To support or not to support Donald Trump? That is the question many evangelicals have struggled with since the thrice-married reality TV billionaire announced his candidacy in 2015. In Donald Trump Is Not My Savior: An Evangelical Leader Speaks His Mind About the Man He Supports as President, theologian Michael Brown traces his up-and-down views on the president that has bemused many.
Throughout the book, Brown offers his reasons for supporting Trump while also criticizing Trump, and criticizes some of his fellow evangelicals who appear to unconditionally support Trump.
"I absolutely believe President Trump has been a divine wrecking ball," Brown writes in the introduction. "He is wreaking havoc on the political status quo. ...
"Yet a wrecking ball swings back and forth, and I believe President Trump has also exposed some weaknesses (and more) in our evangelical circles. Have we refrained from any criticism so we can keep our seat at the table? Have we ignored major character issues to preserve our political power? Have we become more identified publicly with our President than with our Savior? Have we confused patriotism with the kingdom of God?"
Brown holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern languages and literatures from New York University, hosts the nationally syndicated Line of Fire radio program and is a frequent contributor to The Christian Post and other publications. Donald Trump Is Not My Savior is a compilation of all of Brown's op-eds about Trump along with new material.
During the Trump presidency, every week brings a new controversy. In such an environment, it's easy to forget the many highs and lows. This is where Brown's book comes in handy. A prolific writer, Brown's reactions to the roller-coaster ride of the Trump candidacy and presidency helps readers grasp the long view of Trump's complicated relationship with evangelicals.
In this email interview with The Christian Post, Brown talks about the book's eye catching cover (showing Trump with a crown of thorns), how the book came about, and what it would take for Trump to lose his support in 2020.
Here is the full transcript of the interview:
CP: I love the cover, but if someone were to judge your book by it, they might get the impression it's an anti-Trump book, which would be an imprecise characterization, in my view. What do you hope the cover conveys?
Brown: I love the cover too, and I hope it conveys two things. First, it reinforces the title: President Trump is not our savior. He cannot save the nation. He cannot transform the moral character of our country. No president can. He did not die for our sins, and we do not owe him our lives, nor is our testimony tied to him. Let the whole world know this!
Second, he is our president, and he has my vote. Put another way, politics is not the Gospel and patriotism is not the Kingdom of God. This is reinforced by the subtitle, which makes clear that I will speak my mind, even when I disagree, but that I support Donald Trump as my president and I did vote for him.
CP: Most of the book is a compilation of the op-eds you've written about Trump (many of which I had the pleasure of publishing at The Christian Post). Sometimes you praise Trump, sometimes you criticize Trump, sometimes you criticize Trump's evangelical supporters. When looking at these as a whole, I sense the conflicted, ambivalent nature that I think many evangelicals feel about Trump. How would you characterize the path of your thought process as you've written about Trump since he entered the presidential race in 2015?
Brown: Around Aug. 15, quite out of the blue, I felt a tremendous burden in prayer to get a book out about President Trump and evangelicals, and to get it out before the midterms. But how do you do this when you haven't written the book yet and you don't have a publisher working on it? On the other hand, I thought to myself, "I've been writing about Donald Trump since August 2015, and I have lots of good material already."
The morning of Aug. 16 I was in prayer, again feeling very burdened about this, when everything became crystal clear to me: Here's the title and subtitle of the book, and here's the plan of attack: Write brand new material for the beginning of the book, asking whether the relationship between evangelicals and Trump is a match made in Heaven or a marriage with Hell, then print the most relevant Trump articles from the last three years, in chronological order (amounting to about 90 articles), then close with some insights about the coming elections and where we go from here, then contact Larry Sparks, editor with Destiny Image. Within six weeks, a beautiful, advance copy of the book was on my desk. A pretty wild journey!
Now, I said all that to say this: In reading through the book, you'll take a fascinating journey through time with me. You'll remember certain events that have now escaped your memory. You'll recall how you felt about Trump and whether or not your views have changed. And if you're a Never Trumper, you'll see that I, too, strongly opposed him at one time, and you'll see how and why I ended up supporting him. For me, going through these articles was a real eye-opener, since we tend to remember the past through the filter of how we feel today. Reading them afresh reminded me of a lot I had almost forgotten.
So to get back to your question, I strongly opposed Trump during the primaries, openly saying I would reconsider if he became the Republican candidate, also wondering out loud if the "Cyrus prophecies" about Trump could be true. (Namely, that God was raising him up to do good for our nation and for Israel, despite him not knowing the Lord himself.) Once he was the Republican candidate, and with some of my evangelical friends becoming close to him, I recognized that something was going on that was beyond my logic, and that despite my misgivings, he would have my vote.
The reader will see how my warnings turned to tentative support, then stronger support, but always with concerns. The reader will also see how many times I said I hoped I was wrong about my warnings. In retrospect, many of the warnings were accurate — in other words, character does matter — but President Trump has definitely exceeded some of my expectations concerning the good he has done. All these ups and downs are reflected in the three years of running commentary.
CP: One of the arguments made by so-called "Never Trump" evangelicals, like me, is that evangelicals, mostly white evangelicals, are undermining their moral authority by backing Trump. You address that at various points throughout the book. In one chapter in particular, titled "Have Evangelicals Lost Their Credibility by Voting for Trump?" you partly criticize the argument and partly concede the point. How can evangelicals both maintain access to the White House and recover that lost credibility?
Brown: On the one hand, I share your concerns, hence the title of my book. When we worship at the altar of Trump, when we cannot differ with him publicly, when we feel as if we have to defend his every word and action to support him, we do discredit ourselves and we do lose some of our moral authority. That's why I address this theme frequently in the book. We really need to be careful here, lest we become an appendage of the Republican Party rather than God's prophetic people. Why can't we say, "Mr. President, I voted for you and support your larger agenda, but I'm grieved when you demean others with such cruelty"? Why must we either demonize him or deify him? Can't we be more nuanced?
On the other hand, I reject the idea that we have lost our moral authority by voting for Trump since the very people shouting that to us day and night — especially the secular media — are the ones who mocked our positions before. In other words, the same ones who ridiculed me for my pro-life, pro-marriage, pro-family stands now ridicule me for voting for Trump. That's also the reason for the title of my book. Donald Trump did not die for my sins, but you better believe that he has my vote over Hillary Clinton when it comes to appointing justices to the courts, when it comes to fighting radical Islam, when it comes to pushing back against radical LGBT activism, when it comes to standing with Israel. Some of the articles reprinted in the book make this point very strongly as well.
As for how we move forward, honoring the Lord, not compromising our testimonies before the world, and yet remaining active in the political process and voting — that's what I address in the last chapter of the book.
CP: What would it take for Trump to lose your support (supposing he runs) in 2020?
Brown: That's easy. If he abandons his conservative, pro-life, pro-family, pro-Israel convictions, or if he is living in open and unrepentant sin (for example, if he was caught in adultery today and said, "Big deal. JFK did it, Bill Clinton did it, and I'll do it"). Of course, Trump critics will claim he's living in open and unrepentant sin by lying and by demeaning others. For me, I'll continue to address those things openly when they and if they occur while still believing that it's for the overall best to have him in office.
But for all of us, there's a line we draw in the sand. That's why I respect Never Trumpers, although I never totally landed in that camp. But that's why I also urge evangelical voters to look at the larger issues and consider whether his agenda should have our support. Vote for policy, not personality — to the extent your conscience will allow.
To me, it's pretty simple: I'll let the whole world know that Jesus, not Donald Trump, is my Savior, and my life and testimony are bound up with Him. As for the president, he gets my vote.