President-Elect Donald Trump and Evangelicals, part 3

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 examined some issues where Evangelicals should be opposed to President Trump; and in part 3, I am exploring 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. [And be warned, this is longer than I meant it to be, so settle in for a bit. Sorry about that. I hope it’s helpful at this length.]

[Note: this post was originally published at colecenterforbiblicalstudies.wordpress.com on Dec 10, 2016. It has since been removed from there and sits more happily here. Thanks.]

As Christians, we will honor President Trump as God calls us to honor our leaders. As we would have honored Sec Clinton as president. This world is not our home and our Kingdom is not of this world. If Clinton had been elected, then citizens of Christ’s Kingdom would have honored her and pointed to some ways that we might have needed to resist both her leadership and the direction of the country under her leadership. Some Evangelical leaders were prepared to resist Sec Clinton but are now rejoicing at Trump’s victory (incidentally, a large group of non-American Christian leaders opposed Trump). With Trump, as with every national leader, there are some ways that we can say yes and support him, but in other important ways we need to stand up and say no, that the Kingdom of God opposes this or that part of his leadership. He will be leading a nation and not the Kingdom of God, because our King is Jesus and He is ruling from the right hand of the Father now. God has placed Mr Trump in authority, and part of an Evangelical response to any leader whom God has raised up is to honor and submit to that leader (see especially 1 Peter 2 and Romans 13:1-7). We will look at God-honoring ways we ought to resist President Trump in a moment, but I want to make clear that all such resistance takes its cues from Scripture, which first calls Christians to honor and submit to good and bad leadership, as the people of God were called to honor and submit to the Israelite kings (some of whom were good and some bad), to their foreign captors (who were pretty much all bad) and to the Roman emperors (who were bad bad bad). The integrity, virtues, or effectiveness of leaders does not call into question our Christian responsibility to honor and submit to those leaders.

There are many ways to do this. We pray for leaders, we seek their best, we speak truly and not falsely about them, we tell leaders the truth about themselves. In Scripture, Joseph, Daniel and his friends, Jeremiah, Paul, Peter, and many others give us clear examples of what it looks like to honor and submit to those God has placed in governmental leadership. Joseph seeks the good of Egypt and tells the truth about the coming years of fat and famine. Daniel and his friends maintain faithfulness to God in ways that both challenge and benefit the leadership of Babylon and Persia. Jeremiah calls the people to submit to God’s judgment and then to seek the good of the city in which they live. Paul calls the Romans to submit to Nero, even as he undermines Nero’s false claims to divinity and ends up martyred at Nero’s hand. Peter calls God’s people to submit to and honor Caesar – even when the emperor is unjust – because submission participates in the life of Christ. Peter was killed by Caesar, like Paul and like Jesus (well, Jesus was killed by Caesar’s regent in Palestine, but you get the idea). Peter, in fact, points us to Jesus as the great example of submitting and honoring: Christ suffered for us under an unjust government, “leaving for you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats” (1 Pet 2:21-23). He submitted Himself to an unjust government, yes, but He submitted Himself even more to us, for our sakes, and “bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed” (2:24). And even more than that, He submitted Himself to the Father: “but kept on entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (2:23). In one sense, this might be considered something like an order of submission: we submit to the government, we submit to one another, and all that because we submit to God (the One and Only, who is really in charge).

I hope those examples make clear that honor and submission do not mean that we are called to agree with, defend, align ourselves with, like, or even to speak nicely about government leaders. There is no question that the Old Testament prophets rightly named the evil of the Assyrian and Babylonian leaders, to whom many prophets were called to submit. John, the writer of Revelation, links the beast and the dragon to the Caesars, whom he was called to submit to and honor. Jesus calls Jewish leaders “white-washed tombs” and a “brood of vipers”, and subverts Pilate’s authority even as He submits to it. Daniel’s friends submitted to and honored Nebuchadnezzar in such a way that it got them thrown into a furnace and Daniel submitted in such a way that he was thrown into a lion’s den. Peter and Paul both submitted to and honored Caesar so effectively that they were both violently killed, by Caesar. Yes, we are called to submit to and honor those whom God has placed in authority, but apparently that may mean submitting and honoring in such a way that those authority figures may not recognize our submission and honor as such. To honor a leader means to respect her and to take her seriously, to treat her with the weight that her humanity and position deserve. To submit to a leader means to put ourselves under his authority and to respect him enough to take his decisions seriously. Honor, I suspect, may include things like respecting the image of God placed in another enough to tell him the truth about the evil he is doing or intends to do (like Nathan with David or Daniel with Nebuchadnezzar). Submission may mean putting oneself in position to be arrested or martyred to oppose an evil policy decision (like Daniel and his friends or Rosa Parks and the civil rights activists here in the States). Honor might mean taking seriously God’s chosen vessel such that we resist their government’s clear directives (again, like Daniel, and Peter before the Sanhedrin). Submission could include acting in ways that call into question a leader’s authority to make the kinds of decisions the leader is making while being ready to face the consequences of those actions (like Jesus before Pilate and like Daniel’s friends before Nebuchadnezzar).

