In a campaign full of surprises, perhaps none has been greater than the conservative Christian embrace of Donald Trump, a man who for most of his public life has been the poster boy for liberal (and libertine) values. Jerry Fallwell Jr. provided metaphor for this shift in Christian politics when giving his thumb’s-up to Trump…in front of a Playboy cover featuring The Donald.
Naturally, endorsing a candidate like Trump has its pitfalls for Christians, and by pitfalls I mean Grand Canyon-sized pockets of greed, adultery, fornication, and misogyny. Everyone recognizes that many of our political leaders are flawed individuals—after all, only a supreme narcissist or sociopath would likely run for president these days—but Trump has taken personal flaws to levels unseen in “conservative” candidates of recent memory. After all, just last year the media thought it was a controversy that Marco Rubio had accumulated a bunch of traffic tickets! Ah, good times.
In Trump, conservative Christians decided to hitch their wagon to one of the crudest and obscene public figures today. Why? Because he isn’t Hillary Clinton. But in their dance with the devil conservative Christians are in danger of damaging the very thing they are trying to advance: Christian values and beliefs.
Beyond Holding Your Noses
Almost since the time Hillary Clinton first stepped onto the national scene, Christians of a conservative bent have considered her Public Enemy No. 1. Sure, her husband was the actual president, and his political views were horrific, but no one inspires more righteous anger among conservative Christians than Hillary Clinton, Political Anti-Christ (HCPAC).
Once Bill left office, it was just a matter of time before she wanted to follow in his footsteps, and Christians needed an anti-Hillary to stop her. She stumbled in 2008, so the confrontation was delayed, but that just reset the clock to 2016. Who would become the standard-bearer to stop her? Who would represent conservative Christians against HCPAC?
As the Day of the Hillary approached, Christians began to sift through their options. Should they rally behind an establishment Republican like Jeb Bush, or more of an ideologically pure counterinsurgent like Ted Cruz? Jeb might not be as on-board with the conservative Christian program, but he seemed initially more likely to defeat Hillary.
Oh, how quaint early 2015 political opinions appear now. No one counted on The Donald entering—and dominating—the race like he did. After dispatching Jeb with little trouble, Trump mowed down the large field until it was a two-man race between him and Cruz, the most clear-cut conservative Christian candidate in recent memory.
Even before Trump dispatched Cruz, however, many conservative Christian leaders like Falwell flocked to join Team Trump. Their primary reason: he can beat HCPAC, a virtue they inexplicably did not see in Cruz. Once Trump locked up the nomination, more conservative Christian leaders like James Dobson decided, perhaps grudgingly, to jump on board the Trump Train.
Thus, many said, “Let’s hold our nose and vote for this man. He can stop Hillary.” Initially, Trump gave some encouraging signs in return. He picked brand-name conservative Mike Pence as his running mate. He released a list of potential Supreme Court nominees any conservative would love (the 30 pieces of silver needed to get Cruz on board). He wrote to a conservative Catholic group promising to protect religious freedom. And, to repeat his best virtue, he isn’t Hillary Clinton, Political Anti-Christ.
Only One Thing Is Necessary: To Beat Hillary
As the campaign moves into the home stretch, however, many Christians are doing more than hold their noses to support Trump. With the release of the tape that showed Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women, many Christians have sunk to the depths of laughing off or even defending such talk, all because Trump isn’t HCPAC. They haven’t simply held their nose, they’ve chopped it off, put it in a grinder, and swallowed it.
Over the past few days on social media, I’ve seen Catholic priests repeat the talking point that it was just “locker room talk,” faithful Christians claim that “it’s no big deal,” and, in perhaps the saddest self-indictment of them all, Christian women resignedly saying that “all guys talk like that when women aren’t around.”
Aside from the issue of how this response would have differed if a Democrat had done the exact same thing, do these Christians really put a political race over basic Christian morals—heck, over even basic human decency? To minimize sexual assault for fear that a political opponent might gain support completely inverts Christians’ proper priorities.
What good will it do the cause of Christianity if Trump defeats Hillary, but in the process Christians undermine their most precious values? Perhaps Christians will still have the religious liberty they fear Hillary will destroy, but not much of a religion will be left to be free to practice. As Jesus succinctly put it, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). Or, to paraphrase Thomas More, “but for Donald?”
Our Deal with the Devil
None of this is to say that I don’t understand (and sympathize with) Christians who will vote for Trump. Although it’s not what I’m doing, Hillary Clinton poses such a threat to Christian values that a Christian can be excused for a desperation vote. When the Titanic is sinking, you don’t check the lifeboat for holes before jumping into it. You just jump and pray for the best.
Yet voting for Trump doesn’t require publicly minimizing or, even worse, defending horrific behavior in the man. Bill Clinton’s sexual depravity and Hillary’s attacks on her husband’s innocent victims are no justification for Donald’s own sins. Saying, “Yeah, but Hillary…” in reaction to Trump’s tape says, “As a Christian, I value political victory over the mistreatment of women.” Is this really something Christians want to proclaim to the world?
Heck—never mind the world, is it even something we want proclaimed in our families? I have a 17-year-old daughter who will turn 18 shortly before the election. So she’s voting for the first time, and of course she heard about the Trump tape. What message would I send to her if I minimized in any way Trump’s disgusting braggadocio, all because he isn’t HCPAC? Would it not tell her that mistreatment of women perhaps isn’t so bad, if perpetrated by people whom I believe can further the correct political goals?
The greatest threat to the Christian cause in this country isn’t who occupies the White House. It’s Christians unwilling to be witnesses for Christ, no matter the political consequences. Christianity in this country can survive Hillary Clinton, Political Anti-Christ, but it can’t survive if Christians stop practicing Christianity. Dance with the devil if you must, but don’t call him an angel of light when you do so.