Donald Trump: Do Character, Morality and Kindness Still Matter?
I promised myself I wouldn’t endorse any presidential candidate in 2016. I’m sticking with that. But I never would have believed I’d have to write what I feel the Lord compelling me to. (This isn’t to blame God for everything I say!)
This is WAY longer than my normal blogs, three times longer, but I don’t want to follow up with another, so this is all of it. Four years ago I wrote seven election related blogs; not this time.
This isn’t really a blog, it’s a long article, more of an essay—only for those with time and interest. I’m including many links to show I’m not making these things up (some will want to check them out), though I suppose it’s inevitable there will be a few inaccuracies.
People have been asking me to write on this, but some will be sorry I did. If this seems too little too late, I get that. If it seems to some irresponsible (I know it will), I still think every Jesus-follower needs to do some real soul-searching. I’m talking about much more than just voting, and the principles here apply to other candidates too, not only Trump.
I’m asking whether we should support, defend, or be entertained by behavior that’s condemned in Scripture. I’m questioning what leadership qualities we are drawn to. I avoid politics whenever possible. This time it’s not possible. My concern here is that God’s people should consistently value biblical Jesus-honoring principles, character, and behavior in all aspects of life.
I realize the races for the party nominations aren’t over yet, though they may be soon. As of today, the fact is this: a candidate who wouldn’t have been taken seriously by most evangelical Christians just twenty years ago, who would have been dismissed out-of-hand for his behavior and speech, is now the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, and is supported by many evangelicals (though not as many as headlines suggest).
I know some will dismiss this the same way they dismiss all criticisms of Trump. Some concerns will be pragmatic: surely we must all vote for Donald Trump in the general election in order to stop a pro-abortion candidate with other problematic policies, right?
Please don’t let other concerns distract you from the only subject of this blog: what are Trump’s character qualities and moral standards, and should they matter to Christ-followers?
MY PURPOSE IS NOT TO OFFER A SOLUTION TO THE PROBLEM I’M RAISING. Given where we’re at now, I don’t know the solution! My purpose is to address the problem itself—and my conversations and reading indicate that many evangelical Christians do not recognize it’s a problem.
I can’t be held hostage to the pervasive viewpoint, “To criticize or oppose Trump is to support Hillary Clinton.” We dare not act as if any presidential candidate is immune to or above biblical principles and moral standards just because we may (rightly) oppose other candidates.
My other caveat is that of course I realize Jesus is not running for president! I’m not naïve; obviously we are not electing a pastor-in-chief, but a commander-in-chief. I agree we can’t expect moral perfection or even devout behavior in a candidate. Yes, there are countless compromises in politics. But after all the abandonment of idealism and lowering of standards for politicians, surely that doesn’t mean we should dismiss as irrelevant character qualities, decency, and respect and kindness toward others. Those can and should coexist with vision, courage, conviction, and the ability to lead. (See Max Lucado’s excellent article, “Decency for President.”)
I’ll pose a question. What would you do if a dinner guest in your home told a person of Mexican descent that most of her people crossing the border to come to America are criminals and rapists? What if he called one woman a dog, another a bimbo and another “a fat pig,” then addressed others as dummies and losers? What if he told certain people to “go F--- themselves?”
What if he made a demeaning reference to a woman’s menstrual cycle, then a lusting comment to a young woman in your home, in which he fantasized about her assuming a sexual position for him? What would you do if he started telling stories of his sexual conquests, saying, “Oftentimes when I was sleeping with one of the top women in the world I would say to myself, thinking about me as a boy from Queens, ‘Can you believe what I am getting?’” (Donald Trump, Think Big: Make it Happen in Business and Life, p. 272)?
What if your guest said of a woman, she “is unattractive, both inside and out. I fully understand why her former husband left her for a man—he made a good decision”? What if he said at your dinner table, “You know, it really doesn’t matter what the media writes as long as you’ve got a young, and beautiful, piece of ass”?
What if your children heard this and witnessed this behavior? My guess is you wouldn’t laugh and make excuses for this man. I hope you’d insist that he apologize, then escort him out of your home and use him as an example for your children of how men should not talk about women. (My guess is you would not put out a lawn sign supporting him for president.)
As a husband of a wife and a father of two daughters I deeply respect, I wouldn’t tolerate someone demeaning women like that. I wouldn’t laugh—I’d confront him and if he persisted, I would escort him to the door.
Would any of us be able to explain to our children or grandchildren why we’d tolerate such immoral behavior that violates so many biblical principles? (Not just principles Christians hold to, but that many atheists and agnostics consider basic human decency.)
