I’ve decided to lay out the foundations of my claim that Donald Trump should never have been unquestioningly supported by Christian believers in the American Church, and how that support has damaged the veracity and witness of the Church in the eyes of the world, perhaps for many years to come. I did not draw these conclusions with flippancy or haughtiness, but I read, listened and wrestled with various viewpoints and information about this issue for nearly two years. While I could have written an even longer discussion on the unacceptability of the Church’s supporting Hillary Clinton in 2016, for the most part I know Christians did not do so, which makes that argument unnecessary. Suffice it to say that many of the cautions and points I raise about Mr. Trump could also be applied to Mrs. Clinton. My goal in writing is to show the workings of my thought process and the conclusions I reached, both for my own sake as a kind of record, and in an effort to teach my children the necessity of a faith that asks pertinent questions and searches for answers without fear and, once those answers are discovered, applies them to real life, “knowing” them in the biblical sense of the word, letting the chips fall where they may.
I have always felt more concern for, and had more interest in, what is happening in the life of the Church than with the United States at large. I am not a nationalist. I’m not even very patriotic. I don’t pledge allegiance to a flag, and I don’t have an “America First” mentality. “Our citizenship is in heaven,” the apostle wrote. While here on the earth by God’s decision I am part of a larger Body of Christ whose purpose is to bring God glory and represent Him faithfully, to be perfected in love and unity, and to seek the good of the land of our sojourn. It’s a place where many different ideas exist and contentions often arise. But the aim of my life is to serve that Body. My allegiance, passions, prayers, energies and thoughts are with the Bride until my Master takes me home. The behavior of my fellow believers – including everything they have said and done in this election year – is of primary interest and concern to me, simply because I am connected to them for better or for worse.
Before I get to specifics, I must first touch on some general cultural dynamics within the American Church community which make this volatile and vitriolic election year a difficult subject to discuss with others, much less come to agreement on. While they may seem unrelated to my declared subject, if you’ll bear with me it will hopefully become obvious why they are pertinent to the larger picture.
A FAMINE OF CHRISTIAN THOUGHT
“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” – Hosea 4:6
When I first heard Christian philosopher Dallas Willard remark that “Jesus Christ was the smartest man who ever lived,” I was momentarily shocked. I thought of Jesus as wise, not smart. I grew up in a Pentecostal/Charismatic tradition that didn’t place much value or emphasis on teaching its adherents how to think, or on the idea of cultivating what James Sire calls “discipleship of the mind.” My religious environment stressed facts, principles, laws, Bible study and memorization and devotional attitudes, but it never placed a demand on its hearers to question, answer, evaluate, verify, seek and substantiate the propositions it offered. Many church denominations use a catechism or a catechist style to teach, where people memorize answers to spiritual questions, but neither the questions nor the answers are really up for discussion or challenge by other conflicting viewpoints. As a young man I even heard the word “intellectual” used as a perjorative to signify a rather unspiritual dullard who relied too much on the machinations of his own head, when he should instead be contented with unquestioning, tenebrous faith. The bumper-sticker theology “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” succinctly demonstrates the frequent lack of logical or rational thought processes at work in ordinary believers, though the Word of God indicates that we should develop into a maturity of mind and spirit that enables us to give a reasoned defense of our beliefs:
Hebrews 5:12. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food.
1 Peter 3:15. But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.
It is more obvious all the time that people who identify as Christians are painfully illiterate when it comes to the Bible, though most of them would agree it is a source of truth. Most Christians can’t give an answer to the simplest questions about their faith, so imagine how they might respond if someone asked, “Why is it important to believe in the Virgin Birth?” or “How is the God of the Old Testament any different than Allah?”
Part of the problem is that our families, schools, society and churches rarely attempt to teach people how to think or reason, probably because doing so requires a significant investment of time. A manner of “feed-and-regurgitate” learning is probably the easiest, most common way that people acquire their worldview beliefs, and while it gives them a few answers they can parrot back after many years of indoctrination, it leaves them woefully unprepared to defend those beliefs when someone asks, “How do you know your belief is correct, and mine is wrong?” Unless we learn to think – to “love God with all our mind” as an essential element in a total approach to faith – it leaves us at a loss to defend our beliefs in a hostile culture (or even a church) which is dismissive of the very notion of objective truth or that anything can be known with absolute certainty. (Matthew 22:37). We sit ashamed and silent when someone asks about the hope that is in us. Furthermore, unless we grapple with opposing viewpoints and real-life application of concepts, we never progress from mere “head knowledge” about that subject or issue to what the writers of the Old Testament referred to as “wisdom,” or the ability to successfully apply that knowledge to problems and situations in our daily experience.
