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Should Christians support Trump?

Posted January 9, 2020 by Mark Anderson Leave a comment

Last month Mark Galli wrote a pointed editorial in the popular evangelical magazine Christianity Today calling for President Trump’s removal from office. Galli said the evidence points unambiguously to the president’s having abused his power for his own political gain. He argued that this not only was immoral, but also calls for Trump’s ouster.[1]

Galli’s editorial caught many by surprise, especially those in the president’s camp. Some evangelicals were infuriated by it. Which is understandable, given that they’ve called Trump “the chosen one,” the one God has appointed to accomplish his purposes in America.[2] Some dismissed it as “a purely partisan attack,” while others derided the magazine, Trump-like.[3]

But evangelicals aren’t the only Christians supporting the president with near total abandon. Some conservative Catholics exhibit the same level of devotion, Attorney General Bill Barr being a case in point.

Yet since well before his election, everyone has known that Trump is morally untethered[4]—evangelical Vice President Pence’s opposite no less in morals than in personality and style. How then can we understand the strange marriage of political convenience between Trump and his Christian supporters? This article answers that question and surveys the options before America’s Christians and where they lead.

Why do America’s Christians support Trump?

Many evangelical leaders—Franklin Graham and Eric Metaxas, among them—urge their followers to support the president. They also harshly criticize any evangelicals who don’t support him.[5] In one sense, the reason they do so is very simple.

Supporting Trump is an all-or-nothing proposition.

Trump’s intolerance of dissent, his pressure tactics and the fervor of his rallies reinforce that message. Such black-and-white thinking leaves little leeway to question, let alone criticize, his behavior.

Trump’s Christian supporters have given various reasons for backing him. For example:

  • To ensure that conservatives control the Supreme Court
  • To end state-sponsored abortion and overturn Roe vs. Wade[6]
  • To stem the flood of illegal immigrants
  • To reduce the number of Muslim immigrants
  • To support the State of Israel practically, almost unconditionally

But all their other reasons point to one overarching reason: the need to restore religious liberty, as they understand it, to America.

Without that, American democracy won’t be restored to greatness again,[7] which explains their buy-in to Trump’s amorphous “Make America Great Again.”

This restoration of religious freedom is imperative since, as Barr warns, “militant secularists” have mounted a sustained “campaign to destroy the traditional moral order.”[8] Many Christians agree. Trump has thus tapped into their angst over losing control of the political arena.

Viewing their political foes as an existential threat galvanizes them to ignore Trump’s offenses and take any action necessary to cover for him.

They thus close ranks in loyalty to him, viewing this as a necessary trade-off for his continuing to support their agenda.

What undergirds such loyalty?

Christians like Franklin Graham believe the biggest threat facing America is departing from its “foundation based on God and His Word.”[9] For Graham, faith in God and support for the Republican agenda have somehow melded into one. This enables him to use the language of faith that evangelicals know and trust to marshal ardent support for Trump.[10] They’re convinced that, by defending Trump—however precariously—they’re defending the faith.

Such Christians effectively operate under the following assumptions:

  • We gain salvation (read, entrance to heaven) by grace alone, which devalues moral character in their thinking.
  • The traditional moral order they seek to restore justifies the means.
  • In rejecting that order, their political foes have joined forces with evil and should be treated with hostility and disdain.
  • Anyone supporting Israel’s prosperity and expansion does God’s will.
  • An immoral president who supports their values is better by far than a moral one who opposes them.

But biblically, the end doesn’t justify the means. And the Gospel isn’t about God giving out tickets to heaven. It’s his way of making us the kind of people who belong in heaven because we share his character.

Yes, we’re saved by grace alone, but the Bible says no one will enter God’s presence who doesn’t belong there. For example, Revelation 22:15 specifically warns that all who embrace duplicity will be shut out of heaven. Yes, God can use immoral people to accomplish his purposes. But he cares more about his people’s moral character—specifically, their mercy, justice and humility[11]—than about whether they win or lose today’s policy tug-of-war.

