Two popular Christian figures, Eric Metaxas and David French, recently debated the evangelical case for and against President Donald Trump.
French, The Dispatch senior editor, is a self-described conservative “Never Trumper,” while Metaxas, a conservative radio host and author, has been outspoken about his support of the Trump administration.
Opening the debate moderated by Gabe Lyons during last week’s Q 2020 Virtual Summit, Metaxas explained that while he “hated” and “despised” Trump before the primaries, his mindset changed as he penned an op-ed for the New Yorker “lightly mocking” the now-president.
“I began to see him differently,” he said. “I was born in Queens, my family is working class. Something connected me with him, as though I was listening to a Jackie Mason or to some comedian who communicates in a different way ... I began to shift and began actually to be open to the idea that maybe he could, you know, represent Americans.”
Metaxas pointed out that famed theologian Martin Luther “was a maniac” who communicated in a “crazy way” that allowed him to connect with people who felt disenfranchised.
“I think when you see Trump in that context, things change,” he said. “The question is, can we see him in that context?”
The best-selling author also explained why he continued to support Trump after the Access Hollywood tape dropped in 2016 containing his lewd remarks about women.
According to Metaxas, the “viciousness” of the opposition to Trump drove him deeper into his support of the then-nominee. He argued that such opposition was hypocritical, adding: “Who among us has not said horrifying things?”
“That level of viciousness blew my mind and made me think, perhaps I am missing something here. And perhaps, God chose Trump to shame the Church,” he said. “The Church had not been living out its faith in a way that was changing the world, that was sacrificial ... and that God, as He often does, reaches outside the camp to someone that will make our heads explode, and chooses him to shame us, to fight, because we decline to fight.”
French explained his own anti-Trump position by emphasizing that Christians are called to be salt and light in “all areas of life.” “There’s no area in which you are not called to be an ambassador and a witness for Jesus Christ. There’s no area that you wall off from Christian ethics, none, no area," he said.
He referenced his opposition to President Bill Clinton’s sexually immoral behavior in the '90s, pointing out that the Southern Baptist Convention roundly condemned such behavior at the time, stating: “Tolerance of serious wrong by leaders sears the conscience of the culture, spawns unrestrained immorality, and also surely results in God’s judgment.”
“Evangelicals quickly went from the group of people most likely to say that character mattered to in 2016 the group that said the least likely that character mattered,” French explained. “Now did the truth, the theological truths articulated in the Southern Baptist Convention statement change? No, they did not. What changed was the partisan imperative. What changed was the atmosphere of fear.”
In response, Metaxas argued that Trump’s conservative policies, especially for the unborn, rise above his character flaws, noting, “Obama ... is morally upstanding and he’s a good family man and so on and so forth, and yet he did everything in his power to make it possible to murder the unborn in their mothers' wombs. He did everything he could to undermine biblical marriage. How do you give that a pass?”
French argued that while support for life is necessary, it’s “not sufficient,” explaining that “for a candidate to earn my vote they have to be pro-life but just being pro-life by itself does not earn my vote. A person who is malicious, cruel, corrupt, incompetent.”
According to French, Americans don’t just have two choices in the upcoming election, arguing they can exercise a veto and “pick up the flag with a better candidate next time.” He argued that many evangelicals voted for Trump due to fear that “America’s about to end, evangelicals are ... isolated, we’re alone.”
“We’re the most powerful religious movement in the world,” he stressed. “We have veto power over the political fortunes of one of the two great political parties of the most powerful nation in the history of the world. And we act as if we are some kind of persecuted minority on the edge of extinction, and that’s, I think, grotesque.”
Later in the debate, Metaxas acknowledged that ultimately, Americans don’t need Trump — they need God. However, he reiterated the argument that Trump’s earlier sexual indiscretions and controversial communication style don’t outweigh the benefits of his conservative policies.
“I simply don’t see how anything that has been said here or has been said would get me to allow someone like Joe Biden or a Hillary Clinton to genuinely destroy America forever and we haven’t even touched on Kavanaugh,” he said.
Evangelicals have been largely divided on Trump’s candidacy. A recent survey from Pew Research Center found that while white evangelicals remain a core support group of Trump’s, many have a low view of his character and conduct.
Just 15 percent of white evangelicals say “morally upstanding” describes the president very well; a quarter say “honest” is a very good descriptor of him; and fewer than a third say they “like” Trump’s behavior.
While 63 percent of white evangelicals prioritize political leaders’ sense of morality and ethics, 67 percent say it’s just as important that they stand up for people with their same religious beliefs.
Recently, prominent SBC leader Albert Mohler made headlines after publicly reversing his anti-Trump position from 2016, revealing he will likely vote for Trump in November.
In an interview with The Christian Post, pastor and author Tim Keller pointed out that many evangelicals — particularly millennials — currently feel “homeless” politically.
“Most people have to realize that both the Republican and Democratic party are for some good things the Bible would want you to be,” he said. “For example, the Bible says we should really care about economic and racial justice. The Bible also says that same-sex marriage and abortion are wrong.”
“We should take a look at that. The Republicans' platform is strong on two of them and weak on two of them, and the Democratic platform is strong on two of them and weak on two of them. Which one is the Christian party? You can say one is more important than the other because in abortion someone loses their life and maybe that’s decisive enough for you to vote for Republican candidates. But you can’t hitch the entire Christian church to one of those because no party reflects the whole gamut of what the Bible’s values are.”