Speak Truth to Trump
Evangelicals, of all people, should not be silent about Donald Trump's blatant immorality.
As a non-profit journalistic organization, Christianity Today is doubly committed to staying neutral regarding political campaigns—the law requires it, and we serve our readers best when we give them the information and analysis they need to make their own judgments.
Just because we are neutral, however, does not mean we are indifferent. We are especially not indifferent when the gospel is at stake. The gospel is of infinitely greater importance than any campaign, and one good summary of the gospel is, “Jesus is Lord.”
The true Lord of the world reigns even now, far above any earthly ruler. His kingdom is not of this world, but glimpses of its power and grace can be found all over the world. One day his kingdom, and his only, will be the standard by which all earthly kingdoms are judged, and following that judgment day, every knee will bow, in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, as his reign is fully realized in the renewal of all things.
There is a point at which strategy becomes its own form of idolatry—an attempt to manipulate the levers of history in favor of the causes we support.
The lordship of Christ places constraints on the way his followers involve themselves, or entangle themselves, with earthly rulers.
On the one hand, we pray for all rulers—and judging from the example of Old Testament exiles like Daniel and New Testament prisoners like Paul, we can even wholeheartedly pray for rulers who directly oppose our welfare. On the other hand, we recognize that all earthly governments partake, to a greater or lesser extent, in what the Bible calls idolatry: substituting the creation for the Creator and the earthly ruler for the true God.
No human being, including even the best rulers, is free of this temptation. But some rulers and regimes are especially outrageous in their God-substitution. After Augustus Caesar, the emperors of Rome became more and more elaborate in their claims of divinity with each generation—and more and more ineffective in their governance. Communism aimed not just to replace faith in anything that transcended the state, but to crush it. Such systems do not just dishonor God, they dishonor his image in persons, and in doing so they set themselves up for dramatic destruction. We can never collude when such idolatry becomes manifest, especially when it demands our public allegiance. Christians in every place and time must pray for the courage to stay standing when the alleged “voice of a god, not a man” commands us to kneel.
This year’s presidential election in the United States presents Christian voters with an especially difficult choice.
The Democratic nominee has pursued unaccountable power through secrecy—most evidently in the form of an email server designed to shield her communications while in public service, but also in lavishly compensated speeches, whose transcripts she refuses to release, to some of the most powerful representatives of the world system. She exemplifies the path to power preferred by the global technocratic elite—rooted in a rigorous control of one’s image and calculated disregard for norms that restrain less powerful actors. Such concentration of power, which is meant to shield the powerful from the vulnerability of accountability, actually creates far greater vulnerabilities, putting both the leader and the community in greater danger.
But because several of the Democratic candidate’s policy positions are so manifestly incompatible with Christian reverence for the lives of the most vulnerable, and because her party is so demonstrably hostile to expressions of traditional Christian faith, there is plenty of critique and criticism of the Democratic candidate from Christians, including evangelical Christians.
But not all evangelical Christians—in fact, alas, most evangelical Christians, judging by the polls—have shown the same critical judgment when it comes to the Republican nominee. True, when given a choice, primary voters who claimed evangelical faith largely chose other candidates. But since his nomination, Donald Trump has been able to count on “the evangelicals” (in his words) for a great deal of support.
This past week, the latest (though surely not last) revelations from Trump’s past have caused many evangelical leaders to reconsider. This is heartening, but it comes awfully late. What Trump is, everyone has known and has been able to see for decades, let alone the last few months. The revelations of the past week of his vile and crude boasting about sexual conquest—indeed, sexual assault—might have been shocking, but they should have surprised no one.
Indeed, there is hardly any public person in America today who has more exemplified the “earthly nature” (“flesh” in the King James and the literal Greek) that Paul urges the Colossians to shed: “sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed, which is idolatry” (3:5). This is an incredibly apt summary of Trump’s life to date. Idolatry, greed, and sexual immorality are intertwined in individual lives and whole societies. Sexuality is designed to be properly ordered within marriage, a relationship marked by covenant faithfulness and profound self-giving and sacrifice. To indulge in sexual immorality is to make oneself and one’s desires an idol. That Trump has been, his whole adult life, an idolater of this sort, and a singularly unrepentant one, should have been clear to everyone.
And therefore it is completely consistent that Trump is an idolater in many other ways. He has given no evidence of humility or dependence on others, let alone on God his Maker and Judge. He wantonly celebrates strongmen and takes every opportunity to humiliate and demean the vulnerable. He shows no curiosity or capacity to learn. He is, in short, the very embodiment of what the Bible calls a fool.
Some have compared Trump to King David, who himself committed adultery and murder. But David’s story began with a profound reliance on God who called him from the sheepfold to the kingship, and by the grace of God it did not end with his exploitation of Bathsheba and Uriah. There is no parallel in Trump’s much more protracted career of exploitation. The Lord sent his word by the prophet Nathan to denounce David’s actions—alas, many Christian leaders who could have spoken such prophetic confrontation to him personally have failed to do so. David quickly and deeply repented, leaving behind the astonishing and universally applicable lament of his own sin in Psalm 51—we have no sign that Trump ever in his life has expressed such humility. And the biblical narrative leaves no doubt that David’s sin had vast and terrible consequences for his own family dynasty and for his nation. The equivalent legacy of a Trump presidency is grievous to imagine.
Most Christians who support Trump have done so with reluctant strategic calculation, largely based on the president’s power to appoint members of the Supreme Court. Important issues are indeed at stake, including the right of Christians and adherents of other religions to uphold their vision of sexual integrity and marriage even if they are in the cultural minority.
But there is a point at which strategy becomes its own form of idolatry—an attempt to manipulate the levers of history in favor of the causes we support. Strategy becomes idolatry, for ancient Israel and for us today, when we make alliances with those who seem to offer strength—the chariots of Egypt, the vassal kings of Rome—at the expense of our dependence on God who judges all nations, and in defiance of God’s manifest concern for the stranger, the widow, the orphan, and the oppressed. Strategy becomes idolatry when we betray our deepest values in pursuit of earthly influence. And because such strategy requires capitulating to idols and princes and denying the true God, it ultimately always fails.
Enthusiasm for a candidate like Trump gives our neighbors ample reason to doubt that we believe Jesus is Lord. They see that some of us are so self-interested, and so self-protective, that we will ally ourselves with someone who violates all that is sacred to us—in hope, almost certainly a vain hope given his mendacity and record of betrayal, that his rule will save us.
The US political system has never been free of idolatry, and politics always requires compromise. Our country is flawed, but it is also resilient. And God is not only just, but also merciful, as he judges the nations. In these closing weeks before the election, all American Christians should repent, fast, and pray—no matter how we vote. And we should hold on to hope—not in a candidate, but in our Lord Jesus. We do not serve idols. We serve the living God. Even now he is ready to have mercy, on us and on all who are afraid. May his name be hallowed, his kingdom come, and his will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.