I find it ironic that many of the current supporters of Donald Trump, including some pastors and Christian leaders, were vocal opponents of Bill Clinton in the 90’s, openly castigating him for his immorality. If character mattered in the case of Bill Clinton (as I believe it did), why doesn’t it matter in the case of Donald Trump? Isn’t it hypocritical to have been outraged by the behavior of one but not the other? If Barack Obama (who I generally don’t support) had said and done many of the same things Donald Trump has, would you view them differently? Why? Aren’t things right or wrong regardless of who does them?
The Bible is emphatic that the words we speak matter to God. What statement, for instance, do we make to disabled people by supporting someone who makes fun of a disabled man by waving his arms to mock his particular disorder?
One may say that Trump’s personal life and business dealings are irrelevant to his candidacy, but conservatives have argued for generations that virtue matters, in the citizenry and in the nation’s leaders. Can conservatives really believe that, if elected, Trump would care about protecting the family’s place in society when his own life is — unapologetically — what conservatives used to recognize as decadent?
So why are so many people, including evangelicals, enthusiastically supporting Trump?
- They believe he “tells it like it is,” without political correctness. He stands up to the media and aggressively confronts their biases.
- They believe Trump’s promises that he will “make America great again.” He’s a negotiator, a successful businessman and strong persona, who they believe can get things done for the people and improve the economy.
- His words have tapped into the anger and frustrations of many who are weary of higher taxes, crime, and seeing America’s continual international decline.
- Those disillusioned with “politics as usual” like that Trump doesn’t have previous political experience; as an outsider, maybe he’ll be a change agent.
I get it, believe me. I too am weary of politicians and their broken promises. I roll my eyes at some media coverage of events, including events I’ve been involved in (of course, now that there’s a strong right-wing media too, there are biases both ways.) I like the idea of a political outsider. But shouldn’t we be looking for an outsider with stronger character, integrity, and humility than past leaders?
As for political correctness, I agree it’s often vapid and pretentious, but that doesn’t make political incorrectness inherently virtuous. Sure, it’s “politically correct” to be respectful to women, refrain from demeaning people, and to avoid profanity, sexual innuendo, racism and disparaging disabled citizens—but it’s also Christ-honoring, isn’t it? (If I yelled at my wife and called her names would you applaud me for not being politically correct?)
What would Jesus say to someone who attacked a mild-mannered rival candidate rising in the polls by comparing an anger problem that person had 50 years ago to being a child molester? Would he approve? (As a physician, Ben Carson’s 14-second response was classic.)
Do we want America’s president to say to our children and to the world things like these?
- “The beauty of me is that I’m very rich.”
- “My fingers are long and beautiful, as, it has been well documented, are various other parts of my body.”
- “My IQ is one of the highest—and you all know it! Please don't feel so stupid or insecure; it's not your fault.”
- “Rosie O’Donnell is disgusting, both inside and out. You look at her, she’s a slob…If I were running The View, I’d fire Rosie O’Donnell. I mean, I’d look at her right in that fat, ugly face of hers, I’d say ‘Rosie, you’re fired.’”
- “All of the women on The Apprentice flirted with me – consciously or unconsciously. That’s to be expected.”(The Daily News, March 24, 2004)
- “The only difference between me and the other candidates is that I’m more honest and my women are more beautiful.”
- Regarding Carly Fiorina’s appearance: “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?!”
- Regarding John McCain, who flew twenty-three missions in Vietnam and spent over five years as a prisoner of war: he’s “not a war hero. … He is a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured, OK?”
Trump wrote, “Our great African American President hasn't exactly had a positive impact on the thugs who are so happily and openly destroying Baltimore!” That got 6,500 retweets. Okay…so if elected will Donald Trump take responsibility for the actions of all white criminals?
My main problem is not that Donald Trump says what he thinks, though the self-control to at times remain silent is certainly a virtue: “The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools” (Ecclesiastes 9:17). My problem is with what he actually thinks: especially his obsession with outward appearance, sexiness, superficiality, wealth, his own status and accomplishments, and his quickness to berate and insult people and seek revenge on his critics. (My other big problem is hearing the laughter and applause for Trump when he has said some of these things at churches and Christian universities.)
Here’s a list of direct quotes from Donald Trump, posted by him on Twitter, insulting and name-calling a wide variety of people. Just skim it. There’s no end to the insults, and it doesn’t include others, such as his tweets about Bette Midler’s “ugly face and body.” If anyone criticizes Donald Trump, he’s determined to crush them. He routinely calls people dummies, losers and bimbos. (If he were president, one of the most powerful people on the planet, would he be tempted to use that power to go after people? Or would his character, ego, and personality magically change?)
