What Explains These Conservative Christians’ Lack of Support for Donald Trump?

By Tom Gilson Published on November 5, 2016

The Stream has reviewed position statements from several top Christian leaders who have spoken out against Donald Trump, including one of our own weekly contributors. All agree that a Hillary Clinton presidency would be something on the order of a disaster, from a natural, earthly perspective, at any rate. Yet they also maintain that Trump isn’t worthy of Christians’ support. Their arguments fall into three general categories, in order of increasing significance:

  1. God is sovereign; if Hillary Clinton becomes president He can still act providentially to bring about good.
  2. Trump cannot be trusted to perform significantly better than Clinton, on issues Christians care about.
  3. Trump’s character is so manifestly un-Christian, Christianity’s witness in the world — a matter of even greater importance than presidents or Supreme Court justices — is undermined by any support Christians give him.

1. God is sovereign; if Hillary Clinton becomes president He can still act providentially to bring about good.

This theme is relatively infrequent among conservative anti-Trump writings, but it can be found in, for example, Alan Jacobs, who wrote,

If Hillary Clinton is elected, that will not foreclose the possibility of Christian revival in America. … Hillary is not mightier than Sauron, and American democracy is not quite that fragile, even if it is profoundly flawed, and the possibility of spiritual renewal is always at hand.

2. Trump cannot be trusted to perform significantly better than Clinton, on issues Christians care about.

There are several such issues, but the one most discussed has been Trump’s pro-life pledge, about which some are skeptical. Russell Moore notes, “He’s defended, up until very recent years, abortion, and speaks even now of the ‘good things’ done by Planned Parenthood.” Matthew J. Franck has expressed a similar opinion. As Kathryn Lopez reports at National Review:

While the Supreme Court could certainly be adduced as a reason to consider voting for Trump, [Franck is] skeptical — even likening this to “pink unicorn” territory. “When has Trump demonstrated a pattern of promise-keeping, or inspired confidence that he would fight on a ground that he has never been interested in capturing?”

3. Trump’s character is so manifestly un-Christian, Christianity’s witness in the world is undermined by any support we give him.

Among conservative Christians there is little disagreement: the Republican platform and Trump’s campaign promises, are orders of magnitude superior to those of Clinton and the Democrats. Many Christians are willing to “vote for the policy or platform, not for the person,” and can find it reasonable to support Trump in spite of his failings. Others, however, believe Christianity’s moral practice and our integrity before the world take precedence even over the presidency and the judiciary, so that it’s better to take the risk of Clinton being elected than to damage our witness by supporting Trump.

Others believe it’s better to take the risk of Clinton being elected than to damage our witness by supporting Trump.

This is a two-part argument, the first part of which is uncontroversial among believers: Trump’s track record is bad, bordering on evil. Writing for Christianity Today, Andy Crouch puts Trump’s moral failings in devastating biblical perspective:

[Colossians 3:5] is an incredibly apt summary of Trump’s life to date. … To indulge in sexual immorality is to make oneself and one’s desires an idol. That Trump has been, his whole adult life, an idolater of this sort, and a singularly unrepentant one, should have been clear to everyone.

Beth Moore told The Daily Beast,

I’m one among many women sexually abused, misused, stared down, heckled, talked naughty to. Like we liked it. We didn’t. We’re tired of it. … Try to absorb how acceptable the disesteem and objectifying of women has been when some Christian leaders don’t think it’s that big a deal.

Matthew Loftus adds:

Clinton may want to increase the supply for abortion, but Trump will increase demand. Donald Trump is the apotheosis of the sexual revolution’s worst male impulses. He has spent his entire life creating the culture that encourages abortions.

George Yancey writes,

Conservative Christians won a lot of short-term political victories that made [same-sex] marriages illegal at the state level. But once the modernist cultural beliefs about the nature of marriage took control in our society, it was inevitable that those laws were overturned. If conservative Christians exchange their ability to influence the culture for short-term political gain, then we will see similar results in other areas of our society.

Andy Crouch adds, “Enthusiasm for a candidate like Trump gives our neighbors ample reason to doubt that we believe Jesus is Lord.” To support Donald Trump is to mar the Church’s witness with respect to both temporal and eternal life — values that supersede even the importance of the White House and the Supreme Court.

Worse yet, as Crouch writes, it may even represent a turn away from God’s way of working in the world.

There is a point at which strategy becomes its own form of idolatry — an attempt to manipulate the levers of history in favor of the causes we support. … Strategy becomes idolatry when we betray our deepest values in pursuit of earthly influence. And because such strategy requires capitulating to idols and princes and denying the true God, it ultimately always fails.

