The Church best represents Christ in the political realm by being a prophetic witness. Basil the Great fought to protect the unborn in the fourth Century. Christians participated in the Underground Railroad. Martin Luther King, Jr. called the American church to stand for justice for those oppressed, calling to mind the words of Amos, “Let justice flow like a mighty river and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
More times than most Christians care to remember, Christians have muddied their witness by using God’s name to support kings, rulers, leaders, and agendas that the full counsel of scripture cautions against. Throughout the middle ages, nearly every tyrannical king could count on clergy to keep the Church in line as the nobility misused their authority to oppress people. The courageous Joan of Arc was condemned by a sham counsel run by clergymen who ran an illegal trial against her to do a favor for the English government. Hitler co-opted much of the German Church. Many ministers in the South supported American slavery and the Jim Crow laws that followed.
Sadly, history has too few Thomas Mores and Dietrich Bonhoffers and far too many nameless supporters of tyranny whose names were forgotten to history. Instead, the Lord and the church are left to shoulder their blame for their complicity in evil.
There are five principle reasons churches became complicit in evil:
1) They hoped to obtain political power and wanted to impress the power brokers.
2) They feared the political powers and wanted to avoid angering them.
3) They wanted the political powers to protect them and as such they didn’t want to condemn their sins for fear of undermining them.
4) Evil was popular and they didn’t wish to be ostracized.
5) They were ignorant and heeding the words of other parties acting for other reasons.
Whatever the reasons, many churches and ministers baptized evil actions and evil regimes. In doing so, they brought a reproach on the name of the Lord.
Today, some Christians urge the American Church to do the same with Donald Trump. It’s not enough for individual Christians who support Donald Trump to vote for him. They must persuade all Christians to do so because they see that as Donald Trump’s only chance of being elected. This effort will intensity as leaders of Christian political organizations will put aside other concerns to support the Presidential candidacy of Donald Trump and urge Christians to fall in line behind him.
People are free to vote their conscience. However, a movement for the Christian Church to baptize the political candidacy of Donald Trump puts at risk the core mission and witness of the Christian Church. This effort I do oppose. I’ll be challenging one popular argument in this article and another popular argument in a follow up article.
The most popular argument for Christians voting for Donald Trump can be summed up thusly, “We are not selecting a pastor or a church elder. We are selecting someone to lead this nation.“
The argument is, while God lays down the requirements for how Christians ought to choose church elders, he doesn’t lay out specific requirements for the character of elected officials, so character doesn’t matter in choosing elected leaders. It’s an amazing new revelation for conservatives that would have saved newspapers like the American Spectator thousand of dollars investigating Bill Clinton’s womanizing.
The Bible doesn’t specifically speak of how Christians should vote for secular officials because there weren’t elections, at least none that most Christians could participate in. However, the Bible is not silent on what sort of people should govern God’s people in a civil capacity.
While Israel would not ask for a king until the time of Samuel the Prophet, God anticipated they would eventually ask for a King like all the other nations. He told them what type of person he ought to be:
You may indeed set a king over you whom the Lord your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the Lord has said to you, ‘You shall never return that way again.’ And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold.
“And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel. –Deuteronomy 17:15-20
Trump supporters might respond by pointing out:
1) America is electing a President not a King
2) This is from the Old Testament.
Both are dodges. Trump supporters often talk like Trump is a king. I’ve heard Trump supporters dream of Trump channeling his Apprentice persona by telling Congress, “You’re fired!” In the Middle Ages, a king could dissolve a parliament he didn’t like. In the American Democratic Republic, a president works with Congress as co-equal branches of government. Further, why should there be a lesser requirement for a president than for a king?
As for the second argument, all scripture is God-breathed and useful. Nothing about Christ’s coming should cause us to look for a lesser standard for our civil leaders, particularly as the scripture explains the reason for them. While we’re not talking about kings, horses, or going back to Egypt, this portion of scripture provides key principles and qualities we should look for in our political leaders. The ideas from Deuteronomy 17 translate into four qualities we should look for in civil magistrates:
- Not greedy
- Not sexually immoral
Rather than an extremely high standard, this is a basic minimum. A greedy leader will look out for himself and benefit himself at the people’s expense. We’ve seen this happen with many leaders who take bribes or put political donors ahead of national security.
The same is true with a sexually immoral leader whose inordinate appetites hurt the nation. Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky led to him committing perjury in the Paula Jones trial and encouraging Miss Lewinsky to commit perjury. These crimes led him to being under investigation. Prior to this, he and Speaker Newt Gingrich had been close to making a deal to fix Social Security. With the criminal investigation going on, that agenda item was sidelined. At the same time, President Clinton became convinced America needed to take military action in Iraq in 1998. However, he couldn’t make the case himself because of his diminished moral authority. He had to send underlings, and the effort collapsed. Perjury, obstruction of justice, the failure to reform Social Security, and the loss of credibility on national security could be tracked back to Clinton’s lack of sexual self-control.
“God-fearing” means simply understanding there is a God and we are not Him, and that we will one day give account to Him. This quality gives us humility. However it’s acquired, humility causes leaders to be servants of the people who have been given a trust rather than the people’s masters.
Donald Trump misses spectacularly on every count.
Greed has been the defining characteristic of his life. He’s boasted of his sexual immorality, has broken many families over it, and has never asked God’s forgiveness. He’s arrogant and proud. While he claims Christianity, his lack of willingness to seek God’s forgiveness shows he does not fear God.
Out of fairness, we must evaluate Hilary Clinton by the same standard. She fares little better. The two things in her favor is she’s far less unrepentantly brazen about her defiance of God and there’s no evidence of her being sexually immoral. Yes, rumors have circulated, but a tabloid rumor is not a fact.
At the end of the day, Trump supporters, are wrong in saying there is no Biblical standard for the character of political leaders as implied by “We’re electing a President, not a pastor.” To the contrary, the scripture lays out basic requirements in detail, and both Trump and Secretary Clinton fall short of it.