On June 29, I posted on Facebook that I did not vote for Donald Trump and that I strongly disapprove of certain aspects of his character and his leadership of the country so far. I also cautioned my fellow Christians to think carefully about the potential dangers of endorsing Mr. Trump.
The post generated so many comments that I could not possibly have responded to them individually. This blog post is my generic response, since many of the comments made similar points. (I removed the post after two days, on the advice of friends, when the comment thread had become unhelpful and sarcastic.)
First of all, I want you to know that the 2016 election confronted me with the most agonizing electoral decision I have ever had to make. I had conscientious objections to both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. My objections to the two candidates were different, but in each case the objections were deeply felt and extremely important to me. So I prayed, consulted the wisdom of other people, and struggled with what to do. At one point, I came close to deciding to vote for Mr. Trump, but in the end, my conscience would not allow me to vote for either of the major party candidates.
If you agonized as I did and your judgment came up with a different answer, I respect your decision. This was a judgment call — a very tough one involving momentous issues, but still a judgment call. If you thought my post questioned the godliness of anyone who voted for Mr. Trump, you read something into the post that was not there. I almost voted for him myself, and I feel very keenly the weight of the arguments on both sides of the question.
I have a personal concern for every individual who serves as president. I pray for President Trump regularly, as I have prayed for each of his predecessors. On several occasions in the past, I have written personal letters to the White House. (I understand, of course, that such letters rarely get past the staff in the White House mailroom, but I have written anyway, on the outside chance the President might somehow see the letter.)
At the worst of Bill Clinton’s scandal with Monica Lewinsky, I wrote him expressing both moral outrage and personal compassion. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it was something like this: “You have disgraced the Presidency of the United States, and I, along with many other Americans, call upon you to acknowledge the wrongfulness of your actions and commit yourself to a higher path. You have stumbled morally, it is true, but so have I. Your sins are no more grievous to God than my own. My heart goes out to you at what must be a very painful time in your life and that of your family. If there is any way I can help or encourage you, I would be glad to do so.”
When George W. Bush was president, he told an interviewer that he was a reader of My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers. So I sent him a copy of my book Diligently Seeking God and offered to discuss with him the difficult question of how public morality and private spirituality should intersect in a democratic society.
Sometime soon, I will also write President Trump, indicating both my outrage over the personal example he is setting (particularly for our young people) and also my prayers on his behalf. As a fellow human being with serious sins of my own, I feel no less compassion for him than I felt for Bill Clinton.
On the morning after Mr. Trump’s election I thought, “Well, I did not support this person’s election, but now that he is our president, I will pray for him, support him every way I can, and hope for the best. I hope that he succeeds and that my fears turn out to have been unfounded.”
But in the spirit of fairness, those were the same sentiments I had on each of the mornings after Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were elected. After Obama’s victory over Mitt Romney in 2012, I posted on Facebook that while I had vehemently opposed his election, I would now try to conduct myself in the same way I would have wanted Mr. Obama’s supporters to conduct themselves toward Mr. Romney if he had been elected. I was rebuked for that post by some who suggested that Mr. Obama did not deserve any honor or respect at all, and the Christian’s duty would be to undermine Mr. Obama’s influence in every way possible.
Now that a Republican has been elected, however, we are hearing a good bit about Romans 13:1-7, 1 Timothy 2:1,2, and 1 Peter 2:13-17 which instruct Christians to pray for the civil magistrates and submit to their authority. We are to “honor the king,” as Peter wrote. But these texts did not suddenly appear in New Testament when Donald Trump was elected. They were there every single day of the sixteen years that Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were in office. You and I may disagree over the practical application of what it means to “honor the king,” but wherever you come down on this question, you are justice-bound to apply your interpretation equally and fairly to every occupant of the White House, whether he is from your party or not.
As far as the post on June 29 was concerned, I had two main purposes, both of which were important enough that they warranted a clear and vigorous statement of my convictions. I knew it would be controversial, so I thought and prayed about it considerably, I revised the wording as carefully as I could, and before posting it I prayed about it again, searching my own heart and motives.
(1) THE FIRST PURPOSE HAD TO DO WITH MY NUMEROUS FRIENDS ON FACEBOOK WHO ARE EITHER SECULAR OR NON-CHRISTIAN. In last year’s election, over 80% of “white evangelicals” voted for Mr. Trump. Since I fall into that demographic category, people often assume that I am a Trump supporter. Not having voted for Mr. Trump, that assumption has become increasingly worrisome to me, and so I decided that I needed to clarify my position for the sake of my secular friends on Facebook. I especially wanted people to know that, aside from differences over policy and legislative agenda, I do not endorse the ungodly aspects of President Trump’s behavior. As a Christian, whose primary objective in life is teaching the gospel of Christ, I simply could not afford for anyone to conclude, from my silence, that I excused or minimized immoral conduct in one person (a Republican president) when I would be calling for repentance if it were anybody else.
In the 8-9 years I have been posting on Facebook, this is only the second time I have felt it necessary to publicly denounce a sitting president. The other time was when I posted a vehement condemnation of Barack Obama when he first announced his support for same-sex marriage. In both cases, I paid a price socially, but in neither case do I regret what I said, even in retrospect. I was not an Obama-hater then, and I am not a Trump-hater now. If I am going to be an evangelist, I am going to have to maintain a consistent witness to the teaching of the Scriptures, no matter who is in the Oval Office. Otherwise I am guilty of bias and favoritism, and my readers will, quite reasonably, disregard anything I have to say about morality, justice, and integrity.
(2) BUT SECOND, I WANTED TO SPEAK TO MY CHRISTIAN FRIENDS. Just as I am concerned about my own credibility as an evangelist, I am concerned about that of my brothers and sisters in Christ.
When I warned you, my fellow Christians, about the dangers of losing your credibility, I did not mean that the act of voting for Mr. Trump would destroy your credibility. If you voted for him, and did so conscientiously, then we have a difference in judgment, but that does not mean I question your devotion to God. You did what you felt was best in a very difficult situation.
My concern is not so much with how you voted; it is with what you may have done (or not done) in your conversations since the election. If in talking to others, especially non-Christians, you minimize the seriousness of President Trump’s ungodly behavior, you open yourself up to the charge of being biased and selective in your application of the teachings of Jesus Christ. You will cut the heart out of your evangelistic efforts if you seem to say (even by your silence) that a more lenient standard of character and morality may be applied to a man as long as he is a Republican and takes the right position on abortion, etc.
So consider carefully what you think is meant by “honor the king” (1 Peter 2:17). Take as long as you need to work it out. But whatever you come up with, be prepared to apply your conclusions consistently, regardless of which party the current “king” comes from. If you feel that “honoring the king” means we should cut Donald Trump a lot of slack, give him the benefit of the doubt, and help him to succeed, then I hope you did that with Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. If, on the other hand, you feel that Bill Clinton and Barack Obama should have been held to a very strict moral standard, then you cannot apply a more lenient standard to Donald Trump without compromising your credibility.
Fairness and impartiality are of critical importance, whether we’re talking about politics, religion, family life, or anything else. The Christian is indeed a citizen of a kingdom higher than any of the kingdoms of men, and faithful service to God must be our priority. But our faith and its eternal priorities have to be lived out in the temporal world, a place where serious disagreements exist. Our faith is simply not genuine if it does not show up in qualities like fairness when we are involved in the rough-and-tumble activities of this world, like politics.
As a result of the discussion that followed my post on June 29, I have resolved to be more fair to all participants in America’s political process. I hope you will work on being more fair also.
Gary Henry – WordPoints.com