I usually carry a self-imposed political muzzle.
It’s always been a conviction of mine that, as a Christian, your political ideology needs to take a backseat to the Gospel. This is especially true when it comes to pastors who must minister across party lines. So, for most of this political season, I’ve been quiet. I probably would have stayed quiet, held personal convictions, and voted on election day without saying anything on my blog.
Today, though, I feel like I need to loosen that restraint to speak about a legitimate concern that I see unfolding. Let this video serve as a backdrop:
Now, this post is not to be seen as a political endorsement of any of the other candidates. We need to remember that the solutions to this world’s problems do not lie in politics, but rather with God. In our highly secular society, this idea is not shared by everyone. Usually a compromise is what is required. After all, the President of the United States is supposed to represent people from all sides.
Granted, there is never going to come a time when 100% of the population supports a given President, but I genuinely worry about the possibility of having Donald Trump as President more than I should. I believe that there are biblical and historical reasons for why Christians should be worried about this too.
Now, somebody may think, “If you said that the solutions to this world’s solutions don’t lie in politics, why even talk about politics at all?” After all, many Christians understand Bible prophecy to show that the political and economic conditions on earth will get much worse before the second coming of Jesus before they get better. While we believe this to be true, this thinking also leads many of them to focus more on the proclamation of the Gospel instead of living it out in other matters like the environment, public policy, and social welfare. The way I read my the Bible, though, when Jesus returns, He isn’t going to ask if we met our baptism goals with Gospel proclamation; He’s looking for the fruit that only comes from faithfully living out a real relationship with Him.
The Bible constantly reminds believers that practical Christianity, at some point, means speaking up for those who can’t speak up for themselves.
Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow. –Isaiah 1:17
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? –Micah 6:8
Jesus reaffirmed this concept in the New Testament:
For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’…’The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ –Matthew 25:35-36,40
Back to the matter at hand: why does a Donald Trump presidency concern me?
It goes back to the way I read Scripture. I’ve started the positive habit of reading one chapter of the book of Proverbs a day. With 31 chapters, it usually allows me to read the entire book in a month. Proverbs has a vast amount of practical lessons. Many of these counsels apply to leaders, religious or otherwise. Here is a collection of some of the best advice as it relates to leadership:
Good leaders seek wise counsel
“Refuse good advice and watch your plans fail; / take good counsel and watch them succeed” Prov. 15:22.
Good leaders motivate; they do not manipulate
“A good leader motivates, / doesn’t mislead, doesn’t exploit” Prov. 16:10.
Good leaders do not tolerate wrongdoing by others or themselves
Good leaders operate by the highest ethical standards. “Good leaders abhor wrongdoing of all kinds; / sound leadership has a moral foundation” Prov. 16:12.
Good leaders have integrity
“Good leaders cultivate honest speech; / they love advisors who tell them the truth” Prov. 16:13.
Good leaders keep their emotions under control
“An intemperate leader wreaks havoc in lives; . . . Good-tempered leaders invigorate lives” Prov. 16:14-15.
Good leaders strive for excellence
“Leaders who know their business and care / keep a sharp eye out for the shoddy and the cheap ”Prov. 20:8.
Good leaders deal with troublemakers
“After careful scrutiny, a wise leader / makes a clean sweep of rebels and dolts” Prov. 20:26.
Good leaders balance truth and love
“Love and truth form a good leader; / sound leadership is founded on loving integrity” Prov. 20:28.
Good leaders are always learning
“Like the horizons for breadth and the ocean for depth, / the understanding of a good leader is broad and deep” Prov. 25:3.
Good leaders do not react; they act
“When a leader listens to malicious gossip, / all the workers get infected with evil” Prov. 29.12.
Now, how does Donald Trump compare to this?
Simply put, over the course of his candidacy, Mr. Trump has shown to not hold any of the biblical qualities of a leader, especially one that Christians would/should vote for.
He is a demagogue in the clearest sense of the word. A demagogue was a leader who was said to champion the cause of the common people in ancient times. Another definition is a leader who makes use of popular prejudices and false claims and promises in order to gain power. Donald Trump is probably a bit of both.
History is the sad witness to the reality that, in moments of national stress and uncertainty, the general population of a country is more likely to cast cherished principles and virtues to make decisions that are against their best interests. For example, when I visited the Holocaust Museum last year in Washington, D.C., I wondered how could an entire educated German population elect someone like Adolf Hitler into a position of prominent leadership?
Before you dismiss me for making the Hitler-Trump comparison, understand this: students of history know that the Hitler that was voted as chancellor in 1933 was not seen by Germans as the World War II Hitler who took his life in 1945 (but not before taking millions of others with him). In the early years of his rise to power, Hitler was not the infamous Holocaust icon that we know him as today; he was originally a charismatic cult figure that represented a demographic of German citizens who had grown tired and upset with the “establishment” and the way that the country was headed. They believed that with an “outsider”, things would get better.
After World War I, Germany was in shambles. Having lost the war, they were forced to pay reparations to rebuild Europe. This, combined with the postwar hyperinflation, led to increasing social unrest, economic chaos, and the destabilization of the fragile Weimar Republic.
There was also the foreign threat of communism on the horizon. This perceived danger to Germany itself shifted political sentiment toward right-wing causes. One of these groups, the Nazi party, had been unable to secure much traction in general elections during stable times. However, Hitler, as a galvanizing icon, capitalized on the frustrations of the German people, nationalistic fervor (i.e. making Germany great again), and growing mistrust of Jews (whom he blamed for many of Germany’s financial woes). The Holocaust library describes what happened next:
The difficulties imposed by social and economic unrest in the wake of World War I and its onerous peace terms and the raw fear of the potential for a Communist takeover in the German middle classes worked to undermine pluralistic democratic solutions in Weimar Germany. They also increased public longing for more authoritarian direction, a kind of leadership which German voters ultimately and unfortunately found in Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist Party.
