A Few Thoughts on Christianity Today, Trump, and Jesus

I don’t like talking about politics…especially in our divided, angry, politicized culture.

One, it is not my calling or expertise. Yes, as I teach through Scripture verse-by-verse, I often encounter biblical principles that apply to our political world. I seek to highlight these principles and apply them wisely. But, at the same time, I am not a political pundit or commentator who can address or exegete the endless stream of headlines from our politicized media…nor do I think it would be wise to try.

Two, I have found that many people who ask me to comment more on politics usually want me to do so from a particular partisan viewpoint. Let’s be honest…most people in our culture are not looking to be challenged in their political leanings, rather they are looking for confirmation and affirmation of the viewpoint that they already hold. I quite simply do not want to add to the echo chamber of politics in our culture. Instead I want to try to encourage people to look above the fray and see things from a bigger, eternal perspective.

So why comment now?

A few weeks ago, Mark Galli wrote an editorial in Christianity Today that sent shockwaves through the evangelical world. It set off a host of comments, rebuttals, accolades, and attacks. I have been a long-time subscriber of Christianity Today. I have generally been informed, encouraged, and challenged by their articles. I have also enjoyed many of Galli’s articles in the past. This one was obviously different…as Galli noted at the beginning of his editorial.

Now that the dust has settled a little bit, it seems like a good time to make a few comments for hopefully thoughtful consideration. I may end up regretting it anyway.

First, about the article.

I have two problems with Galli’s article. One, it was very strange timing. Galli wrote the article on his way out the door of Christianity Today (CT). He recently retired as the magazine’s editor. It seems like his final act was to throw a grenade in the middle of his readership and essentially leave it for his successors to clean it all up. It is sort of like the pastor getting up for his final sermon in a church and saying, “And now let me tell you what I really think….” Wisdom would seem to say that either you speak your mind earlier…or you go ahead and leave and save your comments for later.

Two, Galli tries to take a moral position on a highly partisan political issue. Yes, some political issues are moral but I am not sure you can place impeachment in that category. It is a political, legal decision based on an interpretation of “high crimes and misdemeanors” in the Constitution. Perhaps Trump’s phone call violated the Constitution (that is the question) but I am not sure a Christian writer of a Christian magazine is in the best position to make that decision. Galli would have been better served to make a moral case and leave the impeachment decision alone. After all, the decision that was made in the House of Representatives was so politically divided…and so blatantly partisan…that to pick a side on the issue immediately threw him (and CT) in the midst of the partisan rancor. Apparently Galli felt the need to take a clear position because CT took a clear position on President Clinton’s impeachment twenty years ago. But the wisdom of CT‘s decision twenty years ago could also be debated. Unless Galli is speaking as a lawyer or Constitutional expert, then I would suggest that he leave the decision up to Congress and instead focus on the biblical or moral principles that may apply in the situation.

And here is where Galli’s article does have some merit.

He brings up a compelling point: “Remember who you are and whom you serve. Consider how your justification of Mr. Trump influences your witness to your Lord and Savior. Consider what an unbelieving world will say if you continue to brush off Mr. Trump’s immoral words and behavior in the cause of political expediency.”

Whether you agree with Galli or not, it is a point worth considering. Is it possible to be so intertwined with a particular political leader that you somehow weaken the gospel or at least confuse it with political overtones? Or asked in a more specific way…is it possible to support Trump as president and not be stained with his moral failures, his narcissistic tendencies, or his angry, profane verbal barrages?

It is a question that I have wrestled with often.

Now, about Trump.

Trump is a conundrum, a mixed bag, a lightning rod.

He has garnered more division than any other president in recent history. There are “Trump lovers” and “Trump haters”…and presumably no one in between.

But I am one of those “in between,” trying to sort it all out, trying to find balance.

I see Trump for who he is: a flawed man in the office of the presidency…as every president has been to some degree. The tendency to see him as “all hero” or “all villain” is neither realistic nor helpful and it feeds into the melodramatic, crisis-creating, news-selling narrative of our media-saturated world.

There are at least three aspects to consider in a president…personality, morality, and policy.

When it comes to personality, Trump is unconventional to say the least. He is a businessman not a politician. Diplomacy is not his style. He was shaped in the cutthroat, competitive, get-it-done-despite-the-costs business world. He is used to being a boss who gets his way. He is the antithesis to the typical, dignified, diplomatic, compromise-seeking politician. His personality has a way of forcing you to either love him or hate him…and he seems to like it that way. It has made him a successful businessman but a very contentious president.

