Should Christians Associate With Donald Trump?
President Trump calls his tweets "MODERN DAY PRESIDENTIAL." Not everyone agrees, but as he often reminds us of his critics, "I'm President and they're not." The point seems to be that if you are the president, then you get to write your own "presidential" rules.
When asked post-election about some tweets that now sound almost innocuous, Trump's former campaign manager Kelly Anne Conway said it directly: "Well, he's the president-elect, so that's presidential behavior." When pressed by CNN's Jake Tapper on whether that made everything Bill Clinton did in the Oval Office "presidential," Conway wisely retreated a bit.
At some level, most of us do want there to be a rule-book. We want to see traditions upheld. We want to see norms stay normal. Everyone just "writing their own rules" has a name. Anarchy. Most still agree that is not the best way to run a life or a world. Nevertheless, agreeing to have a rule-book is a far cry from agreeing about what goes into it. Tribal affinities can strongly affect the rules we want to see in a play at any particular time.
A number of vocal Christians are thrilled to see President Trump breaking the old political playbook and taking it to a media establishment that, to their eyes, has not played fair for a long time. I can understand where they are coming from. The likes of ABC's George Stephanopoulos (Bill Clinton's former close aide) or CNN's Chris Cuomo (son of one liberal New York governor and brother to another) hardly have pedigrees that instill confidence in their objectivity.
You can see the results on the air in big and small ways daily. Take former Ohio secretary of state Ken Blackwell, who recently managed to still sound rather lucid on CNN despite Cuomo's repeated attempts to jab him about the controversial election integrity commission on which he serves.
Blackwell noted that if just one vote per Ohio precinct had changed in 1976, Jimmy Carter would have lost and Gerald Ford would have won. Such seemed an unobjectionable home-state example (verifiable with simple math) about why each properly cast ballot should be protected.
The next day, in an interview with Maine's secretary of state, Cuomo seemed a bit frustrated at his Democrat guest's calm and measured demeanor. So, Cuomo took it upon himself to call Blackwell's example from the day before "wild speculation." Question if you will the relevance of Blackwell offering an illustration centered on 12,000 votes when defending a commission spurred by Trump's own claims of "millions" of illegal voters, but the statement itself was clearly based on very real numbers.
If the mainstream media are going to just ignore or badmouth facts to advance a particular agenda, some Christians don't mind at all if Trump goes bare-knuckles and leaves them bleeding from their facelifts. Blackwell himself recently noted that "many Americans are happy to finally have a president who fights back." Then, after listing a string of jaw-droppers coming from the lips of outspoken progressives, Blackwell called on "decent liberals to hold their less principled colleagues to account."
Of course, something similar should be asked of decent conservatives, especially conservative Christians. We can't just say of whatever we do, "Well, I'm a Christian, so that was Christian behavior." While the presidency may not have one, believers do have an unchanging written rule book to which we will be held accountable.
There is a lot in the Bible about anger and retaliation, and much of it runs against the spirit of the times. Jesus advised an oppressed people that they should go the extra mile to aid their oppressors. Rather than fire off a mean tweet, his followers were to turn the other cheek. Not to mention love their enemies, bless those who cursed them, and pray for those who persecuted them.
Christians have long struggled with the application of such verses to various matters of public life, from world wars to Woolworth drug stores. However, today such ancient holy texts rarely even enter the conversations bouncing around the modern echo chambers on the right or flow from the tongues of those who should know better.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders grew up as a preacher's daughter. Her father went on to have his greatest national political success when he billed himself as a "conservative who is not mad at anybody." Nevertheless, as a regular voice of the White House, she defends a man who, as Sanders puts it, "fights fire with fire."
Paul's contrarian instructions to believers in the capital city of his day were to "not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." He also told the church at Colossi to rid themselves of "anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language" and to instead to be clothed with "compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience."
Melania Trump has spoken out against cyber-bullying and publicly asked God to "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespasses against us." But, in the wake of the Morning Joe tweets, the First Lady used a spokeswoman to endorse her husband's practice to "punch back 10 times harder." For America's sake, let's hope that God doesn't act accordingly.
If you like the President more because of his recent tweets, realize that you are in a tiny minority. Some 83% of the nation disagrees. Of course, as Christians we are not here to play to the crowds or pander to the powerful. As author Os Guinness has written, our lives should be lived before "one audience that trumps all others — the Audience of One." Asking whether God cheers the same things we cheer can have a clarifying effect.
What do we do, then, with the hard punching one currently in the White House? Personally, as I considered whether to pursue work in the Trump administration, I was struck by these words from an imprisoned Paul to his protégé Timothy:
"But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God — having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them."
Unfortunately, President Trump matches a lot of things on that not-to-do list. Whether Paul's bottom-line admonition to Timothy should be broadly applied here is not completely clear, though, especially given other scriptures addressing respect for leaders.
Practically, Donald Trump's office would make it hard for the faithful to have absolutely nothing to do with him. Nevertheless, American Christians certainly need to think hard about what our current association with him is doing to us.