Upheld by our faith in God, these moral qualities enable us to take a win-win approach with anyone committed to the common good. They allow us to collaborate with and learn from even our political opposites. All of which requires us to be both as shrewd as snakes and as harmless as doves. Both/and, not either/or.

Trump’s evangelical supporters are right to see that American democracy has reached an impasse, riven down the middle. But for Christians to force their plan on secularists is no more a solution than for secularists to force their plan on us. Militant conservatism is itself half of the problem. So it just won’t do to persist in pugnacity now that Trump has clearly violated the Constitution.[12]

What choices do we have now?

This leaves America’s Christians with two options:

  • They can repent—i.e., change course—and return to the path of discipleship.
  • They can continue down the path they’re on.

But to continue to support Trump now that we know he abused his power for his own political gain is to commit the sin of self-sufficiency.

This involves making ethical compromises to achieve goals we won’t otherwise achieve, being willing to break or bend the rules and twist or hide the truth “as necessary.” But it’s necessary only because we’ve made America’s “moral recovery” non-negotiable—which is to say, an idol.

I can easily relate, having fallen prey to this sin in other situations. Jesus warned strongly against it, calling it “the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.”[13]

How can so many Christians be so at home with this sin? Because they don’t see it since it so easily coexists with the externals of their faith. They can pray and talk about trusting God—even for America’s restoration—while their behavior tells a very different story. They may be people of real integrity in other respects and not realize they’ve allowed self-sufficiency to infiltrate their lives and churches here. They may also mistakenly think seeing God’s power at work in other respects proves they’re in fellowship with him, when it does no such thing.[14] Also, having invested their all in Trump, they fear they’d lose all if they backed down now—a momentary loss of control could cost them the entire game.

Where will these choices take us?

Holding to the path of self-sufficiency, America’s Christians may yet enable Trump to win another term in office. But even if it does, we won’t escape the reckoning awaiting us all.

Winning the cultural war isn’t worth it if you have to become a monster to do so.

And the belligerence and duplicity of their approach

  • Only heightens the clash between secularism and traditional values
  • Will force them to rely ever more on their own failing resources
  • May ultimately lead to the total breakdown of law and order

As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”

Self-sufficiency breeds insecurity, which alters the way we see things. It also locks us into a constant state of fear and distrust of neighbors—whether secular, Muslim or whatever else—and into the protective behaviors that go with distrust. Two of those behaviors, both losing propositions, are assuming the worst about others and demanding too much of them.

By contrast, trusting God with the outcome of our endeavors frees us from such debilitating behaviors.

While only God knows how things will play out if America’s Christians return to true discipleship, we can be sure that

  • Any real solution to America’s current impasse will require everyone’s input at the table and lots of careful listening
  • Walking with Jesus through the storm ahead won’t be easy
  • However hard, Christ’s yoke invariably proves easier—his burden lighter—than any alternative
  • He can enable America’s Christians to find the compromises needed for us to live at peace with our neighbors[15]

The fact is, God doesn’t call any of us to engineer our nation’s political salvation, however much we may want it.

He continually throws us into situations where our own understanding and abilities fall far short of what’s needed—just where we find ourselves now. Here, as elsewhere, he asks us to

  • Rely on his wisdom to show us where and how to walk
  • Act in character with him no matter how costly it proves
  • Trust him to redeem us and our world

We may feel that honoring the Constitution on which America’s democratic hopes stand or fall by impeaching Donald Trump would be tantamount to giving up on America. But on the contrary, putting our hope in Christ—instead of in Trump and our own self-sufficiency—gives us our best shot at making America truly great again. Though Christ guaranteed us trouble if we follow him, he really has overcome the world and will not abandon us if we trust in him.

Secularism hasn’t proven the answer most of its proponents thought it would be. Increasingly, secularists are seeing that now.[16] In any case, the solution to our current impasse won’t be solved by militant conservatives shouting down militant liberals or vice-versa.