In such ways, American Christians are called to honor and submit to President Trump. We will seek his best, we will respect him and take him seriously as one created by God, bearing His image, and put into authority by Him. We will put ourselves under his authority and take his decisions seriously. We will not act as if his good or evil decisions don’t matter – we will treat him with the weightiness that he deserves. When he acts in ways that promote the Kingdom of God – that care for the poor and oppressed, that promote the value of every human life, that work against the culture of death, that speak the truth about God and His creation, that care for that creation as God’s good work – we will honor and submit to President Trump by supporting those actions and defending them. When he acts in ways that work against the Kingdom of God – that promote death and the culture of death, that advance greed and selfishness, that destroy creation, that display false understandings of humanity before God – we will honor and submit to President Trump by resisting those actions and placing ourselves in position to face consequences. As it is, we will have some specific ways that we are called to resist a Trump presidency, related to some specific issues that Mr Trump has displayed regularly. As we saw in part 2 of this series of posts, Mr Trump is a self-serving narcissist, he lies regularly, he violates biblical sexual standards, and he exploits tensions and identities and divisions to increase power struggles.  Evangelicals should not play along with these tendencies but ought to resist them with wisdom. Here are some ways that we might consider resisting.

First, in response to President Trump’s self-serving narcissism, and in opposition to the identity politics of the Left and the Right, Christians are called to practice self-sacrifice for the common good. We seek the common good and the good of the person God has placed in front of us. There are as many ways to serve the good of another person as there are other people, and in a fractured world the notion of a common good is a complex and difficult idea to locate, so this response is more difficult to define than to illustrate. Christ, of course, is the central example of sacrificing oneself for the common good. In a fractured world, He identified the good necessary, fought against the true enemies (sin, death, evil, chaos, Satan) and not the apparent ones ( the Roman Empire or Roman people, the Jews,  various anti-Roman Jewish factions, the people caught up in these movements), set Himself to the task He was called to do, and then laid down His life for the sake of all others. The nation and the world are fractured. And so, we must follow the example of Christ: identify the good, fight against the true enemies and not apparent ones, set ourselves to the task we are called to do, and lay ourselves down for the sake of others. Each of these is a difficult work. How do we identify what is good? What tells us a true enemy from an apparent one? Do we have the courage to face our tasks? Can I really lay down my rights, desires, cares, and life for others?

Some ways that we might accomplish these difficult tasks include seeking out others beyond our identity groups and seeking their good instead of our own. White Evangelicals might actively seek out black brothers and sisters and hear their stories and look for ways to sacrifice for them. Theological conservatives might actively seek out our lesbian and gay neighbors and sympathetically listen to them and find ways to serve them with theological integrity. Protestants might seek out Catholics (especially in this upcoming year when we remember and celebrate the 500th year since the start of the Reformation), established citizens can serve those who come as refugees, families might invite in singles, a middle class family might invite in a homeless or drug-destroyed stranger, a liberal Christian might have an alt-right neighbor over for drinks, and on and on. The point is that we need to work to reach beyond our identity groups. We must choose into this kind of activity because we will naturally (and this is what we see happening now) feel the gravitational pull of those who are like us – we watch news from those we agree with, we hang out with people who are in life circumstances similar to ours, we easily connect with those whose perspectives have been shaped in ways similar to us, we talk easily with those who make us comfortable in their mannerisms or conversational style. It is unnatural, or we might say “supernatural” or “spiritual”, for us to seek to serve those unlike us. Like Christ, who “though He was God, did not regard equality with God as something to be held onto (or, alternatively, “did not regard holding on as consistent with God” – Gordon Fee), but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of humanity” (Philippians 2:6-7). When we empty ourselves of our identities, we look more like Christ. “Holding onto” our fleshly identities is not consistent with the character of God; God is Love in the sense that He is the One who empties Himself for the sake of others.

