Amid the high-decibel noise surrounding the impeachment trial of President Trump, we should not lose sight that at their core, the accusations against him concern his moral transgressions.
Transparency, trust and honesty are ideals shared by religions the world over. Lying, stealing, faithlessness? All wrong. But when criticisms of Trump’s lying, mistreatment of women and other unacceptable behavior are made, his faith-based supporters vehemently excuse them with protests of his economic policies. “Our economy is great,” they say. “Look at our record low unemployment, our trade deal with China and our steady economic growth!”
When has economic stability ever excused immoral behavior?
Shouldn’t we hope that faith-based leaders might finally show some displeasure at his actions? Voters forgave, or looked past, Trump’s demeaning comments and his utter lack of marital fidelity in 2016, and no revelations of his self-aggrandizing behavior seem to have given pause to Trump-supporting people of faith.
In fact, faith leaders seem to be doubling down on their support. That troubles me. Growing up, I was taught that God is merciful, but forgiveness also requires a contrite heart. We’ve seen very little contrition from our president, yet many faith-based groups are unfazed by its absence.
Peter Wehner’s Nov. 25, 2019, Atlantic article commented on this blindness to Trump’s amoral actions. He described an interview with Franklin Graham, the son of evangelist Billy Graham, during which Graham sidestepped the mire of Trump’s behavior and asserted that America’s strong economy “trumps” it all. He argued that a strong economy would in turn lead to the construction of churches and increases in outreach ministries.
We can hope that this conservative-led support is due to Trump’s staunch backing of issues they hold dear, such as his role as the first sitting president to attend the annual March for Life rally. Maybe the fear of losing ground gained for conservative causes is what fuels their unconditional support of a morally corrupt leader. Baylor University humanities professor Alan Jacobs — referencing a Pew Research study categorizing many of Trump’s supporters as “God-and-Country Believers” — says: “These folks, almost all of whom are white, may not attend church often or at all, and they may not be interested in, or even aware of, the beliefs that have typically characterized evangelical Christians, but they know this much: They believe in God, and they believe in America, and they love Donald Trump because he speaks blunt Truth to culturally elite Power.”
But what about instances where faith leaders’ blind support of Trump flies in the face of the very outreach missions they undertake? Take for example, Graham’s ministry Samaritan’s Purse, which provides humanitarian aid to disaster victims and refugees across the globe. They have been in Syria’s trenches, helping civil war refugees. Yet Trump is the president launching missiles at the very people Graham’s ministry tries to help. Regardless of the irony, Graham has steadily supported Trump and ignored his many instances of faithless behavior; so have the vast majority of Trump’s strident supporters.
There are of course exceptions to this blind support. The editors of Christianity Today, in a remarkable editorial with the headline “Trump Should Be Removed From Office,” call on people of faith to consider Trump “a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.”
“But the facts in this instance are unambiguous,” they write: “The president of the United States attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president’s political opponents. That is not only a violation of the Constitution; more importantly, it is profoundly immoral.”
They close with a strong but fair message to fellow believers: “To the many evangelicals who continue to support Mr. Trump in spite of his blackened moral record, we might say this: Remember who you are and whom you serve. Consider how your justifications of Mr. Trump influences your witness to your Lord and Savior.” Were these editors shouting in the wind? James Dobson, the well-regarded head of Focus on the Family, issued a harsh statement in response, further deepening the divide between religious groups.
Wehner commented on this growing polarization in his Atlantic article. “This mind-set is nothing new, but it is dangerous. Among other things, it leaves no room for the democratic virtue of compromise. … It makes learning from others who hold different views almost impossible.”
Trump stokes polarization, and he revels in it. But his amoral actions have created the same problem among people of faith. That is an inconvenient truth for those who are called to spread the good news.
Bill Freeman is the owner of FW Publishing, the publishing company that produces the Nashville Scene, Nfocus, the Nashville Post and Home Page Media Group in Williamson County.