Does it matter to God whether a presidential candidate (or anyone else) acts as a defensive, demeaning, ridiculing, mean-spirited, self-obsessed, foul-mouthed bully?
Does it matter even more when a person behaves this way while claiming to be a Christian?
In light of his profession to be a believer, when asked if he has ever asked God for forgiveness, Trump responded, “I’m not sure…I don’t think so.”
So though he claims he's a believer, he has never asked God for forgiveness or at least never remembers having done so. Seriously? Is it actually possible to be a Christian without asking God for forgiveness? “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Isn’t believing you don’t need to ask God for forgiveness the ultimate arrogance?
If we don’t confess our own sins and seek forgiveness, what can we do when things go wrong but blame everyone else? The natural target is outsiders, people who don’t look and talk and act like us. Isn’t this utterly contrary to the Gospel, which involves us confessing our own sins and unworthiness, and gratefully embracing the loving forgiveness of Jesus?
Can you imagine Donald Trump as president accepting responsibility for making bad decisions? Wouldn’t he always find someone else to blame?
If, as he claims, the Bible is Donald Trump’s favorite book, shouldn’t it matter to him that the Bible says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29)?
Let’s examine one claim. Trump writes, “You can’t be too greedy” (The Art of the Deal, p. 48).
What does the Bible say about being greedy? The tenth commandment condemns coveting, which is greed (Exodus 20:17). Jesus said, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). Jesus denounced greed in the parable of the rich fool. God says that [apart from repenting and seeking his forgiveness] “the greedy… [will not] inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:10). God commands us to “put to death…greed, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). Since it’s idolatry, greed also violates the first and second commandments.
Whose beliefs about being greedy do you believe? Donald Trump’s or God’s?
Regarding the parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:16-21), Bible teachers often point out this man repeatedly engaged in self-reference (I, me, mine), bragging about himself and all he accomplished. The transcript of Trump’s announcement that he was running for president shows he said “I” 195 times, “my” or “mine” 28 times, “me” 22 times and “I’ve or “I’d” 12 times. That’s 257 self-references. Read it and it sounds remarkably like a long version of the parable of the rich fool. (Yes, most politicians are self-promoters, perhaps many are narcissists, but Trump takes it to a new level.)
If he believes it’s impossible to be too greedy, is there anything about Donald Trump that suggests he would not use public power for private gain?
How do we evaluate whether a profession of faith in Christ is real? Jesus told us, “Every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit” (Matthew 7:17).
It’s difficult for me to believe anyone could read, watch and listen to Donald Trump without concluding he is unusually arrogant and prideful, well above the 90th percentile of people we know. What does God say about pride?
- Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18)
- The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate. (Proverbs 8:13)
- When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom. (Proverbs 11:2)
- One's pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor. (Proverbs 29:23)
- The haughty looks of man shall be brought low, and the lofty pride of men shall be humbled, and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day. (Isaiah 2:11)
When arrogance brings down a man, doesn’t it often bring down his family, business, and whatever else he has authority over? Why would we think God’s promise to bring low, disgrace, or destroy a proud man wouldn’t result in bringing low, disgracing, or destroying the country he leads?
God has often humbled proud leaders of nations. Nebuchadnezzar is a prime example (Daniel 4). If God opposes and humbles Donald Trump the businessman, casino owner and entertainer, that’s one thing. But if God humbles Donald Trump the president, might an entire country be humbled with him, paying the price for disregarding God’s warnings against pride and arrogance?
Any commander-in-chief who holds in his hands lives of our armed forces, both men and women, should be a man willing to humble himself before God. He should not be tempted to wage war and sacrifice lives (both domestic and foreign) against any international leader who dares to question or offend him. (Do we want a president whose default reaction to criticism is arrogance and retribution?)
“Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom” (James 3:13 ESV). Is it unreasonable to expect a United States president to be not only strong but also wise and understanding and to be characterized by the meekness of wisdom?
The Message is only a paraphrase of Scripture, but sometimes it’s a good one. Here’s how it renders James 3:13-16:
Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? Here’s what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts. Mean-spirited ambition isn’t wisdom. Boasting that you are wise isn’t wisdom. Twisting the truth to make yourselves sound wise isn’t wisdom. It’s the furthest thing from wisdom—it’s animal cunning, devilish conniving. Whenever you’re trying to look better than others or get the better of others, things fall apart and everyone ends up at the others’ throats.
Ask yourself how those words above match up to Donald Trump (and any that remain in the presidential race).
