The Problem(s) With Christians Supporting Donald Trump

untitled-2Since I have spent the bulk of my professional life as a pastor, I have avoided endorsing political candidates. I have, in the past, tried to remind people that the current election (whatever year it was) was not the “most important election of our lifetime”. I have also tried to remind people that if they lived in fear of the other party winning, then they likely didn’t fully trust God. But I have refrained from endorsing any particular candidate. I have also urged people to think of people on the other side of the aisle as people rather than enemies. But I have not publicly endorsed a candidate. And I’m not endorsing any candidate this year.

But I am speaking out against Donald Trump.

I have been asked several times this election season why I have been vocally opposed to Donald Trump but not other candidates. It’s because I don’t have a significant number of family, friends and peers trying to convince people that Clinton, Johnson, Stein or even McCullin are “the biblical” choice and the candidate Christians should choose (especially when said candidate is so utterly antithetical to everything else these people claim to value but more on that later).

I have not received unsolicited e-mails from family and friends with pieces from well-known evangelical leaders preying on people’s fear and urging them to support a particular candidate other than Trump. I have not been sent pieces claiming that any other candidate is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy or comparing any of the other candidates to biblical characters.

I have not seen American Evangelicalism eviscerated by any of the other candidates. I have not seen the Religious Right forsake its identity to support any other candidate. I have not seen American Evangelicalism make a deal with the devil to support any of the other candidates and I have not seen people bully others into voting for any of the other candidates the way I see well-intentioned people trafficking in guilt and shame in order to try and persuade others to vote for their candidate.

I know people who feel pressured by family and friends to vote for Trump. I know many people who feel  shunned by evangelical family and friends because they refuse to support Trump and I know many people wrestling with guilt because they feel so surely that something is wrong with Trump while being so soundly rejected by important people in their lives.

The reason all of this concerns me is that I come from an Evangelical tradition which has often aligned itself with a faction of the Republican party often known as “the moral majority”. Founded by Jerry Falwell and others in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s, this was a group who insisted that morals not only mattered but were demanded of our elected leaders.

Remember when the Moral Majority said that “character counts” for our elected untitled-1leaders? Such is no longer the case (see here, here and here). We have perhaps no clearer example of this shift than noted theologian Wayne Grudem who, earlier this year, argued that “Voting for Donald Trump Is a Morally Good Choice“. The problem, of course, is that Grudem was among 150 Christian leaders who condemned Bill Clinton’s scandals in 1998. Grudem has now openly admitted that what he held against Bill Clinton does not matter in Donald Trump. What’s different? The political affiliation and perhaps the level of sliminess.

After the revelation of 2005 “hot mic” video of Donald Trump confessing to sexual assault, Grudem changed his mind, saying:

I previously called Donald Trump a “good candidate with flaws” and a “flawed candidate” but I now regret that I did not more strongly condemn his moral character. I cannot commend Trump’s moral character, and I strongly urge him to withdraw from the election.

While one may initially simply say, ‘Well, Grudem made a mistake,” but I want to point out what he says later in the same article:

Some may criticize me for not discovering this material earlier, and I think they are right. I did not take the time to investigate earlier allegations in detail, and I now wish I had done so. If I had read or heard some of these materials earlier, I would not have written as positively as I did about Donald Trump.

It’s not that we didn’t know who or what Trump was prior to the sexual assault video, it’s that Grudem didn’t look. Grudem didn’t look because he’s so committed to Republicanism that he didn’t want to look. While many were decrying the absolute lack of morals in the candidate the party of “family values” had chosen, Grudem was one of his most notable and unexpected cheerleaders. Unexpected because Grudem has once so strongly stood against the very behavior Trump revels in. Notable because Grudem now seemed to be willing to trade policy for character.

Grudem has made this clear, now saying: “If You Don’t Like Either Candidate, Then Vote for Trump’s Policies“. Though he still does not defend Trump’s character, Grudem, when faced with voting for Trump or Clinton, (as though those are the only choices) says:

“I overwhelmingly support Trump’s policies and believe that Clinton’s policies will seriously damage the nation, perhaps forever. On the Supreme Court, abortion, religious liberty, sexual orientation regulations, taxes, economic growth, the minimum wage, school choice, Obamacare, protection from terrorists, immigration, the military, energy, and safety in our cities, I think Trump is far better than Clinton”

In other words, policies “trump” character (pun intended). In other words, Grudem will vote Republican regardless of who the candidate is, what they do or what they stand for. In fact, he will lay aside once held convictions about the importance of character when the deviant politician is on his own team; even when it’s unclear whether the candidate in question actually believes anything Grudem attributes to him. And Grudem (along with those for whom he speaks) is willing to make weak arguments in support of Trump, seemingly out of nothing more than party loyalty.

