Can Evangelicals support Trump and Maintain their Witness?
Evangelical Christians may be one of the most influential voting blocks this election but will they vote according to Biblical principles? According to John Piper’s recent commentary, he thinks they’re missing the mark in their support for Pres. Donald Trump.
The well-respected theologian compared Pres. Donald Trump’s character to an evil king’s influence permeating a nation. It was a Biblically grounded piece that prompted thoughtful responses from Wayne Grudem and Albert Mohler. Both acknowledged Trump’s problematic and unChristian character but considered other factors in their support for Trump.
In all transparency, I was reluctant to write this for fear of the backlash from both sides, but my work in both the realm of church and state necessitates a response—one that I hope is grounded biblically and seasoned with grace.
So what should we look for in a candidate? Moses was given leadership advice by his father-in-law Jethro who told him to find others to help him lead Israel. He said to look for capable, God-fearing men who are trustworthy and hate a bribe (Ex. 18:21). Timeless counsel. The Apostle Paul told the Corinthian church that in whatever we do, “we should do it all for the glory of God.”(I Cor. 10:31). Are we heeding that admonition today?
In 2016, 80 percent of self-identified evangelicals voted for Trump, despite some of his glaring character deficiencies. A candidate’s character has always been vital for evangelicals. It was an important issue when Bill Clinton ran in 1992. It’s still an important issue today and evangelicals should be cautious about cozying up to power at the expense of integrity. But the evangelical political calculus has changed.
The year prior to Trump’s election, marriage was redefined by the U.S. Supreme Court. A federal directive ordered public schools to allow boys, who identified as girls, to join girls’ sports teams. Creative professionals were bullied in court by LGBT activists and were forced to participate in gay weddings. Planned Parenthood received hundreds of millions in public tax dollars even after being caught on tape trading in aborted baby body parts.
For evangelicals, Trump was the candidate with a backbone. He would defend religious liberty, protect unborn life, and drain the swamp, otherwise known as Washington, DC. He’d “say it like it is” and stand up to institutions that undermined American principles. In a phrase, he’d Make America Great Again. That was the rationale anyway. But can such conservative ideals be rightfully accomplished despite character flaws marked by careless words and character assassinations? More importantly, can an evangelical’s witness be maintained while supporting a deeply flawed candidate?
Character still matters deeply. However, other considerations come into play for evangelicals in this election. Consider that Democratic candidate Joe Biden just announced his number one priority is passing a bill that makes LGBT identity a civil right at the expense of religious freedom. He’s also opposed to religious-based counseling programs that help people re-orient their sexual orientation to Biblical heterosexuality. He also favors children determining their own gender identity. Pres. Trump is opposed to these positions.
Policy has become central to the evangelical political calculus and character has become secondary. But can you blame this shift when there’s an existential threat to religious freedom? The Little Sisters of the Poor shouldn’t have to go to court to fight the government-ordered contraception mandate. Bakers and photographers shouldn’t be forced to violate their conscience to participate in gay weddings. Under a Biden presidency, they’ll face the same battles.
Party platforms are taking on a more prominent role this election. Many evangelicals are voting for the principles of the Republican party instead of the candidate himself. In the 2016 platform, God is recognized thirteen times. The right to life, man/woman marriage, religious freedom, rule of law, protection of our borders, and strong national security are spelled out. The Democratic platform is the polar opposite where God was grudgingly acknowledged once. Implicit in their policy statements is that government is god with respect to personal provision and equal outcomes after the law.
Consider that we are not electing a king, but a president in a constitutional republic. This is where Piper’s comparison is off. He argues that a king’s corrupt character corrupts the nation. While prominent leaders have great influence, we aren’t electing a potentate with unlimited power but rather a president, which involves the appointment of a vast team of administrators.
The president is responsible for 4000 political appointees—men and women who’ll largely represent the values of the party’s platform. None will be forced to burn incense to Caesar, but are given platforms to do good in their professional capacity. As it is, there are many capable evangelicals serving at high levels in the administration: Vice-president Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of HUD Ben Carson, and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
Then there is the crucial role of the president in nominating judges. The kind of judges appointed by Trump have proven to be conservative, pro-life, and bound to uphold constitutional principles instead of legislating from the bench. A Biden presidency would have delivered another Ruth Bader Ginsburg instead of an Amy Coney Barrett.
Christians should care deeply about the election. It matters who’ll become our next president. However, do we care as deeply about being Biblically grounded and conducting ourselves well as much as we care about a political race? Do our actions reveal the two great commands to love God and love our neighbor? Is our speech gracious (Col. 4:6)? Can we disagree with political opponents in a respectful way? John Piper and Wayne Grudem demonstrated that’s possible.
The presidential race is important to the evangelical community, but we should remember that it’s only one of several races on the ballot, and politics is only one of many arenas of importance. We of all people should realize that winning the presidency is not our ultimate hope. Our nation ails from something no political leader can fix. At the heart of this election is the heart of a nation that desperately needs a savior, and regardless of who wins on Tuesday, it won’t be anyone arriving on Air Force One.