There is a difference between belief and knowledge. A young girl may believe in Santa Claus because her parents and grandparents speak of him, but does she have true knowledge of Santa Claus? No. Her belief lies solely in the realm of her personal opinion, because it is not justified belief. She has never questioned whether the things she has heard are true, or whether they are inherently good or evil, or whether she is better or worse off for believing them, or whether they are confirmed by experience. She’s just accepted them as fact. Does her acceptance make them true? Could her belief somehow become true if she could get a majority of her friends and relatives to agree with her?
By the same token, many people say they believe in God, but their belief does not stimulate them to know God. The biblical sense of the word “know” implies action. All people (Christians included) cling to myriad beliefs, both conscious and subconscious. But they don’t necessarily possess or seek knowledge of these things in daily experience, nor do they often understand the connection between their beliefs and subsequent behavior. Thoughts produce behavior. Real knowledge puts belief into action, and wisdom assesses whether these actions affect a positive or a negative outcome, whether it gets us closer to an objective or pushes us farther away. If belief does not lead to knowledge in an actionable sense, it is as fruitless as a barren vine.
“There is indeed a direct relationship between believing and knowing. We come to know what we believe when we put our beliefs into action and find them confirmed. Knowing and doing are part and parcel of each other. If we know, we do. If we do not do, we do not know; in fact, we do not even believe.” – James Sire
“If you hold to My teaching, you are really My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – Jesus, John 8:31-32
“If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim that you can see, your guilt remains.” – Jesus, John 9:41
The scripture declares “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” That “fear” connotes an attitude of humble seeking beyond assumptions or traditions or groupthink or even the testimony of others. It leads to an awareness and confession that in light of who God is I know that I have not “arrived.” I don’t possess all knowledge and am dependent on Him to unfold His truth to me in whatever ways He sees fit. Because revelation is progressive and evolves over time (so that every person’s system of belief is consequently in a current state of imperfection, except God’s) it implies a need for open-mindedness, persistence and consistency on our part in seeking and applying the truth.
People are not trained to think in our culture, and because the Church consists mostly of people from our culture it follows that most believers are likewise unequipped. We are simply spoon-fed information, and it is rare for connections to be made of how that information affects (or should affect) our real-life world. This is a fundamental problem because the process of making good and godly decisions depends on our seeking out answers (the importance of “seeking” is highlighted throughout the Bible), knowing how to analyze and use the information available to us, being able to critically appraise and evaluate a number of variables, and arrive at the best course of action (or, purposeful inaction or “waiting”). This is true for everyone, believers and unbelievers alike in any culture or circumstances we could name: home life, work life, education, politics, government, finance, church life, etc. God has not asked or required us to leave our brains behind when we walk into a church or go forth into daily life. To put a Christianese word on the table, we must learn and exercise discernment.
Discernment is not a feeling, impulse or inclination, but a spiritual, mental and physical process. In the circles I grew up in, many well-meaning believers took the mental and physical aspects out of the picture, trying to live in a kind of “super-spiritual” faith pseudo-reality that was crushed with problems because it contradicted or ignored other truths of scripture. Here are a few examples from the Word that demonstrate the necessity for a total process, using body, spirit and mind to openly, persistently and with robust intention discern both what God says, what He doesn’t say, and how to live in a way that pleases Him:
Romans 12:2. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Proverbs 2:1-5. My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.
Hebrews 5:14. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
Philippians 1:9-10. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.
Acts 17:11. Now these [Bereans] were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.
1 John 4:1-6. Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
Ephesians 5:6-17. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret. But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. For this reason it says,
And arise from the dead,
And Christ will shine on you.”
Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
2 Peter 2:1-3. Now there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies that even deny the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow in their depravity, and because of them the way of the truth will be defamed. In their greed, these false teachers will exploit you with tales they have concocted. The longstanding verdict against them remains in force, and their destruction does not sleep.
1 Corinthians 11:18-19. First of all, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. And indeed, there must be differences among you to show which of you are approved.
Matthew 7:15. Beware of false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.
