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Open letters

It’s difficult to thread the needle of public policy with private virtue

Open letters

(John Locker/AP)

Here’s one thing I know: Donald Trump’s presidency is one wild roller-coaster ride flashing with neon. By contrast, a Hillary Clinton presidency would have been stop-and-go traffic in a dingy shade of gray.

That’s the limit of my prescience, though. Three years ago I mocked the possibility of a Trump campaign in a column titled “Year-round silly season.” Not many expected he would run, few expected he’d be nominated, and almost no one expected him to win. Silly us!

Christians, especially the much-maligned, ill-defined “evangelicals,” still don’t know what to make of it, which is why David French’s National Review piece “An Open Letter to Trump’s Evangelical Defenders” raised a bit of a ruckus. French, a committed Christian and author, is always worth reading, and this was a thought-provoking read. While he understands why Christians voted for the president, and while he himself praises the president for good policy, it’s beyond the pale to make excuses for the president’s denigrating tweets and sordid past. Godly causes are secondary to godly behavior in word and deed, and if Christians hitch their hopes to a philandering, prevaricating, deliberately provocative figure, they will have earned the scorn of unbelievers. Not to mention a blow to their credibility that will take at least a generation to live down.

The left despises Christians no matter what. Far better to be despised for exalting Christ than for excusing Trump, but our opponents make no distinctions.

Those are valid concerns, and an interesting contrast to an “Open Letter to Young, ‘Post-Partisan’ Evangelicals” from 2012, also by David French. Back then, he called out those 20-something hipsters who refused to take up arms in the culture war. “I used to be you,” he wrote—committed to Christ, noncombative on social issues. But he had come to realize that being pro-life or pro–traditional marriage was an all-or-nothing commitment. He could not stand on the sidelines while advocates like James Dobson fought the good fight and got pilloried for it. So he jumped into the fray, inviting his fellow post-partisans to do the same: “Follow Jesus, yes, but don’t think for a moment that will improve your image.”

Now he shakes his head over what’s happened to the evangelical image. It’s a legitimate concern, and yet ... the left despises Christians no matter what. Far better to be despised for exalting Christ than for excusing Trump, but our opponents make no distinctions. To them, the main difference between evangelical support for Mitt Romney in 2012 and for Trump in 2018 is the difference between a damp fuse and a clear and present danger.

The two open letters don’t really contradict each other, but taken together they illustrate how difficult it is to thread the needle of public policy with private virtue. French accuses some of Trump’s evangelical cheerleaders of patronizing the president in order to get close to power. That may be true, for some. For others, how can they advise power without getting close to it? He needs advisers, and indicates that he listens to them. Conservative Christians are a demographic he hasn’t had much contact with, and who’s to say that some Christian leaders are suppressing valid criticism in order to exercise positive influence?

French rightly mocks comparisons of Trump to King David, another flawed ruler. A better comparison is to King Nebuchadnezzar, a pagan addicted to flattery and prone to recklessness, who came to respect godly counsel from Daniel and his friends—and to respect their God. Since the president of the United States is not an ancient Eastern potentate, no one is obliged to flatter him, and no one should. In public he should be called out for bad behavior. But those closer to him may believe they have to take a more subtle approach.

They may be wrong, but the worst thing we could do is let him divide us. Whether never-Trumpers or Trump-stumpers, “In humility consider others as better than yourselves,” or at least better than your first impression. The last 50 years of American politics should convince us that presidents do not make anyone great; Christ does, and on that we can all agree.

Comments

  • Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Sat, 05/26/2018 11:27 pm

    Pres. Trump is a little less blustery than he used to be.  A little.  Maybe he is learning.  But I surely hope that those who have access to him are a little more assertive than they seem publicly.  We do not need more Trump-bashing--just less Trump-glorifying.

  • DCal3000
    Posted: Thu, 06/07/2018 11:02 am

    I just saw this column and was really, really encouraged by it.  I have been disappointed by the fact that American Christians have let the 2016 election become a dividing line among us--almost a test of orthodoxy.  But it was a difficult election, and many Christians voted for or against Trump while trying to be faithful Christians.  As challenges to Christianity mount in our culture, we need to focus above all on Christ and His Word.  We most certainly should not let Trump (or Clinton) divide us all.

  • E Cole
    Posted: Thu, 06/07/2018 01:47 pm

    “The left despises Christians no matter what” might provide comfort but it is not a good excuse. The “hate the sin but vote for the sinner” routine is going to have consequences. My father always said that we might be hated but our obligation is to make sure we are not giving them a good reason for it. I'm afraid we are doing just that. And I understand why. Trump has done some good things for conservative causes. It just doesn't change who he is.

    And I don't remember many Christians feeling conflicted about whether character counts when Bill Clinton was in office. 

     

     

     

  • SleeperSRT10's picture
    SleeperSRT10
    Posted: Thu, 06/07/2018 09:01 pm

    It saddens me that people are so quick to point out the flaws of President Trump.  True, he is not perfect, never has been, and never will be.  But guess what?  Neither are we or will we ever be! 

