If We Reject Trump, We May Be Inviting Persecution
When the election is Constantine vs. Diocletian, Christians don't get to stay home.
Should Christians get behind Donald Trump?
As I’ve demonstrated here, on every criterion of politics, it seems to me that electing Donald Trump is less dangerous to the preaching of the gospel, the safety of Christian institutions from colleges down to the family, and the lives of unborn children. We don’t have to believe the claim that he’s even a “baby Christian” to recognize that this is true. Winston Churchill wasn’t any kind of Christian, but he defended our institutions and our freedoms, and that was all we needed. It is all the church ever needs. Given our own failure to evangelize the culture, it may be more than we deserve.
But aren’t Christians all about asking God for exactly that — more than we deserve? If it sounds like I’m saying that the election of Donald Trump might be a moment of unmerited grace for the United States of America. … Yes, given the only live alternative, that is exactly what I mean.
I think that some Christian resistance to backing this candidate comes down to simple distaste — some of it justified. This is a man with multiple divorces, a flashy and hedonistic lifestyle, a penchant for juvenile insults — the list could go on and on. It can wear down the soul just to think about it, and that’s for a simple reason: It’s gossip. The sins of other people aren’t meant to be fodder for our spiritual reflection, though the devil tells us otherwise. The flaws that matter in a political leader are those that connect to his likely performance in office, compared to the real-world alternatives. When we say we prefer the hard-drinking, foul-mouthed, racist agnostic Winston Churchill, we mean compared to Adolf Hitler. It’s nonsense to line up every leader next to Jesus or even our ideal politician. I promise you, they will all fall far short.
Besides, there’s a long history of Christians humbly setting aside their craving for a fully admirable leader, in recognition of a stark reality: In a fallen world, we are subject to violence. Those we are called to protect, from our own children to those in the wombs of desperate strangers, demand that we find a way to defend them. If we look at the sword which God has left in our path, and sniff that it isn’t shiny enough or might be caked with mud, and leave the innocents to suffer — make no mistake, we will answer for it.
Do Not Put God to the Test
The early Church is a good guide for this. For centuries, Christians had suffered hideously — being hunted like animals by the Roman secret police, then rounded up and killed in gruesome ways in the Colosseum as public entertainment. Many thousands were skinned alive, hanged, burned, or torn apart by animals, to the cheers and jeers of the crowd. Many more renounced their faith to save their lives, then eked out stolen decades haunted by guilt — to face an uncertain fate on the day of judgment. We might like to pretend that we would act like heroes or martyrs, but most people don’t. It’s our job to avoid and help others avoid occasions of sin, such as this one. Jesus himself warned us not to put the Lord our God to the test.
As Philip Jenkins documented in his powerful, tragic The Lost History of Christianity, by the year 1000 the majority of Christians on earth lived in the Middle East and Asia. Yet within 200 years those churches had virtually disappeared, ground down by persecution. All that’s left of most of them are a few scattered ruins in deserts, and scraps of bibles found in the lavatories of mosques.
It can happen here. Hillary Clinton and the worldview she represents have promised to make it happen here. What else can you make of her speech to the United Nations, where she said that for women to enjoy their fundamental rights, guaranteed by the government, Christian beliefs on abortion would have to change?
Is that any different from Diocletian decreeing that we must worship the emperor? Obama’s number two lawyer already told the Supreme Court that churches which don’t perform same-sex marriages will have to face crippling taxes. We can’t say we haven’t been warned.
When the pagan warlord Constantine came to power in 312, he rallied support from Christians by revoking their persecution. For the first time in hundreds of years, the church could operate in the open. Constantine himself remained religiously ambiguous, only accepting baptism on his deathbed — once he’d already committed the many sins he thought he would need to, to keep his throne. He saw one of his sons, Crispus, as a political rival and had him cruelly executed. He did not move to create an ideal Christian society; slavery remained perfectly legal. So did the exposure of unwanted infants. Constantine let passersby who rescued such infants claim them and sell them as slaves. The poor were taxed cruelly, and the sons of army veterans were forcibly conscripted as soldiers themselves.
Perfectionist Christians, who demanded the kingdom of heaven on earth, or felt a profound distaste for this ruthless autocrat, might have held themselves aloof and refused to work with Constantine — as one sect, the Donatists did. They scorned the prayers of “imperfect” Christians, and removed themselves to live in “pure” communities. But the vast majority of Christians, including the hundreds of bishops who had remained faithful under persecution, looked instead to Constantine with gratitude as a gift from a loving God. The early Christian poet Lactantius wrote this hymn of praise:
We should now give thanks to the Lord, Who has gathered together the flock that was devastated by ravening wolves, Who has exterminated the wild beasts which drove it from the pasture. Where is now the swarming multitude of our enemies, where the hangmen of Diocletian and Maximian? God has swept them from the earth; let us therefore celebrate His triumph with joy; let us observe the victory of the Lord with songs of praise, and honor Him with prayer day and night. …
Constantine’s Council Gave Us the Creed
The bishops were more than grateful. They were downright cooperative, allowing Constantine to summon a church council to resolve controversies over the divinity of Christ. He paid for the bishops’ travel and gave the keynote speech at the council’s opening — then used the force of law to enact its decisions. It was this council, held in Nicaea, that gave us the formula still recited by well over a billion Christians: the Nicene Creed.
Since the church is the means of salvation, its first duty, after faithfulness, is self-preservation. I cannot think of a less loving or less Christian thing to do than to willfully raise the risk of a persecution that might lead souls to hell. If we do that out of distaste, to keep our hands “clean,” or to keep up the federal funding for our favorite government program, we are failing as Christians. I for one don’t wish to hear on the Last Day these words: “I was persecuted, since you did not protect me.”
Follow John on Twitter
John Zmirak is a Senior Editor at The Stream and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Catholicism.