1 Thessalonians 5:20-21. Do not treat prophecies with contempt, but test all things. Hold fast to what is good.
Romans 16:17-18. Now I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and obstacles that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Turn away from them. For such as these are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.
1 Kings 13:18. He said to him, “I also am a prophet like you, and an angel spoke to me by the word of the LORD, saying, ‘Bring him back with you to your house, that he may eat bread and drink water.'” But he lied to him.
Ephesians 4:17. So I tell you this, and testify to it in the Lord: You must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.
Colossians 2:4. I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument.
Colossians 2:8. See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.
Proverbs 4:23. Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life.
Proverbs 28:26. He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, But he who walks wisely will be delivered.
1 Timothy 6:20-21. O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid irreverent chatter and the opposing arguments of so-called “knowledge,” which some have professed and thus swerved away from the faith.
Deuteronomy 4:9. Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen and they do not depart from your heart all the days of your life; but make them known to your sons and your grandsons.
Jeremiah 14:14. Then the LORD said to me, “The prophets are prophesying falsehood in My name. I have neither sent them nor commanded them nor spoken to them; they are prophesying to you a false vision, divination, futility and the deception of their own minds.”
These are just a few texts that should mark the starting point of our perspectives on everything in life – not just politics. The only way believers can know for certain that their beliefs are true is if they mirror the principles and positions of the mind of God as expressed in Scripture. The opinion of a man or an entire nation, a prophecy, a family tradition, teaching or doctrine (be it Darwinist, Calvinist or Trumpist in origin) must all be regarded in the light of the Logos. The affections of my heart, my opinions, my conscious decisions in daily life, and even my subconscious worldview assumptions must all be directed, established, illuminated, uprooted or slain by the Word of God. The Word of God is the “ground zero” of what I can know for certain, the unmoving, unshakeable foundation that judges the thoughts and intents of the heart. Though there are other kinds of divine guidance and direction, none of those other ways and means will violate the principles of truth that have been forever settled in heaven. (Psalm 119:89). The reason we are commanded over and over again to walk carefully and keep watch is because there is a clear and present danger of our being deceived. The man or woman of God looks to His Word for guidance, not because s/he is proud or condescending or holier-than-thou, but because s/he knows from bitter experience how easily s/he can be led astray. Uninformed, unawake Christians are easily exploited by cunning men and ideologies.
Of course none of this thinking or discernment process is even possible if the people of God have already closed their minds about a given issue, and don’t have the heart or inclination to find out what the Bible teaches. And where there is ignorance or disregard of God’s Word, traditions, philosophies, political views, talking points, religious notions, amusements and outright deceptions fill the void, most of them “good ideas” in appearance.
Considering everything I’ve laid out so far regarding our collective epistemological difficulties, it’s not really a surprise that whenever I have raised biblical, historical or moral objections to the candidacy of Donald Trump, the believers who have responded to me have not offered to help me by approaching my concerns from a scriptural standpoint. Instead they have resorted to numerous logical fallacies, most of which had their genesis in the media or from other Christians who shared their already-determined belief (see 1 Kings 22). And there have been some really ludicrous statements, such as “If you don’t support Trump you must want Clinton to win/you don’t love America/you are personally responsible for all the aborted babies; You don’t have a choice in the matter, you must vote for Trump” and so on – statements that are nonsensical from a perspective of what constitutes a reasonable, logical argument or defense, and lacking the substance of the work and effort required of original thinking with a renewed mind. These statements also (more disturbingly) suggest that biblical or moral concerns raised by other Christians can be dismissed out-of-hand or considered irrelevant (Romans 14:21; 1 Corinthians 8:13). The arguments I heard and read for Trump from respected Christian theologians and leaders basically admonished Christians to vote for him despite their misgivings. Even Ben Carson, I man I genuinely respect, intimated this idea when he said, “I would love us to bring back our Judeo-Christian values and begin to teach those things and emphasize them at a time other than a political election. Let’s do that. But right now, the train is going off the cliff.” As a believer I can respect him and know that he too is a believer, but I must still assess the fundamental implications of his words for their veracity in light of the Word of God, as I must with all other voices and propositions.
All truth and falsehood enters through the mind. After that they either take root or perish in the heart. But my first point here is that learning to love God in the ways we think is not a sermon most of us have heard, and as a result we are committing sins of ignorance and omission, and suffering pain and loss in ways we cannot even understand.
