Why Christians Like Donald Trump

Donald Trump, chairman and president of the Trump Organization and the founder of Trump Entertainment Resorts, speaks at a National Press Club Newsmaker Luncheon in Washington, DC, on May 27, 2014. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad

Largely overlooked in Donald Trump’s nuclear-level comments disparaging Sen. John McCain’s war record was another, possibly more illuminating quote Trump gave at the same Iowa event. Moderator Frank Luntz asked Trump, a Presbyterian, a very simple question: “Have you ever asked God for forgiveness?”

The audience chuckled at the question—this was Trump after all—but to his uncharacteristic credit, he seemed to seriously consider with the question. Alas, that consideration resulted in the following response:

“I’m not sure that I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don’t think so. I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t.”

He attempted to clarify that in a borderline incoherent word salad, but his general thoughts remained clear: Trump doesn’t believe in asking God for forgiveness.

This is not deep theology. One needn’t be well-versed in Barth and Calvin to see the holes in Trump’s line of thought. Any third grader who’s watched Veggie Tales could have answered Luntz’s question. It’s central to all major strains of Christian thought.

So it is curious that a CNN poll from last weekend found that Trump has handily wrangled the support of of America’s right-leaning white evangelicals, with 58% of them saying they want him to remain in the race. The study also confirmed that 52% Republicans at large want Trump to remain in the race, and 22% think he’ll eventually take the nomination.

(Notably, non-white evangelicals have not thrown their hats into Trump’s ring the way their white peers have. There is certainly no shortage of reasons for why that might be.)

Now, any polyscience major will tell you that, fifteen months away from the actual election, such studies need to be taken with a serious grain of salt. The national attention span is fickle, and will likely flicker between several candidates between now and the actual GOP nomination.

But the question remains an interesting one nevertheless: Why are evangelical voters, faced with a historically large number of candidates, currently enamored by Trump? Conservative evangelical voters’ personal beliefs are certainly well represented by the likes of Governor Jeb Bush, Senator Ted Cruz and Dr. Ben Carson, all of whom have spoken eloquently about their faith. That’s to say nothing of Governor Mike Huckabee (no relation to this author) who is an ordained pastor.

So, what gives?

It’s not his proposed policies. Meryl Streep has made her political platform clearer than Trump has in this election cycle. He’s expressed a lot of anger about the current state of immigration, Iran negotiations, Planned Parenthood, health care and trade regulation, but you could fit his stated plans for reforming those things into a Tweet. No, Trump’s appeal lies in something deeper.

When talking to Trump’s supporters, you hear about how refreshing he is. The thinking seems to be that although his foot may be rather inextricably lodged in his mouth, he at the very least is speaking his mind, and that is a welcome change of pace from Capitol Hill’s doublespeak. His supporters tend to qualify a lot of their praise with something like “I may not agree with how he says it, but…” There is a certain charm, the thinking goes, in his bald-faced honesty. It’s an improvement over hypocrisy.

There’s a troubling underlying assumption here that equates honesty with being a jerk. The idea is that Trump’s touches of meanness, xenophobia and arrogance are unfortunate but understandable byproducts of his authenticity. Today’s politicians are too nice and too eager to please. Trump is a necessary pendulum swing.

It’s a bad sign for the state of American discourse when the only options available to us are to be reasonable but spineless or mean-spirited but honest.

This isn’t just Trump’s problem. It’s common to all of us. How often have we allowed ourselves to say cruel, belittling things to others because we’re “just being honest?” How easy is it to forgive our lapses in kindness and thoughtfulness under the blanket of being authentic?

Likewise, it’s just as easy to bend the truth a little for the sake of being “agreeable” and “nice.” We’ve all sounded a bit like politicians angling for votes by burying cold truths that need to be said under a mountain of qualifications and what passes for kindness. We call it being “loving.” We’re often just trying to get elected.

“Speaking the truth in love” is something Paul talks about in his letter to the Ephesians. Considering how often the phrase is brought up, it’s surprising that Paul added it in almost parenthetically. It’s brings up the end of a lengthy, beautiful passage about the need for unity and maturity in the church. He describes how easy it is for young Christians to be “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine,” before explaining the welcome alternative: “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up into him who is the head, into Christ.”

So, speaking the truth in love is more than just a nice idea. It’s a pathway to maturity and wholeness.

The problem is, when it comes to speaking in truth and love, most of us are very good at one or the other. That is, we tend to speak in truth or love.

We wear truth and love like hats, and swap them as need be. Someone is wrong on the Internet? Time to speak the truth. A friend is making some dangerous, bad decisions? Time to be loving. Someone challenges a personal belief we hold dear? Truth. Someone says something insensitive about someone else’s race or gender? Love.

It’s a pretty easy way to live, and a lot of people get a lot of mileage out of it. But the higher, better way that Paul advises means integrating love and truth fully into your speech, at the same time. It means being sensitive and being honest. It means saying hard truths in kindness. It means never confusing “speaking your mind” with “speaking the truth,” and never confusing “loving one another” with “trying to be loved by others.”
This is where Trump goes wrong, but it would be unfair to single him out. Lots of politicians miss the mark here. So do lots of writers and pastors. And really, so do we all, on occasion. But the future public discourse does not lie in further entrenching ourselves in love or truth, but love and truth. And while it would be exciting to see a presidential candidate exemplify that in their own lives, it’s even more important to start living it out in our own.

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2 Comments

  1. Good article. I think you’re spot on in your assessment. I heard Andy Stanley talk about John writing that He, Jesus, was FULL of grace and truth. He talked about the concepts very similarly to how you’re presenting them here. We like to switch hats and be truth or grace (love) when it suits us. But Jesus demonstrated how to be both. But I think where this breaks down in society today is in the wake of moral relativism. Where, for many, truth is what they want it to be. Since we can no longer even agree on what truth is, it becomes almost impossible to speak in truth AND love. When another person’s truth is not THE truth, we’ve lost common reference and even the attempt to lovingly speak THE truth in love to/with them is not received as such. And this scenario plays out between people calling themselves Christians, and between those calling themselves Christians and those who don’t make that claim.

    It’s so difficult in today’s world, and you probably sense my frustration, to live out this truth and love, or truth and grace thing when no matter how lovingly truth is spoken, love is given and grace is extended, due to the subjective nature of truth and moral relativism, someone not seeing truth as TRUTH sees TRUTH as hatred, bigotry, intolerance, etc. Which is where I find myself going back to WWJD, or WDJD; “What did Jesus do? How did he handle those encounters and situations. The story of the woman caught in adultery is the example Andy used in his message. Her accusers gone, Jesus says to her, “I don’t condemn you. Now go, stop doing this thing.” He says that in truth and love; truth and grace. And, knowing His character, we know that the command to stop is out of love and wanting what’s best for her. He’s heartbroken that this woman, His creation, has fallen for the lie. He’s heartbroken that this child has chosen scraps when He’s offering a feast.

    That’s where I’m finding myself more and more over sin and brokenness in this world. Heartbroken. Not mad, angry, vengeful, but sad. Sad that there’s so much more, if people would only see it. Sad that so many believe the lies of the enemy and choose a life apart from their creator and Heavenly Daddy. My prayer is that we all, who call ourselves Christians, will have our hearts broken by the things that breaks His heart. That we’d see with His eyes, hear with his ears, and speak with His words, His WORD. In truth AND love.

    Reply
  2. What you said and what Kevin said. Enough said. Truth.

    Reply

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