Trump-splaining Evangelicalism

Russell Moore has been very open in his opposition to Donald Trump’s candidacy for president of the United States. Over the weekend, Moore continued that opposition in an op-ed for the The New York Times and on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” Trump noticed and tweeted out the following attack on Moore.

I think this is a more revealing moment than some realize. It would be one thing for Trump to disagree with Moore. That would be totally fine and appropriate. But Trump does more than that here. Trump criticizes Moore not for bad views but for being a bad evangelical!

The problem with this is obvious. Do Americans really want a president who thinks it a part of his job description to pontificate about who is and isn’t a good evangelical? Or a good Catholic? Or a good Muslim? Or a good Jew? This is totally outside the norms and traditions of the presidency.

Presidents are fine to have convictions, religious or otherwise. But to single out a political opponent and to define him as an unfaithful evangelical simply because he opposes the Trump candidacy is an absurd and dangerous precedent.

This latest evidence of Trump’s questionable character and judgment forces us to face a serious question. How would Trump respond to critics if he were to assume the presidency? What if those critics were making a religious case against some policy President Trump wanted to pursue? And what if those critics began to sway public opinion against President Trump’s policy? Does anyone think that a President Trump would restrain himself from using the powers of his office to punish his religious critics? If he becomes president, he’ll have more than a Twitter account to work with.

Whether or not Moore is a “good” representative of evangelicals is not the point (although I and countless others believe that he is). The point is that we don’t need our presidential candidates–much less our presidents!–appointing themselves pastoral overseer of evangelicalism. Trump isn’t just out of his depth on this. He’s out of bounds. At a time when religious liberty is under unprecedented assault, we need a chief executive who can defend our first freedom, not an autocrat who maligns and attacks the faithful.

One more thing. Trump is not the first opponent of Christianity to attack the faithful. The Apostle Peter warned us and them about what their attacks mean.

And in all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excess of dissipation, and they malign you; but they shall give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. –1 Peter 4:4-5

The opponents of the faith have always been “surprised” when Jesus’ followers don’t go along to get along. They expect Christians to get in line. When the faithful refuse, the faithless slander and attack them. That is what is happening here. Expect more of this in the days ahead. And know that God is not indifferent about any of this.

39 Responses to Trump-splaining Evangelicalism

  1. Joe Jones May 9, 2016 at 10:44 am #

    Not at all the point of your post, but it would be “Trump-splaining”

  2. Karen Butler May 9, 2016 at 10:53 am #

    Denny, your title needs a ‘p’ to make more sense — although he has apparently killed off the convictions of many evangelicals, I still think you mean he is explaining us, right?

  3. Lauren Law May 9, 2016 at 11:29 am #

    Denny…through the years that I’ve followed you, I’ve tended to agree with you more than less. But this is one of those “less” times. Trump doesn’t give up his Constitution right to free speech because he’s running for president…or because he becomes president. We don’t get to hold Trump, the man, to a higher standard than we hold ourselves. If Moore is free to delineate faults in Trump publicly, Trump has the “right” to do so in return. If we don’t want an “autocrat who maligns and attacks the faithful”, then we need to not be faithful who malign and attack the autocrats, and those placed in position to rule over us (or alongside us). Trumps presidency is really a desperate attempt of “we the people” to take back THEIR POSITION of self-rule. They don’t want a politician to rule…they don’t want a pastor to tell them what to do…they don’t want more laws and government intervention. The great divide isn’t between Trump and Clinton…the great divide IS between spirit-filled and spirit-absent people in this world. The Bible told us this would happen.

    I know you don’t want Trump in the presidency…and you’re not alone. But my question is, do you trust the alternative? If Trump is not elected, then we most likely face another 4-8 years of the Clintons again. I don’t know about you, but she’s scarier than he is. What alternative can you offer as you continue to discredit the only man who has a viable chance of receiving the nomination?

    • Denny Burk May 9, 2016 at 2:26 pm #

      Dear Lauren,

      Thanks for the comment and pushback. I cannot in good conscience vote for either of them. I’m hoping for a third party candidate to emerge.

