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Establishment Evangelicals children’s crusade against Trump

The holy war was going badly. The enemies of Christianity had been victorious and all attempts to take back lost ground floundered. The problem, some concluded, was that our warriors were not virtuous enough. Their moral impurity prevented God’s blessing. That’s why they lost. What was needed, so they thought, was a band of pure-hearted Christian soldiers whom God could support. Who could be purer than children? Thus was born the idea of the children’s crusade.

President Donald J. Trump delivers remarks prior to signing H.R. 1957- The Great American Outdoors Act Tuesday, August 4, 2020, in the East Room of the White House.
President Donald J. Trump delivers remarks prior to signing H.R. 1957- The Great American Outdoors Act Tuesday, August 4, 2020, in the East Room of the White House. | White House/Tia Dufour

In 1212 a shepherd from Germany, Nicolas, attempted to lead a group of children, and others, to the Holy Land, where the purity of their faith would result in the conversion of the Muslims earlier crusaders – sinful adults – had been trying to kill. He even promised that the Mediterranean Sea would part like Moses’ Red Sea so they could march all the way to Jerusalem. On the way, two-thirds of the crusaders died. They only got as far as Italy where they found that the sea wouldn’t part for them.

Today, Christians are feeling defeated. Their influence continues to wane in the culture. Marriage has been redefined and now the marriage redefiners are trying to work their same magic on biological sexual identity; abortion continues unabated and now, ostensibly because of the pandemic, churches are closed while, curiously, Dollar Generals, Walmarts and Casinos are declared too essential to allow a virus to close them.

Into this culture war, many Christians, like Robert Jeffress, Eric Metaxas, Dr. Michael Brown, John MacArthur, Franklin Graham, and many others have championed Donald Trump as their unlikely crusader. Evangelical support for Trump was greater in 2016 than for any other presidential candidate. Yet, still, there remains a hard core of stridently Never Trump evangelical leaders.

In a July 15, 2020 article, I told my own story of how I had been a Never Trumper but changed my mind as I saw Mr. Trump turn out to be especially supportive of the sanctity of life. He’s nominated consistently pro-life judges, done what he can do to defund Planned Parenthood, and spoken up more loudly on the issue than any president in history, leading his party, last month, to unapologetically take a high-profile stand against abortion. That being the case, why is there, still, that contingent of establishment evangelicals who decry him?

Part of it is the public stand principle. Once one has taken a public stand on any issue, like Trump’s unfitness for office, one is unlikely to change. Changing means having to admit being wrong. Getting people to publicly argue for something is a useful way of entrenching them in that opinion. Take teenagers who have no opinions about abortion and make them participate in a debate about it, randomly assigning them the pro-life or pro-abortion side. More than likely, after having stood up and argued for the side assigned to them, they will remain loyal to that side after the debate is over.

Some evangelicals, like Mark Galli at Christianity Today (CT) or David French have planted their flag on the anti-Trump hill and they will not be moved. Despite claiming that he had “reserved judgment on Mr. Trump for years now,” Mark Galli’s headline making appeal to remove Trump from office in the midst of the impeachment proceedings was just the latest expression of anti-Trumpism from him, beginning as early as first stages of the Republican primaries in 2016.

In the article, Galli unreflectively repeats the Democrat’s impeachment case and calls it “unambiguous.” Having lived outside the USA for seven years, I don’t believe there’s anything particularly scandalous about a president asking a foreign government to investigate possible corruption in their country. If that corruption happens to involve a likely opposing candidate, in this case Joe Biden whose son was getting millions from that country, then that’s a problem for the opposing candidate, not the president. Why would a reputable magazine like CT call for such drastic action – removing a president – on such a flimsy basis? Maybe because they took their stand in 2016 and didn’t want to back down now.

Under Galli, as the 2016 election came into the home stretch, Andy Crouch, CT’s executive editor, wrote to warn evangelicals not to fall for the pragmatic arguments to vote for Trump: “there is a point at which strategy becomes its own form of idolatry.” So, what’s the alternative? If strategy is idolatry, then naivete is virtue. Hence, we need, apparently, a children’s crusade.

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Perhaps no one embodies the call for evangelicals to abandon strategy in our quest to bring peace and justice to America as does David French. French is one of the rare few evangelical writers to have broken through the religious-secular wall and allowed a place at the table of secular journalism as an unashamed evangelical, writing for National Review, Time and now the editor at The Dispatch. He’s also virulently anti-Trump. French is an establishment evangelical who wants to warn us of the corruption that allying with Trump will bring us.

In “Will Somebody Please Hate My Enemies for Me?” French argues that Christians support Trump because they want him to hate their enemies for them, that it’s rooted in fundamental rebellion against Christ’s command to love our enemies. There’re several things wrong with this appraisal.

First, I’m sometimes tempted to tell lay-people dabbling in theology that it’s harder than it appears. Don’t try this at home. But that’s too smug. Nevertheless, French’s application is simplistic in the extreme. He assumes that blunt talk is unloving, always hateful. But what if giving the truth straight is what is needed to wake people up to the deception they are entangled in? The Bible is replete with blunt talk dished out straight to sinners, including from Jesus Himself. Was He not loving when seven times in Matthew 23 He told the Pharisees “woe” to you “hypocrites”? The whole argument that Trump is unfit for office because his rhetoric sometimes isn’t polite is an idea more rooted in the country clubs of established gentlemen than in what is really needed in a leader.