The German people were willing to gloss over his lack of integrity and composure. They were willing to minimize his divisive racial rhetoric as “just talk.” They disregarded Mein Kampf, where he openly disparaged an entire ethnic and religious people group. They were willing to overlook the reality that this man with a short fuse had the authority to send their sons into war. Despite this, they voted him through because, “anything would be better than President von Hindenburg and Chancellor von Papen Reichskanzler.”
And Hitler was a hit among the fed up Germans of all beliefs and backgrounds. Even the Adventist church in Germany embraced him. Some leaders in the Adventist church even openly supported him in World War II, which lead to a split among their ranks. Somehow, we think that people were less enlightened and we would never make those mistakes if we’d lived back then…
Hitler’s personal life should have raised some red flags among the general population, but it didn’t. Some may bristle and think that Trump’s personal and business practices are irrelevant to his candidacy. However, Scripture alludes to the idea that virtue and integrity do in fact matter in leadership. The reality is that being in any leadership position, it doesn’t only bring out the best in us, it has the tendency to bring out the absolute worst of our character flaws.
Still, none of that seems to have slowed Trump down in the primaries. He has won two important primaries and is set to become the undisputed Republican frontrunner. What in the world is going on? This past weekend, the state where I live in, South Carolina, an exit poll was taken which further revealed some disturbing trends among Trump supporters:
Trump’s support in South Carolina is built on a base of voters among whom religious and racial intolerance pervades. Among the beliefs of his supporters:
70% think the Confederate flag should still be flying over the State Capital, to only 20% who agree with it being taken down. In fact 38% of Trump voters say they wish the South had won the Civil War to only 24% glad the North won and 38% who aren’t sure. Overall just 36% of Republican primary voters in the state are glad the North emerged victorious to 30% for the South, but Trump’s the only one whose supporters actually wish the South had won.
By an 80/9 spread, Trump voters support his proposed ban on Muslims entering the United States. In fact 31% would support a ban on homosexuals entering the United States as well, something no more than 17% of anyone else’s voters think is a good idea. There’s also 62/23 support among Trump voters for creating a national database of Muslims and 40/36 support for shutting down all the mosques in the United States, something no one else’s voters back. Only 44% of Trump voters think the practice of Islam should even be legal at all in the United States, to 33% who think it should be illegal. To put all the views toward Muslims in context though, 32% of Trump voters continue to believe the policy of Japanese internment during World War II was a good one, compared to only 33% who oppose it and 35% who have no opinion one way or another.
This, as my analytical wife pointed out, is only a symptom of the real problem. Namely, that many people, particularly in the South, have accepted a romanticized, reworked narrative of history that minimizes the high amount of human injustice that is actually well-documented.
Again, Donald Trump is not Adolf Hitler; he is not the head of any ideology or political party. However, he is not unlike Hitler in that it’s impossible to ignore the indications that Trump is winning by stroking economic, nationalistic, and religious fear. By comparison, he has also not shied away from making racist sentiments towards Muslims, Mexicans, and other immigrants (not unlike the rise of Hitler in the 30’s). Even his divisive rhetoric and lack of implementation strategy hasn’t hurt his rising popularity.
One of the congregations I pastor is predominantly Mexican, people who Trump has called rapists and thugs. When my wife and I were in Walmart over the weekend (after Trump won our state’s primary) we saw a Muslim couple shopping and other customers stop and keep their distance. I told my wife, “It must be so awkward for them right now.” I wonder how many Germans must have thought this about Jews in the 30’s. Make no mistake, this is dangerous for anyone who believes in the principles of religious liberty (that is, the right to believe anything you want to believe, even if that choice is nothing at all).
As one article on the matter elaborates:
“A government that can shut down a mosque can shut down a church. A president who insults entire categories of human beings with impunity will not hesitate to attack any religious community that dares to criticize him.”
Americans, and especially Christians, would do well to not think, “Oh, a Trump presidency won’t be so bad. Trump is only an entertainer, just like Ronald Reagan.” No, Ronald Reagan was a seasoned elected official who served as Governor of California for two terms; Trump had a reality TV show and ignored Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone 2.
In all seriousness, we were told in school by World War II veterans to be sure that we didn’t allow the actions that lead to the past global conflict to happen again. When a candidate has no fear of what others think of him, neither will he care when his supporters stop supporting him when he does things they don’t agree with. Donald Trump is not the anti-Christ, but his words and message certainly are.
In the future, we can expect more clashes from incongruence between the professed values of those who claim Christianity versus the lived out values that are acted upon. Ellen White’s words in Signs of the Times on November 8, 1899 provide a framework that we’d do well to remember even in trying times.
Paul writes to the Romans, “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.” But there is a point beyond which it is impossible to maintain union and harmony without the sacrifice of principle. Separation then becomes an absolute duty. The laws of nations should be respected when they do not conflict with the laws of God. But when there is collision between them, every true disciple of Christ will say, as did the apostle Peter when commanded to speak no more in the name of Jesus, “We ought to obey God rather than men.”
In the end, the time of trouble will come and Jesus will return. If, however, I can delay that time even a little while to make a difference in the world and see my son grow up in a world where Donald Trump doesn’t have the nuclear codes, I’d conscientiously vote against him every time.
Disclaimer: The views, opinions, and positions expressed by the author and the provided comments on these blogs are the authors and his alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of the Carolina Conference of Seventh day-Adventists, its churches or other employee thereof.