American believers contend with a couple of serious spiritual “developmental disabilities” which we must also identify and understand. These are cultural perspectives that are so ingrained in us from our formative years that they are a part of our collective subconscious in the Church, even though they are in direct contradiction to the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth. In other words, these are unique problems for Christians in America, and they don’t necessarily exist in Christian communities in other countries like China or Russia. I need to mention them in passing because both Clinton and Trump made broad appeals to these ideas.
The first is the notion of the rights, independence and importance of the individual. I don’t mean to imply that individuals aren’t important everywhere – they are. But there is an exaggerated cultural difference on the perspective of the individual in a Western country like ours versus the subdued context we would find in an Eastern or South American culture. In Eastern countries, for example, the individual’s role is understood to be interconnected with others around him, and all are expected to seek the welfare of the larger collective. In the American mind, the individual is paramount and solitary, a free agent in charge of his own destiny.
Without thinking about it, I automatically process the events of life in terms of how they affect me, and what I want. I’m the star in my own little play. Even when I read the Bible, I think of what God is saying to me. I come to a text that admonishes, “Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand in the evil day,” and I think, Okay, I must now put on my spiritual armor. But the word “you” is plural in the Greek: Paul is telling the Ephesian church community to put its armor on collectively. In fact almost everything in the New Testament is addressed to a society, not an individual.
In the culture I was raised in, this outlook is quite foreign and even hostile. I must confess I don’t know much about community. All my relationships have been shaky and disposable: with family, with church, with work, with friends. My personal happiness and fulfillment is what subconsciously matters most to me: not the good of my society. The idea is even embedded in our Constitution: my rights to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.
We might say that in a country born out of rebellion, we have a stronger tendency toward rebellion as its offspring. This dynamic is even played out in the American church experience. It explains why people suddenly disappear from church gatherings, or why they feel comfortable not being connected to other believers in the real world at all. We tend to think in terms of “Me ‘n’ Jesus,” not considering the fact that Jesus called twelve men to be with Him nearly all the time, or that God Himself is Triune. No Christian is called to a solitary life: we are commanded to pursue unified community. But this is a genuine struggle for us as Americans because our culture doesn’t reinforce or stress the need for it. We are a “pull yourself up by your boot straps” nation of rugged John Wayne solitary heroes, even though that ideal runs opposite of biblical declarations regarding our human needs and intended function.
Our valuation of the individual is even a problem when we attempt to discuss truth. When we hear something we disagree with, we say, “That’s fine for you, but that’s not my truth.” We assume that any individual’s perspective on a subject should bear the same weight as another’s perspective, regardless of what is actually being said.
An offshoot from this kind of thinking leads to the idea that “my life is my own,” which contradicts the words of scripture: You are NOT your own. (1 Corinthians 6:19). I am a created being, which means I never have been and never will be my own. But as an individual I believe I can do whatever I want with my money and property, my time, my body, my sexuality, my mind, my actions, my vote, etc. I “compartmentalize” my life, finding myself in many circumstances and situations where I don’t stop to consider what God wants or what His will might be at all. Again, these are not conscious thoughts, but are like ungodly reflexes at work inside me, resulting from the lies my culture has embraced.
Walking hand in hand with independent individuality is the essential lie of “the American Dream,” which is rooted in consumer culture and our expectation that what is “normal” is a successful job, owning a home, wearing Aeropostale jeans, and having two cars in the driveway. Clinton and Trump made different appeals to the American Dream, both of them (and Bernie Sanders, too) expressing ideas and promises that would bring the fulfillment of the America Dream closer to reality. In many ways Trump exemplifies this archetypal ideal that we subconsciously admire and aspire to; indeed, most of his rhetoric (doctrine) relates to it. But from a purely biblical perspective, can we say that God has promised us anything like the American Dream in this life? The scripture says that we will suffer if we follow Jesus, and that might even include suffering the lack of things we suppose “normal” Americans should have simply because we are Americans.
The elevation of the individual and the ingrained notion that my life is “mine,” partnered with the expectation of a comfortable, secure life are ideas that American believers must reckon with in light of Jesus’ teaching, because they are instilled in us from our earliest years and yet oppose the direction of the Good News. As they do in every election, they also played a significant part in the outcome we witnessed on November 8th.
