Trump & Evangelicals

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

On the face of it, Trump’s behavior and the values he espouses seem inconsistent with the professed core values of Christianity. These values include a condemnation of adultery and lying as well as injunctions to love neighbors and care for refugees. Trump was, however, born again behind the podium of the candidacy, professing a sudden acceptance of Christian values and a sincere opposition to abortion. This move initially won over many evangelicals.

While American evangelicals are often cast as a monolithic group, there is actually considerable diversity among them. This has been illustrated quite vividly by the responses to Donald Trump within the evangelical camp. While some evangelical leaders condemned Trump when he was but one of many Republican candidates, Trump initially enjoyed considerable support from the evangelical membership. In light of the infamous tape from 2005, Trump’s support among some evangelicals has eroded. As would be expected, Trump’s support among evangelical women has eroded considerably. He has also been strongly condemned by Christianity Today, which will presumably have some negative impact on his support.  However, Trump still enjoys the support of many white evangelicals and some of the leadership. While this matter raises various religious concerns, many of these overlap into philosophy and are worth discussing.

One rather interesting moral problem is how those who support Trump reconcile his seemingly utter inconsistency with Christian values with their support. Their solution is drawn from Christianity itself, specifically Christian forgiveness. Since I also accept the moral value of forgiving people and the strength of character this can sometimes require, I can certainly accept that evangelicals should forgive Trump for his transgressions. However, using this forgiveness to justify continued support is problematic.

Forgiving Trump for past misdeeds is one thing, taking this forgiveness to somehow be relevant to his fitness for the presidency is quite another matter. To use an analogy, I might forgive someone who misused my trust and did considerable harm to me, but I would not thus take my forgiveness to show that they would now be worthy of a position of trust.

It could be countered that Trump is otherwise an exemplary candidate, aside from some past flaws. To use an analogy, if someone misused my trust years ago and afterwards redeemed themselves into a virtuous person, then it would make sense to forgive the person and trust them now. The easy and obvious reply is that Trump does not seem morally redeemed nor does he appear to even be able to see minimal competency for the presidency from where he is.

Those that forgive Trump on the grounds that people should be forgiven for their misdeeds are also morally obligated to extend this forgiveness to Hillary Clinton (and Bill Clinton). As such, those who forgive Trump (and thus do not hold his misdeeds as disqualifying him) must extend the same consideration to Hillary, thus putting the candidates on equal footing morally. That is, forgiven for all their misdeeds.

It could be objected that Trump has professed a new found faith and is thus entitled to the forgiveness that Hillary is not. However, Hillary has a well-established record of faith, although she is rather private about this. While some might doubt her faith and accuse her of hypocrisy in contrast to Trump’s alleged sincerity, this would presumably be yet another sin that must be forgiven.

Assuming that such consistent forgiveness would put Trump and Hillary on equal moral footing, the decision between them would seem to come down to a difference in policy and competence. After all, relentless forgiveness would seem to take moral character out of the equation (which is certainly not something I agree with).

In terms of competence, there is objectively no contest. If I were to claim that I am competent to play professional football on the grounds of my running achievements, I would be no more absurd than Trump claiming that his business achievements qualify him to be president. In contrast, Hillary is an established professional. As such, what is left is policy.

While Trump does not do policy in the traditional way of having fully developed plans, he does say things he wants to do, such as building a wall, banning Muslims, keep out refugees, and put Hillary in jail. While I am not an expert on theology, I do not think that Jesus would do these things. However, born-again Trump has also expressed opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion.

While some religious leaders, such as Pope Francis, have taken efforts to broaden Christian concern beyond same-sex marriage, bathrooms and abortion, these matters tend to dominate public discussions involving religion in the United States. Abortion does, however, seem to be the most important.

Since there is a biblical injunction against killing (although there are numerous exceptions), it is certainly reasonable for people to oppose abortion on religious grounds. It is thus also rational for people to oppose capital punishment and war on religious grounds (something that Pope Francis does). There is also a lot of other stuff in the bible; but people tend to be exceptionally selective when it comes to what they focus on—and many focus on abortion as their defining issue.

