What will it take to convince “evangelical” promoters, defenders, and supporters of Donald Trump that their ongoing support for a wicked, perverse, arrogant, scandalized, Christ-professing man is systematically dismantling their current integrity and their future witness?
I almost never blog or tweet about politics or political candidates. But with the candidacy of Donald Trump, far more than politics is at stake. Our Christian witness is at stake.
Why? Because Trump has claimed to be a Christian, because many self-professed “evangelicals” have supported him, because “evangelicals” have long been an identifiable voting bloc, and because this voting bloc has spoken strongly and rightly in the past for character, honesty, morality, and marriage. If character, honesty, morality, and marriage mattered then, they matter now. And if they don’t matter now, they didn’t really matter then, and the “character matters” thing was just a thing — a convenient narrative, an easy trope, and ultimately a weaponized lie crafted to earn a little political leverage.
Now, I get it: Real Christians will find Trump’s profession of faith laughable. But that’s just the point. This man has made a mockery of the Christian faith, and so many “evangelicals” are gladly lining up to be part of the punch line. But the problem with this laughable profession is that real Christians aren’t the only ones laughing. Non-Christians throughout the U.S. and around the world are also finding Trump’s circus-inside-a-carnival utterly laughable, as well. And Christ is being dishonored.
If you’re a professing Christian and you’ve promoted, defended, or supported Donald Trump, does that matter to you? Does our collective Christian witness matter more to you than a last-ditch flail to grasp at the moral majority our forefathers enjoyed? Or have we even begun to learn the lesson God is teaching the church in our day? That the way the kingdom grows is always upside-down: last first, poor rich, humble exalted, and servants greatest. The way of the kingdom is the way of the cross, and while Christians in democratic societies should take full advantage of our citizenry and our rights, we should use these rights (like voting) to advance the gospel’s cause, not undermine it.
These issues matter because Scripture clearly shows that identifying with godlessness, selfishness, and greed always earns the culture’s disdain not only for our opinions but for our gospel. In 2 Corinthians 10-13 and 1 Thessalonians 2 (and elsewhere), Paul launches full-scale defenses of his character and apostleship, because he knows that if his character and integrity can be questioned, the gospel will face untold friction on the way to people’s hearts. God has so ordered the world that our lives authenticate, or dilute, our message.
And this message — that is, our witness for the gospel — is the most important thing we should care about in this election.
The church is an embassy of the kingdom of God, an outpost of the new creation. We have been called out of the world to testify to the world about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the forgiveness of sins offered in his name. We are heralds of the king, calling the nations to repentance and faith. We are inviting all men to turn away from their wickedness, to trust God’s Messiah and his exclusive way of salvation, and to join Christian communities filled with truth and love as we sow harvests of Christian character and await Christ’s coming reign.
But how can we testify to this gospel, call sinners to repentance, and claim the kind of character and integrity Paul claimed if we’re simultaneously advocating for the candidacy of a godless man whose scandalously immoral life has earned the widespread scorn of even pagans who passionately disagree with our Christian principles?
I recognize the moral dumpster fire of Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton. I recognize that her character, her record, her views, and her policies are serpentine in so many ways. Although she has served our country for decades and possesses the kind of public-office experience I wish were supportable, I cannot and do not promote, defend, or support her, nor will I vote for her, for reasons most conservatives and “evangelicals” don’t need explained to them.
I also recognize that we’re not voting for a pastor-in-chief but a commander-in-chief. I understand the difference between church and state. And I stand first in line to announce that America is far, far, far from a “Christian nation.” Voting is a great privilege, there is no perfect candidate, and there are rarely Christian candidates, and so we must cast our vote for a fellow sinner who is always flawed and almost always unchristian.
But these realities don’t nullify the importance of our voting decisions this coming November. Why not? Because the mosaic of our Christian witness is constructed by every choice we make, including our advocacy of a given presidential candidate during an election cycle. And I believe that Christians who advocate for Donald Trump are diluting the power of their current integrity and eroding the foundation of their future witness.
There are some proverbs so important they need to be said twice. Like this one: “The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it” (Proverbs 22:3 and 27:12). There’s coming a day, whether next week or next year, when any thoughtful Christian who cares about the testimony of Christ will wish he could say he’d opposed Donald Trump. The days are coming, and are already here, when it will be an unmitigated embarrassment to have supported a man whose arrogance, boastfulness, perversity, lewdness, hatred, malice, and greed — all as a professing Christian, as ridiculous as it sounds — have always been publicized, always been known, and always been ridiculed. And I grieve to draw what should be an obvious conclusion: The days are coming, and are already here, when the Christian church will suffer untold embarrassment because many who profess to know Christ are promoting, defending, supporting — or just staying silent about — a godless womanizing philanderer, one who has enjoyed their “evangelical” support while making an utter mockery of the highest electoral process in our republic.
Now, to be fair and realistic, I realize that many don’t like Trump but see no other option to accomplish the political purposes they want to accomplish. With this in mind, I would distinguish between four levels of advocacy. We can (1) promote, (2) defend, (3) support, or (4) vote for a candidate. In an ideal world, with an ideal candidate — neither of which exists — we would do all four. But in the real world, with real candidates, we will often fall somewhere on this spectrum of advocacy. So for “evangelicals” committed to Donald Trump, if nothing (no matter how scandalous) will change that commitment, I pray and plead that you’ll still speak out clearly and publicly against his wickedness, perversity, arrogance, and greed, all the way to the voting booth. I hope you’ll at least do something to guard the witness of the broader church in this election process.
This summer I sat at a kitchen table with five relatives, in a striking arrangement: three committed Christians with strongly conservative views on one side, and three committed non-Christians with strongly liberal views on the other. We love each other, but we know where everyone stands. The three on the other side know I’m a Christian and largely conservative, and I know they’re neither. We rarely talk politics or religion (though I wish we did more), because most folks don’t like that kind of argument. But as we sat there, one of my relatives suddenly asked if we Christians were supporting Donald Trump. He assumed we were, because we were raised together in a politically conservative home, he knows I still hold traditionally conservative views on many issues, and he knows Trump is running as a Republican. But this relative was surprised and relieved when he heard I was not supporting Trump, because I saw in Trump the same code-red concerns he did. It gave me the clear opportunity to express my Christian commitments in a way that had weight and credibility.
But what could I have said about sin or repentance or the gospel or character if I had promoted, defended, or supported Trump in that moment? What witness would I have had? What would my relatives, whom I love, have concluded about the depth of my convictions, or about the believability of the Christian faith?
I’m sure there are some logical and political gymnastics I could’ve performed to explain how I was supporting a presidential candidate but not his blatantly and dangerously godless character. But those kinds of gymnastics have a way of distracting from the pure and simple gospel, and that’s putting it lightly.
And so I say again: I understand that most “evangelicals” will not promote, defend, support, or even vote for Hillary Clinton in this election. But do you realize what you’re surrendering if you turn to Trump? How many vulgar frat-boy boasts, how much blatant greed, how many patent lies, how much unrepentant sin, how much bullying behavior, how many severed marriages, how much explicit racism, how much obvious power-lust, how many false professions of faith, and how much more of a rising moral landfill will it take — how much will it take — for those who profess the name of Christ to value Christ’s name and Christ’s gospel above what they hope to gain from a presidential election?