Evangelicals, let’s get something straight.
My fellow Evangelicals, I’d like to explore a topic that matters more than abortion, the Supreme Court, governorships, the Electoral College, and globalism — combined.
I’d like to talk about the purity of the Gospel message.
Not purity in the sense of sexual abstinance, but in a “let’s not pollute the core of our message” kind of way.
The biggest problem for the church, now that the 2016 election has ended, is the tragic sacrifice of its message to achieve the election result. I’m talking about one specific thing here.
Donald Trump claimed to be a Christian, and this is a mockery of the truth of the Gospel.
Let me break this down:
Fact: Donald Trump claims to be a Christian.
Apparently this is very hard to track down, although even that should be a red flag. There was an awkward moment in June when James Dobson made a strange, vague remark about it. Over the years Trump has said various things here and there about religion. The clearest moment seems to be here:
People are so shocked when they find … out I am Protestant. I am Presbyterian. And I go to church and I love God and I love my church.
This is from the Frank Luntz interview, which comes up later.
The statement “I am Protestant” “I am Presbyterian” and “I love God” are all the closest thing Trump has acknowledged. His use of imprecise language doesn’t help. At any rate, this is certainly claiming membership in Christendom, explicitly claiming intellectual agreement with a denomination, and forwardly making the statement that he loves God. These all seem characteristic of someone’s profession of faith.
Unarguably he claims affinity with the wider cultural Christianity phenomena. Perhaps he best fits what Christian Smith called Moralistic Theraputic Deism, or the belief that a God exists who gives us our desires and comforts us when we need emotional support, but otherwise remains detached from the world. This may be a stretch, and it’s partially based on intution I’ve built up over the years, but let’s operate with this as our minimum.
Moreover, Trump later made the statement that “I have a great relationship with God.” So that’s about as clear cut as you can get. Billy Graham-style, 1950’s individualistic Christianity (although he didn’t say personal relationship) between the creation and Creator. Pretty straightforward, right?
Fact: Donald Trump is not a Christian.
There are several red flags for consideration that demonstrate what may be going on beneath the surface in Trump’s mind & soul.
CP summarizes it like this:
Throughout the campaign, Trump has struggled with issues related to his claim that he is a Christian. He declined to name his favorite Bible verse. Later, he cited a verse that’s not in the Bible as his favorite while claiming no one knows the Bible better than him. He said he never asked for forgiveness, a necessary step to becoming a follower of Jesus Christ, because he hasn’t done anything that needed to be forgiven. He claims to be a Presbyterian and a member of Marble Collegiate Church, but Marble Collegiate is not Presbyterian and has no record of him being a member. And, at a Liberty University speech, he referred to 2 Corinthians as “two Corinthians” and then blamed Tony Perkins for giving him the scripture and writing it as “2 Corinthians.”
Stop right there.
Forget “two Corinthians” and lying about church membership and fake Bible verses. There was something incredibly important tucked within that paragraph of otherwise-telling information. “He said he never asked for forgiveness, a necessary step to becoming a follower of Jesus Christ, because he hasn’t done anything that needed to be forgiven.”
Before the context police cry out for justice, Trump made the initial comments in July of 2015, followed up a week later in another interview, and then repeated them once more in January at a Republican primary debate. (You can scroll past these if you want, it is essentially the same thing three times).
A. With Frank Luntz, July 2015:
Trump, who told CNN earlier that he is both anti-abortion and anti-same-sex marriage, said people are surprised to learn about his Christian faith.
“People are so shocked when they find … out I am Protestant. I am Presbyterian. And I go to church and I love God and I love my church,” he said.
Moderator Frank Luntz asked Trump whether he has ever asked God for forgiveness for his actions.
“I am not sure I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don’t think so,” he said. “I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t.”
Trump said that while he hasn’t asked God for forgiveness, he does participate in Holy Communion.
“When I drink my little wine — which is about the only wine I drink — and have my little cracker, I guess that is a form of asking for forgiveness, and I do that as often as possible because I feel cleansed,” he said. “I think in terms of ‘let’s go on and let’s make it right.’”
B. With Anderson Cooper, one week later:
The Christian Post previously reported on comments made by Trump regarding his faith at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa.
Clarifying his comments on forgiveness, Trump declared, “I go to communion and that’s asking forgiveness, you know, it’s a form of asking forgiveness.” During the interview the current GOP frontrunner stressed that he “likes to work where he doesn’t have to ask forgiveness.”
Trump has reiterated on several occasions on the campaign trail his Protestant and Presbyterian background, and more recently, his admiration for his former pastor, Norman Vincent Peale, a popular Reformed minister.
When further asked about repentance again by Cooper, Trump said “I think repenting is terrific.”
“Why do I have to repent or ask for forgiveness, if I am not making mistakes?” asked Trump. “I work hard, I’m an honorable person.”
In talking about his Iowa appearance, Trump said, “We were having fun when I said I drink the wine, I eat the cracker, the whole room was laughing.”
Trump denied that his statements damaged his chances with Evangelical voters and accused Cooper of only wanting “to bring up the negative.” Trump countered that his polling in Iowa is very strong.
Trump, known for his bravado and aggressive criticism of opponents on the campaign trail, admitted to Cooper that he’d “change” his “tone” as president.
“Right now I’m trying to do something to make this country great again,” he declared.
C. With Jake Tapper, January 2016:
TAPPER: Well, let me ask you because one of the potential attack lines has to do with an answer you gave to Frank Luntz months ago when you said that you’ve never asked God for forgiveness.