The Crux of the Controversy

A uniquely right answer concerning Christians and Donald Trump is hardly obvious, if it exists at all. It turns first of all on unknowns:

We can rest in confidence that God rules, but we cannot abdicate the responsibility He has given us.

First, we don’t know what God might do to redeem His name and His cause in a country led either by Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. He has proved He can act through incompetent, bad, or even wicked leaders; but it’s not His habit to explain it all beforehand. We can rest in confidence that God rules, but we cannot abdicate the responsibility He has given us to seek to accomplish what is right and what is good — despite all that we do not know and cannot know.

Second, the answer depends upon the matter of Christianity’s witness before the world:

Is our witness a higher priority than, say, the appointment of pro-life justices? (If you think that’s an easy question you haven’t thought about it seriously enough.)

Does it damage our witness to express vocal support for Trump? Probably — but how much; and how much is too much?

To what extent is it possible to finesse our support, to support “the policies, not the person,” for example?

And what about voting for him privately without supporting him publicly? Surely the analysts will be able to discern something about Christians’ support for Trump through voting patterns.

These are tough questions. We all have to answer them for ourselves anyway. The one easy answer is that the controversy will undoubtedly continue well beyond November 8.

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  • Hmmm…

    A continual angst I experience about the talk of Trump bad behavior is that it is past. If he were in the midst of it in recent times, his very bright and strong wife would weigh in on it, and there would be other signs. The diligent efforts of the Clintonistas should now be very evident — they can easily arrange for 11 or more women to come forth. One of Trump’s worse current problems is his propensity to brag and swagger, even about things that do not exist, if they appear ego enhancing at the time. Really foolish and costly. His touting a relationship with Putin, like — oh yeah, I know him, have for some time. I could bring him around. After all, he’s kind of cool in some areas — He’s worldly minded, only recently coming under genuine Christian influence. When they start using the Putin bragging against him politically “ties to Putin,” “ties to Russia,” he’s in a corner where he would have to say — I exaggerated that completely (like liked) — and he won’t do that. He’s very immature and undeveloped in that area. Transformation is entirely possible with God. We pray that he will allow Godly influence in and participate in the things of God and grow thereby. He is teachable, affirms the good he finds, listens, etc. I think it is the same with women and girls. I think he was totally playing with that young man on the tape from 2011 and that he did not actually participate in that kind of behavior very likely. I definitely do not think he practices it in recent years, and definitely like now. He has close scrutiny 24/7. One has to examine matters for their weight and perspective. I believe he will be much absorbed in his duties as president, the many changes to be made and has a genuine heart and calling for constructive good.

  • Gary

    I voted for Trump because I want to prevent Hellary Clinton from being President. I have no hope that Trump will be a “good President”, or that he will make good decisions. I don’t believe anyone can solve America’s problems and keep the country from destruction. I do not believe that God is going to “send revival” on America. I believe that a few Americans will be saved before Jesus returns for His church. The vast majority will not believe. I believe a few Christians will live and believe as they should. Most won’t.

    Believing, as I do, that America is doomed and is being punished by God right now, a part of me hopes Clinton is elected. Having a liberal, murderous pervert as President when the country crashes would fit well with that situation.

  • Informed in Missouri

    Well, our witness to the world has been very bad for a very long time. Who elected Obama for two terms? In voting the second term, how many Christians voted for him? They knew what he had done with Christianity in the first term. Donald has asked people to pray with him. When did we ever, ever hear that from anyone before? He also prayed to receive Christ as Savior. He’s a new Christian. Are the people who are against him not accepting that? When someone becomes a Christian, do we allow Christ to change them, or do we want them to “act just like us”?
    God is doing a work in our country. You say: we don’t know what God might do to redeem His name and His cause in a country led either by Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Really? So, Hillary comes right out and says that abortion should be legal right up to birth. She fully supports Planned Parenthood and all of it’s practices. Planned Parenthood was created by Margaret Sangor to eliminate as many blacks as possible. Is that Godly? Does God work on His own, or does He work through people? Christians should think about what we’ll have if Clinton is elected. We already know what Bill did in the White House. We already know that they have both traveled to some island with a pedophile many times. To the abused women who are not for Trump, what do you think they’re doing when they go to that island? We already know that Hillary had no respect for the office of Secretary of State. We know that she showed no respect for our country when she set up a private server for those emails. She broke the law. We already know that millions, no probably billions of dollars are being spent to investigate the emails and the Clinton Foundation. The money they received for Haiti relief never went to Haiti and the people are still living in tents. These are things we know about the Clintons.