For example, Grudem is willing to make the “supreme court argument” (presumably with a primary view to abortion) even though clear evidence shows that this point is moot at best and misleading at worst. As many have argued, there is no “pro-life” argument for Trump. Not only do we have little to no evidence that he is actually pro-life himself, the point is moot. As a friend recently pointed out on Facebook:

In the 43 years since Roe v Wade, there has been 25 years of Republican presidents. There was a Republican in office when RvW passed. There have been 18 years of Republican majority Senates, and 18 years of Republican majority Houses. There were 12 years where both the Senate and the House were Republican majorities. There have been 40 years in which the Supreme Court had a majority of Republican appointed justices. There was a total of 4 years in which there was a Republican president, a Republican majority in both the Senate and the House, and a majority of Republican appointed justices. Still—no reversal of RvW.

I disagree with many other of the positions Grudem wishes to defend but that’s not my point here. Instead, I want to urge Dr. Grudem and those he represents to stop making light of the true danger posed by Trump and the damage (t)he(y) is/(are) doing to the Evangelical witness in America. You no longer have any ground to assert that morals matter in leadership if you support Trump.

I particularly take issue with Grudem’s approach of “if you don’t like either candidate”. This is not an issue of not “liking” Trump. The man has proven himself to be not only unqualified but unfit for the highest office of the land by demonstrating persistently bad character. In addition to being a thin-skinned, quick-tempered bully who fears losing above all else:

  • Trump traffics in fear and fosters an “us vs. them” mentality, promoting the idea that to be “other” than him and his base is to be dangerous (even within his own party).
  • If Trump is not a racist, at least knowingly traffics in racial invectives and refuses to distance himself from openly racist supporters who claim that he speaks for them.
  • Trump has pridefully announced that he does not apologize for anything and that he had never asked for forgiveness (which, by the way proves that he is not a Christian.).
  • If Trump is himself not anti-Semitic, has at least knowingly trafficked in such invectives and refuses to distance himself from openly anti-Semitic supporters who claim that he speaks for them.
  • Donald Trump confessed to sexual assault. Then denied it and now threatens to sue women who have come forward and the newspapers who reported the story as well as NBC for having the tapes at all.
  • Donald Trump has not only had multiple marriages but has bragged about committing adultery. Numerous times.
  • This is a man who has historically and continues to objectify some women while demeaning others.
  • Donald Trump has encouraged physical violence against protesters, even offering to pay legal fees.
  • Donald Trump paid the maker of the “Project Veritas” videos $10,000.
  • Donald Trump has refused to release his tax returns.
  • Donald Trump mocked a disabled reporter.
  • Donald Trump attacked John McCain as a failure for getting caught while serving our country, then attacked the family of a fallen soldier.
  • Donald Trump was the public face of the “birther” movement.
  • Donald Trump lies every five minutes, even directly contradicting himself. Even on issues on which his comments are documented.
  • Donald Trump openly said that an American born judge was unqualified because of his Latino heritage.
  • Donald a Trump has threatened to sue journalists who are simply doing their job, ushering in legitimate concerns about limiting the First Amendment.
  • Donald Trump has fostered and encouraged division in his own political party.
  • Donald Trump has used this campaign to pay himself and his family millions of dollars.
  • Donald Trump is on record making inappropriate comments about his own daughter and even encouraged Howard Stern to think of her as a “piece of ass”.
  • Donald Trump has admitted that he does not listen to or even seek counsel.
  • Trump has repeated the assertion that not only does he never apologize, he has never asked for forgiveness (thus dispelling any notion that he is any sort of “Christian” in any meaningful sense of the word).

We all make mistakes. I don’t list these things simply to hold Trump’s past mistakes against him but to show that he has persistently showed the world just what kind of person he is. In a newly surfaced video, he brings a beauty contestant in front of a group with the express purpose of humiliating her while saying that he had decided not to humiliate her. He literally denies doing it while doing it. This horrifying scene is introduced with Trump very clearly laying out his life-code: “Get even with people. If they screw you, screw them back 10 times as hard. I really believe that.”