      I don’t know for sure who would be worse. I think they both are a poison-pills for our constitutional order. In trying to figure out who’s worse, we are trying to figure out whose poison works faster than the other. Over the last several months, I’ve become convinced that Trump’s is the more deadly poison. I’m persuaded that Trump’s character and judgment would fast track our nation’s decline. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think I am. That is why I am #NeverTrump.

      Thanks,
      Denny

      • Brian Holland May 11, 2016 at 4:37 am #

        Denny, I am with you 100% on the #NeverTrump position. Come what may. I still take issue with you not supporting, or endorsing Ted Cruz as he was the only opposition that stood a chance to defeat him. If Trump’s half as bad you believe he is, then would that not make you morally obligated to support a viable alternative? I must have missed that passage that says “Ye shall not endorse candidates.” Oh wait, that’s not in the Bible but the so called Johnson amendment, which stifles free speech…

  4. Elliot Svensson May 9, 2016 at 11:50 am #

    Denny, thanks for your continued advocacy. I appreciate your position and especially your moral clarity: political power may sometimes achieve the goals of Christians, but this year the Christians seeking political power are being tempted.

    Could I share two thoughts with your readers? The first is to read a long-form essay in The Atlantic Magazine by a guy who lived through the Arab Spring in Egypt, and who knows all about strongmen and also religious regimes. “Donald Trump and the Authoritarian Temptation”…

    Also, weighing my own feelings about Obama’s presidency, I have been perennially disappointed (and a little scared) by Obama’s executive overreach. The example that really scares me is the IRS conservative-targeting scandal, but the passage of the Affordable Care bill is a close second.

    With Lois Lerner’s IRS targeting scandal, the president seemed to be saying, “I don’t like right-wing political organizations, since I’m a left-winger, and elections have consequences. Why should the IRS continue offering tax benefits to organizations that I don’t like?” This reminds me of pre-revolutionary France.

    I think that when people talk about how angry conservatives are, they never talk about Obama’s record of expanding the power of the president to promote his left-wing vision through the power of the presidency. But this is something I feel angry about!

    I especially feel angry about it because our neighbors’ reaction hasn’t been to work toward more checks and balances and a return to mutually-beneficial American politics, but to promote Donald Trump. How can we show people who feel angry about left-wing executive overreach that there is a better answer than right-wing executive overreach?

    • Christiane Smith May 9, 2016 at 4:17 pm #

      I think that the Affordable Care Bill is a merciful piece of legislation. And I know that many Republicans do not share that opinion, but I don’t think we can put getting medical coverage for thousands of our citizens down as something that threatens our country . . . is it ‘overreach’ to try to bring aid to our own people? It’s past time for our citizens who were not able to get coverage to be helped. Too many have suffered for too long.

      When I remember Obama’s presidency, I will think about the Affordable Care Bill and how many opposed it. That it was able to be passed at all was a great achievement for Obama.

      If helping suffering people is ‘overreach’, then maybe we need more of it in our land.

      • Patrick Joseph May 10, 2016 at 7:05 am #

        Christiane,

        I always enjoy reading your thoughtful commentary. I do, however, take issue with this piece. It is not either fair or accurate to characterize opposition to Obamacare as merely being against helping people. At the very least, there is a good argument that the increase in the size and scope of government that comes with this law will ultimately hurt everyone in this country, especially the poor. There is also at least a good argument that it is a continuation of the tendency of politicians to overstate the benefits of this size and scope and wildly understate the costs, which is a major reason we are in an unsustainable fiscal situation, which (again) may harm the poor more than anyone else. There is also at least a good argument that the law puts even more distance between us and a market based solution to the health care problem that would ultimately be far more efficient and better for the country. This does not even consider what the law may require of certain religious institutions (e.g. the Little Sisters of the Poor) and what it may do for abortion. In short, a person can are about the poor every bit as much as you do and be very much against Obamacare.

