Speaking truth to [and about] Trump (from the editors of Christianity Today)

This morning I reread this excellent editorial from Christianity Today (long considered the flagship publication of the evangelical movement). These thoughts are timely ones for us to consider as we draw closer to this election.

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Patrick Semansky / AP

As a non-profit journalistic organization, Christianity Today is doubly committed to staying neutral regarding political campaigns—the law requires it, and we serve our readers best when we give them the information and analysis they need to make their own judgments.

Just because we are neutral, however, does not mean we are indifferent. . . .

Finish this article here:

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/october-web-only/speak-truth-to-trump.html?share=8zSGgP1pMb8F3tcGaT86AnjYoxtbEmnx

For my thoughts on this article and related issues, see my next post.

2016: Destroying our witness

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For an introduction to these articles on the election, see here.

For a description of why both major party candidates are dishonorable choices, see here.

So, why should evangelical Christians support Donald Trump? Here are the reasons I’ve heard:

“He’s not Hillary Clinton.”
Some people despise Hillary Clinton so much, they’re willing to do just about anything to prevent her from becoming president. But just because a candidate is throughly corrupt and deceitful, this isn’t a good reason to support another corrupt, deceitful, morally bankrupt candidate. This is similar to another defense we’re hearing more and more:

“Bill Clinton was worse.”
Maybe this is true. But it’s entirely beside the point. Even if Bill Clinton is Satan himself, that doesn’t magically turn Donald Trump into a good person or an acceptable candidate for president.

It’s ironic that in the days before this most recent scandal became public, the Trump campaign was focusing on the women from Bill Clinton’s past to try to discredit Hillary. They insisted that these stories were still relevant even though they’re decades old, and that victims should always be believed (despite Trump himself insulting and demeaning these victims of Bill Clinton back in the 90s). Now Trump and his people have completely flip-flopped. They now insist that the accusations about Trump are too old to be relevant, the women (more are going public all the time) are all liars who can’t be believed, and this is part of some vast, global conspiracy.

“If you don’t vote for Trump you’re voting for Hillary.”
What’s amusing is the other side says the same thing, that if you don’t vote for Hillary you’re voting for Trump. So, apparently by voting for neither, we’re voting for both! The fact is, voting for Trump is not just voting against Hillary Clinton. If you vote for someone, you share responsibility for what they will do as president—especially if we have clear warning now of what kind of person he is and what he will do with real power.

“We’re not electing a pastor/Sunday school teacher/pope.”
Everyone knows this. No one is suggesting that presidential candidates should be held to the same standards as pastors. But does this mean that character somehow doesn’t matter? Don’t we still have the responsibility to support a candidate who is trustworthy and has good character? And if character isn’t an issue, why is Hillary Clinton so despised? Does character only matter for her but not for Trump?

“But Trump apologized.”
Did he really? Trump said he was embarrassed. He apologized to those who were offended by what he said, and then immediately and repeatedly dismissed his words as merely “locker room talk.” (In other words, ‘I’m sorry if that offended you, but it’s really not a big deal.’) And he kept pointing to Bill Clinton during these “apologies,” saying that Bill Clinton was worse than him.

So let me ask you parents, would you accept this kind of “apology” from your child? Would you allow them to get credit for apologizing while they continue dismissing the seriousness of what they did, and point their finger at someone else who is supposedly worse? And what about apologizing for all the other horrible things he’s said and done to people? We haven’t heard any apologies for the rest of Trump’s reprehensible behavior. Do we really want to give him kudos for this kind of childish nonsense?

“What about grace?”
It’s certainly true that we are all sinners forgiven by the unmerited grace of God. And we should be ready to forgive anyone. But Donald Trump hasn’t shown any real remorse for what he’s done or any real desire for forgiveness. And just because we sincerely forgive someone, doesn’t mean they’re suddenly qualified for any job. If you forgive someone who’s mean to your kids—but you don’t hire them as a babysitter—does that mean you’re unforgiving? Is that a lack of grace? Just because we should forgive Trump (if he ever actually asks for forgiveness), doesn’t mean he’s suddenly a good choice for president. There’s grace, and then there’s gullibility.