Born-again Trump claims he opposes abortion and some evangelicals hope that when he is president he will appoint Supreme Court justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade. To achieve this goal, some evangelicals are willing to ignore other Christian values and support Trump. While some might suspect that they would vote for Satan himself if he promised to appoint justices opposed to abortion, I certainly hope that this is not the case.

Not being an evangelical, I am looking at this matter from the outside; but I would think that violating so many other core values in the hope that Trump might appoint justices that might be able to overturn Roe v. Wade would be morally unacceptable. And this is not even considering what a Trump presidency would be like morally beyond the single issue of abortion. After all, he has expressed a desire to engage in torture and to commit war crimes by taking out the families of suspected terrorists. Trump also claims that he never said this. Trump is, of course, unrelenting in saying that he did not say what he has been recorded saying. Though I am not a professor of religion, I am reasonable sure that lying might be against something in the bible.

While I understand that for some the issue of abortion is of great importance, it is not the only issue of importance. It is certainly not worth the moral equivalent of a deal with the devil in the vain hope that Trump will be able to have Roe v. Wade repealed. As such, I certainly agree with the evangelicals who refuse to support Trump and condemn his misdeeds.

 

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  1. Trump & Evangelicals | D!SRUPT | Question Everything - pingback on October 17, 2016 at 8:46 am
  2. Doris Wrench Eisler

    There is no religious or moral precept, and the two are far from a perfect fit, that can’t be subverted by another moral or religious precept – as the Jesuit record and all sorts of historical events make obvious. The Catholic church were against the “shedding of blood”, which in normal parlance would include all violent acts, but during the Inquisitions they invented the most cruel
    means of extracting “confessions”, without shedding any blood at all.
    Some evangelicals will overlook Trump’s moral record on sexual matters in the hope that he will
    make abortion illegal or more difficult to obtain. If he followed through on that hope it would represent an even greater moral transgression, arguably. What one finds unforgivable another has no problem with. But we are supposed to be a secular society with values and moral ideas quite separate from those of religion. Religionists will argue that all morality comes from religion, a tenuous point considering what religion has been responsible for in terms of war and other kinds of misery. It is also a fact that the Ten Commandments appeared much earlier in history as the Code of Hammurabi, and were definitely not Judaic/Christian.
    But the most enlightened, consistently moral thinking has to be attributed to the secular sphere: those who fought against slavery, for human and women’s rights, children’s rights, animal rights workers’ rights and democracy. Some were Christians because that was the coinage of the realm at the time, but their values were humanistic rather than specifically Christian. If this were not the case all these rights would have co-existed throughout the Christian era, and they did not.

  3. The Trump phenomenon is viewed with almost equal horror here in the UK as it is by about half of Americans (if the recent opinion polls are reliable). High on the list of the incomprehensibles is that Trump can ‘appeal’ to any evangelicals to the extent that they would vote for him. It will seem patronising for those who loathe and fear Trump to remark that, if he is anti-abortion, that one ‘policy’ cannot counter the broad sweep of his policies (insofar as they can be gleaned from his inarticulate utterances). As Mike has argued well in his text, nearly every other aspect of Trump’s declared policies and attitudes cuts right across *any* reading of the evangelicals’ traditional core positions.

    Over here, we are informed that the US electorate is strongly exercised by the ‘least worst’ scenario that this campaign has (reportedly) presented to them. Whatever else, one would have imagined that Trumps complete lack of experience in elected office, of running a civic administration of any kind, of foreign policy matters, of military policy, of coalition building and consensus development – all these skills and experiences key to the Presidency he lacks totally. Do the evangelicals expect that a (claimed to be) devout Christian will be directly guided by their almighty once in office? (That unconstitutional phrase ‘in God we trust’ comes to mind!). Trump himself hasn’t yet made that delusional claim. But he might even reach for it in the last days of the campaign. Watch this space …

  4. Kevin Henderson

    Most people who maintain a religious faith are typically insecure. If they were not, they would value their faith above all else and not worry at all about people of other faith or how society regards their faith. Trump proclaims, quite possibly only motivated by personal gain, that he is an ally of religion, and, in particular, the one true religion of Christianity. Christians will regard his behavior (misogyny, racism, xenophobia) as peripheral to their agenda. He swears he will do right by them. They become the unwilling sheep.

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