As an urbanite, my context is fairly diverse. Daily I encounter people across every imaginable spectrum. Still, in this neck of the woods, progressive politics reign supreme; I have yet to see one Donald Trump yard sign within miles of my house.
That said, my job has me traveling in places where Donald Trump is quite popular, even among people of strong faith. I'm guessing this a major reason that a group of evangelical leaders created a petition on change.org denouncing Trump's candidacy. This is the latest of a movement questioning the mentality/morality of people who support the Republican presidential candidate. Whether it's on television or around the water cooler, the message is that if you do not repudiate Donald (or, in some instances, refuse to support Hillary Clinton as the alternative), then you align yourself with the very worst of him.
I only publicly chime in on political issues with it intersects with my area of study—issues of faith. I come neither to bury Trump, nor to praise him, but there is a question I feel called to address:
Do I, as a Christian, need to denounce Trump?
I answer no. Here's why.
UNDERSTANDING THE TENSION
It's easy to see what these pastors, teachers, and theologians who created this change.org petition are trying to do: they want to display a broader view of Christian values. While many conservative evangelical Christians support Trump because they believe he'll better secure Christian values for the future (for example, by shaping a more conservative direction of the Supreme Court), these progressive evangelicals want to address the candidate's lack of values, both in his political views and his previous life decisions.
This is something evangelical Trump supporters should contemplate. There is great value in recognizing the other side of an issue.
My problem, however, is that nearly all the voices in this petition take it to the opposite end of the spectrum, suggesting that supporting Hillary Clinton is the right response to combating Trump's failings. While their petition states, "whether we support Mr. Trump's political opponent is not the question here," it is indeed the question; I quickly Googled the signers of the petition nearly all support Clinton. Obviously they have every right to do so, but the political bias makes a spiritual denunciation powerless.
A BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVE
What I wish these leaders would have done was to stake out an even bolder view than denunciation. Rather than addressing the diversity of evangelical values, they could have admitted that holding any political leader up against Christian values is an exercise in futility. When we attempt to establish biblical values as a voting rubric (whether we're politically conservative or progressive), we will always overemphasize certain ones while underemphasizing others. More critically, however, we give non-Christians the wrong perception of our faith.
As a Christian, for me to say that Donald Trump is a worse person than Hillary Clinton counters what the Scriptures teach. And the inverse statement is just as true.
What's worse is it misses the entire point of the gospel: we are all equally reprehensible when it comes to personal righteousness. It's what the apostle Paul addresses in the book of Romans when addressing a group of Christians who viewed the world in terms of good and bad people.
"None is righteous, not even one."
Friends, I'm as flawed (even more so) as Hillary Clinton.
I'm as flawed (yes, even more so) as Donald Trump.
Our hope in Jesus (his perfection, death, and resurrection) is the only thing that makes me righteous. Any attempt to measure my goodness against someone else is absolutely useless.
THE DANGER OF DENUNCIATION
And this gets to the essence of why I cannot denounce Trump (or Clinton either). To denounce Trump from a faith perspective puts others in a peculiar place. It's a spiritual categorization that has potential hazardous consequences.
I am convinced that there are people out there who identify with Trump BECAUSE of his many flaws and that is precisely why they are planning on voting for them. The American voter is not nearly as complicated as we imagine and this is why some of my progressive/liberal friends are flummoxed as to why some people support him. In short, they identify with him.
- They look in the mirror and acknowledge that they too have screwed up in life.
- They recognize the critique against him because they've heard it about themselves.
- They want him to win because, in some way, it validates their journey to redemption.
You might not buy it, but that's how I see it. And regardless of why people are voting for him, if I use my position as a faith leader to denounce Trump, how does that reflect on people who are embarrassed about their pasts? Will they see Christianity only as judgment? Will they believe that they're not good enough for God?
If I denounce Trump, I'm denouncing people who think they're just like him.
For better or for worse, politics just isn't worth that risk to me.
BUT WHAT ABOUT WHEN HE SAYS THE DUMB STUFF?
Refusing to denounce the man doesn't mean that we must remain silent. Inevitably Trump or Clinton or another public figure will say something ridiculous and we can speak directly to the statement. But to denounce an individual, I can't buy that biblically. Defending our political preferences as biblical doctrines is asking for trouble.
If I've left you angry or confused, I apologize. I'm just calling for Christians to see the bigger picture. Life will go on after November 8th. Eternity will last forever.
The pragmatic question, then, is who do I vote for? I actually wrote an article for the Lookout Magazine that will be published the week of the election, so I'll link to that later. More important than the Christian vote, however, a healthy Christian perspective.
The only people that Jesus denounced were religious leaders.