Do you regret making that remark?
TRUMP: No, I have great relationship with God. I have great relationship with the evangelicals. In fact nationwide, I’m up by a lot — leading everybody. But I like to be good. I don’t like to have to ask for forgiveness. And I am good. I don’t do a lot of things that are bad. I try and do nothing that’s bad. I live a very different life than probably a lot of people would think. And I have a very —
TAPPER: Always or just now?
TRUMP: I have a very great relationship with God and I have a very great relationship with evangelicals. And I think that’s why I’m doing so well with Iowa.
TAPPER: The life you have now when you say that you try to do good, that sounds very different from decades of tabloid media coverage in New York in which some of your wilder escapades were —
TRUMP: No, I’m talking about — I’m talking about over the last number of years.
Does this need explanation?
If it does, then notice right away the great tension: Trump claims to be a Christian, as I’ve tenuously established, and Trump simultaneously also does not believe in the need for forgiveness, as these interviews establish. Yet the need for forgiveness is central to the Gospel message in two separate ways.
In one way, a person needs forgiveness as justification. At the intital moment of salvation, when from nowhere the Holy Spirit enters into a person’s spirit and indwells them, they are justified — declared right — before God. Here, forgiveness is the nullification of sin’s penalty on the human account, because it had previously been paid by Christ. This forgivenes is a change in status, it becomes permanent and secures the believer in an officially right relationship with God.
But in another way, forgiveness of sins means something totally different. What did it mean when Jesus said “Our Father … forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”? This type of forgiveness does not imply the same official status as justification does. Wayne Grudem writes that this is “a prayer that God’s fatherly relationship with us, which has been disrupted by sin that displeased him, be restored, and that he relate to us once again as a Father who delights in his children whom he loves” (Systematic Theology, 740). In this case, forgiveness is the process where people, already being justified, reestablishing right relations with God.
In either case forgiveness is necessary. Forgiveness from God to initiate salvation and forgiveness from God to continue sanctification are essential to the Christian life. In fact, without them, there is no Christian life.
(On a side note, perhaps none of this should surprise us when the two most influential spiritual figures in his life are Paul White and Norman Peale. Look up their theology.).
Does this matter?
Trump was elected Commander in Chief, not Sunday School Teacher in Chief. Why bring theology into the mix when his job is to run the nation?
I agree that this shouldn’t impact policy. Evangelicals can continue to support or not support each individual policy that Trump proposes, and I hope that we do not just support them all because “our guy” made it in. I’d put forward three non-policy reasons why this matters.
For one, Evangelicals should harbor great concern for the soul of the President, as for all people.
Second, we have been explicitly commanded in scripture to pray for the ruling authorities over us, and this prayer should not stop at wisdom and success. Here before us we see a president-elect who has spent his entire life desperately clining to his sin. He, like all, needs forgiveness.
But third and most importantly, the Church must preserve the integrity and purity of the Gospel message. The Gospel message — that though humans have erred, God offers forgiveness — is the only doctrinal objective of the church. We do not seek to advance our particular view of infant baptism vs adult baptism, views on predestination vs free will, or wine communion vs grape juice communion. No sidebar doctrinal squabble matters compared to the message of redemption through Christ.
To uphold Donald Trump as “living a life of loving and helping others as Jesus taught in the Great Commandment” without reference to salvation is to nullify the salvific grace of God at the expense of common grace, performed by a man desperately caught up in the love of money. This wouldn’t matter if any random person in a Facebook comment said this. This was Jerry Falwell, Jr., the President of Liberty University, one of the most prominent Evangelicals in the country. Falwell, Jr. personally benefited tremendously from his endorsement of Trump.
I feel anger, partially because I’m about to throw my entire life away for the message here bastardized by Falwell, Jr. and partially because nobody seems to care.
Evangelical credibility has been largely swept under the rug — because Hillary! — but now that Hillary has lost, we no longer need to think on the margins. Marginal analysis makes sense when there are two candidates, but now we have one president-elect, and Evangelicals can safely return to moral absolutes by calling out Trump for what he is.
This has already happened once
I should mention that after the Access Hollywood tapes came out in October, Evangelicals did exactly what I am recommending. Endorsements were pulled, strongly worded statements issued, and stump speeches cancelled. I am saying: this should now continue.
There is no legitimate threat to the presidency anymore. Evangelicals, you’ve won! Now please,
before things get ugly and people start calling us out for hypocrisy because people have called us out for hypocrisy, we must get on with the rest of the Trump denunciation:
- Mexicans are thieves and rapists
- the whole Khizr Khan incident
- expanding and promoting the Birther myth
- Scamming people through his “university”
- Supporting abortion for decades
- Lying about giving to chairty
- Failing to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s through extensive tax loophole manipulation
I’m just going to stop the list there. I have some more, but after thinking about it, these are the natural byproduct of the sinful nature of man.
Failure to control his language? James 3.
Failure to turn the other cheek? Matthew 5.
Failure to make any attempt at peace? [“bomb the shit out of them”] Also Matthew 5.
Being unkind to others? Ephesians 4.
The love of money, leading to all types of evil? 1 Timothy 6.
Rampant sexual immorality? Romans 1.
So I refine my argument to this: Trump, as unrepentant as he is, does not deserve the public moral affirmation of Evangelical leaders or the private moral affirmation of the Evangelical base. For the credibility of the faith, and by extension the Gospel message itself, movement leaders must begin to denounce.