What Explains These Conservative Christians’ Lack of Support for Donald Trump?
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:
- God is sovereign; if Hillary Clinton becomes president He can still act providentially to bring about good.
- Trump cannot be trusted to perform significantly better than Clinton, on issues Christians care about.
- 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.