        • Christiane Smith May 10, 2016 at 10:28 am #

          Hi PATRICK JOSEPH,
          good to hear from you, as I have appreciated your contributions to Denny’s blog in the past, and I value your opinion even if I see things differently

          It troubles me that any political party would use the suffering of innocents to advance agendas that attack people like the Little Sisters of the Poor, yes;
          but in our strange political system, a party that has supposedly stood up for the right to life has also doubled down on the death penalty and produced Donald Trump as its de facto ‘leader’ . . . ‘nuclear card’ and all, God help us.

          so I am not surprised when the popularity of aiding our citizens who could not get health insurance and who suffered catastrophic financial losses as a result also came with a fly in the ointment, courtesy of our strange ways of incorporating ‘agendas’ into what passes for the will of the people in our land. We need to work out the problems and keep the gold of assisting our own with compassion in the political sphere, yes.

          We were giving away many millions to the less fortunate in other lands, and I will never regret that, no; however we were past due on helping our own, if at all possible. And with the Affordable Care Act, we have done this, imperfectly, but we have done it. Even if it is just a beginning, I should be happy to someday celebrate the end of the powerful lobbies who have injured our people supporting the greedy ‘industries’ that grew obscenely wealthy off of the suffering of the sick and vulnerable in our land.

          For too long, we have attempted to use ‘politics’ for the agendas of our own faith, and in the process we have allowed greedy politicians the credit of our support. We got it wrong. I think we know that now. I hope the people of our faith will work towards more integrity as Christian voters, Patrick. Even Paul Ryan has reconsidered his role in the Republican Party and appears to be looking for a renewed integrity that aligns with his faith (or so I hope).

          • Patrick Joseph May 11, 2016 at 1:33 pm #

            Christiane, thanks very much for the kind response. I don’t know that I articulated my point too well. I know that you and I differ in our political philosophies, probably based on our views on how fairly and efficiently governments and markets allocate resources. We might both agree that markets are more efficient (many Democrats admit this). We probably differ on how fairly markets allocate resources in comparison to governments. As a general rule, my view is that government involvement brings tremendous inefficiencies and also brings arbitrary results that are often no more fair than the result that a market would give us. I believe Obamacare will cost the government more money (that it cannot afford) and will harm businesses (which will harm the poor the most). Based to a large extent on these points (but also based on the manner in which Obamacare treats abortion and religious entities), I believe Obamacare is an utter disaster.

            My point here, however, is not that I am right about any of this. I could be wrong. I have certainly been wrong before. But the idea that my non- support of Obamacare or any form of nationalized health care means I do not care for the poor is both unfair and inaccurate. At the very least, there is a principled argument that Obamacare will hurt those who need the help the most, particularly in the long term. There is also a principled argument that the budgetary problems of the US are a far greater problem for the poor than a lack of health insurance and our focus should be on reducing the size and scope of government rather than increasing it. I believe these arguments. If one believes as I believe, as I see it, one has a duty to oppose Obamacare and similar programs. I inferred from your post that you were characterizing those who opposed Obamacare as doing so only, or at least chiefly, out of a lack of concern for the poor. From that comes the often made point, that if one cares about the poor, one will vote for Obamacare, as well as many other big government programs. It is these points that I take issue with,

      • Brian Holland May 11, 2016 at 4:29 am #

        Only if by “helpful” you mean it allows people to die sooner, since it’s based on the “complete lives system” which is utilitarian in nature, and denies the sanctity of each individual life. Or if by “helpful” you mean allowing more access to abortion, and crushing freedom of religion by attempting to force private companies to pay abortion inducing drugs. Of perhaps you mean forcing more people onto Medicaid, which has been proven to have worse health outcomes than for people who have no insurance at all. Or maybe you meant that more working people would see their premiums and deductibles skyrocket, and no longer be able to afford healthcare?

    • Ezra Thomas May 9, 2016 at 6:12 pm #

      Elliot,

      I think the anger you feel is somewhat mistaken with regard to certain facts.

      1) There is no proof, whatsoever, that the President had anything to do with the IRS scrutinizing conservative groups.

      There is no evidence that Pres. Obama has ever uttered anything similar to this regarding any conservative organization…

      Here’s a primer on what exactly the IRS was doing. It’s important to fully understand the facts of the case and not get lost in the propaganda.