As if his character were not enough, Trump is genuinely dangerous. In addition to his character, we have many legitimate “policy” issues which should concern everyone:

  • Donald Trump has encouraged foreign powers, namely the Russians, to engage the US political process through cyber-attacks and hacking. Then denied saying such things. He has then ignored security briefings demonstrating that the Russians have, in fact done these very things for the benefit of Trump’s campaign.
  • Donald a Trump has threatened international stability by suggesting that the US abandon NATO.
  • Donald Trump has threatened international financial stability by threatening to walk away from free-trade agreements.
  • Donald Trump has praised authoritarian leaders, praised Vladimir Putin as being a stronger leader than Barack Obama and received the support, not only of Russia but of North Korea.
  • Donald Trump openly undermines the foundational underpinnings of democracy, leaving open the option that he would reject the election results if he loses and urging the country to simply cancel the election and declare him the winner.
  • Donald Trump has advocated racial profiling.
  • Donald Trump has advocated voter suppression/intimidation and has not rebuked supporters who threaten violence if he loses.
  • Donald Trump has advocated torture.
  • Donald Trump has advocated killing the families of enemy combatants.
  • Donald Trump has made light of war, even nuclear war.
  • Donald Trump has threatened to thrust the US in to trade wars with China and Mexico.
  • Trump supports tax plans that not only benefit himself but threaten trillions of dollars added to the deficit.
  • Donald Trump doesn’t seem to understand or care how government actually works.

gettyimages-484797712_custom-695b9781e4a550ac0cdd3eba481660feefd333a8-s900-c85Again, I don’t list these things to simply nitpick someone but to demonstrate that Trump has consistently lived the exact kind of life and held the kinds of positions that the “Moral Majority” (sometimes equated with the “Religious Right”) has just as consistently condemned. So what changed? The political affiliation of the candidate in question seems to be the most obvious and disturbing answer. If this is correct then the “moral majority” was really only interested in “morals” when they furthered a particular political agenda (now we see, ironically, the political party identifying with “family values”).

We are left wondering what “morals” the “moral majority” really ever cared about. We are left wondering what religion the “Religious Right” was really advocating for. A man like Trump is fairly vocal about being in this first and foremost for himself and yet he has enjoyed the support of those who once decried men like him in the town square. It appears that now, morals only matter when they fit your agenda. It seems that, as Russell Moore has warned: “The Religious Right turned out to be the people the Religious Right warned us about.”

The “Moral Majority” has traded in credibility to cling to a perception of cultural power and influence. They no longer have the right to condemn the morality of the other party because they have condoned one of the most openly immoral candidates in my lifetime, if not ever.

I want people to know that there are Christian voices who have remained adamantly #nevertrump from the beginning. I want people to know that, it’s OK if your family and friends have chosen to support Trump. We’re all entitled to our own opinions. But it’s not OK if your family and friends somehow try to convince you that support of Trump is somehow the more “Christian” option. It’s just not true. He will receive undying support from some simply because He is the Republican candidate. But he should not receive the undying support of those who claim that character counts.

If you support Trump, I will still be your friend (and/or I’m still your family whether you like it or not). But please don’t try to say he’s a good choice other than the party placeholder he really is. If you are so committed to Republican principles that you have now realized that you will vote along party-lines regardless of who the candidate is, please, at least, admit that this man is no leader. If you are a Christian supporting Trump, at least admit that the man directly contradicts everything you claim to value other than partisan policies (and there’s good question of what the candidate himself actually believes or how he will govern). If you are voting for Trump simply out of opposition to Hillary, don’t say he’s any “better” of an option.

Christians who support Trump must weigh whether the ends justify the means? Are we willing to give up our prophetic voice to the culture for short-term political gain? It is inconsistent at best and hypocritical at worst to continue to claim that character and morality matter to us if we are willing to support a man like Donald Trump. Is this worth it?

It’s not enough to vote for a candidate simply out of opposition to another candidate. To vote for a candidate, I believe that you must be able to objectively argue that you think they are the better choice. Is it worth it to sacrifice our position as the voice of faith in our culture in exchange for party loyalty? Apparently, many not only think so but actively condemn those who won’t take such steps.

No matter who you vote for, don’t be like this man. Don’t hold grudges. Forgive. Seek reconciliation. Walk in humility and think the best of others. Seek the best for others. If you are part of God’s family (and even if you’re not), please commit to being a minister of reconciliation. Don’t judge those who vote differently. This is a contentious and important time for our culture. Christians, let’s not make it worse.

 

I Get It. And We Should Talk About It.

104633512Nashville mega-church pastor Pete Wilson recently resigned from the multi-campus Cross Point Church which he and his wife Brandi planted in 2002.

As the church celebrated its 14th anniversary, Wilson delivered a video message in which he said (among other things):

“Most of you in this church only experience what I do on Sundays, especially those of you who watch online. You just see me when I kind of come up here on Sundays but the reality is as leader and the pastor of a church, what happens in between those Sundays is just as important and it requires a lot of leadership and it requires a lot of leadership energy. And leaders in any realm of life, leaders who lead on empty don’t lead well and for some time now I’ve been leading on empty. And so I believe that the best thing for me to do is to step aside from Cross Point and so I am officially resigning as the pastor of Cross Point Church”

Wilson went on to say: “We’ve said that this is a church where it’s OK to not be okay, and I’m not okay. I’m tired. I’m broken, and I just need some rest. I love you guys; I love the vision of this church.”