    Yes Donald has behaved and said things that he never should have said. I do not condone that. This is our chance to see if God can change a heart. Can he? When someone asks his fellow Christians to pray for him, should Christians scoff at that? I don’t think so. Be careful. Think of the times in the Bible when God used the most unlikely people for his purposes. God needs people to do his work in this world. We know this. He works through people. Maybe he tried to use other people who were “wonderful Christians”. Maybe they didn’t listen. At this time in our country’s history, we needed a very strong person to come on the scene. For some reason, out of a lot of good rebublican candidates, Donald won. People marveled and have been amazed at what has been accomplished in his campaign with very little money in comparison to the money Hillary has raised. Who has she raised it from? People who want to dominate this country. Do we see the difference in what has been accomplished? Are we listening spiritually? Are we wondering if God might be working to raise up the next leader? If people are thinking that God is going to work apart from people, we’re forgetting how God created us. We have authority on this earth. We either take it and work it, or we give it to evil people who will work it. When we talk about our witness to the world, we’ve already lost that a long time ago. That’s why we had better get on our faces and repent before God as the Bible says: if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. II Chron. 7:14. This is for Christians, and we should take it seriously.
    Are there any good points about Donald Trump? Well, he doesn’t drink or smoke or do drugs. He has raised a family to be proud of. He has a phenomenal company. He employs a lot of people. Do they complain about him? I haven’t heard it. He has said that he’ll get things built – like the wall that we so desperately need, and that it won’t be so expensive like everything costs us now. He has done a lot of kind things, way beyond anything I’ve heard about anyone else.
    What should we as Christians do? Pray for him. He’s our last chance. If we don’t have a President who wants to please God this time, we’re done as a country. We know that Hillary has even made statements about how we as Christians need to change our thinking to her liberal far left agenda. If she’s elected, you won’t have a choice. She’s going toward a dictatorship in everything she says.
    Christians, quiet yourselves before God. Forget your pride concerning your witness, because to the world we already look totally foolish. The things that have happened in this country in the last eight years are anything but any kind of Christian witness. Wake up before it’s too late.

    • cstump

      Of course the whole problem is my pride.

  • SophieA

    So let me get this straight: Christians who are okay with allowing the perverse and entirely corrupt (sexually, morally, ethically, financially, etc., etc.) return to the White House because they are afraid that a Trump presidency would disapparage our country’s Christian witness in the world? Really? For the sake of all the unborn citizens for which I fight for their right to life, I care not what the rest of the world thinks of us. We have a choice between life and death. Hey, Christians what does God say about choosing life?

    For a moment, let’s consider the past–our electoral past. In November of 2012, what if the Christians who sat at home on election day got up and did their civic duty and voted for Romney? What if this number of votes had been enough for a Romney presidency? For one thing Justice Scalia’s vacant seat would right now be inhabited by a constructionist justice. There is not time enough in all the world to list all the other positives. No. You didn’t vote for Romney the most squeaky clean candidate ever, I think, to have run for the office of president, at least in modern elections.

    Why didn’t Christians vote for the morally-upright Romney? Only those of you who abandoned your country and the lives of the yet born can answer that.

    This election, please, choose life. Vote for the Republican ticket. Let’s redeem our country while we yet can.

  • William Okc

    There comes a time after which debate is no longer productive. If these are indeed the three strongest reasons to be “NeverTrump” – and I have never heard any better ones – then we are not actually talking about reason here. Best to simply move on. If Trump wins, and I believe he will, “NeverTrump” will simply gradually become irrelevant. We, meanwhile, will be having a lot of fun making America great again, kind of like a big 4 to 8 year long Trump rally. Enthusiastic. Positive. Constructive. Imperfect. I.e.: Human. Not utopian. Latecomers always welcome! Just be honest, don’t try to sneak in as a saboteur. We’ve seen a lot of corruption revealed by Mr Trump this cycle, and we are getting wise to phonies.

  • “Does it damage our witness to express vocal support for Trump?” The only right answer to this question is: Who would ask such a ridiculous and irrelevant question! The premise is absurd. I’ve been a Christian for 38 years, both my wife and I graduated from seminary, attend church weekly and are involved in a variety of ways, and we will both proudly vote for Donald J. Trump. Those who think Trump is some kind of moral monster simply haven’t been paying attention.

    I didn’t know what to think of him a year and four months ago, other than like everyone else, his candidacy was a joke and he has no chance to get the nomination. I’ve watched everything very carefully that has developed over that time, and I see a genuinely decent, if deeply flawed man. I see a man who has a tremendous amount of common sense, and even wisdom. I see a man who despite three marriages has raised tremendous (Trumpian, I know) children who respect and love their father. I see a man with a wife who stands by her husband despite his past (which tells me it isn’t his present), and unlike Hillary Clinton, has no ulterior motives for doing so. I see a man who everyone that actually knows him says he’s a down to earth, kind fellow who seems to really care about people. And finally I see a man who is a fighter and who realistically has a chance to bring down once and for all the corrupt Clinton machine, and send a message to the establishment in both parties that pay to play and enriching themselves at the peoples’ expense is over!