“Trump is the only one strong enough to do what’s necessary for the country.”
If anyone seriously mistakes the bluster, boasting and bullying of Trump for real strength, then nothing I say will change your mind. Apparently, you must think Jesus was a real wimp. The idea that, “Sure he’s a total jerk, but he’s our jerk” just doesn’t work for followers of Jesus Christ.

“It’s all about the Supreme Court justices.”
This is the only argument that has any merit to me. Hillary Clinton will almost certainly appoint justices who will continue to protect abortion rights and erode religious freedom. Donald Trump has said he will appoint pro-life justices to the Supreme Court. Isn’t this a good enough reason to hold our noses and vote for him? Here are some reasons why I don’t think this argument works:

We have no reason to believe that Donald Trump is sincerely pro-life.

As many have pointed out, Donald Trump is not really a Republican or a conservative. He hasn’t given any reason why he suddenly switched from being pro-choice to being pro-life (except his decision to run as a Republican). He hardly ever mentions abortion. The one time he said much about it, he seriously botched it and caused all kinds of problems for pro-life groups. He’s made it pretty clear that he doesn’t even understand the pro-life position. He defends Planned Pregnancy and makes the same exceptions for the health of the mother that Democrats routinely make. He also seems to lack any real awareness of the issues regarding the preservation of religious freedom.

Donald Trump is no “constitutionalist.”

Trump has an extremely poor grasp of the US Constitution, as he’s displayed many times. And he’s shown again and again that he intends to subvert the constitutional separation of powers, and meddle with the legislature and judiciary. Should we expect someone who’s expressed an intention to abuse constitutional power to appoint real constitutional conservatives to the Court?

We have absolutely no reason to trust Donald Trump.

Donald Trump is a flagrant, unrepentant liar. He lies about his past positions on issues. He lies about his business history. He lies about the amount of money he donates. He lies about his lies. He flip-flops on issues when it’s convenient for him. He bails on his businesses, protecting his own interests, and leaving others to hold the bag. He even said he might appoint someone not on his touted list as a Supreme Court justice—and he said this almost immediately after releasing the list! He has demonstrated over and over again that he is completely untrustworthy. So I ask those who will vote for him: Why should we trust him?

And let’s consider how this would realistically unfold. Even if they manage to retain a majority, the Republicans will certainly be weakened in the Senate. So let’s say Trump surprisingly honors this commitment, and appoints a real conservative, say another Robert Bork. And let’s say, as is very possible, that his first choice is shot down in the Senate. At this point, all bets will be off. I tried to appoint a conservative; it didn’t work. He would then be free to appoint anyone he wanted. We would have sold our political souls for . . . nothing. Of course, this is if he actually tries to fulfill this commitment, which, again, I see no reason to believe.

This is ‘the end justifies the means’ thinking.

Are we really supposed to support an immoral, reprehensible, dangerous candidate for president of the United States, just because he mouths support of a position that he doesn’t even understand?!

How gullible are we?

And how low will we sink?

Will we support anyone if they pay lip service to our cause?

How bad does someone have to be before we finally say:
“No, I can’t be part of this”?

Does God need Donald Trump?

Would we vote for a Hitler or a Stalin if they promised to end abortion? If Bill Clinton had been pro-life, would we have defended him in the 90s? A huge number of evangelicals were outspoken in their opposition to Clinton, proclaiming loudly that his poor character had disqualified him from serving as the nation’s president. Now some of these same evangelicals are defending Donald Trump, using the same excuses Clinton’s defenders used, excuses these evangelical leaders ridiculed 20 years ago! How is this not hypocrisy? Do we have any convictions that aren’t for sale?

We’ve seen the hypocrisy of Republican leaders. Many finally spoke out against Trump after this vile tape was made public. But then—after his stronger showing in the second debate—they reversed their reversals. Apparently, it’s okay for the party’s standard bearer to be someone who sickeningly boasts about sexually assaulting women . . . as long as he looks like a winner!