There have been a variety of historical examples of Christians doing just this kind of thing – pouring out themselves for the sake of the common good. I don’t highlight these to say anything about what President Trump will be like (admittedly, these examples all point to opposition to terrible rulers; I am not trying to say that President Trump will be a terrible ruler) but to look at how Christians have given up their own rights for the sake of the common good. I want to point just briefly to a few:

  • The Solidarity Movement in Poland was a movement that worked for the common good in a splintered society under Communist rule.
  • Catholic opposition to General Pinochet in Chile worked to remember and care for those who disappeared under his torturous and murderous rule.
  • The Confessing Church in Nazi Germany opposed Hitler and his policies even as it cost them religious freedom and cultural influence.
  • Martin Luther King, Jr and the Civil Rights leaders were motivated by the Gospel to seek a nation where black and white and all races were treated with equal dignity.

Christians serve the common good when we move beyond ourselves for the sake of others, when we oppose the evil that oppressors do to those they oppress, and when we remember that we are fighting against evil that is not flesh and blood. I pray that we will be a people that recognizes the evil of serving self and those just like us so that we pour ourselves out for others, following the example of Christ our Lord. I have talked with one Christian brother who has told me that the thought of a President Trump has motivated him to more intentionally work with families who come to America as refugees. I find that to be a pitch perfect response – we pour out ourselves and serve others for the sake of their good.

Second, Christians are called to practice honesty and faithful worship. Truth has become a slippery concept in our age. Jesus said to Pilate, “For this purpose I have come into the world – to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Our age responds to Jesus as Pilate did: “What is truth?” (John 18:37-38). Stephen Colbert has satirized our concepts of truth as “truthiness” (words now just have to feel true, not actually be true) and now “Trumpiness” (where words “feel feels” that I feel). It is true that we now live in a postmodern world where we distrust our public gatekeepers to knowledge and truth so severely that we expect them to lie and manipulate to hold onto their power. Under Modernism, “knowledge is power”; under Postmodernism, “power is knowledge” and we know that the winners get to decide truth. And so, Pilate’s question becomes ours – “what is truth?” If the winners are deciding truth, and if we don’t like or trust the winners, then our distrust of their truth is built into the system. This works with governments, media, celebrities, pastors, scholars, scientists, and all kinds of public figures who make truth claims. Into that cultural moment, Mr Trump makes claims that the untrustworthy public figures and institutions call lies and upsets them in ways that excite those who don’t trust those figures and institutions.

Truth is not a function of angering the right people, or a result of being spoken by a person that I like. Jesus answers: “I am the Truth” and “I have come into the world to bear witness to the Truth.” Truth is not a free for all; truth and honesty matter; loyalty and faithfulness to our words and commitments is essential to Christian witness. And that is more and more true as Christians perceive that important leaders are untrustworthy. If white Evangelicals believe that public figures and institutions are dishonest then our response should be to speak and live truth and support truth-tellers, rather than to support those on “our side” who play by the same rules as those who play dishonestly. The goal of Christian witness is not to win but to play rightly; God has already won; our witness is tied to our faithfulness and not to our political victories. So, Evangelicals must answer the problems of truth in the world by living truth: honesty in my dealings with others; honesty in covenants and contracts; faithful worship, even with those I disagree with or don’t like; faithful worship to God Himself, as Lord and God; telling the truth about humans, sex, those who don’t look like me, creation, and the nature of success and money. Under a Trump presidency, we will have choices to make about whether to tell the truth or to support “our guy”. I pray we will choose faithfully, and bear witness to the truth along with our Lord.

Third, related to honesty and truth and in opposition to the revolutionary sexual practices of President-elect Trump, Christians are called to practice covenant faithful love in our marriages and families, in our churches, and to the orphan and the widow. Covenant faithful love – what the Old Testament calls hesed and what the New refers to in a combination of terms, like agape and dikaiosune – is one of the defining characteristics of God Himself. God expresses His covenant faithful love to those unlike Himself that don’t deserve His favor. He faithfully loves those to whom He has made promises – creation, Adam and Eve’s offspring, Noah’s offspring, Abraham’s offspring, David’s offspring, those in Christ. We are called to be people like our God, people who make and keep our promises. There are several key institutions that require our covenant faithful love: marriage and the Church being central ones. The division and unfaithfulness within the Church is mirrored by the division and unfaithfulness in the culture. We are supposed to lead the way in love and faithfulness, and our failures to remain covenant faithful and show love in marriage and in the Church have led to the division and unfaithfulness in the culture.

