I’ve waited more than six months to write this post. I would attribute this delay to three reasons: first, I realize my words could offend many people who I respect and consider friends. I don’t write them lightly. Second, I have a lot to lose and little to gain by addressing this publicly. I recently read a tweet that said: “Privilege = not speaking out against Trump’s racism & misogyny because you don’t want to tarnish your platform with controversy.” That tweet has haunted me for days. Rarely does anyone get upset when I as a pastor talk about believing in Jesus. It’s an entirely different reaction when I as a pastor suggest there might be things we believe in that are actually contrary to Jesus.
Third, and perhaps most frustrating, I don’t have a great solution to offer you. I heard someone argue (if you’ll excuse the illustration), that just because you hate diarrhea doesn’t mean you love constipation. If I lost you on the bodily functions there, basically I’m not going to tell you that you should vote for Hillary instead of Trump. No need to stop reading just yet if you’re not a Hillary fan.
Much has already been written on Donald Trump and this is my attempt at highlighting some of the best of what I’ve heard so far and offering some perspective as you navigate it. This is a spiritual post, not a political one. If you aren’t a Christian much of my argument won’t apply to you. And as a disclaimer: I’m not overly concerned with how to govern America. To be honest, I think our overdeveloped sense of nationalism is one of the American church’s greatest sins. It clouds our view of the Kingdom more than anything else. I’m writing to anyone who considers themselves a follower of Jesus Christ and who cares about living as His disciple.
My appeal to Christians is this: What do we give up by supporting Trump? FYI… giving him your vote as the lesser of two evils is still support. And could this exchange ever be worth it in the long term?
To be fair, the best argument I’ve heard for a Christian to vote for Trump is that he’s on the side of pro-life and might select Supreme Court justices who are as well. This is a stretch at best, since I wouldn’t develop a strong sense of the way he’d champion fetuses based on his statements toward other vulnerable groups in America like Muslims, immigrants, refugees, Mexicans, people with disabilities, and women in general. Even with the pro-life argument, the amount you give up in return is staggering. And in case you’re wondering, I’m pro-life. The pro-life argument is essentially putting on massive blinders that force you to look away from the MAJORITY of who Trump is to see a tiny fraction of what you want. Rachel Held Evans summarized it well: “Donald Trump is not a champion for the voiceless. He is an exploiter of the voiceless, a mocker of the voiceless. He uses people to get what he wants and he is using pro-life evangelicals to try and get the presidency.”
And if you take the time to unpack this argument beyond just assuming a Republican will automatically be a better choice, you will realize that it’s far more complicated (see: Pro-life Conservative Voting in This Election). As the author of that article points out, “In a stunning turn of events, it is not clear which ticket is more pro-choice: Trump and Clinton are both on record as supporting abortion rights, while Clinton’s vice president is a Catholic who has supported restrictions on abortion.”
Like last week and the “hot mic debacle” showed us, we’ve just scratched the surface on the void of any modicum of ‘moral’ character with Trump. There is nothing that justifies the latest evidence against him. If you are remotely considering Trump you owe it to everyone to listen to it for yourself (see: Donald Trump’s Taped Comments About Women). But this is just the latest in a long list of similar examples. And the volumes of leading Republicans who’ve endorsed him have shown that the party can no longer claim it stands for values compared to the “liberal” Democrats. In fact, it seems as if the things that Jesus cared about the most now get you labeled as a liberal (see: It’s Not a Liberal Agenda).
But more confounding to me personally are the notable Christians who have endorsed Trump. Where Trump should show us all our need for dramatic repentance on the state of what our nation has become, some instead push further into justifying why this somehow makes sense if you look at it long enough. Meanwhile, those who don’t profess faith in Jesus watch and form new opinions on what it really means to follow Jesus.
Hiding behind the lesser of two evils will fail to show the world the richness of the gospel. Even worse, it will distort it. As noted Baptist leader Russell Moore argued in the Washington Times, “the damage done to gospel witness this year will take longer to recover from than those 1980s televangelist scandals” (see: If Donald Trump Has Done Anything). If Donald Trump succeeds at becoming president and adds another level of power to his agenda, who can predict what changes we see happen around us? I want to be able to tell my kids that I was on the other side of it. I cannot help but imagine Christians in the decades to come finding no way to make sense out of the Christian support for Trump this year. What will we tell them?
This conversation is not about who we elect for America. This conversation is about what type of gospel we believe in. Is it a gospel of suffering and surrender, of pouring ourselves out for others and willingly rejecting the power structures of the world? A gospel for the hurt and vulnerable and marginalized? A gospel where others gain as we willingly give of ourselves? Or is this gospel no different than everything else once you realize its need for power? Is it merely a gospel of protecting our own blessings at the expense of the other, whoever we think that might be? I pray we find the ability to see the radical message of Jesus yet again, even as naive as it may appear.
Or maybe like Jonathan Martin argues, the craziness we witness before us with Trump is a sign of God’s judgment on America (see: On Trump and the Judgment of God). He makes a compelling case for it. I agree with him that as bizarre as it sounds, this is reason for excitement. Something old and perverse is breaking apart at the seams. As he poetically muses,
Through the wind, I hear the faint distant crackle and smell the charred air — the sound and smell of Rome, burning. Let it burn. Because when it does, the hearts of the faithful will burn with the flame of the Spirit, even and perhaps especially in the pain and disorientation. Then the saccharine sounds of the top 40 can be replaced with the primal, tribal rhythms of exile songs…and we can make soul music, like the Israelites did. The campaign to “make America great again” might mean that the Church can be made strange again. Thanks be to God.
Would Jesus forgive a repentant Donald Trump? In a heartbeat. Would Jesus suggest that by following (and supporting) him we can best manifest the Kingdom of God in our midst? Hardly. As Christians, it is our calling to give our lives so God’s will and His Kingdom can come “to earth as it is in Heaven” (Matthew 6:9-13). I encourage you to pray for God’s leading as you use your voice in shaping our nation. And may we each repent of the ways we’ve allowed the values of the American Dream to distort this beautifully strange message of good news from Jesus.
“This is not about who we elect for America but about what type of gospel we believe in.”Click to tweet