    So why do I never read anything positive about the president?   Where is everyone when he does something good?

    Maybe we should follow the advice in II Chronicles 7:14 and humble ourselves and pray.  Instead of bashing the president over and over, let's pray for him and support him - he can't turn our country around by himself!

    We need Christians in our schools, courts, and government.  What are YOU doing to do your part? 

    Let's stand behind our president - not in his way!

  • Marilyn Jean
    Posted: Fri, 06/08/2018 11:31 pm

    Excellent commentary!

  • John Kloosterman
    Posted: Sat, 06/09/2018 01:11 pm

    Loving one's neighbor or one's president means pointing out the good with the bad.  WORLD did applaud Trump's nomination of Gorsuch and the other sound policy decisions he's made.  That doesn't mean, though, that we need to take a "my president, right or wrong", stance.  If we see a brother in sin, we chastise him, whether he is a minister, banker, king, or president.

    The issue with Trump is not that he isn't perfect, it's that he's isn't repentant. He's literally said he doesn't need  to ask Christ forgiveness for anything.  As the article says, some might think the best way to do that is befriend him and gently point out his need for forgiveness.  Others might think it best to cut him off from fellowship.  What certainly is not best is to loudly claim he has done nothing wrong.  That serves no one, least of all Trump or God.

  • RCR
    Posted: Thu, 06/07/2018 09:59 pm

    Granted, President Trump's past reveals anything but a godly lifestyle; and yet, were we to explore the less public pasts of all Bible believing pastors in this country, I suspect that not a few would fall far short of the measure being used here to judge the President.

    While he has never made a public declaration of faith in Jesus, why is it that so many believers seem convinced that it’s impossible for God to bring him to repentance?  If scripture teaches us anything, it is that personal change is possible, and we are wise to pray for it.

    Daniel didn't stand on the sidelines because Nebuchadnezzar’s behavior rivaled that of the current president’s past; he took advantage of the opportunities afforded him to get involved and promote godly causes and protections for the people of God, while maintaining a devout personal relationship with God.  Many wise believers within the administration have chosen a similar path, for which I applaud them!

    In addition, is it not appropriate to at least consider the policies his administration is endorsing?  The kings of Israel were judged for leading the nation into increasingly ungodly behavior.  In this country, the people have considerable say in who our leaders will be, making us at least tacitly responsible for the choices they make.  Consider, please the policies that would now be promoted had Ms. Clinton or Bernie Sanders been elected!  The judicial system alone would be even more heavily weighted toward destroying protections for both the unborn and anyone holding a biblical view of marriage.

      I for one am delighted that Mr. Trump, not Ms. Clinton nominated the most recent Supreme Court justice!  And I pray he has at least one more opportunity do so again!

  • SleeperSRT10's picture
    SleeperSRT10
    Posted: Fri, 06/08/2018 10:21 am

    Amen!

  • Marilyn Jean
    Posted: Fri, 06/08/2018 11:33 pm

    Double Amen!!

  • John Kloosterman
    Posted: Sat, 06/09/2018 01:16 pm

    Speaking as a Never Trumper, it's not that he's beyond repentance, it's that he clearly hasn't.  He's literally said he doesn't think he needs to repent, and nothing of his behavior in office speaks to a man who has repented of the sins of his youth.  If you saw a Christian brother who made such a claim, who behaved in such a way, would you excuse his behavior?  Would you support him in everything he did?  Or would you call him to repentance by calling out his sins as such?

    Daniel promoted godly policies, but he also named the king's sins as such and told the king when judgment was coming.  He did sacrifice his witness for the sake of good policies.  Nor should we.

  • SamIamHis
    Posted: Fri, 06/08/2018 11:16 am

    As I am commanded to pray for all those in authority (because God has set them in power and I can trust Him to be working through them - even in ways I don't understand) I pray that this position of authority will be crucible that brings President Trump to humble submission before the Lord God that raised him up. I pray for excellent and Godly council all of which President Trump apparently listens to.  I don't look to the present or I should have perished of terror and outright horror during the Obama administration.  I am trusting God to bring about His will in our lives, in our leaders lives, in the course of this nation and ultimately the whole world.  The eternal perspective changes my view of daily tweets, past indiscretions and possible future calamity.  Our God reigns supreme!   

  • Marilyn Jean
    Posted: Fri, 06/08/2018 11:28 pm

    Why should we be so baffled at Trump's presidency?  God worked through Nebuchadnezzar and Cirus for His children.  We don't have to judge Donald Trump.  That's not for us to discern.  We just can just thank the Lord for any support from leadership to the evangelical community.

  • John Kloosterman
    Posted: Sat, 06/09/2018 01:17 pm

    Just as we did not judge Obama or Clinton. Or our neighbor.  Or sinners in general.  If there's one thing God calls us to do, it's not to call out sin as sin or bring men to an awareness of their need for Christ.