Donald Trump and America?s Evangelical Christians

May 14th, 2016 | By | Category: Featured Issues, Politics & Current Events


The term evangelical used to be a meaningful term.  It normally meant someone who holds that the Bible is the final source of authority; that the Gospel transforms lives; that personal piety is an important quality of life; and that the values, virtues and ethical standards found in Scripture reflect the character of God.  But, in 2016, the term ?evangelical? carries little substantive meaning.  Generally speaking, today?s ?evangelical? seems to worship the ?moralistic, therapeutic, deistic? god that sociologist Christian Smith has identified in his research.  And several American evangelical leaders are embracing a raw, pragmatic ethic in their presidential endorsements.  For example, Joel Osteen has called Donald Trump ?a friend of this ministry? and ?a good man.?  Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. has hailed Trump as ?one of the greatest visionaries of our time? and a wonderful Christian brother ?who reminds me of my dad.?  Pat Robertson said of Trump in an interview, ?You inspire us all.?  Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Dallas, who has introduced Trump at rallies, says, ?We need a strong leader and a problem-solver, hence many Christians are open to a more secular candidate.?  As a Christian leader, I find these statements and endorsements of Donald Trump absolutely astonishing!

The raw pragmatism of such endorsements betrays further evidence of the shallowness and superficial nature of evangelical Christianity in North America.  Christian columnist Andree Seu Peterson summarizes the visceral pragmatic thinking of many American evangelicals:

  • At least he doesn?t act like a politician.
  • At least you know where you stand with him.
  • At least he tells the truth.
  • At least he doesn?t pretend to be a Christian.
  • He is one who will fix our problems.
  • We can?t stand around and watch Hillary or Bernie win.
  • We are choosing a president, not a pastor.

In addition to such nonsensical pragmatism, how can evangelical Christian leaders endorse and gush over Donald Trump when he declares that he has never asked God for forgiveness because he does not really do anything that would require forgiveness?  For evangelical leaders who endorse Trump, ?godly leadership? is apparently that which celebrates narcissism, greed, and deceitfulness in the pursuit of power.  They apparently embrace Trump?s ?strong leadership? and his ability to ?get things done? at the total expense of integrity, righteousness, servanthood and humility.  For example, these are the terms and phrases Donald Trump uses to describe himself and his own character:  ?I was a great student.  I was good at everything. . . I will be a great president. . . I win at golf. . . I have a great, great company. . . . I rely on myself. . . . Nobody can build like I can build.  Nobody.?  On his personal admission of adultery, Trump said, ?Beautiful, famous, successful, married?I?ve had them all, secretly, the world?s biggest names.?

San Antonio pastor Max Lucado has not been taken in by the pragmatic surrealism of some evangelical leaders.  Lucado reflects on his role as a dad and his right to interview the various dates of his three daughters as they were growing up.  Lucado concluded long ago that the most important character trait he was looking for in these prospective dates was ?decency.?  ?Would he treat my daughter with kindness and respect?  Could he be trusted to bring her home on time?  In his language, actions and decisions, would he be a decent guy??  As a culture and as Christians, Lucado contends, we appreciate decency.  We applaud decency.  We teach decency.  We seek to develop decency.  He concludes:  ?The leading Republican candidate to be the next leader of the free world would not pass my decency interview.  I?d send him away.  I?d tell my daughter to stay home. . . I?ve been chagrined at his antics.  He ridiculed a war hero.  He made mockery of a reporter?s menstrual cycle.  He made fun of a disabled reporter.  He referred to a former first lady, Barbara Bush, as ?mommy? and belittled Jeb Bush for bringing her on the campaign trail.  He routinely calls people ?stupid? and ?dummy.?  One writer catalogued 64 occasions that he called someone ?loser? . . . Such insensitiveness wouldn?t be acceptable even for a middle school student body election.  But for the Oval Office?  And to do so while brandishing a Bible and boasting of his Christian faith??  He continues, ?If a public personality calls on Christ one day and calls someone a ?bimbo? the next, is something not awry?  And to do so, not once, but repeatedly, unrepentantly and unapologetically?  We stand against bullying in schools.  Shouldn?t we do the same in presidential politics??  One supporter of Trump declared that ?we are voting with our middle finger.?  Such comments reflect the anger and pent-up frustration of the American public.  But this is the language of a ?gang-fight? not a presidential election.  As Lucado laments, ?Anger-fueled reactions have caused trouble ever since Cain was angry at Abel.?

