I am appalled that so many evangelical Protestants support the Trump candidacy for president; it not only reveals a diseased democracy but, even more disturbingly, a compromised church that colludes with Caesar. Using a distinction from sociologist Michael Lindsay, “populist evangelicals” slobber over The Donald, whereas “cosmopolitan evangelicals” oppose him. May their reasonable and principled voices prevail among those in the pews.
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention:
There’s no religious test for office, and there shouldn’t be. My Baptist ancestors were willing to make alliances with the heretical Thomas Jefferson because he believed in religious liberty. It didn’t matter that they never would have let him teach Sunday school.
We should not demand to see the long-form certificate for Mr. Trump’s second birth. We should, though, ask about his personal character and fitness for office. His personal morality is clear, not because of tabloid exposés but because of his own boasts. His attitude toward women is that of a Bronze Age warlord. He tells us in one of his books that he revels in the fact that he gets to sleep with some of the “top women in the world.” He has divorced two wives (so far) for other women.
This should not be surprising to social conservatives in a culture shaped by pornographic understandings of the meaning of love and sex. What is surprising is that some self-identified evangelicals are telling pollsters they’re for Mr. Trump. Worse, some social conservative leaders are praising Mr. Trump for “telling it like it is.”
In the 1990s, some of these social conservatives argued that “If Bill Clinton’s wife can’t trust him, neither can we.” If character matters, character matters. Today’s evangelicals should ask, “Whatever happened to our commitment to ‘traditional family values’?”
Mr. Trump tells us “nothing beats the Bible,” and once said to an audience that he knows how Billy Graham feels. He says of evangelicals: “I love them. They love me.” And yet, he regularly ridicules evangelicals, with almost as much glee as he does Hispanics. This goes beyond his trivialization of communion with his recent comments about “my little cracker” as a way to ask forgiveness. In recent years, he has suggested that evangelical missionaries not be treated in the United States for Ebola, since they chose to go overseas in the first place.
Still, the problem is not just Mr. Trump’s personal lack of a moral compass. He is, after all, a casino and real estate mogul who has built his career off gambling, a moral vice and an economic swindle that oppresses the poorest and most desperate. When Mr. Trump’s casinos fail, he can simply file bankruptcy and move on. The lives and families destroyed by the casino industry cannot move on so easily.
He’s defended, up until very recent years, abortion, and speaks even now of the “good things” done by Planned Parenthood. In a time when racial tensions run high across the country, Mr. Trump incites division, with slurs against Hispanic immigrants and with protectionist jargon that preys on turning economic insecurity into ugly “us versus them” identity politics. When evangelicals should be leading the way on racial reconciliation, as the Bible tells us to, are we really ready to trade unity with our black and brown brothers and sisters for this angry politician?
Jesus taught his disciples to “count the cost” of following him. We should know, he said, where we’re going and what we’re leaving behind. We should also count the cost of following Donald Trump. To do so would mean that we’ve decided to join the other side of the culture war, that image and celebrity and money and power and social Darwinist “winning” trump the conservation of moral principles and a just society. We ought to listen, to get past the boisterous confidence and the television lights and the waving arms and hear just whose speech we’re applauding.
In 2009, the Manhattan Declaration, led by Chuck Colson and Robert P. George, reaffirmed the three primary goals of religious conservatives: to protect all human life, including that of the unborn; to reinforce the sanctity of marriage and the family; and to conserve the religious freedom of all persons. All three goals would be in jeopardy under a Trump presidency.
Yes, Trump says that he is pro-life now, despite having supported partial-birth abortion in the past. The problem is not whether he can check a box. Pro-life voters expect leaders to have a coherent vision of human dignity and to be able to defend against assaults on human life in the future — some of which may be unimaginable today and will present themselves only as new technologies develop.
Trump’s supposed pro-life conversion is rooted in Nietzschean, social-Darwinist terms. He knew a child who was to be aborted who grew up to be a “superstar.” Beyond that, Trump’s vitriolic — and often racist and sexist — language about immigrants, women, the disabled, and others ought to concern anyone who believes that all persons, not just the “winners” of the moment, are created in God’s image.
One also cannot help but look at the personal life of the billionaire. It is not just that he has abandoned one wife after another for a younger woman, or that he has boasted about having sex with some of the “top women of the world.” It’s that he says, after all that, that he has no need to seek forgiveness.
At the same time, Trump has made millions off a casino industry that, as social conservatives have rightly argued, not only exploits personal vice but destroys families.
One may say that Trump’s personal life and business dealings are irrelevant to his candidacy, but conservatives have argued for generations that virtue matters, in the citizenry and in the nation’s leaders. Can conservatives really believe that, if elected, Trump would care about protecting the family’s place in society when his own life is — unapologetically — what conservatives used to recognize as decadent?
Under withering assault in the Obama years, social conservatives have maintained, consistent with the beliefs of the Founders, that religious freedom is a natural right, not a matter of special pleading to be submitted to majority vote. Most Americans do not agree with the Little Sisters of the Poor on contraception, and the sisters do not have a powerful lobby in Washington. This shouldn’t matter. Trump’s willingness to ban Muslims, even temporarily, from entering the country simply because of their religious affiliation would make Jefferson spin in his grave.
