Heated argument has erupted among different factions of evangelical Christians over whether they should be supporting President Trump. Their arguments raise grave concerns over the degree to which religion should be used to justify political positions.
Since Ronald Reagan pledged his support for traditional family values and thereby successfully enlisted the Christian Right in his quest for the presidency in 1980, conservative Christians have been indispensable backers of the Republican Party, giving overwhelming support to each of its presidential candidates. No doubt the Christian Right helped pad the margins by which Reagan and George H. W. Bush won their elections, while contributing the winning margins in the too-close-for-comfort victories of George W. Bush and Donald Trump as well.
And through every scandal, investigation, and controversy since the beginning of Donald Trump’s presidency, the Christian Right has remained adamantly supportive. It’s lauded President Trump’s judicial appointments, his anti-abortion policies, and his transfer of the American Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, all on the grounds that President Trump is doing God’s work. There have been few signs of dissatisfaction with the President within the ranks of conservative Christians—until now.
Recently Christianity Today, a magazine founded by the late Reverend Billy Graham, ran a scathing editorial calling for President Trump’s removal from office, either by Senate vote or the next election, arguing that both his personal lifestyle and several of his public policies were too immoral to justify the continuation of his tenure. The precise editorial can be found here: https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2019/december-web-only/trump-should-be-removed-from-office.html.
The editorial has been denounced not only by President Trump but by many of his conservative Christian supporters, including the Reverend Franklin Graham, Billy’s son, who said that his father had, in fact, voted for Trump in 2016. The President’s supporters in the Religious Right argue that God frequently uses imperfect people to carry out his will. King David arranged for Uriah to be killed in battle so he could marry Uriah’s wife. Saint Paul fiercely persecuted Christians before his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. So what if President Trump is no Mister Rogers? It’s the policies that count.
They have a point: Policies do count. The President’s defenders can rightly point to his superb judicial appointments to justify his re-election. And even his objectively awful polices—his fiscal irresponsibility and refusal to tackle entitlement reform, for example—are better than proposed budget-busting big government power grabs such as the Green New Deal and Medicare-for-All.
But to argue that God uses imperfect people in general, and President Trump in particular, to achieve His goals is weak. To use this line of reasoning is to argue not only that the President is God’s chosen agent for public policy implementation, but that the President’s policies, whatever they may be, are what God wants as well.
Now, whoever supports or opposes President Trump or any other person or policy on religious grounds is well within his constitutional rights to do so. The religiously motivated have, at the very least, their First Amendment free speech rights. And contrary to popular mythology, the First Amendment did not create a “wall of separation” between Church and State. Indeed, that phrase appears nowhere in the Constitution, having first appeared in a private letter President Jefferson wrote in 1802. There’s nothing unconstitutional with invoking religion to justify stands on political candidates and policies.
But the fact that a course of action is not unconstitutional doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wise. The President’s supporters should go beyond saying that what the President wants is also what God wants. They should make their cases in support of the President with facts and logic, as should those who oppose the President as well. To invoke God as an authority for particular policies fails to supply any meaningful information about the costs and benefits of the policies in question. Such an argument is less likely to change minds than it is to raise the possibility that those who dislike policies enacted in God’s name will transfer their hostility to those who cloak themselves in what they say is God’s word, if not God Himself. What do you think of the argument, and those who make it, that we should double the property tax because God says so?
And whoever truly wants to consider God as a supporter or opponent of a particular policy or candidate should remember the response Abraham Lincoln is alleged to have made to a minister asking about Who’s side God supported in the Civil War. Lincoln, so the story goes, made no claim to knowing what God wanted, saying only that he hoped he was on God’s side. Unfortunately Lincoln’s intellectual modesty, restraint, doubts, and wisdom are too badly needed, and too short in supply, today.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.