Second, while French deplores Trump’s sinful past, he makes no allowance that perhaps he’s changed with age. There is a gracelessness in French’s Puritanical jeremiads against Trump, no insult intended on Puritans.

Third, while castigating Trump for “lying,” French himself claimed, when the “Access Hollywood” tape emerged in October 2016, that the tape shows Trump “saying that he did exactly what [the accusing] women claimed he did.” That’s false. In the infamous 2005 tape, Trump actually boasted that women would “let” him touch them; he said nothing about sexually assaulting women against their will. While no Christian wants to be seen excusing the kind of gross immorality he was boasting of in the tape, to claim that the tape is proof of sexual assault is to commit another kind of sin: bearing false witness. More recently, French accuses Trump of being responsible for the deaths from the pandemic. Since these accusations are false, thus French himself has been lying in his campaign against Trump. These lies suggests French harbors some other agenda than a pure-hearted quest for virtue in government. He may not be qualified to lead the children’s crusade.

Fourth, French doesn’t seem to understand what political leaders exist for. They aren’t counselors who are to soothe us with their reassuring platitudes. They aren’t pastors to feed Christ’s sheep, above reproach. They are terrorists for evil-doers (Romans 13:3). That is, the Bible says that rulers are God’s servants to strike terror into the hearts of criminals, thugs, rioters, punks; he’s an avenger “who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4). So threatening North Korean dictators that his nuclear button is “much bigger” or sentencing rioters to 10 years in prison is what we should expect of political leaders. French thinks that this is farming out carnal Christian’s hate toward our enemies when in reality it is exactly what leaders are supposed to do.

Finally, French criticizes Eric Metaxas, and evangelicals generally, for supporting Trump out of fear, not faith. Faith, he implies, would require us to never forgive Trump for past sins and never support him, even if he was the only viable candidate who champions Christian principles, even if partially and imperfectly. Abortion, he suggests, will dwindle on its own if only we, in “faith,” throw away our votes on fringe presidential candidates, while still supporting the Republican establishment. How will that happen? Just like in the children’s crusade, God will bless pure-heartedness, never mind what works. Instead of trusting the war to the hands of sinful warriors, better, they thought, to send innocent children who would certainly be blessed into the fray. The result was predictable, as will be the result if we follow French’s political advice.  

I was an athlete in college, a track runner. Once a well-meaning Christian friend advised me that if I’m right with God, God will bless me and I’ll win more races. I found, instead, that God blesses the talented who train hard. In war, God usually blesses the army with the most, best trained and best equipped troops. In elections, he blesses those who can garner more votes. That’s not pragmatism – i.e. “strategy” – becoming an idol. It’s the way God has created things. So, if we want the socialist train with its nihilistic Antifa brown-shirts terrorizing our cities and their equally nihilistic and destructive journalists, professors and judges stopped, then we need someone who is gifted for that, even if such a man is a bull in a china shop, even if he’s likely to over-turn the tables at the cozy tea party of the establishment where even a few evangelicals are allowed a place, as long as they keep their voices down.  

Establishmentism – defending the status quo at all costs – is the final reason why those die hard evangelical never-Trumpers cling to their orange-man-bad campaign. After all, even if the establishment is committed to causes they hate – notably abortion – it’s been good to them. They have well-paying jobs, high profile positions; their articles are published; they get to sit on stage in the panel at big conferences; they get asked to say prayers before the Senate and their names are bandied about as movers and shakers. By “draining the swamp,” disrupting the status quo, threatening not to recognize fraudulent elections, he disturbs their cozy life.

So, for example, Mark Dever, whom I hate to criticize as he is one of the most mature, healthful and helpful evangelical leaders who never overtly comments on politics, yet he tweeted, on August 18, 2020, “While we should work to end both voter fraud and voter suppression, neither voter fraud and voter suppression in this coming November’s election will de-legitimize the results.” Think about that statement. It’s pure establishmentism. Put aside, for a moment, that what is called “voter suppression” – namely expunging the dead from voter rolls and requiring voter ID – is only reasonable actions taken to insure the integrity of the election while what is called “voter fraud” (such as using mail in voting to vote on behalf of the dead) is actually voter fraud; put that attempt at moral equivalence aside for a moment. Dever is saying that even if there is enough fraud to tip the balance of the election so that official result doesn’t actually represent who the real voters selected, we should accept the result. A fraudulent election, he says, is legitimate because, if it’s not, the establishment could burn along with everything else. If, for example, Biden’s people manage to send in enough forged mail-in votes in the state that gives Biden victory in the electoral college, we should patiently concede to it. We should be, apparently, the “quiet in the land.” “You won’t get any trouble from us, Mr. Establishment.” No. Those of us with less to lose, no place at the establishment table, and more love of both the constitution and the freedoms and justice at stake in this election won’t settle for that.

We don’t need a children’s crusade. We need someone who will do what a leader is supposed to do and bring justice for those most denied it. Strategy isn’t idolatry. Being the quiet in the land who accept whatever injustice is foisted on us isn’t Christianity. It’s not how we love our neighbors, born and pre-born. We need to be thankful for the opportunity we have now. And we need to vote.

John B. Carpenter, Ph.D., is pastor of Covenant Reformed Baptist Church in Danville, Virginia.

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