When Trump supporters tell the rest of us to put on our “big boy pants” and support Trump too, what they’re saying is that we need to grow up and play the game like the rest of the world. When in Rome, we need to be like the Romans. (I seem to recall someone trying to persuade Jesus to put on his big boy pants and play the game like everyone else.) No, we follow Christ. And he instructed us to be in the world, but not of it. We do need to grow up, put on our big boy pants and take the harder path of resisting the pressure to be like the world.

Should evangelicals be guilty of the same hypocrisy we see in the Republican leadership? Shouldn’t we stand up for what we say we believe in? Students and faculty of Liberty University have finally had enough. Their president, Jerry Falwell Jr, was one of Trump’s earliest evangelical supporters, and defends him still. He recently said on television that even if he knew these accusations to be true, he would continue to support Trump’s candidacy. So these students and faculty-members had to speak out. Sickened at the thought of the reputation of their school, and their witness to the world, being ruined by association with this evil, they put out a public statement strongly repudiating both Trump and the inappropriate stance of their president.

Paul admonished the Corinthian church for approving behavior that even unbelievers condemned. Now, we see an almost universal abhorrence of Donald Trump’s vile abuse of women, and it’s evangelical leaders who are defending him on national television! Fortunately, most evangelical pastors and leaders are opposed to Trump’s candidacy. But a surprising number of evangelical Christians are supporting him. If, through our support, we associate the evangelical faith with this morally bankrupt candidate—who the world recognizes as reprehensible—we will destroy our witness for years to come. In the eyes of our society, we’ll be tied to Trump’s moral filth, and we will have no credibility.

So what do we do?

Donald Trump uses women and then discards them. He’s done the same thing in his businesses. He does the same thing to those who help him politically—he uses them and then discards them. He loves them when he needs them. They become ‘his African Americans’ or ‘his evangelicals.’ But we do not belong to Donald Trump or any other politician. We need to send a strong message that, as followers of Jesus Christ, our votes are not for sale. We can’t be seduced by lame lip service or a few insincere statements.

Imagine if a huge number of Americans vote in this election, but they don’t vote for either of the major party candidates. Imagine if the experts in the press discover that it was the evangelical Christians who refused to support these unthinkable candidates. We would be sending a very loud message to the political parties that we cannot be taken for granted. We’d make it very clear that believers in Christ will not vote for shameful, dishonorable candidates no matter which party supports them. Then they would know—and we would know—that we will not sell our birthright for a bowl of lies and corruption, even with appealing but fake promises sprinkled on top.

If we vote for this man, we share responsibility for him. And evangelical Christians must not be even partially responsible for Donald Trump. Our mission is too important and our witness too valuable to waste on a madman.

 

 

Once again:

Any vulgar, hostile or demeaning comments will be deleted. We are not seeking to merely win arguments or vent anger, but to challenge and encourage each other in edifying ways. If you can’t comment with a loving attitude, do not comment here.

2016: Shaming our nation

Clinton, Trump pick up big wins

For an introduction to these articles on the election, see here.

By now you’ve heard all kinds of views on the election. Many pastors and leaders are claiming neither candidate is an honorable choice for evangelical Christians. So what’s wrong with these candidates? Let’s take a look. (Note: I’ll only be using well-known observations about both candidates, and briefly at that. If you need documentation or more details, you can find plenty online.)

Things they have in common
Both candidates are plagued with scandals that would ordinarily sink any campaign. Both are obsessively secretive about things the public has a right to know. And both blatantly and repeatedly lie about practically everything. They lie about their past positions. They lie about what they said; they lie about what they didn’t say (even when we have recordings of their statements).

Some might cynically reply that all politicians lie. But this kind of deceit goes far beyond anything we’ve seen from others. Hillary Clinton has been described for years as a habitual liar (even by some of her associates). Fact checkers have awarded her an unprecedented number of “Pinocchios” over the years, showing her difficulty with the truth. Unprecedented, that is, until Donald Trump came along, who is decidedly now “winning” in this particular competition.

Even by itself, such obsessive secretiveness and blatant deceit should be sufficient cause to reject a candidate. It definitely means no Clinton or Trump supporters should be pointing their fingers at the other candidate and calling her or him a liar or questioning their integrity. To do so is hypocritical. Both are lacking the basic integrity we look for in a political candidate.

