I don’t know why this is so difficult. When the president does the right thing, we commend him and encourage him. When he does the wrong thing, with full respect for his office, we express our differences. Is this really so hard?
That’s what I did with President Obama, for whom I didn’t vote and with whom I had much more occasion to be critical than to be positive. And that’s what I’ve sought to do with President Trump, for whom I did vote and with whom I’ve had a lot to be positive about and a fair deal to be negative about.
As followers of Jesus, our ultimate allegiance should be to the Lord, to the truth, to righteousness, to justice, not to a party or a man.
We should be model citizens in terms of our conduct, and we should show honor to whom honor is due, as Paul exhorted in Romans 13. (Remember: Paul wrote Romans when the notorious Nero was the emperor of Rome. Yet as the leader of the empire, he was to be treated with respect.)
But when push comes to shove, we are not Republicans or Democrats or Independents. We are followers of Jesus. And so, when it comes to speaking the truth to power, we are “equal opportunity offenders” (although we need not be offensive in our speech; I’m just using the expression).
As for our relationship with President Trump, it’s true that some evangelical leaders have had access to him behind closed doors, and it’s appropriate for them to address their concerns to him in private. That means that, when he says or does something that is highly objectionable, they say to the public, “I understand why there is an uproar over this and I recognize why you are concerned. Be assured that I have spoken to the president about these very matters, and the president gave me a listening ear.”
For the rest of us evangelical leaders who do not have access to the White House, if we are going to voice our approval when Mr. Trump does well, we should likewise voice our disapproval when he does poorly. Otherwise, we appear to be flunkies for the president, more committed to opposing the liberal media than for standing for what is right, more interested in political favor than in the smile of God.
Since when we do we lose our voice once we vote for a candidate? Since when do we become yes men once that candidate begins to implement some of our key agenda items? Isn’t our witness to the nation more important than the favor of a political leader? So what if liberal Christian leaders often act like flunkies for their candidates. Why should we do the same?
There is no one on the planet more loyal to me than my wife Nancy, but I would be shocked and disappointed if she didn’t tell a colleague when asked, “Yes, I really disagreed with Mike on that one. We had totally opposite perspectives.”
That only empowers her to tell my critics, “But you have no idea who he is. You could not be more wrong in your perceptions about my husband.”
Her candor when it comes to my mistakes or shortcomings only makes her testimony of my character and strengths all the more believable.
Why can’t do we the same with President Trump? Even those leaders who believed that God was raising him up to be our president likened him to Cyrus in the Bible, a man of whom the Lord said, “I give a name to you, though you do not know Me” (see Isaiah 45:4). In today’s terms, we would say, “The Lord is using him, even though he’s not one of us.”
Why must we always act as if he is 100 percent one of us already, as if he were a mature, exemplary Christian, a seasoned man of God?
One evangelical leader who strongly supports Trump called him “God’s Chaos Candidate” and likened him to a divine wrecking ball. Must we defend everything that wrecking ball says and does? Will not there be some collateral damage that we regret? Why must we whitewash the White House to show loyalty or support?
Nancy voted for Trump with great reluctance, concerned that he would have a divisive, vulgarizing effect on the nation and wondering if that would be too great a price to pay for the good that he might do. (Under no circumstances, of course, was she going to vote for Hillary.)
You could say that her fears have been realized (most recently, with the “s---hole” comments, with that objectionable word now plastered everywhere and repeated non-stop). At the same time, she is totally aware of the extraordinary media bias against the president and she does appreciate the good he has done. She also knows it takes a forehead of steel to do the job.
But when it comes to the president’s recent comments, why can’t we say, “If this is an accurate quote, we reject it wholeheartedly, and we urge the president to clarify what he was saying and to reach out to the offended nations.”
We don’t need to parse his words, let alone defend them. We need to show integrity. Once we’ve done that, we can say, “What’s amazing is that the media looked the other way when so-and-so said such-and-such,” exposing their hypocrisy and agenda. And then we can say, “Where I think the president has a valid point (assuming there is one), is here.”
But our first calling is not to defend the president, a man whom I love, pray for, and honor, and a man whose positive actions I deeply appreciate.
Our first calling is to stand as consistent witnesses for our Lord, to be ambassadors of righteousness and truth, and to be jealous for the reputation of Jesus.
Nothing is more important than our witness to a watching world.