Lastly, a thought about the role of politics in the life of the Church: I think the importance American Christians place on political manueverings and outcomes is out of balance with the emphasis the Word of God places on them. Politics and government are a necessary part of life on this earth, and as emissaries of Christ in this world we should play a part in those processes. But if we examine the time and energy Jesus and the apostles devoted to the subject, we will see that they were not concerned about trying to change their cultures through political means. Indeed, their overwhelming burden was for the state and condition of the people of God.
1 Corinthians 5:12-13. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges.
Mark 12:17. “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Psalm 146:3. Do not trust in princes, In mortal man, in whom there is no salvation.
Psalm 118:8-9. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.
Isaiah 36:6. Behold, you rely on the staff of this crushed reed, even on Egypt, on which if a man leans, it will go into his hand and pierce it. So is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who rely on him.
Jeremiah 17:5. Thus says the LORD, “Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the LORD.”
Of course, Christian belief has influenced the political world, but it did not do so because it aimed to affect that change. It happened as a natural result of the Church doing what it is supposed to be doing: serving God and man as salt and light wherever it goes in the earth. Jesus and the apostles did not rail against or oppose their political leaders; they treated the outside government with respect and prayed for it, but they did not look for salvation or comfort to come through those systems, nor did they try to change them or defend their “rights” within them. If it is true that the emphasis of the Word is on personal and collective devotion to God, on teaching, correcting and maturing the spiritual nation of God, it follows that our basic lines of thinking should be similar, regardless of what is happening “outside.” Americans place too much hope and faith in the workings and function of government.
With these things in mind, I’ll move on to my personal experience concerning the Presidential election.
WHY I DID NOT SUPPORT DONALD TRUMP
Like most people, I started seriously considering candidates during the primary processes of the election. Also like most people, I was largely dismissive of Trump as a contender, primarily because of the vindictive abuses he hurled at his opponents on the debate stage (most of which were outright lies – false witness to use the precise biblical term – uttered for the expedience of winning, as evidenced by his taking many of these people onto his team or speaking kindly of them after their elimination from the race and subsequent endorsement of his leadership). Though there were some things he said that I liked and agreed with, I especially wondered what real solutions he might have to address our nation’s problems, beyond high-decibel complaining. Some of these solutions have now been delineated and I agree with many of them, but at the time I did not regard him as a serious candidate.
When Trump clinched the Republican nomination in May, I began earnestly listening to him with eyes and ears wide open. He claimed to be a Christian, as Hillary Clinton also does. They both quote the Bible occasionally. When people claim to belong to Christ with the clear intent of sending a message to Christians that they are worthy of their support, it changes the dynamics of measurement or evaluation of that candidate. They become subject to critical examination by the Body of Christ. Claims to be a Christian or a representative of God are supposed to be regarded with caution by believers. As I showed earlier, these claims and propositions must always be duly examined, tested and approved. It isn’t a mystery beyond our understanding: Jesus told us that we can know whether someone is of God and is standing in the truth. He said:
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:15-21.)
A “false prophet” is anyone who claims to speak in God’s name, but who does not know God and is lying (usually for the sake of personal gain). The apostle Peter went further to include false teachers, who spread doctrines. (2 Peter 2:1-3). While we tend to think of “doctrine” as something relating to the Bible, doctrine takes many forms in political, scientific, scholastic, journalistic, and philosophical realms. All of the political parties have basic doctrines. We encounter false doctrines every day. Jesus declares we can discern or “judge” a person and his accompanying doctrines based on the observable words and actions of his lifestyle, the fruits of his life.
Elsewhere it says: “The one who practices sin is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the very start. This is why the Son of God was revealed, to destroy the works of the devil. Anyone born of God refuses to practice sin, because God’s seed abides in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this the children of God and the children of the devil can be distinguished: Anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is anyone who does not love his brother.” (1 John 3:8-10.)
Taking both Trump and Jesus at their words, I set about looking at the “fruit” of Trump’s life. Here is what I observed about Trump’s character, gleaned from the debates, from his social media feeds, from his book The Art of the Deal, and from his many public interviews. Take note that these are not things in Trump’s far distant past, but things I personally observed in the last 18 months. They’re fresh.
- He has repeatedly stated that he has never had to ask for God’s forgiveness because he has never done anything wrong. (This stands in contrast to the “first word” of the true Gospel: that repentance is required of man and is the first step to entering into communion with Him. Matthew 3:2; Matthew 4:17; Acts 3:19.)