We need a very particular kind of faith and moral character to move forward with what may well prove the greatest challenge to face America yet. Truly understood, biblical Christianity offers both.

—————————-

[1] https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2019/december-web-only/trump-should-be-removed-from-office.html   Accessed January 4, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/19/us/christianity-today-trump.html   Accessed January 4, 2020.

Galli’s view is that held by over 750 law professors from leading law schools across the country. For Republicans to stonewall and deny the obvious to the bitter end is to betray the wholly partisan nature of their approach.  https://abovethelaw.com/2019/12/hundreds-of-law-school-professors-say-trumps-conduct-is-not-just-impeachable-but-clearly-impeachable/   Accessed January 11, 2020.

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/nov/25/rick-perry-donald-trump-chosen-one   Accessed January 4, 2020.

[3] https://www.newsweek.com/billy-grahams-son-says-its-unfathomable-christianity-today-would-side-democrats-totally-1478463   Accessed January 4, 2020; https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/02/us/christianity-today-mark-galli-evangelicals.html   Accessed January 4, 2020.

[4] While Trump may not be guilty of every accusation of sexual impropriety against him, the evidence of his affair with Stormy Daniels is indisputable. As well, his lying is legendary. According to the Washington Post, he lied an average of 15 times a day during 2018.  https://www.wsj.com/articles/donald-trump-played-central-role-in-hush-payoffs-to-stormy-daniels-and-karen-mcdougal-1541786601   Accessed January 7, 2020.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2018/12/30/year-unprecedented-deception-trump-averaged-false-claims-day/   Accessed January 7, 2020.   https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/list-trumps-accusers-allegations-sexual-misconduct/story?id=51956410   Accessed January 7, 2020.

[5] https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/franklin-graham-claims-demonic-power-behind-attacks-on-trump   Accessed January 4, 2020.

[6] Roe vs. Wade is the ruling that legalized abortion in America. https://www.wsj.com/articles/should-christians-vote-for-trump-1476294992   Accessed January 4, 2020.

[7] As they see it, this means restoring it to what it originally was—that is, a nation that supports “biblical values,” typically viewed through an ultraconservative lens. https://www.dailysignal.com/2019/10/18/eric-metaxas-on-faith-and-supporting-donald-trump/   Accessed January 4, 2020.

[8] https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/oct/19/william-barr-attorney-general-catholic-conservative-speech   Accessed January 4, 2020.

[9] https://www.cnsnews.com/blog/michael-w-chapman/rev-graham-biggest-threat-us-we-turn-our-back-god   Accessed January 9, 2020.

[10] Warren Larson, personal email, 2020. Even worse, this religio-political agenda is often viewed through the lens of a “deep state” conspiracy theory.

[11] Micah 6:8.

[12] https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/more-than-500-law-professors-say-trump-committed-impeachable-conduct/2019/12/06/35259c16-183a-11ea-a659-7d69641c6ff7_story.html   Accessed January 4, 2020.

[13] Mark 8:14-21. According to Darrell Johnson, the Pharisees and Herod, who were polar opposites, had just one thing in common: their self-sufficiency—that and demanding that Jesus perform a miracle for them on cue. Darrell Johnson, “Remember,” Sermon, First Baptist Church, Vancouver, BC, January 5, 2020.

[14] Here we must heed Jesus’ warning that many who perform miracles in his name will be shut out of God’s kingdom (Matthew 7:21-23). Seeing prayers answered, people converted or even miracles performed doesn’t guarantee that we’re in right relation to Jesus and becoming more like him. (Mt. 25:31-46).

[15] We must let go of the idea that we can’t compromise with “the enemy.” Indeed, we can and must compromise with secularists—unless we don’t want to move beyond our current impasse. If we compromise in the right way, we’ll win our secular counterparts’ respect, which is essential to any future state-building with them.

[16] https://www.penncapital-star.com/commentary/this-is-the-notre-dame-speech-that-bill-barr-should-have-given-and-didnt-bruce-ledewitz/   Accessed January 4, 2020.

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