      2) The ACA was passed by Congress and upheld, controversially, by the Supreme Court. Its passage involved no executive overreach. There have been various other regulatory decisions made by the executive branch regarding the ACA that are controversial, possibly meeting a standard of executive overreach, but still not related to passage of the bill.

      • Ian Shaw May 10, 2016 at 8:11 am #

        Making individuals or families pay fines because they don’t have health insurance is absurd. It’s beyond the pale.

        • Ezra Thomas May 10, 2016 at 11:23 am #

          Abortion is beyond the pale. Paying a fine for choosing to forego health insurance, and then likely relying on the emergency room in a medical situation, is a legitimate policy issue. See the difference in degrees?

          • Ian Shaw May 10, 2016 at 4:15 pm #

            Medicaid has been available for a long time. Or people could pursue vocations that provide insurance and take some responsibility for their lives.

            • Ezra Thomas May 11, 2016 at 11:00 am #

              Ian, this question has mostly been resolved for now, by the SC, so I’m not going to waste too much time debating it. However, Medicaid is not a uniform program so it’s availability is largely contingent on differing income limits from state to state and whether or not states have decided to expand it as decided by the SC. Secondly, all one has to do to avoid this fine is, as you say, take Medicaid or pursue a vocation that provides insurance and, in doing so, take responsibility for their own lives. So, not really a problem then other than a philosophical dilemma which most will get over after a medical emergency.

      • Elliot Svensson May 10, 2016 at 11:09 am #

        Thanks,

        Upon further reading about it, I do feel a little better because it looks like Lois Lerner’s actions at the IRS can be explained by year-to-year political waves, beginning with Obama’s election and the subsequent appearance of hundreds of little tea party groups… of course the IRS would need to do something about an entire new class of organization, though the record shows they could have done it better.

        Also with the ACA, yes, you’re right that it was congress and not the president who passed it. This too does make me feel a little better. It looks like the examples of over-reach that do stand up to scrutiny are the regulatory issues such as yesterday’s counter-suit against the state of North Carolina.

        I guess executive overreach is too broad to describe what I feel: I feel hurt by a consistent stance toward expanding federal authority that views the rest of the country exactly like it did during the Civil Rights era, when policies like segregated schools and bans on bi-racial marriage were state law.

  5. Christiane Smith May 9, 2016 at 11:59 am #

    I wonder at the ‘conservative-ism’ of any American who would support the spread of nuclear weapons throughout Europe and Asia . . . in fact, I wonder about the SANITY of anyone who would support such a proposal.

    The debate on Trump has gone beyond a discussion of ‘character’ and has entered into just how far gone Trump is as to his ability to reason and consider consequences of actions.

    God knows, I wish it was just about ‘character’, but we are witnessing something far worse which strangely has the support of people such as the panel member Mr. Matt Schlaap. When the nuclear card is being ‘used’ by a candidate, and people are all excited about this as a positive thing, we are in a phase of uncertainty that can no longer be predictable. I suppose it depends on how many people no longer fear nuclear war . . . or what will come from it in some post-apocalyptic environment . . . God have mercy on us. Mr. Schlaap makes no sense to me. But how many Mr. Schlaaps are there out there speaking for Trump?

  6. Mike Lynch May 9, 2016 at 12:22 pm #

    I just threw the idea at Doug Wilson that we need to have a list of pastors put together vowing not to vote for Trump. I bet that would bring out his true feeling toward Christians.

  7. Benjamin Weaver May 9, 2016 at 12:59 pm #

    Denny,

    I respect your right to your opinion but I feel like the #NeverTrump crowd is playing a dangerous game.

    We have a choice between two potential dictators. One will act on whatever his whims are at the moment. I think of King Saul. The other will act on her plans that she has had for over a decade. I think of Ahab and Jezebel. I “fear” (Christians do not have anxiety or fear like the rest of the world.) a Clinton presidency far more a Trump presidency.

