Christians and Trump

As a lot of you know, I spent 10-plus years working in Republican politics as a campaign manager, political consultant, and legislative staffer. I learned a TON during my time in politics and one of the things I learned is that Christians often times put country and party ahead of Christ. I’m probably guilty of doing that in my younger years when I was full of piss and vinegar believing that any Republican was better than any Democrat any day of the week!

But time mellows the soul; wisdom comes with age; and as I’ve become a disciple of Jesus instead of just a believer of Him, I think I have to address the issue of Christians and President Trump. His latest comments regarding the governors of the states being “weak” and “fools” over the recent George Floyd protests compels me.

Believe it or not, Christians were not always involved in politics like they are today. The advent of the Christian political movement can be traced back to the so-called “Reagan Revolution” when the Christian Coalition with Ralph Reed and other Christian groups (Moral Majority and PTL come to mind) jumped on the Reagan bandwagon calling for family values as a plank in the party platform.

Family values, of course, is code word for social issues – Abortion and Gay Rights. Christians who opposed the mainstreaming of these issues supported candidates who would oppose them and instead would support a “Family Values” agenda, which also included protection of the establishment and practice of religion, home schooling, less regulation to maintain family-wage jobs and more. Ronald Reagan fit the bill.

Even back in the 80s Christians didn’t see the conflict of supporting a candidate with whom they agreed on social issues even if their other domestic and foreign policy decisions cut against Christian ethos or even if their personal conduct did so! The thing about politics people have a certain moral flexibility when it comes to the issues they support.

Reagan was no saint, but neither were any of his predecessors or successors. To be a politician – with all due respect to my elected friends – you have to be a bit of a megalomaniac no matter what persona you create when you’re running.

I grew up in the Reagan Revolution. He was the first president for whom I was able to vote. I was in college at the time and help found a conservative newspaper on the University of Oregon campus. You can imagine how that went over!! But even back then I never saw politicians as rock stars or even people to be admired.

During my time in the newspaper business and as a political consultant I met and spoke with numerous elected officials, including congressman, senators, governors, state legislators and more. I interviewed Vice President Dan Quayle; met House Speaker Newt Gingrich; talked often with both Senators Mark Hatfield and Bob Packwood, as well as with Senator Wyden; and covered events for Reagan and Bush I.

Meh. Okay people trying to do their job, but all caught up in the theater of politics in the DC Beltway. They all start out on fire to do the right thing but “The Process” wears them all down and pretty soon they’re just doing what everyone else does which is partisan bickering, buck passing, and playing the blame game for political points.

Trump, however, is different. I’ve never seen the things that have happened since his election. Let’s see if I can walk through this a bit and make a coherent comment.

First off, Trump beating 16 other major candidates for the Republican nomination for president was stunning! Personally, I voted for Jeb Bush, believing that keeping the Bush team in place with Condi Rice and others would be a good thing. Trump beat Bush, Ted Cruz, Marc Rubio, John Kasich, Mike Huckabee, and Ben Carson. Apparently, Republican voters were tired of business as usual in Washington and were trying to send a message that they wanted an outsider to come in and clean the place up by putting American first – Trump’s message.

But here’s the thing about politics – there really is no such thing as an “outsider.” At that level of politics they are all elites! They all swim in the same pool. The only thing you’re really voting for is which elite’s policies you like best. Joe the Plumber isn’t winning the presidency anytime soon! It’s also why third-party candidates don’t stand a chance – they’re not in the club.

What was most stunning, however, was how Christians turned a blind eye to Trump’s behavior. It wasn’t just boorish, impolite, or good-old-boy locker room humor. The dude is crass, arrogant, bombastic, ignorant, a liar (but so are most politicians), and vengeful. Not what one would call leadership material. So why did Christians flock to him?

The same reason they flocked to Reagan, H.W. Bush, and Bush W. – the ends justify the means. Their policies were right so Christians supported them.

Trump promised to defend religious liberty, fight against abortion by cutting federal funds to Planned Parenthood, and roll back some LGBTQ gains from the previous administration. He also promised to rev up the economy through his America First program.

And here’s the thing – he actually did all that.

Christians are gaga over him but most will tell you they don’t actually like the man. And those who are honest will tell you that he’s actually not a believer.

Those of you who have been around me a bit know that I’m a pretty conservative guy – just to the right of Atilla the Hun as people used to say. But you can be a conservative Christian and call out evil when you see it even if you support the guy’s policies.

It seems to me that Trump has surrounded himself with sycophants within the Christian ministry community that have deemed themselves “prophets” claiming that Trump is God’s guy for America. Yes, all leaders are chosen by God but not all those leaders have been good leaders. Read your Bible: of the 39 kings in Israel and Judah only 8 were considered good by God; the remaining 31 did evil in the eyes of the Lord! So, yes, you can have a bad king that was chosen by God!

As a Christian, I have to have a sober judgment and look at things the way they are. And here’s the truth:

  • Trump doesn’t love his brother/sister. He continually attacks people with his sixth-grade insults and name calling. This is not Christ-like or shows any spiritual development or maturity.
  • Trump doesn’t love Jesus. If he did, he would do as Jesus commands, which is turn the other cheek, not judge, love his enemies, pray for those who persecuted him and all the rest.
  • Trump is not a new creation in Christ. There is no transformation in this guy. He’s the same guy he was on TV, the same guy he was during the primary election, the same guy he was when he won the presidency, and the same guy today. When you accept Jesus, you change – period. He has not.
  • Trump is not indwelt by the Holy Spirit. He shows none of the spiritual fruit (Love, Peace, Joy, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Gentleness, Faithfulness, and Self-Control). He is not convicted by his bad behavior nor does he repent from it, instead doubling down on it.
  • Trump is not a disciple of Jesus. Jesus told us that we would know his disciples by two things: Frist, the way they love one another and second by their fruit. Enough said.

