A response to Christianity Today‘s recent editorial published on the Christian Post purports to be from 200 evangelical leaders, which include prosperity gospel teacher Paula White. It avoids addressing the issues CT raised and spent much time mischaracterizing the piece. However, one point stood out and is worthy of comment:
We are proud to be numbered among those in history who, like Jesus, have been pretentiously accused of having too much grace for tax collectors and sinners.
That particular claim is a frequently used cliché by Trump-supporting Christians. It’s profoundly wrong on many levels. Christ’s purpose in reaching out to sinners was to bring them to repentance. “Go and sin no more,” (John 8:11) was Christ’s admonition to the woman caught in adultery.
More than that, there’s an essential motivational difference. Trump’s faith advisors are in Trump’s life to get things they want from Trump. To do that, many have adopted unflinching support for the President. Instead of lovingly giving the President spiritual truths that will make him unhappy, they lie to make him happy. For example, Energy Secretary Rick Perry told Trump that he is “the Chosen one” without advising him of the hard truth that like King Saul was also chosen and then rejected by God.
To get ahead in Trumpworld is to be a consummate sycophant.
Not every Trump-supporting minister plays that role. Many evangelical ministers do call out Trump’s misbehavior when appropriate while voting for him and applauding positive contributions. For example, Michael Brown called out the President’s cruel remarks on the late Congressman John Dingell, but, as Brown admitted, he didn’t have access to the President. Keeping access to the President and receiving his gifts requires bowing, scraping, and giving unconditional public support.
This lack of access to Trump of those who will speak hard truth is another reason why the frequent comparison between King David and Trump is off-base. King David had people in his life who could confront him and tell him he was wrong, including Nathan, the Prophet, who brought him to repentance in the matter of Bathsheba. (2 Samuel 12.)
The behavior of Trump’s “spiritual advisors” calls to mind another story from 1 Kings 22. Jehoshaphat, the King of Judah, went to talk with Ahab, the King of Israel, to propose a military alliance. Jehoshaphat was a godly king, so he wanted to hear from a Prophet of the Lord. He was presented four hundred prophets who proclaimed the guaranteed success of their mission. Jehoshaphat sensed something was not right, and said, “Is there not here another prophet of the Lord of whom we may inquire?” (1 Kings 22:7, ESV).
Ahab responded, “There is yet one man by whom we may inquire of the Lord, Micaiah the son of Imlah, but I hate him, for he never prophesies good concerning me, but evil,” (v.8).
Micaiah did end up telling Ahab the truth who imprisoned him with “meager rations of bread and water,” (v.27).
In the Trump administration, no one wants to be Micaiah. Thus, you have spiritual leaders who tell Trump what he wants to hear. At the end of the day, they aren’t there for Trump’s welfare or salvation. They’re there to stay on Trump’s good side and keep Christians on Trump’s side to get what they want. That’s why, despite all the Christians around him, Trump is not becoming more Christlike. Instead, many of these Christian leaders are becoming more Trump-like.
Jesus, when he dealt with sinners, didn’t come to get something from them, but rather to give of himself. He came to give them life abundant life, (John 10:10). If Donald Trump dies in his sins and spends eternity apart from God, the great tragedy will be that he spent so much time surrounded by people who would have told him the truth, if only he weren’t someone from whom they needed something. They will be held accountable for this when they stand before Christ’s judgment seat if they don’t repent.
The way Trump’s religious followers speak, I wonder if they would rejoice with Heaven if the President were to have a transformative encounter with the real Christ. Many Christian leaders have spoken of his vices—namely his lack of compassion, his unkindness, and his lack of restraint—as making him a fighter and far more suited to take on the Democrats than someone who emulates Christ. Somehow, I doubt Trump’s religious followers would be happy if Trump started following the Golden Rule and the Great Commandments. They would probably be mad at whoever led Trump to Christ.
Many evangelicals reluctantly support him and would be glad to have no longer to defend or explain the President’s crudity. But a vibrant faith in Christ could present other problems for this President as well. What if he did things that could cost him support, such as publicly confessing and repenting of wrongdoing or having a more compassionate approach to refugees? If Trump finding Christ meant Trump leaving office, would Trump’s spiritual advisors welcome it, or would they rather Trump be lost forever as long as he wins in 2020?
Would they be willing to give up everything they held dear, whether it was cultural relevance, political influence, or the degree of religious liberty they enjoy if it meant that Donald Trump would be saved? That’s how Christ showed his love for tax collectors, publicans, and yes, even for President Trump.
The association between Trump and his faith advisors is transactional. They can argue the merits of that using the logic of “the ends justify the means.” But can they stop insulting both our intelligence and Christ’s ministry on Earth, by comparing their actions to Christ’s overflowing love for all people?