- He loves money. He regularly boasts of his wealth and success. (“Make sure that your character is free from the love of money.” Hebrews 13:5. “Thus says the LORD, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches.” Jeremiah 9:23.)
- He brags about his sexual conquests, even with married women. (1 Corinthians 6:9.)
- He demeans and objectifies women. (Exodus 20:17; Matthew 5:28.)
- He used anger and fear as the catalyst of his ascension. (Psalm 37:8; Colossians 3:8; Ephesians 4:31.)
- He lies on purpose. (Ephesians 4:25; Exodus 23:27; Proverbs 24:28.)
- He retaliates against his enemies. (Matthew 5:44; Romans 12:14; Proverbs 6:16-17.)
- He blesses the LGBT community after the fashion of our culture, but not with the truth. (Romans 1:32.)
- He is double-minded and fluid in terms of his moral positions: he lacks consistency. (James 1:8; 2 Peter 2:14.)
In lieu of Jesus’ words and the Scriptures I posted above regarding “discernment,” what other conclusion could I reach but that Trump was either being fundamentally dishonest in claiming he was a Christian, or that he just does not comprehend what a Christian stands for? Setting aside whether he is a Christian or not, would his overall temperament and behavior be an asset as a leader of our nation, and could his promises be trusted in lieu of his shifting moral and policy positions? I decided: No.
Now I must share something personal. I grew up in the 1980s and early 90s, and I remember watching Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell on television. I listened to pundits like Rush Limbaugh and watched Judge Judy. I overheard “the grownups” discussing the necessity of good character and a “moral compass” in our elected officials. I heard much high talk of “making a stand for righteousness” in the public sphere. Imagine my surprise this year as I have watched most of that older generation – my tutors and leaders – abandon those principled expectations. They offer various excuses and explanations for why they have done so – some have even declared that this course was the only way to prevent moral decline in America (!) – but their words now and hereafter will always ring hollow because they also taught us young folks that godly character and principles do not bend to the will of public opinion, or shift when faced with adversity and troubled times. I am speaking here of the inconsistency of the Christian voters, and not necessarily of the morally bereft candidates: it was the long-held collective Christian regard for the importance of traditional, orthodox morality that took a different course this year.
One of the arguments I heard many times this year as a way to dismiss Trump’s bad character and childish temperament is that “We aren’t electing a pastor, we’re electing a President.” The Bible addresses general principles in how to choose both governmental and church leaders. (Deuteronomy 1:13; Deuteronomy 17:14-20; Ezra 7:25; Acts 6:1-6; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; 1 Peter 5:1-4.) But the ironic idea my fellow believers espoused without pause or question is that we should elect a man to lead our whole nation whom we wouldn’t trust to steer a little country church. Of course the writers of the Bible could scarcely imagine a process like democratic voting, but the impression that “character doesn’t affect a person’s leadership abilities” would really floor them. The people of Israel suffered endlessly when they had kings ruling over them who followed their own wisdom and devices.
Proverbs 14:34. Righteousness exalts a nation, But sin is a disgrace to any people.
Proverbs 29:2. When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, But when a wicked man rules, people groan.
Part of the reason I did not support Trump is that doing so would represent a fundamental betrayal and lack of stability with the principles I am trying to instill in my own children. Now that the bar has been lowered by the Church to unknown depths and it is confirmed that they’re willing to overlook long and abiding character deficits in their leadership, I find myself wondering who will run next and receive the blessing and support of the quavering American Church. Perhaps Ron Jeremy?
One of the immediate consequences of these shifting opinions is that, as a group, Christians can never again insist on godly, traditional principles of character in their political candidates. If they do so after this election, they will be a laughingstock. They will rightly be called hypocritical and hopelessly tainted by party spirit. By approving of immorality, the Church has effectively muzzled herself.
1 Corinthians 15:33. Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.”
Proverbs 1:10, 15. My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent…do not walk in the way with them. Keep your feet from their path.
The man’s lack of consistency and character are what ultimately prevented me from going with the presence of Jesus into a voting booth and casting a vote for Donald Trump in His name. I simply could not do that based on the information available to me. Since I believed that whoever won the election would be God’s choice, I didn’t feel a need to violate my conscience (and mind, and spirit) by pulling that lever. Since Trump won the election without my blessing, the people who fearfully told me I must “set aside” the principles I’ve described turned out to be mistaken.