US-VOTE-DEMOCRAT-HILLARY

HILLARY CLINTON

What else is troubling about Hillary Clinton? Other than the huge integrity issues noted above, there are four issues that raise grave concerns. She was at the center of the Benghazi fiasco, and then lied to the American people and to the families of the victims about the nature of the attack. She knowingly and secretively violated US law regulating the handling of classified information while she was serving as Secretary of State, recklessly putting national security and human lives at great risk. The financial dealings of the Clinton Foundation are highly suspicious, showing a likelihood of political favors being given to donors, even from potentially unfriendly nations. Any of these scandals should have effectively ended any chance of Clinton being elected. Of equal or greater concern to most evangelical Christians is Hillary Clinton’s outspoken support of abortion rights.

Donald Trump Addresses GOP Lincoln Day Event In Michigan

DONALD TRUMP

Because more evangelicals seem to be struggling with whether to vote for Donald Trump, I’m going to spend more time describing what is unsuitable about Trump as a candidate for president. Because Trump is running as a Republican, I’ll weigh his positions from a Republican perspective. And, again, this is in addition to the lack of integrity I noted above.

Business history
This may seem like a strange thing to start with, but the more I’ve read about Trump’s so-called business acumen, the more I’m appalled at the idea of him as president. Trump is a master at self-promotion, blustering his way into getting a lot of press, but he has a very checkered past when it comes to any true success at running healthy businesses. If you think he’s a good businessman, you need to do your “due diligence” and check him out a little more thoroughly. His business practices have been unethical and hurtful to a great many people.

National security
This is a key responsibility of the president, and Donald Trump is already making us less secure just as a candidate. His extreme anti-Muslim rhetoric is inflaming Islamic radicals and alienating friendly Islamic nations. His irresponsible statements concerning NATO, Ukraine, Japan, South Korea, etc. are deeply concerning to our allies and threaten US leadership in world affairs. His admiration for Putin is alarming, and he seems to have taken on a role as Putin-apologist. He disagrees with his own running mate about the right approach in Syria (and virtually every Republican leader agrees with Pence about this). There’s a reason why an overwhelming number of Republican foreign policy experts have warned us in the strongest terms of the dangers of a Trump presidency.

Economic policies
Donald Trump is going to magically lower taxes, increase spending, and lower the debt, all while threatening devastating trade wars with our trading partners and refusing to address entitlement spending. His economic policies bear little resemblance to those of the Republicans who are supporting him.

Lack of political principles
As many have observed, Donald Trump could just as easily have run as a Democrat. His candidacy has never been about policy. He ran from the beginning as a populist, a George Wallace-style demagogue who coined catchy phrases that got the people to cheer, but who couldn’t be bothered with discussing policy details. He’s not interested in being enlightened by those who are knowledgeable on the issues, but arrogantly insists he knows more than the experts, while often displaying an appalling lack of awareness of these issues.

Instead of policy content, Donald Trump seems to rely on . . . conspiracy theories. Remember, this is the man who gave us the birther movement. He’s also floated conspiracy theories about Obama being a Muslim, Scalia being murdered, Fox News being in cahoots with the Saudis, and, of course, that Ted Cruz’s father was part of the Kennedy assassination (not to mention scores of other conspiracy theories).

Lack of personal character and judgment
Pat of the problem is that we’ve become so familiar with Donald Trump we forget how shocked we should be at his behavior. The recent outcry over his lewd and abusive tape is understandable, but some of it is a little disingenuous. Is anyone really surprised? This is just Donald Trump being Donald Trump. This is the man who’s been married three times, who boasts about how many adulterous affairs he’s had with married women, and who divorced his first wife because her breast enhancements “didn’t feel right.”

To the people who are now suddenly outraged, why were you not outraged when he cruelly and childishly mocked a handicapped reporter? This would have ended anyone else’s campaign, but Trump’s supporters just cheered him on. Why were you not outraged when he crassly and demeaningly insulted other women (calling them “fat pigs” and worse), or insulted Hispanics, Blacks, his political opponents, his opponents’ families, journalists, judges, etc., etc.? Trump displays the behavior of a weak, insecure playground bully. His pettiness and immaturity would be unacceptable in an elementary school. You wouldn’t allow your children to act this way. But Trump casually insults people in the most cruel and immature ways . . . and we laugh? . . . admire him for ‘not caring what people think’?

