Trying to Make Sense of Christianity Today, Trump, and Evangelical Voters
Like everybody else who covers the news, Christianity Today has thoughts on President Donald Trump and last week’s impeachment. Unlike everybody else, CT’s opinion has caused a bit of a firestorm. Everyone expects Democrats to support impeachment and Republicans to oppose it, but CT’s support for Trump’s removal went off like a political atom bomb because, as everyone knows, Evangelicals make up a key part of the Republican Party’s base.
Editor-in-chief Mark Galli at CT put it thusly:
We believe the impeachment hearings have made it absolutely clear, in a way the Mueller investigation did not, that President Trump has abused his authority for personal gain and betrayed his constitutional oath. The impeachment hearings have illuminated the president’s moral deficiencies for all to see. This damages the institution of the presidency, damages the reputation of our country, and damages both the spirit and the future of our people.
A bad argument is a bad argument. It does not matter whether that argument is being made by Adam Schiff on CNN or Mark Galli at Christianity Today. Just because Gilli’s publication invokes God does not mean that the Democrats’ weak and vague case somehow got better. So, let’s put the impeachment question aside and address Gilli’s more pressing concern:
None of the president’s positives can balance the moral and political danger we face under a leader of such grossly immoral character.
To be fair to Gilli and CT, they did call for Clinton’s removal in 1998, something all of the liberals and journalists praising them in 2019 would rather ignore, but that does not necessarily render their opinions about Trump true.
If Gilli’s column has done anything, it’s reigniting the question of how Christians should view Trump. David French, for one, agrees with Gilli:
Trump’s most zealous Christian defenders feel no such conflict. But they know something that most readers of the New York Times don’t. They know that the heart of the church is torn, and that many of the faithful — especially those middle-aged and younger — who show up to worship services every week, who perform the lion’s share of the ministry and work of the church, and who are most likely to interact with non-Christians at work and in school, see the cost of the Trump alliance, and despair.
Before anyone accuses me of being one of the those knee-jerk anti-David French types, I should note that I have previously agreed with him such fundamental questions as to what the future of conservatism should look like.
That said, there are some problems here. When French says that young people, when interacting, “with non-Christians at work and in school, see the cost of the Trump alliance, and despair,” that is not entirely untrue (take it from someone who graduated college about 18 months ago). But, those non-Christians would probably say that with anybody with an “R” next to their name.
To be sure, some issues are unique to Trump and some Evangelicals have erred in recent times by trying to link Christianity with the Republican Party, but if the problem young people have with Christianity is, for lack of a better phrase, “social conservatism” and all that entails, then the problem is not just Trump and talk about the church being “torn” is probably being over-dramatic.
By choosing to direct his attention to “Trump’s most zealous Christian defenders” French is picking at low-hanging fruit. Yes, politics has the ability to turn people into blind followers of mortal men by turning their brains into mush and yes, Christians are supposed to be better than that, but what about those who aren’t zealots? As French concedes in the previous paragraph:
While Christians can in good conscience vote for Republicans or Democrats (or for a third party), it’s simply wrong to condemn actions in the other party that you rationalize from your own president (or worse, to condemn actions from others even as you excuse or ignore more egregious conduct from your own side)
This is exactly right. Many of the people French has described as “zealous” would never grant a Democrat (i.e. Bill Clinton) the same benefit of the doubt they give Trump. They are the conservative equivalent of Nina Burleigh saying she
[W]ould be happy to give [Bill Clinton] a blowjob just to thank him for keeping abortion legal. I think American women should be lining up with their presidential kneepads on to show their gratitude for keeping the theocracy off our backs.
French has come to the conclusion that Trump represents a threat to Christianity because he is so toxic that he turns non-Christians off and since the Kingdom of God is more important than winning an election. For him, Christians are to be engaged in politics, but above the hypocritical mudslinging of the day. Therefore, he won’t be voting for Trump, but, there’s nothing inherently un-Christian about voting for Trump per se.
It’s a compelling case, but it’s not the one that Gilli made. Gilli said that none of Trump’s positives can possibly justify keeping him in office. But, again not every Christian who supports Trump is a zealot who wears MAGA hats, loves the Tweets, the recent comments about John Dingell, or who thinks the phone call was “perfect.” They simply look at the Democrats and see a party who supports taxpayer-funded abortion on demand, who thinks that you should be compelled to “bake the cake,” and who think forcing nuns to buy birth control is a legitimate use of government power. They look at Trump and say he’s not perfect (because what politician is?), but at least he’s not that and in 2020 it will either be him or that.
The Bible is not the 2020 Voter’s Guide. Christians are allowed to support Trump, but they need to be careful of turning him into some great role model, because he’s not. He’s an unapologetic vulgar thrice married adulterer. Not exactly the best example of a Biblical ethic. For those who bring up King David, the key word is “unapologetic”
If you are going to support him for practical reasons, then you need to be willing to grant liberals the same benefit of the doubt for their favorite politicians and willing to look past their personal flaws. Above all, remember that the Kingdom is more important than the White House.
Christians are also allowed not to support Trump, but they need to be careful to avoid developing a holier-than-thou complex. God never told Moses at Sinai that “Thou shall not vote for Trump.” Trump is not Jesus, but he’s not some Hitler-esque threat to the Republic, either. Your Christian identity does not make your arguments about impeachment any more valid than if you were not.
Finally, Christians of all political stripes need to remember that identity is in Christ and we are to love one another regardless of what we think about Trump. Anything else is a false Gospel as Screwtape wrote to Wormwood when the fate of the Free World was in the balance, “Let him begin by treating the Patriotism or the Pacifism as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part.” For 2019, all one has to do is replace “patriotism” with “support for Trump” and “pacifism” with “opposition to Trump.”