The democratic-republic of the United States is in trouble.  The fear, despair and dissatisfaction of Americans have drawn them to candidates (e.g., Trump and Sanders) who are promising radical change and the restoration of America?s greatness.  But as Christianity Today editor Andy Crouch argues, ?Great leaders do not just promise strength; they call people to risk as well.  But around the world today we see the rise of leaders who offer various forms of authority without vulnerability?strength without risk.  This is the promise of every authoritarian government and every dictator, and it is increasingly the currency of American political campaigns . . . They promise goods without a price, protection without effort, and benefits without costs?at least to people like us.  They depend on extracting the effort and cost from others?others who are treated not as potential partners but as permanent enemies.?  In an obvious reference to Trump, Crouch writes of ?proclaiming one?s own power and reveling in others? weakness.  The unrealistic promises have been matched by crude displays of bravado and disdain for ?losers?.?  In contrast to Trump, I am reminded of Abraham Lincoln, arguably our greatest president, who refused to demonize his opponents during the horrific Civil War.  In his Second Inaugural Address he declared, ?with malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right.?

With the Democratic Party in Bernie Sanders, we see a populist flirtation with Democratic Socialism.  In Donald Trump we see the abandonment of a commitment to limited government upheld by ?the health of society?s primary institutions such a marriage, family, and community.?  As theologian Albert Mohler observes, ?The Framers of the American Republic agreed that it would be impossible to have a representative democracy and a limited government if the people did not elect leaders who embodied the virtues of the citizenry while respecting and protecting society?s pre-political institutions:  marriage and family, the church and the local community.  Thus, the idea of a limited government requires that society uphold and pursue the health of its most basic institutions.  When a civil society is weak, government becomes strong.  When the family breaks down, government grows stronger.  When the essential institutions of society are no longer respected, government demands that respect for itself.  That is a recipe for tyranny.?

In November, we as genuine, biblically-based Christians face an excruciating dilemma:  Hillary Clinton as the likely Democratic candidate and Donald Trump as the Republican candidate.  As I am writing this, I know that I cannot in good conscience vote for either one of these candidates.  But, as a stewardship responsibility before God, I believe I should vote.  I do know that I will not vote for Donald Trump as president, and, because her political convictions and policies run counter to everything I hold dear, I will not vote for Hillary Clinton.  In our democracy, we have the right to write in a candidate or perhaps there will be a viable third-party candidate as Senator Ben Sasse is advocating.  I believe that the American Republic is facing one of its greatest challenges in its long history.  We are a nation under God?s judgment and we must turn to Him in dependence and in selfless prayer.  Perhaps in His mercy, God will send us a leader who will truly serve the Republic?s citizens and lead them with humility, fortitude and faithfulness.  We should all be praying to that end.

See Michael Horton, ?The Theology of Donald Trump? in (16 March 2016); Andree Seu Peterson in World (30 April 2016), p. 63; Marvin Olasky in World (19 March 2016), p. 68; Max Lucado in (26 February 2016); Andy Crouch in Christianity Today (May 2016), p. 24; Albert Mohler in (5 May 2016). PRINT PDF

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6 Comments to “Donald Trump and America?s Evangelical Christians”

  1. Jon Thomas says:

    Dr. Eckman;
    You have pointed out the issues we as evangelicals are facing, we know this and appreciate your reinforcement of our dilemma. However, your final paragraph leads me to believe that hope is minimal. I understand Ben Sasses point, I even agree, but there is still the issue of electing a leader for our nation. Max Lucado brings out great points also, and it would appear we are all circling the drain on the final decision.
    Great article confirming our present thoughts and feelings, however it may have added more distance to the final decision we all must make in November. If Clinton was truly smart, she would just say “God has forgiven me” and her path to the Oval Office would be paved with evangelicals. But would that change her ideology?
    With the chance to pick up to (4) supreme court justices int eh next (4) years, one would ask what God wants us to do? I know it has me worried for my daughters future.
    Thanks for the thought provoking article. You are a good man.