    The only reason I have to not trust Trump is that he is a teetotaler; I never trust a man who doesn’t drink:)

    Elections have consequences, and we all know what those will be if Hillary wins (if she isn’t indicted, which she should be, and ends up in jail). Tim Kaine will be no better. NeverTrumper Christians need to get off their holier-than-thou cloud and do the right thing: vote for Donald J. Trump!

    • cstump

      Typical

  • Robert Halny

    1. God is sovereign; if Donald Trump becomes president He can still act providentially to bring about good.

    2. Clinton can be trusted to perform significantly worse than Trump, on issues Christians care about.

    3. American Christianity’s witness in the world has already been undermined twice by the support Christians gave to Barack Obama. This was best illustrated by Putin’s comments after The White House was flooded with rainbow colors on that disgraceful night when same sex “marriage” became a civil right in America.

    If you want to safe face when talking to people abroad, don’t mention you are a Christian. In fact, don’t mention you are an American. Those self-righteous Christian intellectuals are quick to point all the negatives in everything that presents itself before them. I don’t see them in Churches and Adoration Chapels recite their Rosaries. It is the simple folks in the empty pews at odd hours, who do the real job for the rest of us who are lazy opinionated hypocrites looking for every excuse not to pray. More praying and less intellectualizing. That’s what Our Blessed Mother said can save the world – not a constant, pointless, boring yapping that repeats itself with every presidential election in this country.

  • Charles Burge

    Point 3 is by far the most important one in my view. When the world looks at numerous Christians completely compromising their core principles for a political victory, they will likely conclude that Christians are no different than anyone else. That will do tremendous damage to our credibility and our testimony, and that’s a thought which grieves me more than 4 years of a Clinton presidency.

  • cstump

    I appreciate this honest analysis. It is far superior to the usual attacks we receive from the rabid Trump supporters. That being that we consider ourselves “too good” to vote for him. They try to make the issue not Trumps history, behavior or character, but rather our pride which is a stumbling block, no better than the Pharisees rejection of Jesus Christ. In fact they go so far as to suggest just because we find him unworthy of our vote for the Presidency that we would be unwilling to accept Trump into our churches or accept his conversion to Christ if we had anything to say about it. After all anyone who is repentant for a life lived in debauchery and now coming to Christ is suddenly Presidential material.

  • fullerhonda

    “They will hold to the outward form of our religion, but reject its real power.” 2 Timothy 3:5

    Jesus is its real power. Christ IS come. He, himself, teaches us. Don’t put anything, including the Bible, above him.

    As George Fox said, “Now the Seed, that is, Christ, is come. Now is he come within everyone (for the law served till the Seed came).

    “He is come who [has] finished transgression, and made an end of sin, and made reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, etc.

    “Now all Christians say they are believers, but are they entered into their rest, into Christ Jesus? If so then, there is no burden borne, no food or sticks to be gathered if they be entered into their rest who is our life, who is our rest, Christ Jesus, the Lord of the outward day.

    “He destroys the Devil and his works which burdens both man and beast, and so he takes away the burden from men and women in their hearts.”

    I don’t go by what the world says or thinks of me. I serve Jesus Christ alone. I’m voting for Mr. Trump. I trust Jesus will transform Mr. Trump if transformation is needed.

  • Billy Chickens

    Allowing Hillary to become POTUS because you’re too holy to vote for Trump is putting God to the test. Doesn’t God already have enough to do dealing with all the evil down here without getting more of it from Christians too holier than Trump to vote for him?

    Maybe if evangelicals let Hillary win, God will just have a melt down, throw up His hands and let America slide into the everlasting pit of the hell that hypocrite evangelical Christians will have made it.

    And when you die and stand before Almighty God in judgement and He asks why you let Hillary win and you answer, “Because we were so holy!” He will answer you back by saying that He wanted Christians to be holy but not stupid….because after all He gave us brains and a mind to think and Free Will to determine life. I mean, really, the reason He gave us Free Will is so that He wouldn’t have to do ALL the work down here, so letting evil rule our country and kill our children is mega uber putting God to the test.

    How do you know that it wasn’t God Who gave us our last chance by raising up Trump and Pence to help America? But holy silly evangelicals look the gift horse in the mouth and pronounce him not worthy. Well, OK then. I know who to blame when Hillary’s goon squad drag me off to be killed. And I don’t think I’ll be telling God, “Forgive them (the evangelicals) for they knew not what they did”, because you know full well what you are doing. You’re HELPING EVIL!

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