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Joel BelzVoices Joel Belz

No middle of the road

People want a leader who knows what he thinks

Of all the criticisms President Trump has to live with, you don’t often hear him called a cowardly middle-of-the-roader. You may not like his position on any particular issue, but you probably know what he thinks.

Immigration? The Washington “swamp”? Free trade with China? Prisoners of war like the late John McCain? No hugging the stripe at the center of the road. You know what your president thinks. Or at least what, on the record, he says he thinks!

My guess is that this Trumpian straightforwardness is one of the main reasons for whatever popularity he enjoys. Here at WORLD, we get mail every week saying something like this: “I don’t have to agree with all his policies. I just like the fact that he knows what he believes.” Or, as an Iowa farmer told me last week, “I like it that he doesn’t beat around the bush. I don’t have to guess what he thinks.” For my farmer friend, it doesn’t even matter much that the Trump record (like that of most presidents) includes almost self-contradictory positions on issues of agricultural trade.

This Trump certainty has won the support of large numbers of evangelical Christians along the way. These folks are tired of leaders who constantly seek the mushy middle of the road and who equivocate on issue after issue—leaders (in both parties) who may be found not just in secular settings but more and more within evangelical academia and media. 

My guess is that this Trumpian straight­forwardness is one of the main reasons for whatever popularity he enjoys.

These opinion shapers are constantly nudging their followers to move to the middle, to trim the sharp edges off their thinking processes. But hordes of voters worry that in the process of trimming those sharp edges they may also be saying goodbye to their cutting edge. I think those hordes of voters include substantial numbers who voted for Trump four years ago and many loyalists who will vote for him again a few weeks from now. 

In choosing that route, these folks will be largely rejecting the counsel of what we might call the “evangelical intelligentsia.” Colleges, universities, and seminaries, on the one hand, and a variety of media sources, on the other, over the last generation called us to espouse more “open-minded” ideas on matters such as the origin of man and the world around us, social behavioral patterns including sexual mores and the meaning of marriage, economic structures, and issues like patriotism and nationalism. Indeed, this move from “right” to “left” on such issues is historically much more likely to spring from society’s intelligentsia than from the grassroots. And who can deny that the same pattern is true within evangelicalism as well?

By itself, of course, that proves nothing. In terms of what is Biblically right and wrong, grassroots folks are no more likely than the eggheads to be on target. But the direction of the flow of ideas is worth noting—and it is a direction as true of the Christian community as it is of society at large. Theological liberalism, like its secular counterparts, has historically been born in classrooms and nurtured in academic journals.

Why is that so? By their very nature, professors and writers are creative folks unwilling to accept the status quo. Always, they’re looking for new explanations. “Why?” is their constant theme, and existing answers rarely satisfy. And we should be thankful God made some people that way, because in the right context such a spirit keeps us looking for His truth.

In all that unsettled scheme of things, it’s easy to see why significant numbers of voters find themselves saying: “Forget it! Give me a leader who knows what he thinks!”

Comments

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  • TH
    Posted: Tue, 09/15/2020 06:29 am

    While I agree that the straightforward approach is a big factor, I think it may be secondary to the facts. If you take a simple statistical approach to the top 100 political and governing issues from a Biblical point of view, Trump scores very high. His personal behavior is not part of this equation. We are only looking at how he uses his presidential power on things like abortion. While we all know his shortcomings, we never mention that he is fundamentally a Calvinist in his world view. That is how his mother and church raised him and it took hold well in many areas. For anyone seriously interested in getting inside his head, he has authored or coauthored more than a dozen books. In them (referring mainly to the non-political books that are about life and business) he explains exactly how he thinks and why he does things. To be in the media and write about Trump to any significant extent while having read none of his books should generate an "F" in journalsim every time.

  • Janet B
    Posted: Tue, 09/15/2020 01:09 pm

    You are correct, Mr. Belz.  I do like that he knows what he thinks and says it.  I like that what he thinks on most issues are closer to what will be good for all than for just a few.  I like that he keeps/kept his campaign promises, which he was not afraid to tell us.  I like the things I hear about his relationship with his family, especially his wife, from people who know him and have worked with him (Sarah Huckabee Sanders has a new book out, for some more insight).  

    I may not like everything about him, but there isn't a human being on earth, including my beloved husband, who can bring that about.  But I will not find it difficult to vote to retain him in office.  Last time, it was a vote against Hilary Clinton.  This time it is for a man who will keep communism at bay, and my freedoms intact (those I still have) as best he can. 

  •  Xion's picture
    Xion
    Posted: Wed, 09/16/2020 02:12 pm

    A candidate who, "Knows what he thinks" and "Says what he means" is extremely rare and somewhat refreshing in politics, but this election is not about personalities.  It is about law and order, freedom of speech, the right to assemble, a strong economy, strong foreign policy, judges who value the words and intent of law, love for God and country.

  • DCal3000
    Posted: Thu, 09/17/2020 12:58 am

    I do not like Donald Trump and do not believe he is honest about what he thinks; I may, nonetheless, reluctantly vote for him in November.  That said, what Mr. Belz says about people being tired of equivocation on the part of leaders is true, at least for me.  Many evangelical leaders these days seem to stand for little.  They apologize effusively for historic abuses in the church, and that's a good thing.  But I need spiritual leaders who also show me what they stand for.  I have a child that I will have to raise in a culture that does not take my faith seriously.  I need leaders who not only teach myself and my family the Christian faith but actually act like Christianity is grounded in Truth and infused with authority.  I want my child to know how to act as a Christian and not simply react to the world's fads.