I vowed many years ago never to vote for a candidate who defends the legalized killing of children, any more than I would vote for one who defends the legalized killing of Jews or the disabled. But I have sometimes, with reluctance, voted for “the lesser of evils” (I prefer the “greatest good of a limited field”). I have voted for them largely to support their prolife position (I’m not always certain how genuine their prolife profession is, and certainly the same applies to Donald Trump).
I’ve always advised people that they should be idealistic in the primaries, then realistically vote for the best remaining candidate in the general election. But I confess that if the current leaders win the nomination, I will be faced with a moral dilemma. Others have confided they feel the same.
I’m well aware of the pragmatic arguments against voting for third party candidates or writing in someone who can’t win. But in the face of the evidence concerning pride, selfishness, immoral sexual references, and bullying tactics, some Christ-followers can’t help but ask themselves whether voting for such a candidate would violate their conscience and the Christian values they seek to live by (Romans 14:23). If you have no sympathy for them, please realize that some of your brothers and sisters in Christ are equally dismayed at how people of faith could support Donald Trump without embarrassment or shame or the conviction of the Holy Spirit concerning so much of what he says that flies in the face of Jesus and God’s Word.
“God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble” (James 4:6). If Donald Trump is as proud as he appears, doesn’t that mean God promises to oppose him? (And yes, he can oppose another candidate for that and other reasons.) It’s one thing to vote for someone who falls short of God’s standards; most of us have been doing that for decades. But isn’t it counterintuitive for God’s children to support those who God explicitly says He opposes? (A vote is not an unconditional endorsement, but surely it reflects at least some support.)
I’m well aware of the pushback I’ll get for writing this. Many friends will disagree. (For all I know, our ministry may lose supporters.) People will say, “By speaking against Donald, you might as well be voting for Hillary, and putting her bumper sticker on your car.” But this blog isn’t about Hillary. I do not and will not support or vote for her. But that doesn’t mean I can’t or shouldn’t express my deep-seated concerns about Trump.
If the two front runners win the primaries, I have Christian friends who will unreservedly vote for Trump, others who will vote for him with great reluctance, some who will vote for Hillary, and still others will write someone in or not vote because in good conscience they can’t. I know the arguments against all of these. But I also know that despite the constant calls to pragmatism, when a candidate’s statements and actions clearly contradict the words of Jesus, we dare not ignore or minimize them, and we certainly should never applaud them.
In the end, some of us will not be able to live with ourselves if we allow a pro-abortion candidate to be elected, and some will not be able to live with ourselves if we help elect someone whose pride and boastfulness and treatment of others dishonors the Jesus we know and love, while he professes to believe in Him and love His Word (and in the process wins votes).
This “no win” feeling troubles me, and I’m not alone. I console myself that God is on the throne, indeed, “O LORD, the God of our fathers, are You not God in the heavens? And are You not ruler over all the kingdoms of the nations? Power and might are in Your hand so that no one can stand against You” (2 Chronicles 20:6).
I trust God’s sovereignty over all, including elections. But that doesn’t mean what we do doesn’t matter. It does. Part of me says, as in the past, we will get the president we deserve, and that is not an encouraging thought. Like many of you, I am still wrestling, and seeking God’s wisdom. But it doesn’t help God’s people to deny that there are profound moral principles at stake with the electable candidates who will likely be on the ballot in November. This isn’t nearly as easy a decision as some people are telling me it should be.
This we should agree on: we really need to pray and ask for God’s grace, even if we deserve His judgment. And we need to remind ourselves that no matter what happens to the USA, we are first and foremost citizens of another country, one whose future isn’t in jeopardy, and which will forever thrive on God’s New Earth.
Okay, I’ll wrap it up. I appreciate the ministry of Desiring God, and wholeheartedly agree with Jon Bloom’s compilation of Bible verses, “How to Recognize a Foolish Leader.”
Christianity Today proposes some interesting thoughts on why so many evangelicals are Trump supporters despite the fact that he violates so many of the most basic evangelical values. Here’s a fascinating analysis of how Trump uses language differently than other candidates, giving people the feeling he’s making strong points even when what he’s saying has little or no substance.
Finally, here’s columnist Matt Barber’s thought-provoking piece, with quotes from both Donald Trump and Scripture:
God Has Coffee with Donald Trump
What would happen if Donald Trump sat down with the Creator of the universe in a SoHo bistro?
The following statements attributed to Mr. Trump are not fabricated. The man truly uttered them. Those attributed to God are likewise genuine.
With whom do you agree?
Lattes are poured and chairs, scooted.
The discussion begins.