I want to argue that, under President Trump, Christians must lead in faithful marriages, in valuing women, in reconciling divisions, in seeking shalom for all of those whom God loves (that is, everyone). If the culture moves toward protecting the lives of the unborn and toward traditional marriage (big ifs, by the way), then Evangelicals must reveal God’s covenant faithful love in our own lives. It is not enough for us to oppose abortion and the LGBT agenda if our marriages and divided churches continue to contribute to the lack of faithfulness in the culture. It is not enough to oppose abortion, we must show covenant faithful love by continuing to adopt and supporting those who would adopt. It is not enough to oppose same-sex marriage, we must support our single and same-sex attracted brothers and sisters as family (which they are). And, in all ways, we must seek to advance God’s covenant faithful love in a culture with a president who undermines faithfulness and displays love for self.

Fourth, the people of God must always stand for the vulnerable and oppressed. Jesus’ words and example are very clear on this subject, even when the vulnerable are unlike us, or seem to be some kind of threat to us, or will change our way of life in significant ways: “Whatever you do for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you do for me” (Matthew 25:40).  There are many ways that Christians have stood with and for the least of these historically and around the world, by living as Christians first and Americans second as God calls His Church to do. Our American identity is a secondary identity. Similar to the ways I enjoy a second favorite football team or a third favorite composer (yeah, I like Boise State football, until it runs up against or competes with Oregon football; and yeah, I like Schubert but don’t try to argue that he’s better than Bach), I must not gain any central identity from being American and must instead run all things American through the filter of my identity in Christ. When Catholic immigrant families are being mistreated, I stand with them against their government oppressors. When women are being assaulted, I stand with them against their male perpetrators. When Muslim neighbors are being threatened, I stand with them against Americans making the threats. As Christ submitted Himself for our sake while we were His enemies, we are called to stand with and for others when we are being threatened, and even when the threats come from those with whom we are trying to stand. This is the consistent way of Christ, “who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats”.

Christian men, if you have a wife or mother or daughter or sister or friend who is a woman, try saying this: “You are a beautiful daughter of the King, and a blessed sister in God’s family. I will stand with you and protect you and encourage you as you live out the image of Himself that God has placed in you. I reject the ways that President-Elect Trump has spoken about women and I will follow the King of Kings and not the rulers of this world; I will sacrifice for you as Christ has sacrificed for me.” And then we need to be ready to actually sacrifice. We can change very little and say and do the same kinds of things to our Muslim neighbors, to our black and latino brothers and sisters, to families who come to this country seeking refuge, to immigrants legal and illegal.

Fifth, against pride and self-reliance, Christians are always called in every time and place to be people of repentance. And, just to be clear: the stuff in my life and heart is not somehow better than the stuff in Mr Trump’s. I’ve detailed his evil not because it is so much worse than mine but because he will be president, his life will be very public, and we need to respond appropriately. But I know the evil in my heart – pride, lusts, failures to love, selfishness, seeking my own comfort above the needs of those with real needs, etc. – and I know its destructiveness. President Trump will make important mistakes (like, you know, every president or leader ever) and in our repentance, Evangelicals can model for him and for a self-justifying culture the need for and joy in repentance. We have freedom from the burden of guilt not because we don’t make mistakes or because those mistakes don’t matter but because God has sent His Son for us and offers redemption to us. We don’t have to pretend like we are somehow above intentional or unintentional errors, like we haven’t said and done cruel and evil things, like our hearts are fully and totally tuned toward God. Let me say it in no uncertain terms: I have a heart full of sin and evil, and I need God’s mercy every single day. I thank God that, by His mercy, He has preserved me from doing some of the terrible things in my heart. I thank God that, by His mercy, He has forgiven me for the truly terrible things I have done. I thank God that His mercy is extended to all who will humble themselves and repent of their sin. And so, I pray that the freedom and joy that repentance brings would rest on Mr Trump, Secretary Clinton, and all others in the nation’s leadership. I pray that same freedom and joy for all my brothers and sisters in this country and throughout the world.

Sixth, and finally, we will pray for President Trump and seek his best. We do not have to agree with him on everything to know that God loves him and wants his best. Also, we know that God has placed Mr Trump in this position of leadership. I do not hope that he fails and I would not suggest that anyone work for his failure. I pray that he succeeds far beyond my expectations. I pray that God leads him by His Spirit. I pray that God molds his character and draws him to Himself. I pray that God uses President Trump to fulfill God’s purposes in this nation and around the world in powerful and dramatic ways. I pray that President Trump will repent from his sin and turn to God. I pray that the Church will grow in maturity and faithfulness during the next four years. And I pray that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit will be worshipped and glorified because President Trump begins to look more and more like Christ our King. I know that none of that is possible in Mr Trump as he is. But I also know that we worship a mighty and powerful God, in whose hands the hearts of kings are directed like channels of water. And so, I pray for God’s mighty hand to work on the heart of President-elect Trump.

Blessings in Christ our King,

Josh

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