Here’s the question I see my more progressive friends pose to their Christian friends: “As a Christian, how can you support Trump?”

It’s a fair question that deserves a thoughtful answer.

I think there are a few different groups of Christians involved – if you know anything about Christians it’s that we’re good at differentiating ourselves from other Christians!

There are the Christians that are completely bought into the Trump hype. They just love the guy and will excuse his behavior as him just being a “baby Christian” working out his salvation and he learns more about Jesus. Using this justification, they believe Trump is a Christian and has been sent by God to do God’s work in America.

Then there are the Christians who clearly see Trump for who he is but support him anyway because he’s better than the democrats they see. Given a choice to vote for Trump or Hillary Clinton they would vote for Trump 10 out of 10 times.

Then there are the Christians who don’t like Trump but believe his policies are better than the democrat’s policies. They look less at the man than they do what his administration is going to do domestically and in foreign policy as opposed to what the democrats would do if they were in the White House.

Then there are the Christians who hate Trump and are actually Democrats, supporting the social gospel part of scripture. These Christians often fall into the same trap as the Republican Christians, turning a blind eye to the behavior of their candidates so long as they support their issues.

Here’s the problem for the Christian. Who, exactly, could you vote for if you only could vote based on the candidate being a true follower of Jesus Christ?

I’ll wait…

You’re right – nobody! There may be candidates who come close – Mike Pence, for example, seems like a faithful guy – but he’d struggle to get out of the primary if he ran a Christian campaign against those who would not.

Politics is a contact sport – it’s mean, it’s dirty, it’s bloody. I’ve campaigned for candidates who have tried to stick to their Christian values during a campaign and they got slaughtered at the polls. And it gets worse if you were to actually get elected because the process will marginalize you as it’s done to a number of elected state legislators, county commissioners, and city counselors.

During the last presidential election, I told people that I thought we had the choice between two bad kings. Both elites, both egomaniacs, both who would drive this country apart even if they did so from opposite corners.

As a Christian here were my choices:

  1. Vote Republican
  2. Vote Democrat
  3. Don’t Vote
  4. Write Myself In

Not a great set of options (although D is looking better and better each day!).

I voted Republican. Not because I like Trump or believe him to be anything than what he is. But because I support Republican political issues over Democrat ones for the most part.

Since that vote things certainly have escalated!

From a Republican perspective, Trump has done much of what he said he would proving why Republicans (and many independents/non-affiliates) supported him. But he’s been an absolute disaster as a leader and human being. And under the pressure of the pandemic and race riots he’s become even worse, showing a willing ignorance to even respect the history, culture, and views of other people. Saying that the White House has vicious guard dogs who would attack rioters is one of the most tone-deaf things I’ve ever heard.

That all said, I don’t think and have never thought politics is an all-or-nothing game. You can support policies and not like the people. You can like the people and not support their policies. But the idea that if the person is bad you MUST also oppose their policies, or you are a (fill in the blank) is just childish nonsense.

I respectfully disagree with my Christian brothers and sisters who think Trump is all that and a bag of chips. He’s not the second coming and he certainly has no trait of Christianity within him.

But I also respectfully disagree with my progressive friends who believe that one’s hate for Trump the man must also include his administration’s policies.

I stand with Christ. I believe you will know them by their fruit. I believe if you don’t love your brother the love of Christ is not in you. And I believe that politics is not the bastion of Christian fellowship.

This coming election we’re stuck again. I used to really like Joe Biden but the more I see him the more suspect I get. Is he a Christian? Never heard him once mention Jesus’ name. Does his fruit show him to be a good man? Not if there is any truth to the touchy-feely stuff that’s out there. Certainly, he is more polished and polite than Trump, but that’s not a stretch. And what about his politics? As a Republican who would LOVE an alternative to Trump, I see Biden moving left not center which worries many who would eagerly dump Trump. Do we get two bad kings from which to choose again? There’s an old saying in politics that you get the government you deserve!

Politics seems to get everyone’s blood boiling, but I would caution all my friends to take a deep breath. Jesus is King! He reigns supreme. All this stuff shall pass – maybe like a kidney stone – but it will pass. Christians, vote for whom you think will support your views the best but don’t claim that the person is anything else than a sinner just like you and me.

Personally, I’m leaning on voting for myself this upcoming presidential election. Who’s with me?

 

2 comments

  1. Veronica Heilpern · · Reply

    I love you Tom, and on many things I agree with you. As you probably are aware, there are also areas in which you and I — in a loving manner, I would hope — disagree. However, my friend, voting for you, or for myself, or for anyone other than Trump’s opponent will bring us not only more of the disasters were are now experiencing, but lead way too many people AWAY from what Jesus Christ wants of us. The POLICIES of Mr. Trump ARE the fruits of his “labors”, and it’s easy to see, particularly now, just what results those fruits have borne. ABT.

  2. As you know, I’m not particularly political at all, but I’d like to chime in on one point: Though I do agree with you, that Trump does not exhibit the obvious signs of a true Christ follower, I don’t believe that a country can conduct itself according to the same Christ-like standards that God asks of us as individuals. The dynamics are different. Turning the other cheek in foreign relations, for instance, will make our nation seem weak, when traditionally we need to come from a position of power. As individuals we know ironically there is indeed power in submission, but I don’t believe it would work out the same on a global scale. At least not perfectly, and certainly not without casualties at worst, and unfair advantages taken at best.

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