Can? Should? Must?
An argument from 2016 that is still constantly being re-litigated is whether Evangelicals can support Donald Trump and whether there is hypocrisy in that support. Full disclosure: I was very opposed to Trump in the primaries and extremely critical of evangelical leaders who supported him against the likes of Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. The question involves considering Trump’s immoral past, his present achievements, and our best guess at his future. Additionally, the question can be expressed in three different ways: Can they support Trump? Should they support Trump? Must they support Trump?
There is no real debate that Donald Trump’s life has been filled with morality problems. He has been married multiple times and has a history of infidelity in marriage. There are questions about the ethical nature of some of his business. He has made many statements that have at least the appearance of dishonesty and there are numerous other concerns. Arguing that Trump is a paragon of virtue is a non-starter. Whether his lack in this area is a cause for active opposition is what needs to be addressed.
On the topic of active opposition, the story of the woman in John 8 is instructive. For those unfamiliar, the religious elites of the time brought a woman to Jesus. She had been caught in the act of adultery, which was a stoning offense according to the law. Jesus did not deny that she deserved to be stoned but said “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her.” The religious leaders left her alone and Jesus told her to “go, and sin no more”. This does apply to the Trump situation in the sense that we have no right to condemn him when we ourselves are guilty of sin. However, there is a large gap between failing to condemn on the one hand and elevating to leader of the free world on the other.
Thankfully, God has given us much in His Word to guide us. Examining the impact and actions of a few immoral men in Biblical history can be helpful.
Darius the King
Darius the Median came to power after the fall of Babylon during the Israelite captivity there. His historical identity is cloudy and there is some speculation that Darius and Cyrus are the same person. Darius was clearly a narcissist, with an even greater self-image than Donald Trump. When his advisers brought him a proposal that anyone who petitioned any God or man other than Darius should be put to death – Darius signed it happily. If we stopped the story there, every Christian could agree that Darius should not have been king and should have been opposed. In this story, like the modern story of Donald Trump, things can change.
Daniel is a great model for how we should react in situations such as this. There is no evidence that he opposed or hindered the rule of Darius. In fact, as far as we can tell, he did not pause in his work as an official in Darius’ government. The only thing he apparently did was to ignore the unjust law so he could continue to obey God. Despite the law, Daniel prayed to God just as he had always done. He was caught, arrested, and thrown into a den of lions to be killed and eaten. As most know from Sunday School lessons, God protected Daniel and the lions did not injure him. When Darius saw this demonstration of the power of God, he repented of his error and wrote a new decree. The new decree demonstrated that Darius had come to believe in the power of God and that he believed people in the kingdom should fear and worship God.
Don’t forget Nineveh
There are in fact numerous examples of God using the ungodly for his purposes. The story of Jonah is well-known and told frequently in Sunday School. Jonah did not want to obey God and spent days inside of a great fish before finally going and telling the wicked people of Nineveh the message of the Lord. The focus is so often on Jonah and how God dealt with him that the Ninevites are treated as an afterthought.
The story of Jonah is very much a story of the repentance of Nineveh. At the time, Nineveh was well-known throughout the region as a place of wickedness. The people of Nineveh (at least 120,000 and maybe more depending on how verse 4:11 is viewed) and their king repented and avoided destruction.
How do historical works from thousands of years ago inform our response to a U.S. President today? Two things stand out: God is a God of second chances and God uses flawed or even wicked people for His purposes. This column could explore the stories of David, Solomon, Moses, Paul, and many others for further evidence. Redemption is the core message of the Bible, both in overall narrative and specific emphases. In that light, how can the people of God not expect to see redemption in our daily lives and current events?
The answer to the first question, “Can evangelicals support Trump?” is a clear and definitive yes. If one believes in the God of redemption, one must be open to possibility of a person being redeemed. “Should evangelicals support Trump?” is only different in degree. Especially at this point in his presidency, as we have seen him advancing policies compatible with Christian values, evangelicals should support Trump.
Lastly, the question of “Must evangelicals support Trump?” The answer is no – there is certainly room for those whose conscience demands them to not support Trump. The writings of Paul continually demonstrate that listening to one’s conscience is necessary, even if that conscience is stricter than the plain reading of God’s Word or the views of other Christians. However, supporting a Democrat who will definitely oppose Christian values in public policy is not a legitimate response to questions of Trump’s character. Although evangelicals can avoid cheer-leading for Trump, and can certainly openly oppose his failures, the answer is not to support opponents who are objectively worse on policy.