    Another way to think about this is the anti-vaccination crowd. If you think of Clinton’s policies as the flu, voting for the GOP candidate is the flu vaccine. Do you still get sick sometimes even after getting the vaccine? Sure. But you are more likely going to be better off with it than without.

    Taking this further, her policies could be considered the measles of modern politics. The anti-vaccination crowd doesn’t understand how bad measles can be because it has been so long since there has been a real outbreak in America. I think the #NeverTrump crowd is those anti-vaccinators. They forget how terrible a Hillary Clinton presidency will be.

    I do not disagree with you that a Trump presidency would be dishonoring for our country and potentially a bad thing for our children’s futures. I just believe he would be bumbling into things while Clinton has been planning her assault for years. He would prayerfully have some advisors with common sense while hers will all be like-minded attackers of the Constitution.

    As a Christian, and as a responsible citizen of my country, I know I have a responsibility to vote in November. Staying home is not a real option. This leaves me with voting third party or voting for the best dictator. I truly believe, unless there are four people to choose from in November, that a vote for a third party is a vote for Clinton. That is what my conscience says. I will not violate that even if it means voting for someone as horrible as Trump.

    In the end, I am not responsible for his actions. I am responsible for mine. My vote is not an endorsement of what he stands for. It is an indictment against Clinton. I will vote and I will do what I can as a citizen to hold his feet to the fire, if he wins. I will remain active no matter who wins but I cannot allow the devil that I know to rise to the office of the President.

    There are still 6 months between now and November and Trump may still well implode. The convention in July still hasn’t happened yet, either. I just want you to know my thoughts – not as a Trump supporter, but as a #NeverClinton citizen.

    • buddyglass May 11, 2016 at 8:52 am #

      “a vote for a third party is a vote for Clinton. That is what my conscience says. I will not violate that even if it means voting for someone as horrible as Trump.”

      And a vote for Trump is…a vote for Trump. Which you should also object to for reasons of conscience.

      “I cannot allow the devil that I know to rise to the office of the President.”

      Based on his public statements I’d say trump is also the “devil you know”.

      In any case, depending on the state where you’ll be voting, your vote (like mine) is likely pretty inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. Since I don’t live in a swing state I’ll be writing in someone’s name other than Trump or Clinton.

  8. Ike Lentz May 9, 2016 at 1:28 pm #

    This is just one more reason why I can’t accept false equivocations of Trump and Hillary as equally bad candidates. Clinton has a baseline level of civility and rationality, while Trump uses his power to personally smear his detractors on a daily basis. One can only guess what this would look like if he were president.

    • Gus Nelson May 9, 2016 at 10:49 pm #

      Ike: Civility and rationality? Abortion at all cost is civil and rational? She is a secularist who believes, like Trump. that the ends justify the means and she will do anything to become president. There is, as George Wallace noted long ago, not a dime’s worth of difference between the two.

      • Ike Lentz May 10, 2016 at 11:39 am #

        Abortion won’t work as a wedge issue this year. Trump has praised planned parenthood, flip-flopped numerous times, and is incoherent when he attempts to sound pro-life.

        Clinton is civil and rational in the sense that I don’t have to worry about her:
        insulting foreign leaders, commanding the army to kill women and children, doing impressions of the disabled during speeches, accepting support from racist organizations, making penis jokes during a presidential debate, insulting women with blatant misogyny, denigrating a war hero, or using her twitter account to go after evangelical leaders.

        • Gus Nelson May 10, 2016 at 7:25 pm #

          Ike: the abortion point isn’t about “wedge issues.” My point is that there is little difference between them, as Hillary’s utter disregard for human life and her lust for power are equal to Trump’s, if not greater. Her actions in the 90’s to disparage the women left in her husband’s wake hardly qualify as civil. It is hardly a reason to vote for her that she will slip the knife in more gently than Trump. You’re still just as dead.

  9. Johnny Mason May 9, 2016 at 2:57 pm #

    “Of two evils, choose neither … Christians must turn from the endless cycle of voting for the lesser of evils and expecting an unrighteous act to produce a righteous result. From a communist to a cultist, choosing the lesser of evils is still evil, and never should we do evil that good may come.” – Charles Spurgeon

    • Ike Lentz May 9, 2016 at 3:39 pm #

      I like the thought, but on a practical level it could just mean never voting.