His morality is another issue to consider. Generally we want a leader who exhibits strong character traits such as loyalty, honesty, integrity, dignity, and faithfulness, most notably to his wife and family. Trump’s past failed marriages and sexual misconduct, braggadocio, narcissistic tendencies, and constant verbal barrages have all put a stain on his character. Many past presidents have had their serious moral issues but Trump’s flaws seem to be more open and on full display. It is true that a president is not a Sunday School teacher but character matters and cannot be quickly dismissed or overlooked. If one can’t be trusted in one area, then it can be assumed that he can’t be trusted in other areas as well. On the other side of the coin, he seems to be faithful to his current wife and devoted to his family and so perhaps he is becoming better along the way but he still leaves much to be desired, particularly when measured against such spiritual virtues as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

The third leg of the stool are a president’s policies…and this is usually where the rubber meets the road. Turn the clock back twenty years to Bill Clinton…and Democrats were defending Clinton’s morality and actions primarily because they liked his policies…while Republicans were saying Clinton’s morality and actions disqualified him from office generally because they disliked his policies. You can almost flip the script in what Democrats and Republicans are saying today (even some of the same people!).

So how can an evangelical support Trump today?

Some may like his rough and tumble, no holds barred, in your face personality…and overlook his most obvious faults…primarily because they like his policies. Others may shake their head at his divisive words, inability to admit a mistake, and questionable morality but, in the absence of a credible, electable alternative, hesitantly prefer him over someone with polar opposite views and policies. Either way, his support ultimately comes down to his platform, his policies. He is strongly pro-life…protects religious liberty…supports Israel…appoints conservative judges…and seems to have a genuine love for our nation (whether you agree with the way he expresses it or not)…issues important to many evangelicals.

Trump still presents a conundrum…but not necessarily an unusual one in politics. Politics is messy…and no candidate is perfect. Thus, both sides of the aisle, at some point, have supported questionable candidates with stained resumes because ultimately they agree with the majority of that politician’s policies not his lifestyle.

The challenge for the Christian citizen is to support good governmental policies while still maintaining a prophetic voice that speaks out against the bad character and actions of political leaders. Something that Christians have often failed to do. Consider the example of Daniel who served, prayed for, and respected the narcissistic, volatile Babylonian leader, Nebuchadnezzar, while at the same time calling him out for his foolish pride.

Even better, consider Jesus.

Jesus was born into a politicized, divided, angry culture very much like our own. You can almost see modern political groups represented in the political groups of Jesus’ day…the Pharisees (social conservatives)…the Sadducees (elite progressives)…the Zealots (right-wing or left-wing revolutionaries)…the Hellenists (cultural adopters)…the Essenes (cultural rejecters)…and the Herodians (the political poll-watchers and do whatever it takes to stay in power people).

In such a politically divided world, everyone wanted to know who Jesus was. Whose side was He on? In what political category did He fit? What label could describe Him?

Jesus rose above all the political rancor.

He didn’t play the political game.

He couldn’t be plugged into any political category.

In fact, He made everyone with a political mindset mad.

Jesus put His finger on the bigger problem…the condition of our own heart.

Because ultimately our biggest problem is not political…it is spiritual.

Will I bow my knee to the God who made me?

Will I humbly acknowledge my limitations…my weakness…my need?

Will I stop pointing the finger at others and see my own selfishness and sin?

Will I receive grace…and then give it to others?

The follower of Jesus has to keep politics in perspective. Yes, we are called to be involved…to be participants in society…to honor and pray for our leaders…to pray and work for the peace and prosperity of the nation in which we live…to be ready for every good work…to speak evil of no one…to be peaceable and gentle…to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.

In short, we are to be concerned with politics but not consumed with it.

Politics is just the imperfect attempts of imperfect leaders to govern imperfect people for a limited amount of time. It won’t solve humanity’s biggest problems. It can’t change hearts. It can’t defeat death. It can’t bring new life to a disaster-filled, decaying planet. Thus, putting your trust in any political leader is short-sighted, disappointing, and foolish.

God is sovereign.

The nations are a drop in the bucket.

God can turn a leader’s heart like channels of water.

The Most High rules in the kingdom of men and gives it to whomever He chooses.

And ultimately our fate is not in the hands of donkeys and elephants but in the One who is the Lion and the Lamb.

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