Let’s imagine a Christian minister asserting what happened in a president’s affairs wasn’t a private matter between him and his family. The minister asks, if the president is willing to mislead his or her family, how do we know he or she won’t mislead the country?
Imagine the President’s defenders claiming only the President’s policy mattered and that this is all a private matter. Imagine this minister arguing back, “Private conduct does have public consequences. “ He then takes on a favorite argument of the President’s defenders that the President is like King David and puts the story of his adultery in context:
But forgiveness is not the end of David’s story. Huge consequences followed immediately. The prophet Nathan confronted David with the news that while his life would be spared, the life of his child would be extinguished after just seven days on earth. Bathsheba’s husband and others were killed in an attempt to cover up the illicit affair. David, who confessed his sin when confronted by Nathan (perhaps God’s special prosecutor), also witnessed a bloody coup attempt by his own son, Absalom. He was never the same king.
The minister agrees that the President’s sin can be forgiven, but he rejects cheap grace, claiming the scriptures indicate that grace is conditional on repentance. He specifies what he believes the president must do to repent. “He must start by admitting to it and refraining from legalistic doublespeak…He didn’t ‘mislead’ his wife and us–he lied. The acknowledgment must be coupled with genuine remorse. A repentant spirit that says, ‘I’m sorry. I was wrong. I won’t do it again. I ask for forgiveness,’ would go a long way toward personal and national healing.”
This minister would be roasted by Christian Trump supporters as a hateful Pharisee. It wasn’t an ardent #NeverTrump(er) who made this statement. It was one of the President’s most ardent defenders, Franklin Graham. The comment wasn’t made in 2018 about President Trump. It was from a 1998 Wall Street Journal piece that Graham wrote about President Clinton.
Last week, Graham told the Associated Press, “And I think this thing with Stormy Daniels and so forth is nobody’s business.“ He argued, “And I don’t defend those kinds of relationships he had. But the country knew the kind of person he was back then, and they still made the decision to make him the president of the United States.”
The same could be said of Bill Clinton. When the country elected him President of the United States, we already knew about the Gennifer Flowers affair, draft dodging, and the like. Why should he have had to ask the American people for forgiveness in the way Franklin Graham described? He too was only being the person we all knew he was when he was elected.
While the alleged affair didn’t happen while Trump was President, Trump lied for months about knowing about Michael Cohen’s payoff to Stormy Daniels. Trump only let it slip last week in Rudy Giuliani’s interview on Hannity. Doesn’t the President owe our country some apology for his lying in office?
Further, had this come out before the election, it may have affected the outcome. After the release of the Access Hollywood tapes in early October, many people backed away from Trump, including some Republican political leaders. An unspoken reason for many unendorsements is that many political people thought, “If this is coming out in early October, what’s going to come out at the end of the month before most people vote?” with the expectation it would be far worse. When the other shoe didn’t drop before the election, many politicians re-endorsed Trump.
As Presidential attorney Rudy Giuliani said in a recent interview, “Imagine if that came out on October 15, 2016, in the middle of the last debate with Hillary Clinton.” That Trump had an affair with a porn star while his wife was home with his infant son, may have been a breaking point. As the blogger, AllahPundit, suggested, “Some voters might have decided that there are just too many clowns in the Trump circus to justify voting for him.” That could have swung the election, given the President’s margin of victory in the electoral college was less than a combined total of 100,000 votes in three midwestern states.
The President’s attorney, Michael Cohen, covered up an allegation which could have impacted the election and the President lied about it for months on end. And that doesn’t phase Franklin Graham. Graham’s tolerance for Trump’s dishonesty goes beyond the issue of the affair. Graham went from worrying that President Clinton might lie to us to encouraging President Trump to break his word to the American people about releasing his tax returns.
In stating this, I don’t deny that Graham has done much good. He’s led untold thousands to Christ. His ministry Samaritan’s Purse has made an enormous difference for people in disaster areas. However, this makes his political hypocrisy even more problematic. Many Evangelicals look up to him and follow his example. If his grace for Democrats remains conditional, his reserving unconditional grace for Republicans is a double standard contrary to the way Christian involvement in politics should work. If a minister is going to communicate God’s truth in the public square, he can’t interpret the Bible one way when addressing the sins of President Clinton and another for the sins of President Trump. Pick one.
Regardless, evangelical leaders like Franklin Graham follow after Trump in a manner that is a throwback to the middle ages. Then, the relationship between the church and the state was defined by the Church and the State’s desire to gain power from each other. This was corrupting for both the church and the state, and our founding fathers never wanted such to develop here.
The comparison between Trump and David breaks down fast. For one, no one on his Evangelical Counsel would speak to him as Nathan spoke to David when he declared, “You are the man!” in calling him to repentance.
Instead, the religious leaders around Trump are yes-people who use their positions to minimize and dismiss the seriousness of his failings to ensure the people who respect them stay in line, but there’s a cost to the greater Christian mission. Due to Franklin Graham’s prominence, he’s being held up as proof we Christians are all hypocrites by secularists and atheists. And you don’t have to be a radical atheist to see the unfairness of holding Trump to a lower standard than the church holds the average person. This threatens to undermine not only Franklin Graham’s witness but Christian witness in this country for decades to come.