Trump’s approach is not to win with sound ideas and logic, but through intimidation, outshouting anyone who opposes him, and even encouraging violence. This is someone who can’t seem to resist a feud, no matter how petty. Remember, this is the man who got in a very public war of insults with Rosie O’Donnell. Do we really want a cruel, childish, bullying, reality TV drama king as president of the United States? Coupled with his expressed interest in actually using nuclear weapons(!), the possibility of this man becoming president is frightening.

Racism
Trump’s campaign has fanned into flames a resurgent racism that is evil and ugly. And, as many of us warned during the primaries, this is affecting our children. Educators are now talking about the “Trump Effect” that is becoming more and more widespread in our schools. A high school from a predominantly Latino community sent their basketball team to play a mostly white school in Indiana. They were greeted by Trump signs and belligerent chants of “Build the wall!” In Virginia, two third-graders were singled out by classmates as “immigrants” because of the color of their skin, and told that when Trump becomes president they would be sent back home. These are not isolated incidents, but are becoming epidemic.

The anti-Semitic tone has also become rampant. Many Jewish people who dare to oppose Trump are being bombarded with phone calls and online messages threatening to “throw them in the ovens” or to send them to “Camp Trump,” with photos of Auschwitz attached. Conservative Republican Jews who refuse to support Trump are being ridiculed as “Kikeservatives.” This anti-Semitism is being fueled by Breitbart, an anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, pro-white “news network” controlled by Stephen Bannon—whom Trump chose as his Campaign CEO.

Divisive and destructive
In 1996, when it became clear Bob Dole couldn’t win the election, the Republican Party began focusing on the Senate and House of Representative races. Dole understood and supported this decision. Now some have suggested the GOP should focus on keeping both houses of Congress and not allow their leads to be lost. Donald Trump has responded by petulantly declaring war on the Republican leadership. He has destroyed company after company (and many lives along the way), he is in the midst of destroying the Republican party, and he wants us to entrust the leadership of the nation to him? With his repeated claims the election will be rigged, he is already recklessly endangering the nation.

Obsessed with power
Donald Trump frequently sings the praises of thugs and dictators. He admires the way the Chinese government brutally crushed the protests in Tiananmen Square (what most call a massacre), he tweets quotes from Mussolini, criticizes Mikhail Gorbachev for not being firm enough, compliments Saddam Hussein, and repeatedly praises Vladimir Putin, even defending Putin’s killing of political opponents and journalists. Which leads to the next point:

Abuse of power
Many people are so offended by the lewdness of the recently released Trump tape, they miss another disturbing aspect of this recording. Trump shows a cruel enjoyment of abusing his power as a celebrity—kissing women without their consent, grabbing them in grotesquely inappropriate ways. This isn’t just about juvenile, frat-boy over-sexed, filthy language; it’s about his delight in abusing power, about doing to women whatever he wants to whether they want it or not. Is this an anomaly, a phase he went through as an immature, 59-year old man?

Trump has openly expressed his intention to abuse power. If soldiers won’t commit the war crimes he demands, he’ll make them. He says that as soon as he has the power, he’ll exact vengeance on those who’ve crossed him: political opponents (most recently Paul Ryan), the judge who wouldn’t dismiss a case against him, journalists who wrote articles he didn’t like, etc. He hasn’t hidden any of this,  openly planning to corrupt his role as Commander in Chief and violate the constitutional separation of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, as well as the constitutionally protected freedom of the press.

Regardless of our political views, we must be very clear about this:

Legitimate leaders of democratic nations do not threaten the freedom of the press.
Leaders of free nations do not threaten to imprison their opponents.

(This actually sounds strangely like Putin, who Trump admires so much.) If Trump is somehow elected president, no one should be shocked when he does exactly what he’s always said he will do.