THE LESSER OF TWO EVILS, OR “BUT HILLARY!”
Throughout my discussions with other Christians regarding Donald Trump, inevitably these words would come up: “He’s the lesser of two evils.” I concur that was probably true. But is there anything the Bible says that can shed light on the idea of voting for a lesser evil? Here’s a few of the verses that informed me in making my decision:
1 Thessalonians 5:22. Reject every kind of evil.
Proverbs 16:4. The LORD has made everything for its own purpose, Even the wicked for the day of evil.
Exodus 23:2. You shall not follow the masses in doing evil, nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after a multitude in order to pervert justice.
Romans 3:8. And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some claim that we say), “Let us do evil that good may come?” Their condemnation is just.
Romans 1:32. And although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.
Proverbs 17:15. He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous, Both of them alike are an abomination to the LORD.
Proverbs 3:31. Do not envy a man of violence and do not choose any of his ways.
Galatians 5:1. It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.
From a pragmatic historical perspective, I would also argue that the sustained pattern of Christians’ “choosing the lesser of two evils” is directly responsible for leading to worse and worse choices in our election process.
Within the pages of the Old Testament (which was recorded for our instruction and example – 1 Corinthians 10:11) are several instances where the nation of Israel attempted to make treaties with surrounding nations, with Pharoah and the king of Babylon for instance. The people of God did this out of fear because they were impoverished or under threat by foreign armies, in order to strengthen their natural position. These fleshly solutions always failed because the root cause of their problems were not physical – not militaristic or monetary – but spiritual. God was trying to get at their hearts. I sense the same dynamic at work in America, and especially in the Church.
THE CYRUS/DARIUS/NEBUCHADNEZZAR/DAVID ARGUMENT
In a further attempt to convince those of us who had qualms about Trump, and I suppose to try to bring some Bible into the discussion (for once), I saw many believers assert that “God has used evil people in the past,” sometimes with an ancillary argument that no one but Christ is perfect. These things are both absolutely true. But if we’re being honest, we must admit numerous problems with this approach.
For one thing, the overwhelming testimony of the Bible is that evil people do evil things. (That’s the heart of Jesus’ injunction concerning the “bad” and “good” trees.) Going through the complete list of the kings of Israel and Judah, for example, we can see that the Word makes it abundantly clear that an unrighteous man (or woman) at the helm causes immense harm.
Second, God never asked His people to choose any of these leaders. They were divinely and providentially chosen to glorify God in their time and place (for blessing or for cursing) without any input from the people. I can’t think of a single instance in scripture where God required His people to choose between two evils, except in the case of David when he had to choose a consequence for his faithless actions concerning the census of the armed men.
Third, since everyone is evil, the case could be made to vote for anyone on the basis of this argument.
Regarding David personally, he was a “man after God’s own heart,” a humble and repentant man who had an ongoing intimate relationship with God. There is just no comparison that makes sense between him and Donald Trump.
ON “VOTING THE PLATFORM”
A friend of mine and some articles I’ve read by prominent Christians pose the question: If you couldn’t support Trump himself, then why didn’t you vote for the principles of the Republican platform and the many good men Trump will no doubt surround himself with in his administration? The answer to this question cannot be solely biblical, because (like many things in our pluralistic world) it depends on other factors which we must assess.
It’s true that the President has an administration and platform around him that helps to guide his decisions. But let’s be honest. Have we ever heard this argument before, that somehow when we vote we’re not really voting for the head, but in fact endorsing the bloated governmental body below? I’m not saying it hasn’t been said before but this year was the first time I’ve encountered it, which might have something to do with the overall terribleness of the 2016 candidates.
In reality the head steers the body. (This is a law of creation.) The administration carries out the wishes of the head, with the blessing of the head. Trump is not a figurehead or an empty suit: he is the actual head. Out of 17 possibilities, the Republican party chose and confirmed Donald Trump as their head. Yes, they marked out their detailed doctrinal platform, but they ultimately decided he was the best candidate to lead that platform. The biblical kings had counselors around them too, but the king was the head. The king was ultimately responsible for the decisions made under his authority. It’s the same with our President. “The Buck Stops Here,” as it said on Truman’s desk. So I find it difficult to understand how a vote for Trump wasn’t really a vote for Trump, regardless of any other intention the voter may have had.
