Should Christians Support Donald Trump?

Written by David Gunn

The 2016 presidential primary is upon us! Political advertisements and contentious pundits fill the airwaves, candidates zoom from campaign stop to campaign stop with all the frenzied energy of well-caffeinated mosquitoes, and the general public watches the unfolding events with a strange mixture of excitement, curiosity, and perturbation. Through it all, one figure has absolutely dominated the media coverage: billionaire magnate-turned-politician Donald Trump.

The Trump phenomenon has totally disrupted conventional political wisdom. Polarizing statements that for any other candidate would have been regarded as campaign-ending gaffes, have only served to bolster the Donald’s poll numbers. Mr. Trump’s lack of legislative or governing experience, far from being a liability to his political aspirations, seems to have endeared him to his supporters. And, perhaps most surprising of all, Trump—whose church attendance has been sporadic and who claims to cherish the Bible but demonstrates a total lack of familiarity with the Good Book—commands an impressive lead among self-avowed evangelicals and has secured endorsements by high-profile Christian figures such as Willie Robertson and Jerry Falwell Jr.

In response to this unconventional turn of events, I would like to suggest that, for Bible-believing Christians, Donald Trump’s candidacy is veritable kryptonite. One might like or dislike any of Trump’s proposed policies, and there is a fruitful discussion to be had on that topic. But for the purposes of this article, I propose there are three factors in particular that, for Christians, should transcend all other political considerations. They are Trump’s moral character, his posture toward the sanctity of life, and his flippancy toward religious liberty.

He’s Quite the Character!

During the colorful years of Bill Clinton’s presidency, an oft-repeated slogan among the religious right was, “Character matters.” Typically, this slogan was offered as a response to the theory of compartmentalization, the notion that a political leader’s private life has no real bearing on his public life. We demurred, because we believe that character really does matter. It is not tangential, optional, or peripheral. Who a person is will inexorably determine what he does. That’s why the Scriptures warn us, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life” (Prov. 4:23). At the end of the day, a man (or woman) of poor moral fiber is unfit for high public office. Christians, I would contend, should pray for immoral leaders when we have the misfortune of living under their governance (1 Tim. 2:1-2), but we should not actively vote for them.

So, how is Donald Trump’s character? Numerous adjectives spring to mind, but exemplary, commendable, and decent are not among them. Mr. Trump allegedly cheated on his first wife with the woman who would become his second, then left his second wife for his third. (His third wife, incidentally, is young enough to be his daughter. Then again, Trump has expressed physical attraction to his actual daughter, so perhaps that is unsurprising.) He has profited immensely from the casino industry, an enterprise that Christians have typically frowned upon (to put it mildly). He has shown a penchant for lashing out at his critics with crude, vicious personal attacks, belittling others at the slightest provocation, mocking the disabled, and making crass, uncouth comments about women. In 1993, in collusion with New Jersey’s Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, Mr. Trump tried to seize ownership of a widow’s house through eminent domain so that he could build a casino parking lot in its place. (Didn’t our Lord once condemn the Pharisees for “devour[ing] widows’ houses”?) This list of Trump’s moral infractions could probably be extended further, but I think I’ve made my point.

“Ancient history,” some might say in response. “That was then and this is now. Why dredge up all this old news when our nation is facing such serious issues?” I’m sympathetic to the impulse behind that perspective, but here’s the rub: Donald Trump has never repented of or apologized for any of these things. Last year, when asked by Frank Luntz if he ever seeks God’s forgiveness, Trump replied, “I’m not sure I have ever asked God’s forgiveness. I don’t bring God into that picture.” When Anderson Cooper asked Trump for further clarifications, he responded, “Why do I have to repent or ask for forgiveness, if I am not making mistakes? I work hard, I’m an honorable person.” So not only is Donald unrepentant over the things he has done; he seemingly doesn’t even recognize them as mistakes! That being the case, I think Mr. Trump’s checkered past is an extremely relevant consideration for all Christians interested in vetting his candidacy.

Get a life!

Donald Trump has been all over the map on the abortion issue. After a lifetime of supporting abortion rights (he described himself in 1999 as being “pro-choice in every respect), Trump announced a sudden conversion to the pro-life position in 2011. Now obviously, if it were sincere, this conversion would be commendable. But I am inclined to question his commitment to the pro-life cause, and to wonder whether he would reliably govern from a set of pro-life values. Consider:

  • Trump does not attribute his conversion to any seismic philosophical shift or sudden epiphany on the sanctity of human life, but rather to a moving personal anecdote. Hardly the soil whence profound convictions spring.
  • Trump describes himself as “pro-life, but with the caveats” (i.e., he would allow exceptions in the cases of rape or incest). While this is not an entirely uncommon view in the pro-life camp, it is worth noting that Mr. Trump’s stated commitment to the sanctity of unborn life is considerably less firm than that of, say, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, or Marco Rubio.
  • As recently as August 2015, Trump expressed interest in nominating his sister, federal judge Maryanne Barry, for the Supreme Court. Barry is well known as a pro-abortion extremist who has argued in favor of partial-birth abortion. (Bear in mind, too, the one area in which the President of the United States is likely to wield the most influence on this issue is in his Supreme Court nominations, and our next president could well end up making up to four such nominations. That Trump thinks Barry would be a “phenomenal” Supreme Court justice is a very bad sign.)
  • During the fight to defund Planned Parenthood last year, Mr. Trump’s position was virtually unintelligible. On the one hand he claimed to support de-funding the organization (a praiseworthy position), but on the other hand he was quick to defend Planned Parenthood and to downplay its abortion services as being only “a small part of what they do.” First he stated he would support shutting down the government in order to de-fund planned parenthood, then later reversed course and refused to commit to this hardliner position in the interests of “show[ing] unpredictability.” (He certainly succeeded in that respect!) Mr. Trump’s inconsistent stand on this matter earned him the praise of Planned Parenthood spokesman Eric Ferrero and CEO Cecile Richards. (As recently as February 14, Trump doubled down on his favorable comments about Planned Parenthood.)
  • In a surprising move that received relatively little media coverage, Trump advocated the execution of Islamic terrorists’ non-combatant family members. “The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families,” Trump said. “They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself. When they say they don’t care about their lives, you have to take out their families.” Some have (rightly) objected to this unusual policy proposal on the grounds that intentionally targeting civilians for execution is a war crime. But to go one step further, I would argue that it also exposes Trump’s lack of commitment to the sanctity of human life. The Christian view of human life, rooted in the doctrine of the Imago Dei, would not permit such a cavalier posture toward the intentional execution of innocent civilians. I would tentatively conclude from this that, while Mr. Trump may have moved somewhat to the right on the issue of abortion, it does not appear to be a pivot born of deep-seated convictions or principles.

Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!

Our nation’s founders were firm proponents of religious liberty. “I have often expressed my sentiments,” George Washington wrote, “that every man, conducting himself as a good citizen, and being accountable to God alone for his religious opinions, ought to be protected in worshipping the Deity according to the dictates of his own conscience.” Religious liberty is, in my opinion, the most precious of all liberties bestowed by the bill of rights. It is preeminent in fostering freedom and restraining tyranny. Today, most Christians recognize that our religious freedoms are gradually being eroded, and appreciate the importance of electing a leader who will stop the decay.

In that light, I find Mr. Trump’s posture toward Muslims deeply disturbing. He has proposed banning all foreign Muslims from entering the country and implementing government surveillance of mosques. I’m afraid some of my fellow conservative Christians, having been whipped into a furor by the violent actions of jihadist terrorists, have become too willing to sacrifice the religious liberty of others, and in so doing to leave their own flank exposed. If we permit the government to surveil and harass men and women of other faiths, what assurance do we have that it will not eventually do the same to us? To paraphrase Martin Niemöller, “Then they came for the Muslims, and I did not speak out because I was not a Muslim.” (Remember where that road inexorably leads? “Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”) We should support leaders who will defend the rights of all Americans—Christian and non-Christian alike—to worship as they please, without intrusion, harassment, surveillance, or interference of any kind. The alternative, I fear, is a slippery slope to a very dangerous place.

Conclusion: Make America Godly Again?

More than anything else, our desire as Christians should be, not to make America great again, but to make it godly again. Of course, I am keenly aware that this is a task that cannot be accomplished at the ballot box. Evangelism and discipleship are the prerogatives of the church, not the government, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Nevertheless, whom we elect (and, relatedly, whom we nominate for election) does have an important part to play in either enabling or curtailing our mission. In 2012, conservative Christians faced an interesting dilemma: one candidate espoused a version of “Christianity” in the tradition of liberal liberation theology, the other in the tradition of Mormonism. Most Evangelicals regard both of these traditions as inauthentic and heretical. This raised the burning ethical question, “How should Christians vote if neither candidate is a true believer?” I’ve always liked Ravi Zacharias’s response:

When choosing between leaders You have to [vote] for a person who will help a nation provide the best moral soil on which the freedom to believe and disbelieve can actually function. It is on a moral soil that the freedom to believe actually works best and truth can ultimately triumph. If you have an immoral soil created, then truth is evicted, and you’re not even given the opportunity of voicing your ideas in the marketplace, the public setting, and in the [ideological] arena.

So, the question is, would a Trump presidency enable or curtail the task of making America godly? Well, when the candidate in question has a history of making decisions we would regard as immoral, when his guiding principles are nebulous and undiscernible, when his actions on the campaign trail demonstrate vindictiveness and cruelty, and when his record on the salient issues is remarkably inconsistent—aren’t the red flags beginning to pile up? Do we really want to take a chance on this?

As the primary election ramps up, many on the right are criticizing Trump on the grounds that he is not a true conservative. I share their viewpoint, and I think it is a conversation that needs to be had. But infinitely more basic and fundamental to my thinking is the question, “Does my commitment to follow Jesus Christ and honor Him in all things permit me to support Mr. Trump’s candidacy?” To my conscience, the answer is clear. I hope it is to yours, too.


Originally published at dgunnthebaptist.com.

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