      • Elliot Svensson May 10, 2016 at 11:11 am #

        No, there is a real difference between a no-chance third-party vote and simply not voting. A bunch of no-chance third-party votes sends a message, but staying home means you don’t care anymore.

        • Barbara Jackson May 11, 2016 at 7:22 am #

          This whole thing constantly reminds me of God’s warnings to His people as they were choosing an unholy alliance with an unholy ruler out of pragmatism instead of living by faith.

          Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help
          and rely on horses,
          who trust in chariots because they are many
          and in horsemen because they are very strong,
          but do not look to the Holy One of Israel
          or consult the Lord!
          And yet he is wise and brings disaster;
          he does not call back his words,
          but will arise against the house of the evildoers
          and against the helpers of those who work iniquity.
          The Egyptians are man, and not God,
          and their horses are flesh, and not spirit.
          When the Lord stretches out his hand,
          the helper will stumble, and he who is helped will fall,
          and they will all perish together.
          For thus the Lord said to me,
          “As a lion or a young lion growls over his prey,
          and when a band of shepherds is called out against him
          he is not terrified by their shouting
          or daunted at their noise,
          so the Lord of hosts will come down
          to fight on Mount Zion and on its hill.
          Like birds hovering, so the Lord of hosts
          will protect Jerusalem;
          he will protect and deliver it;
          he will spare and rescue it.” Isaiah 31:1-7

          • Elliot Svensson May 11, 2016 at 11:34 am #

            Thanks Barbara,

            You are exactly right. I think it’s possible that some people have made politics sort of an idol that God has the right to smash, and which should never ever give us the confidence that comes from trusting God.

            Now this is sounding more like the situation resulting in Paul’s guidance on eating food sacrificed to idols. As a result of Paul’s advice, there were some Christians who weren’t allowed to eat the food… who were honoring God by abstaining. The other Christians were sternly warned not to make these ones feel awkward about their decision.

        • Ian Shaw May 11, 2016 at 9:09 am #

          One could argue that deliberately staying home from the polls does not have to mean you don’t care.

  10. Ian Shaw May 9, 2016 at 5:00 pm #

    You’re either going to have evangelicals voting in mass for one candidate or have record low turnout from the evangelical voter in November.

    I refuse to vote for the lesser of two evils. I hate to reference pop culture, but my inner- nerd is begging me to.

    Why can’t conservatives and especially evangelicals make this a ‘Kobayashi Maru’ moment? Why can’t we believe that there’s no such thing as a ‘no-win’ scenario’?

    Jesus often had the “3rd” way of doing things when those questioned or tried to pressure Him into a corner.

    Just food for thought….

  11. buddyglass May 10, 2016 at 8:40 am #

    One positive side effect of a public and bitter feud between Trump and evangelicals is that the set of folks who currently self-identify as “evangelical” but are “enthusiastic” Trump supporters (as in they supported him before he was the presumptive nominee) may choose not to identify themselves as “evangelical” any more.

    • Elliot Svensson May 10, 2016 at 11:17 am #

      I’ve been thinking about another positive note: there are individuals in this country who say to themselves, “am I a Christian? Of course! I voted for ___, ___, and ___!!!” While I acknowledge that some votes could indicate love for Jesus, it would be a really poor way to cling to Jesus and love his commands if all you did was show up in a confidential polling booth once every four years.

      Again, not that I think anybody is choosing between loving their neighbor and voting a certain way… but if you think it’s enough to vote a certain way, then why in the world did Jesus make Peter put away his sword? This year’s election kinda throws cold water on that fallacy, in my opinion.

  12. Ian Shaw May 10, 2016 at 4:17 pm #

    The candidates that we will have to vote for (2 large political party’s) is like going to a refrigerator when you’re starving, opening it up and finding nothing but 2 kinds of rotten food. Do you eat the rotten food on the hope it’s filing, or shut the door and walk away?

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