But if people decided to “vote the platform” anyway, there were other considerations: historical, ethical and practical ones. Consider Jimmy Carter. He was overwhelmingly supported by Christians in 1976 because he promised to support traditional family values and oppose abortion. However, when he got into office he didn’t act on any of those promises. Historically this has been true of the Republican party ever since, but especially in the last 26 years. Republicans have held total power several times in the past 40 years, and have even enjoyed a right-leaning Supreme Court, yet they have taken no substantial action to end abortion. So a consideration in voting the platform is whether there is any evidence to indicate that things will be different this time around, with Trump steering the ship.
What is more likely and arguable is that shrewd Republican planners raise the issue of abortion in graphic terms every four years as a fulcrum to push the evangelical vote. I’m not condemning anyone who continues to vote for them in the wake of their disappointing results. I’m just offering a historical interpretation that pro-life issues don’t seem to be very important to these folks once they take office.
It is my sincere hope that Trump will prove to be the exception to the rule. But only four days after winning the election, President Elect Trump went on “60 Minutes” and either softened or scaled back many of his campaign promises and expectations for his administration. He called the Clintons “good people.” He moved away from repealing Obamacare. He said the gay marriage issue was settled, when in fact it was “legislated from the bench.” When asked about abortion, he didn’t respond the way most pro-lifers would, decrying the evils of taking human life. He said, “Well, we’ll see what happens. It’s got a long way to go, just so you understand. That has a long, long way to go.”
This is the fundamental problem for Christians who voted for Trump hoping to protect “Christian values:” the man they supported doesn’t seem to espouse them with conviction.
In terms of looking at Christians as a voting group, have we ever seen such a bunch of yo-yos as we’ve witnessed this year? Wayne Grudem endorsed, then unendorsed, then re-endorsed Trump. Ted Cruz and other believers said there was “no way” they could support Trump, and then they did. Back in October I read what I considered the best argument to vote for Trump by a Christian during the campaign cycle. What’s interesting is that the same author, a Jewish believer named Michael Brown, wrote this article about a year before he wrote the one above.
Aren’t we concerned that Christian people seem so storm-tossed and unsure of what they believe? These things haven’t happened in a corner but in the public sphere. I’m asking these questions because I think they reflect deeper problems in the Church that go beyond politics or the next election. I think the future of our country actually depends most, not on changes in leadership, but within the hearts of those filling the pews.
This is my (imperfect) attempt to trace the mental and spiritual steps I took through the process of voting this year, as informed by my current understanding of God’s Word and using the information I had available in the decision-making process. I do not condemn any believer who voted for Trump, just as I would not condemn someone for eating meat or drinking wine. The crux of my concern is whether most Christians have really grappled with understanding our situation, not merely in the country but in the Church. For example, I see many Christians rejoicing that Trump has won the election, but I don’t understand why they assume this is a good thing, or why they didn’t also rejoice when, say, Barack Obama or Bill Clinton were elected by God’s design.
We don’t know the future. At this moment there is no way to know whether Trump’s election is for the divine purpose of blessing or continued judgment on America, or on the world.
I don’t see any signs that our nation is repenting of its sins, or turning from the gross immorality that has been gaining ground since the 1950s. The Church has not understood her situation, much less turned back to God. I saw the election framed in terms of God’s judgment, not with a sense of fear but in the knowledge that His judgment means corrective measures – separation of the wheat from the chaff and the sheep from the goats. When I pray “God, bless America” I don’t assume some notion of success or security, but the blessing of repentance, of His waking us up to our true need and spiritual situation, and a desire to see His purpose fulfilled in this land. Now that Trump is the President Elect, I will support him in prayer. I acknowledge the hand of God in this outcome, and the many good possibilities it could mean for America.
But if the Church has acted foolishly with misplaced faith and priorities and with ignorance or disregard of God’s Word, as I believe it has for decades, I cannot ignore that or stop questioning it, regardless of what happens in the nation, regardless of whether it offends or angers. It is not pride but concern for my brothers and sisters in Christ that drives me to question these things. To ignore a problem is not an act of love.
I know that my position is not perfect, though I do feel it is biblically informed. But I am always open to corrective input or feedback from someone who has a better understanding than I do, assuming that correction shows scriptural provenance and makes sense.
If you read all of this, I applaud your stamina and thank you for your time. Grace and peace to you. Maranatha!