Trump can win only in the sort of celebrity-focused mobocracy that Neil Postman warned us about years ago, in which sound moral judgments are displaced by a narcissistic pursuit of power combined with promises of “winning” for the masses. Social and religious conservatives have always seen this tendency as decadent and deviant. For them to view it any other way now would be for them to lose their soul.
Mark Galli, editor of Christianity Today:
Donald Trump sometimes acts like he’s a messiah—Ted Cruz calls it his “messiah complex.” But Trump is only a demagogue. This is not meant as a critique as much as a fact: A demagogue is “a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument.” Trump does in fact appeal to popular desires, some of which are prejudices, and he tends to scorn rational argument, even eschewing debates now.
But in large measure, Trump’s detractors are eschewing rational argument as well. Instead of presenting an argument why banning all Muslims is bad policy (why it doesn’t make demographic sense, why it will likely make terrorism worse, and so on), most just exclaim, “Unbelievable!” and “that’s Hitleresque.” Trump is rightly critiqued for fear mongering and demagoguery, but his detractors are sometimes his mirror image.
This sort of political discourse is starting to affect how evangelicals talk about Trump. A notable exception is Russell Moore. He has consistently presented a line of argument—and not just name calling. His major thesis is that Trump is immoral by Christian standards. This is a fact: from Trump’s owning of strip clubs to his bragging about sleeping around to his Nietzsche-esque notions of power. Moore believes that a leader’s moral behavior will affect his leadership, so he argues that no Christian should support a candidate like Trump. This will not convince all Christians, but at least it’s an argument grounded in the fact of Trump’s moral behavior.
Unfortunately there is little argument displayed by either side, only fearful allusions as to what will happen if Trump does or does not get elected. What’s more troubling is the talk of excommunication. After Falwell endorsed Trump yesterday, immediately some anti-Trump evangelicals started wondering if this signals a major breach in evangelicalism: “Now that Falwell Jr. and other self-described evangelicals have thrown in with Trump, I wonder if we are seeing the beginnings of another significant divergence.” This writer is only expressing in public what many evangelicals on both sides will be more and more tempted to say. “How can you be a Christian and support/critique Donald Trump?”
It brings to mind the political battles in the days of when the Relgious Right was in its ascendency. Then the bright line of Christian orthodoxy was whether you were a Democrat or a Republican, with some Christians actually wondering about the faith of those believers in the other party.
To state the obvious: The litmus test of an evangelical is not his or her stance on Donald Trump. The most decisive political act we perform is not our support for or against Trump or Cruz or Clinton or Sanders or whomever. Our most radical political act happens when we gather and worship together under the sign of the Cross—a sign of contradiction to a world that lusts for political power—bending the knee to the Lord who “brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of the world to nothing” (Is. 40:23, NIV) on the way to establishing a political order that knows no injustice.
And just as radical in this moment, we worship our King by linking arms with men and women of all political stripes and allegiances. Why? Because we’ve been told that the dividing walls of hostility have been torn down by Christ’s death (Eph. 3). Not just dividing walls between Jews and Greeks, men and women, slave and free, but also those between liberals and conservatives, elitists and populists.
Let’s not let a wannabe prince put asunder what Christ has joined together.
Max Lucado, pastor of Oak Hills Church in San Antonio and bestselling author:
I don’t know Mr. Trump. But I’ve been chagrined at his antics. He ridiculed a war hero. He made mockery of a reporter’s menstrual cycle. He made fun of a disabled reporter. He referred to the former first lady, Barbara Bush as “mommy,” and belittled Jeb Bush for bringing her on the campaign trail. He routinely calls people “stupid,” “loser,” and “dummy.” These were not off-line, backstage, overheard, not-to-be-repeated comments. They were publicly and intentionally tweeted, recorded, and presented.
Such insensitivities wouldn’t even be acceptable even for a middle school student body election. But for the Oval Office? And to do so while brandishing a Bible and boasting of his Christian faith? I’m bewildered, both by his behavior and the public’s support of it.
The stock explanation for his success is this: he has tapped into the anger of the American people. As one man said, “We are voting with our middle finger.” Sounds more like a comment for a gang-fight than a presidential election. Anger-fueled reactions have caused trouble ever since Cain was angry at Abel.
We can only hope, and pray, for a return to decency. Perhaps Mr. Trump will better manage his antics. (Worthy of a prayer, for sure.) Or, perhaps the American public will remember the key role of the president is to be the face of America. When he/she speaks, he/she speaks for us. Whether we agree or disagree with the policies of the president, do we not hope that they behave in a way that is consistent with the status of the office?
- Christianity Today: Michael Horton, The Theology of Donald Trump
- Southern Baptist Convention: Resolution on Moral Character of Public Officials
- Washington Post: Russell Moore, Why this election makes me hate the word ‘evangelical’
- New York Times: Peter Wehner, What Wouldn’t Jesus Do
- National Review: Robert P. George & George Weigel, An Appeal to Our Fellow Catholics
- National Review: Conservatives Against Trump
- Washington Post: George Will, If Trump wins the nomination, prepare for the end of the conservative party
- USA Today: Kirstin Powers, Donald Trump, Evangelical Scam Artist