Extreme egotism
This is another case of us becoming so familiar with Trump we might shrug off statements that should serve as huge red flags to us. Over and over again, he’s told us that he is the only one who can save America, he is the only one who can make us great again, he is the only one smart enough and strong enough to get the job done. He keeps telling us we need to believe him, to trust him, that he knows. And this is exactly what Ronald Reagan warned us about when he accepted the nomination as Republican presidential candidate:

“Trust me” government asks that we concentrate our hopes and dreams on one man; that we trust him to do what’s best for us.  My view of government places trust not in one person or one party, but in those values that transcend persons and parties.

Ronald Reagan (July 17, 1980)

Donald Trump is not about transcendent values. Even his own team-members debate what he actually believes in. Donald Trump is about one thing—Donald Trump. When you put together the bullying, the obsession with power, the cruel delight in abusing power and the extreme egotism, what you come up with is not a great leader. It’s a perfect recipe for either a cult leader or a dictator.

At this period in history, the Republican party needed leaders with the conviction and resoluteness of Winston Churchill. What they have instead (with a few notable exceptions) is a party of Neville Chamberlains. So they are reaping what they have sown and their party is being ripped apart.

The future doesn’t look much brighter for Republicans. They’re beginning to hear of conservative young people who ordinarily would become Republicans, but are instead looking to the Democrats or considering themselves independents. They say it’s because they won’t be associated with Donald Trump or leaders who put party interests above the good of the country, weakly acquiescing to a destructive madman rather than having the courage to take a stand even if it costs them an election. It’s been sad, but educational, to see Republican leaders attempt all kinds of logical contortions to suddenly support positions they always vehemently opposed. And this just confirms that if the Republican party won’t stand up to Donald Trump now, there will be no one to stand up to him if he’s elected president.

So why do some evangelical Christians still say we should support Donald Trump? We’ll look at some of their reasons next.

 

 

Again, I’ll note this even though I shouldn’t have to:

Any vulgar, hostile or demeaning comments will be deleted. We are not seeking to merely win arguments or vent anger, but to challenge and encourage each other in edifying ways. If you can’t comment with a loving attitude, do not comment here.

2016: Who do we vote for?!

confusionLast year, my wife and I returned to California after almost 14 years in Puerto Rico. As residents of Puerto Rico, we didn’t pay federal income tax, but we also weren’t represented in Congress and we couldn’t vote in presidential elections. Before moving to PR I hadn’t missed a single election, so I was excited to be part of the process once again. Soon after we moved back, someone asked me what I would do if the choice was between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. I laughed and said I’d see that as a definite sign of an impending apocalypse!

And now here we are. Americans are faced with an abysmal choice, two candidates distrusted and despised by most US voters. The Republicans have nominated possibly the only candidate who could lose to an incredibly vulnerable Hillary Clinton. And the Democrats have nominated possibly the only candidate who could lose to Donald Trump. It’s as if the World Series featured the worst two teams in baseball. It might be darkly entertaining if the consequences weren’t so terribly serious. Many Christians are dismayed to find themselves in this kind of dilemma. What in the world are we going to do come November? How should we vote?

As a pastor, I’m careful not to publicly promote any political party or ideology. Until this election cycle, I had never publicly commented on specific details or candidates during an election. But earlier this year, during the primaries, I—along with other evangelical leaders—appealed to and challenged evangelical supporters of Donald Trump. We were so concerned, we felt it would be irresponsible for pastors and leaders to not speak out. (I also expressed these concerns from the pulpit.)

In the months following the parties’ conventions, people have asked me if I still feel the same. I’ve been intending to write on this for some time, but my time has been consumed with the revitalization process of the church we serve (The Orchard). But even after the recent vile revelations concerning Donald Trump, there are still evangelicals defending Trump and urging the rest of us to support him. So . . . I’m writing. I’ll address this issue, as best I can, in two separate posts:

 

I shouldn’t have to write this, but I will:

Any vulgar, hostile or demeaning comments will be deleted. We are not seeking to merely win arguments or vent anger, but to challenge and encourage each other in edifying ways. If you can’t comment with a loving attitude, do not comment here.