  2. Mack Taulborg says:

    Interesting choices we have before us. I am not sure this anything new. We have had John McCain and Mitt Romney forced on us and we were told to plug our noses and vote the lesser of 2 evils and put in the Republican acceptable choice. It occurred to me that voting lesser of 2 evils still yields evil. Or put another way, if I am to do what Jesus would do, I do not think He would have voted for McCain or Romney. Trump would be no different…except voting for him might bring the destruction of the Republican Party (which has become evil and tricked Christians into voting for their candidates and yielded us nothing). I have long ago stopped voting (lesser of 2 evils)…But perhaps a vote for Trump will end these evil “elections” and the choice between to sides of the same coin. I guess I can condemn nobody for voting for the crazy Trump if it destroys the Republican Party who long ago stopped taking righteousness seriously. It is always a righteous act to thwart evil. Don’t you think?

  3. Patty Nun says:

    Dr. Eckman,
    I just finished reading your Issues in Perspective. Oh, how I appreciate your comments. Both Dennis and I are greatly frustrated with the two apparent candidates and have had countless conversations – some almost verbatim to your comments I read this morning. I have lost sleep, yes really, over who in the world am I going to vote for. I keep praying the Serenity Prayer to manage my anxiety, and ultimately keep reminding myself my faith is in God and He is in control, not me. I do better sometimes, than other times, releasing my anxiety to God. Sometimes I get a stomach ache trying to decide who I will ultimately vote for in November.

    Today our youngest of our six children is graduating from Creighton. All is well with the Nuns. Three married, four grandchildren. I am placing my counseling license in inactive mode in September. I have become certified with the NRA and hold pistol classes, specifically for women. In August Dennis and I wil be ministering in India for a month.

    God bless and thanks for your comments.

    Patty Nun

  4. Arlie Rauch says:

    Dr. Eckman,
    I think you gave a fair analysis. What I wonder is why the conservative group could not field a strong candidate? One could (I’m not saying we must apply that to the state) define such as one who would speak the truth in love. Some candidates we have had in the last few cycles have refused to mention certain facts that might have tilted the election in their favor. Perhaps they thought that speaking truth was contrary to being loving.
    I wholeheartedly agree with your statement “The democratic-republic of the United States is in trouble.” Whatever happens this election, I believe, will bear that out. The kingdom of God is not held captive by the United States. In fact, prophecy indicates that the United States must decrease for God’s ultimate plan to be realized. We are seeing that happen.

  5. Matt says:

    Dr, Eckman,
    I do see your point here. But it’s hard to turn the tide of the disenfranchised evangelical voter. The evangelical Churches of today have every four years commanded us to vote the lesser of two evils and to not throw our vote away. Now you are telling us to do just that by voting a third party candidate? Where in scripture or in the Constitution is it required to be a “Saved” man to be President of the United States? God calls many people to do his work “Saved” Or not. I recall one such man in the Bible on the road to Damascus.

  6. Mack Taulborg says:

    Interesting choices we have before us. I am not sure this is anything new. We have had John McCain and Mitt Romney forced on us. We were told to plug our noses and vote the lesser of two evils thereby putting in the Republican acceptable choice. It occurred to me that voting the lesser of 2 evils (the Republican vs. others) still yields evil – or to put it another way: WWJD – I do not think Jesus would vote for either John McCain or Mitt Romney. Trump would be no different…except voting for Trump might bring the destruction of the Republican Party (which has become evil as it tricks Christians into voting for the Republican candidate and nothing changes – even when we get the presidency and both houses of congress). I have long stopped voting (the lesser of 2 evils)…But perhaps a vote for Trump will end these evil “elections” and the “choice” between 2 sides of the same coin (Republican vs. Democrat). I guess I can condemn nobody for voting Trump if the election of Trump destroys the Republican Party who long ago stopped taking righteousness seriously. It is always a righteous act to thwart evil! Don’t you think?