I totally and completely get American angst that drives people to Donald Trump. I get it. I may disagree with it, but I am not unsympathetic to it and I do understand it.
What I do not understand, however, are preachers and theologians gravitating to Donald Trump. It should be harder for those engaged in daily theology to bifurcate their Christian world view from their citizenry. In fact, as I have spent more time in seminary, I find it harder and harder to balance politics and faith. It is surely possible, but when I read 1 Timothy 6, I see warning signs that some would dismiss rapidly as “that’s about preachers, not politicians.”
Teach and urge these things. 3 If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, 4 he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, 5 and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. 6 But godliness with contentment is great gain, 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. 1 Tim 6:2-10 (ESV)
Yes, to be sure, that is specifically about false prophets, but “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) It should provide caution to pastors who champion a man better known for fighting, being politically incorrect, and bombastic than being humble. That any pastor could look on a candidate for President of the United States who is known for and popular because he has an “unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words” should give those who sit in his church cause for concern.
What we know of Donald Trump is that six years ago he funded Democrats against conservatives, two years ago he funded Republican establishment leaders against conservatives, and now he wants to run as a conservative.
Just a few years ago he was pro-abortion and pro-gay rights and suddenly we are supposed to believe he had a road to Damascus moment. And it must be a road to Damascus moment, because in the last year he was still promoting Democrat policies like universal, government funded healthcare. There has been no gradual evolution. It must have been a pretty immediate conversion for which we have had no time of testing as to the authenticity of that conversion. When St. Paul wrote that new converts should not be leaders, he had at least been suffering as a Christian for more than a decade.
That men who spend their time wrapped in scripture and preaching in pulpits are quick to embrace a man who is on his third wife having cheated on his first wife with his second, says he has never asked God for forgiveness, cannot name a favorite book of the Bible, and has no favorite passage of scripture suggests to me many Christian preachers in this country have unsure moorings and let their homesickness for this country as they think they once knew it supercede their homesickness for the land to which they have not yet been, but for which they supposedly long.
As Screwtape wrote to Wormwood, “we want a man hag-ridden by the Future—haunted by visions of an imminent heaven or hell upon earth—ready to break the Enemy’s commands in the present if by so doing we make him think he can attain the one or avert the other— dependent for his faith on the success or failure of schemes whose end he will not live to see. We want a whole race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow’s end, never honest, nor kind, nor happy now, but always using as mere fuel wherewith to heap the altar of the future every real gift which is offered them in the Present.” Many a pastor for Trump seems hag-ridden by the Future and ready to pursue a rainbow.
I have no trouble taking supporters of Donald Trump seriously as a group of people who are worried about the direction of this country and want to make it great again.
I have serious trouble taking preachers seriously who are actively supporting Donald Trump and, frankly, put me on the side of the Donatists in not wanting to take communion from any pastor who stands in the pulpit in support of Donald Trump. Pastors, of all people, should know they cannot bifurcate their faith and their country. They must be Christians first and let that influence their application of citizenship. “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”
I understand Donald Trump supporters. That a pastor so connects to the anger Trump has tapped into, however, is deeply troublesome to me. Pastors should not want to make America great again. They should want to build up their flock, not lead the sheep toward paths of anger and an American Jesus.
Paul, writing to Timothy, wrote, “[P]reach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” (2 Tim 4:2-5)
I think some pastors have themselves developed itching ears. Instead of leading their flock to joy and hope in the Lord, they’re leading their flock to hope in not only a sinner, but one who says he has no need to repent. Pastors who trot out 2 Chronicles 7:14, identifying that passage with the United States, are engaging in a level of scriptural perversion beyond that which I can fathom when they cast about for the candidate who prides himself in his lack of humility and proclaims he has no wicked ways from which he must turn.
I find it shameful. These pastors need serious prayer and a real “come to Jesus” moment. And yes, we are supposed to judge Donald Trump.