The Faustian deal of trying to be a good Christian and a Trump voter
(COMMENTARY) Part of what aided Donald Trump’s unexpected win in the 2016 U.S. presidential election was his ability to secure 81% of the evangelical vote and 52% of the Catholic vote, according to a 2016 Pew Research study. However, this strong Christian base who came out in Trump’s support has sparked controversy in churches and organizations across the nation.
Some, such as Russell Moore in a 2015 New York Times op-ed, have argued that Christians who have backed Trump “must repudiate everything they believe.” Arguing against the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, theologian Wayne Grudem claims it is acceptable for Christians to support immoral candidates so long as they espouse biblically-sound policies. Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, even went so far as to claim, in a recent tweet, that one could be a “good Christian” regardless of whom one supports. Unfortunately, those Christians who endorse and support Trump do so in spite of their faith as they misunderstand their purpose as Christians and what the Bible commands about judging a person.
Due to God’s charge to Christians, they should not support Trump. By claiming one can be a “good Christian” despite who you vote for, Christians such as Jerry Falwell Jr. imply that one’s political activities are completely divorced from their faith. Such a claim, in essence, reduces Christianity to a mere set of propositions and intellectual or moral claims. However, the Bible presents Christianity as something far more whole-person than many Trump supporters realize.
According to Jesus in the Gospel of John, the defining trait of any Christian is selfless, active love for one another even if it should lead to death. By this, the Bible clearly sets Christianity as both an intellectual and physical faith as there are certain actions Christians should habitually commit. In the book of James, the author urges Christians to tame their tongues and uplift the lowly in their affliction. Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy expands James’ charge to where Christians are not to just follow these commands themselves, but they must also encourage others to do likewise and correct them when they fail. Finally, Paul claims in the book of Romans that, when Christians fail to live in accordance with their biblical calling, unbelievers ridicule God’s name. Therefore, Christians must closely scrutinize their actions in accordance with the Bible and actively apply what they believe for, as James writes, “faith without works is dead.” This is not all that Christians misunderstand when they choose to support Trump.
While Christians who support the former real-estate tycoon misunderstand what it means to be a “good Christian,” they also misunderstand what the Bible teaches about judging a candidate. The fact that Trump’s personal life is in direct violation of the Bible is unmistakable whether one supports or repudiates the president. However, some attempt to separate Trump the man from Trump the commander-in-chief in order to support him while still claiming to be against his lifestyle.
The Bible does not support such a separation of personal and professional lives. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells his disciples that they will know what kind of person one is by the actions he commits. The passage makes no distinction between what one does as a vocation and what one does with his or her leisure time. As such, Christians must consider everything a person does when deciding whether to support him. By supporting Trump (in the photo above at the recent funeral of former U.S. President George H.W. Bush), Christians are violating Saint Paul’s charge to correct those who do not act in accordance with God’s commandments by excusing Trump’s actions as his “private affairs.”
To secular Americans, this violation of Paul’s command seems like hypocrisy as, instead of repudiating or correcting Trump for his actions, Christians rewarded him in spite of his comments and deeds. Because the Bible calls Christians to act a certain way and encourage other Christians (which Trump has repeatedly claimed to be). To do likewise, Christians cannot consistently support the president as this support violates God’s charge to believers.
There are some objections. Some Christians have argued they had to support Trump as he was the only candidate in 2016 who had a legitimate chance of winning and endorsed the types of policies Christians wished to see in the United States. These Christians forget they must be faithful to the Bible first and foremost rather than trade their faith for the possibility of securing pro-life policies and judges. Furthermore, by endorsing and supporting Trump, Christians are at least signaling, if not tacitly claiming, that policy trumps character which is counter the biblical mandate to Christians.
Other Christians, meanwhile, claim their support for Trump is justified as there were no perfect candidates on the ballot. Certainly, this was true. Paul himself boldly claims in Romans that “all have sinned.” However, Christians are not supposed to find and exclusively support a perfect man but, according to the Gospel of Matthew, accept those who repent of their wrongdoings. Conversely, they are not to crown one who claimed in a 2015 interview with Frank Luntz that he does not seek God’s forgiveness or even “bring God into that picture.”
Since the 2016 election, Christians in the United States have been debating what their role should be in American politics. Some argue they should cling to their doctrines before they cling to a candidate and platform while others argue they must be realistic with the political situation and do the best they can with the options they have. However, there is a point where Christians must choose between either their faith or their politics.
The rise of Trump is that point. This debate over whether Christians should support the president is really over what it means to be a Christian and what the Bible says about judging candidates and leaders. Upon considering the Bible and Trump’s actions, Christians should see that they cannot consistently support Trump as they truly “must repudiate everything they believe” in order to do so.
Failure to see this will cause the American Church to lose any claim to moral credibility in the eyes of secular Americans who will see this Faustian bargain as confirming what they have long believed: Christians do not really believe what they preach. They merely adhere to the Bible when it suits their needs and look the other way when it does not. American Christians must not allow this fate to befall them. They must hold fast to the Bible above all else.