Wilson then resigned from vocational ministry.

I don’t know Wilson.

But I get it.

In November, 2014, I discussed my own decision to resign from vocational ministry. In that post, I wrestled with what sometimes makes resigning from ministry different than resigning from any other career:

How do you tell people you need a break from teaching others when it seems like that’s what you’re gifted at? How do you tell people you need a break from your job when your job is to care for people? You can’t take a break from caring. How do you tell people you need a break from your job when your job is “Christianity”. You don’t take a break from Jesus.

There are many reasons a pastor might resign.Ministerial dropout rates continually hover around 50%.  The Tennessean quotes Lifeway Research, who in 2015, asked 734 former senior pastors why they left, finding:

that 40 percent left pastoral work before age 65 because they had a change in calling, 25 percent cited a conflict in a church, 12 percent left because of personal finances and 12 percent left for family issues.

Aside from unrepentant sin, the most controversial explanation of pastoral resignation seems to be the all-dreaded but ill-defined “burnout”.Though “pastor burnout” is often ill-defined, it is often equated with spiritual failure that could have been avoided simply by following the right formula.

Consider Thom Rainer’s post “Autopsy Of A Burned Out Pastor: 13 Lessons“. Rainer acknowledges that: “Perhaps the autopsy metaphor is not the best choice”, but the implications of failure (or maybe even spiritual death?) certainly stain his choice of words. In fact, in the “lessons learned” section (i.e. things you can do to prevent the same fate for yourself) includes such nuggets as:

  • Being a short-term people pleaser became a longer-term problem.
  • The pastor had no effective way to deal with critics.
  • The pastor did not have daily Bible time.
  • The pastor’s family was neglected.

You get the gist.

Any pastor who experiences burnout could have prevented it.

If only.

They’d followed the right steps.

This seems sort of like Donald Drumpf saying that soldiers who return from battle suffering from PTSD simply “couldn’t handle it.”

The Christian community has been frustratingly slow to to develop holistic approaches to mental health care. Popular counseling approaches vilify the use of antidepressants while many believe that pastoral burnout can simply be avoided if we check off the right spiritual-workout boxes.

Instead of acknowledging the complexities of mental and spiritual health, we have adopted a formulaic approach seemingly borrowed more from the world of self-help than from the Bible. Follow these simple steps and you too can live a worry-free life (Of course this is related to the self-help model of preaching many of our churches have adopted but that’s a post for another day).

Pastoral burnout is a complex issue that requires more than self-help steps (as is most of the spiritual life).

Pastoral burnout is often the result of clinical depression marinated in a culture in which it is nearly impossible to discuss job performance without suffering a critique  of one’s spiritual health (even though the two may not be related at all).

It is the result of feeling like you are alone. Even when you’re surrounded by people who may have your best interest at heart (and some who don’t).

It is the result of unrealistic expectations. From Everyone. Including yourself.

It is the result of feeling like you can’t confide in your “fellow leaders” because you’ve set yourself up to “lead” them. After all, there has to be a “first among equals, right?”

It is the result of feeling like it’s all up to you because the buck stops somewhere and the captain goes down with the ship and I just haven’t quite gotten to the point of true shared leadership yet . . .

It is the result of a culture which skips over some of the Psalms and equates depression with spiritual failure.

My own experience has led me to find many of the discussions of either depression or pastoral burnout are shallow at best, superficial in the middle and outright judgmental at worst. Burnout is nearly always equated with spiritual failure.

No wonder why more pastors aren’t honest with their struggles until the best option seems to be the last option of resignation.

This is as much an issue of mental health as it is the result of ill-defined and unrealistic expectations. We have set up our pastors to be entrepreneurs, salesmen, counselors, managers, public speakers, accountants, human resources specialists and nearly everything in between. And we have created cultures in which, despite our best intentions otherwise, it’s not OK to not be OK. Especially if you’re a leader.

I hate that Pete Wilson and his family have to go through this season. But I am thankful that the issues surrounding the spiritual and mental health of pastors and all Christians is having a moment of national conversation. I am thankful that more and more people are opening the public eye to this much-needed conversation.

We must commit to fostering environments of acceptance. Many of us simply don’t feel safe to say that we’re not OK. If that’s true for many Christians in general, its certainly acute in our leaders. We need more leaders who display the humble confidence to demonstrate the multi-faceted tapestry that is the Christian faith. Some times are good. Some times are bad. We must be honest enough to voice both. We must be caring enough to accept others.

My prayer is that Wilson’s resignation sparks a worldwide discussion of how we structure our churches, what we expect of our leaders, what we expect of one another and what an authentic Christian life really looks like.