Presidential Election 2016 is over, and the president-elect is Donald Trump – reality star, business mogul, brand-unto-himself. White Evangelicals provided a big and important part of his support. So, how might Evangelicals view a Trump presidency? In part 1, I looked at my own personal reaction to Trump’s victory; in part 2, I am looking at some issues where Evangelicals will be opposed to President Trump; and in part 3, I will explore some God-honoring ways that Evangelicals might engage with parts of Mr Trump’s presidency. As always, these are my own thoughts and do not represent the stances of any church or organization.
[Note: this post was originally published at colecenterforbiblicalstudies.wordpress.com on Nov 30, 2016. It has since been removed from there and sits more happily here. Thanks.]
Generally, nations receive the kinds of leaders they deserve. Always, God gives us the kind of leader that will draw us to follow Him – sometimes He gives us leaders that point us to Him from their goodness and at other times He gives us leaders that – by their evil – show us our need for Him. And we usually ask for leaders that look like us and promote the kinds of sins that we feel comfortable with while rejecting the kinds of sins or people or virtues that make us uncomfortable. With Mr Trump, I suggest that the United States is getting the kind of leader the nation deserves, the kind of leader that shows the nation its need for God because of the nation’s evil. (That would have been true if Secretary Clinton had been elected, as well.) This election felt apocalyptic, in the sense that it revealed to us what kind of a nation we are and what kinds of leaders we deserve (apocalypse simply means “revealing” or “revelation”). (Unfortunately, I sense that this election has also revealed something at the heart of white Evangelicalism that I hoped was not there – we are apparently much more comfortable with some kinds of sins and victims and identities than others.) In this sense, then, President Trump is a kind of judgment on the nation: he reveals who we are and his presidency serves to warn us and to extend God’s hand of wrath on us. His presidency stands as a picture of the nation’s character and sins. Let’s explore Mr Trump’s character and look at why it is a problem that 80% of Evangelicals voted for him.
First, as I have said before, promotion of self is the essence of beastly politics, and Mr Trump is a self-serving narcissist. Mr Trump literally builds towers to his name, builds universities with his name on them, has spent his career building a brand to himself. His CV looks like the CV of the beast – promotion of self and rejection of self-sacrifice. His vices are pretty clear, documented, and straightforward: greed, lust, lust for power, self-service, impulsiveness, adultery, pride. Among the seven deadly sins, I do not know him to have committed gluttony or sloth, but the rest are pretty clearly on display. And, he has claimed to have no need to repent. I’m stunned to see Evangelicals promoting and voting for such a man. Yes, he has accomplished things but they are all things that promote himself. This is not a man who wants or seeks the blessing of God, instead he will continue to promote himself at the cost of virtue and the common good. If he reveals anything about the nation – as I believe he does – then it is that we are self-serving narcissists.
Second, something I have noted before on the blog, Mr Trump has an ambivalent relationship to truth. He consistently blames the “mainstream media” for distorting his words, but Mr Trump has been caught speaking demonstrable falsehoods regularly. One fact checker found that Mr Trump lied every three and a half minutes on the campaign trail. Again, this is the method of the beast. The Lamb tells the truth about God, the state of humanity, and all of creation. The beast tells lies. Mr Trump tells lies about himself, about others, about the nation, and about God. The loss of truth and honesty in the nation’s political discourse (not new or a result of Mr Trump, just to clarify) opposes biblical values and the stated values of Evangelicals. Mr Trump is a beastly kind of leader and stands as a kind of indictment for our deception and idolatry.
Third, Mr Trump is a product of the same sexual revolution that gave us Secretary Clinton. To me, this is the part of this election cycle that is most disturbing. Evangelicals who oppose Secretary Clinton have cited her support for abortion and same-sex marriage as key to their opposition. Her positions on those issues are clearly opposed to the unanimous witness of Scripture. And so, many of these Evangelicals have turned to Mr Trump. Yes, the same Mr Trump who has been supportive of Planned Parenthood and called himself pro-choice in the still recent past will carry the banner for the pro-life movement? He seems to have changed his public position to be more pro-life, which I welcome, and he has promised to nominate pro-life justices, but this places a lot of confidence in the word of a man who has demonstrated himself to be a liar while also placing a lot of confidence in the courts. This, I fear, is a version of the idolatry of government that conservatives accuse liberals of engaging in. Yes, the Supreme Court can have an impact on the lives of people, and on the nature of abortion practices in this country, but it has not done much to limit abortion over the last several years even with a majority of the justices appointed by Republican presidents. (The Court currently sits with 5 Republican appointees to 3 Democratic ones, and just recently struck down a fairly common sense Texas law limiting abortion resources.) More importantly, the Court has virtually no impact on the Kingdom of God, and our trust in the power of the Court betrays a lack of trust in the King of kings whose Court will judge all humankind.
So that’s abortion. And on same-sex marriage? Mr Trump has called it “settled law” and a law with which he says he is “fine”. If Evangelicals hoped that Mr Trump would back traditional marriage, they should expect those hopes to be disappointed. He has given no indication whatsoever that he will support biblical marriage in any way. The best we might hope for is some toleration for religious organizations, but if he will treat same-sex marriage as settled law, then support for the LGBT agenda will continue to advance among business and foreign policy conservatives and further alienate religious conservatives during the Trump presidency. In many ways, this situation could make for a more overwhelming pro-same-sex marriage consensus at the end of the next four years under Trump than we might have expected under a Clinton administration, where conservatives might have been more united against her policies. I fully expect the situation for those who support traditional marriage to worsen over the next four years.
