what they wanted—HILLARY!

    • guy

      It’s all about where we place our faith.

  • Independentthinker

    Pretty good summation of what has occurred , but very light on how to prepare for 2020 and engage in mid-term elections. In addition, the notion that the divide is between mature or seasoned Christians and the new/youth Christians is intentionally dishonest. It is as if he is saying, the discernment exhibited in those critical of Evangelical Trump supporters is due to spiritual immaturity or thin skin. Nothing could be further from the truth. The support from Evangelicals given a long history of we moral scrutiny in presidential politics is deafeningly inconsistent.

    My concern is that this almost repeated itself in the Roy Moore nomination and race in Alabama. It also, continues in the responses to ongoing behavior by the Administration. Shouldn’t Evangelicals be actively pursuing viable contenders for 2020 even as they pray for Trump? If not, the hypocrisy continues.

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