Analogies can be so convenient. They’re so flexible, fillable, moldable. Especially in this particular election season.
There’s a cluster of interesting comparisons flying around Christian discussions about the upcoming election. Each time Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump proves afresh that his public moral train wreck of the past three decades is still a glowing heap of twisted metal that’s actually not climbing back onto the rails, his evangelical promoters rally with hastily constructed biblical analogies to reconvince their constituents that the character of Donald Trump really is biblically defensible.
“God uses adulterers!” they exclaim, and out trots King David. “God uses pagans!” they glow, and out saunters Cyrus king of Persia. “God uses baby Christians!” they announce, and out marches Saul-turned-Paul, albeit one with no Damascus Road experience and no story of devastating humiliation and no encounter with anything resembling the blinding glory of the risen Christ.
I will give you this: It’ll preach. It’s a savvy move, these analogies, because we can just perform free-association between a millennia-old middle-eastern text and our contemporary democratic politics. It really does work out: We get to cover Donald Trump’s bald and blatant and bombastic perversity with the band-aid of an uninterpreted, decontextualized, sound-bite comparison that somehow requires a full-scale biblical and logical exposition (which few will ever read) to overturn. It works because it’s more convenient than accurate, crafting a political headline that ignores the biblical storyline.
God did use King David despite his sin, but the takeaway from David’s adultery is not “Minimize adultery!” but Psalm 51. God did use King Cyrus to free his people from captivity, but the moral of the story is not “We need more godless ancient rulers in contemporary leadership” but “Our God reigns.” God did save the Jewish strongman Saul, but this salvation produced not a Trumpian orchard of rotten fruit but a spirited, sacrificial, world-turning devotion to the gospel of Christ.
(And either way, if Trump’s Bible-using defenders keep saying we’re not voting for a pastor or a pope, why must they keep comparing him to an apostle?)
But let’s say we’re not persuaded to rethink these analogies yet. Let’s say we believe in applying holy Scripture to contemporary life (which we should), and we want to keep our quick-and-easy analogies at the ready on the lowest shelf.
If that’s going to remain our approach, all I’d ask is that we fill the whole shelf. Because there’s a half dozen chariots full of ancient rulers who’d be glad to ride that party bus with Donald J. Trump, hot mic’s or not. And I think they’d be disappointed to be excluded from this contemporary analogy game we’re playing.
Why should David, Cyrus, and baby Paul get all the play?
Let’s give Herod, Pilate, Nebuchadnezzar, Pharaoh, and Manasseh some run. And let’s throw in Goliath while we’re here. I mean, if we find on one side of the Valley of Elah a young psalm-writing shepherd boy who’s zealous for the name of the Lord, and on the other hillside we find a godless behemoth with a blasphemous mouth boasting scads of experience in the warrior-business, why doesn’t the giant get to be the analogy? God used Goliath, too, right? For his own glory, right?
But no one’s mentioning Herod, Pilate, Nebuchadnezzar, Pharaoh, Manasseh, or Goliath. No one’s using those biblical analogies for Donald Trump. Because if you’re trying to defend somebody’s character, that dog don’t hunt.
Herod the Great, with his palatial building projects and his numerous wives and his crazed temperament and his conspiracy theories. Pilate the governor, who couldn’t decide between protecting Jesus (because it was politically convenient) or abandoning Jesus (because it was politically convenient). Nebuchadnezzar, with all his look-at-what-my-hands-have-made pomp and circumstance (pre-feathers, of course). Pharaoh, with his infamously hardened heart, Manasseh with his anti-legacy of peerless evil, and the aforementioned Goliath with all his bigness and bluster and boasts and threats.
Despite all the evangelical pronouncements about how God can use “sinful” or “pagan” or even “evil” characters for his own glory and the good of his people and the advancement of his purposes, somehow the list of biblical characters we’re using to analogize Donald Trump is pretty thin, and in comparison with the Bible’s grittiest characters, quite tame. Why would that be? Because evangelicals across the land are laboring to minimize and rationalize the indisputably wicked character of their Republican candidate for president instead of saying it like it is and then voting their conscience.
So we say that Trump is post-adultery David but not pre-defeat Goliath. Why? Because David’s the analogy that (we hope) works. And perhaps also because of this: We assume that as Americans, we’re the Israelites and not the Philistines. We deserve a David, and not a Goliath . . . right?
That’s what happens when you read yourself into the wrong side of the story.
We’re the good guys and not the bad guys, we think. We deserve a king from David’s line, we think. And we’ve found one, we think, one to fight our battles and rescue the kingdom we care most about. But Donald Trump is no king from David’s line, and the real heir to David’s throne is one we never deserved and wouldn’t have elected. In fact, we ignored and rejected and spurned him, and even though he absorbed our rejection and died on the cross for our sins, it seems that in many ways, we’re still refusing to hear his words about the priority of his kingdom, the purity of his values, and the relevance of his teachings for our day.
If Donald Trump is King David, he’s a David without a Psalm 51, a David who missed the memo of being “a man after God’s own heart,” and a David whose line neither roots in Judah nor branches to the Messiah. He’s just a “David” when it comes to adultery, and that’s about it. This isn’t a harsh evaluation — Trump himself has been trumpeting his godlessness for decades. It’s evangelicals who’ve chosen to lionize him with these biblical references.
I suppose when you choose your analogy, and then airbrush it with just the right political arguments, you can believe in the resemblance you’ve custom-crafted. But you’ve also done one other important thing, if you’re willing to recognize it: you’ve just showed your cards.
I’m not talking about Hillary Clinton’s many faults in this particular article, precisely because evangelicals have already been condemning her character and policies for decades, and very few of them are promoting, supporting, or defending her now. But what evangelicals are doing now is beyond concerning: minimizing wickedness, rationalizing evil, and desensitizing our collective conscience by boldly launching undiscerning defenses of the biblically indefensible.
I don’t think it’s wrong to vote for Donald Trump. I’ve seen a lot of thoughtful Christians explain their political and legislative reasonings for doing so, and I respect them all for wrestling and thinking and praying through complex issues in a difficult election season. But to minimize his wickedness, defend his character, dilute the definition of conversion, and most of all, twist the sacred Christian Scriptures? That kind of thinking reveals just how much we really do need that greater king from David’s line.