And who might expect Mr Trump to be an advocate for traditional marriage anyway? He objectifies women (including his daughter), he cheats on wives, he brags about sexual assault and calls it “locker room talk”, and makes disturbing remarks to strong women about their menstrual cycles. Again, Mr Trump is as much a product of the Sexual Revolution as any leading feminist in the country (though from the opposite, reactive perspective). He has lived a post-faithfulness, post-honor sexual ethic for his whole life and we should expect him to advance that kind of ethic in his presidency. This, I contend, is where Evangelicals have done and will do the most damage to our cause and witness – we have hitched our wagon to a sexual revolutionary in order to prevent another sexual revolutionary. Neither will advance the causes of the Kingdom of God or help promote biblical personhood or traditional marriage. So, why did we hitch our wagon to anybody? The problem here is not that Mr Trump will be president but that Evangelicals aligned themselves with him. Essentially, white Evangelicals elected Mr Trump, and so white Evangelicals will be linked to him and his presidency. The Kingdom is not found in one president or another but a major part of the church in the nation has aligned the nation’s political fortunes to this sexual revolutionary. And we have done this while decrying the effects of the sexual revolution. This all smacks of hypocrisy and foolishness.
Secretary Clinton may have accelerated negative effects of the sexual revolution on the culture, and so a vote against her makes sense. But Mr Trump will not stop or reverse those effects. Instead, he will continue their progression, though probably by a different path. But we will end up at the same destination. By choosing this path, white Evangelicals are siding with the reactionary, patriarchal forces of the revolution, when we ought to have stood up for biblical understandings of marriage and family against all versions of the revolution. Again, we are just inviting God’s judgment on the nation.
Fourth, Mr Trump emerges from the same postmodern mess that gave us the identity politics that so many conservatives oppose. Mr Trump is an identity politician, just a rich, white one. White Evangelicals have regularly spoken against the identity politics of the Left, charging that postmodernism relativism and revisionism underwrite the concept of identity politics. It works something like this (though this will be way oversimplified): postmodern theory disbands concepts of the common good by arguing that “common knowledge” and the “common good” are both really concepts imposed by those in power in order to consolidate that power. If that is true, then those without power ought to band together in groups, according to those identities that they hold in common, to fight against those in power. This will allow oppressed groups – identity groups – to fight as collectives, which gives them more power. The Democratic Party tends to seek out and serve those groups and has become the party of identity politics, composed of various oppressed identity groups seeking to disrupt the power of the powerful. The Democrats are the party of women’s identity groups, our black neighbors, our LGBT neighbors, our latino neighbors, immigrant groups, the unions, and various other identity groups seeking to undo the power of (usually) white men.
There are strengths to this approach, the most important being that oppressed groups have voice in the culture and that oppressions can be named and overcome for the sake of those oppressed. But there are serious weaknesses, too. In the first place, identity politics fractures the culture and works against any concept of “common” or “common good”. Those looking out for the interests of an identity group are generally contrasting that group against others and trying to leverage their own power against another’s. This will quickly turn into various civil wars or power struggles. Another problem: identity politics invites a victim mindset among historically oppressed groups. If groups are always citing grievances against others more powerful than themselves, then their weapon of choice is often to blame the other for their own condition. This is not the path to growth but to prolonged victimhood. Finally, identity politics invites other groups to engage in the same kind of politics and models ways to exploit victimhood. Soon, any group that can consider itself oppressed in some way might file grievances against any other group so that the power struggles increase indefinitely.
This is what Mr Trump tapped into in this election cycle. Rather than working against the identity politics – often fostered by the Left – he took advantage of groups that see themselves oppressed on the Right, primarily whites with less education or who feel left out by the culture in some way. Mr Trump gave voice to whites who consider themselves victims but could not identify with the identity politics of the Left. He taps into the same postmodernism, the same rejection of the common good and of other identity groups, the same victim mentality, and the same power struggles. If Evangelicals want to see what judgment on a culture looks like, then start with the breakdown of virtue, family, truth, the common good, and then start pitting groups against each other. Again, Mr Trump isn’t the first or the worst at any of these breakdowns, but he is the first presidential candidate to combine all of them so successfully that Evangelicals jumped on board and accepted them. This all indicates a culture on the edge of destruction. As the culture continues to crumble, Evangelicals will have to ask how we might respond.
Mr Trump may make a fine president – I don’t discount the possibility because God has used worse vessels to His glory – but there are many reasons to expect a terrible presidency. Just as importantly, he will most likely advance the antichrist forces already at work in our culture, as quickly or nearly as quickly as anything that Secretary Clinton might have done. Here is where I get concerned about Evangelicals. Many Evangelicals were prepared to resist the evils of a Clinton presidency. Instead of preparing to resist the evils of a Trump presidency, many Evangelicals are openly rejoicing at Trump’s victory. This is astonishing. We must look forward with hope in our Lord, while preparing to resist the culture and its leadership in new, creative, faithful ways. Our resistance will be the subject of the next post.
Blessings in Christ our King,