Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Don't Try to Make Trump, Cruz, or Rubio a Christian Hero: Keep Yourself Christian Instead

As Christians and conservative voters are rallying around resistance to the candidacy of Donald Trump for the 2016 presidential election, tagging their posts with #NeverTrump and going into overdrive to get out the vote, we can't afford to miss the fact that this is about much more than whether one candidate wins or loses. What's at stake is whether we even know what it means to be a Christian anymore - and whether anyone else watching can tell the difference.

I'll set aside for the moment any discussion of Christians in Democrat circles (and there are certainly many of them). The immediate concern is those of us who the whole country is watching and testing, to see what we really believe and stand for. For both Trump followers and Trump resistors, the problem is that we have been so desperate for a candidate that "reflects our values" that we have shrunk, softened, and thinned out our Christian identity until it can fit within a political platform. Then we just argue over which candidate fits the "Christian" platform. This is seen in those who claim to be Christian and support Trump when they claim God raised him up for a time such as this or they thank God for "President Trump." What concerns us most is not that these people believe Trump would make a good president, but that they believe something qualifies him to be the Christian choice for president. When someone says they like Trump's policies and his manner of dealing with critics and the media, I am perplexed. But when someone says that Trump reflects Christian values better than other candidates and will restore these values to America, that risks destroying any clear meaning to Christianity.

If you claim that a man who has repeatedly divorced his wives to move on to someone new, and has had several affairs that he boasts about, is the best man to defend and restore family values, your position becomes absurd and impossible to understand. It doesn't fit together. When people insist that Trump can best defend Christian values, the message they send to the world is that Christian values look like Donald Trump: insulting and degrading people, bullying people, appealing to anger and resentment, and doing whatever you want with sex and marriage but telling others they are sinful and perverse for doing the same. That confirms for the people watching us that all the worst things said about Christians must be true: that they are hypocrites who do what they want but condemn and harass others for not following their Christian code of morals.

So here is my appeal to Trump supporters: stop claiming that you support Trump because you're a Christian. Just separate that completely. I would like to give you a lot of reasons to stop supporting Trump entirely, reasons that relate to whether he can be trusted to do anything he promises and to his inability to handle the role of being a diplomat, but the most urgent thing is that we stop confusing the world by claiming he fits our values. He plainly doesn't. You may think he will do things in office that will protect your beliefs or defend your rights, but that doesn't make him an example of a Christian. You can choose to vote for a candidate and even campaign for him without saying he reflects your religion. If you believe Donald Trump would make the best president in spite of all the immoral things he does, that's one thing. I can't agree with you, but at least you aren't making excuses for him or pretending his behavior fits with Christianity. But don't try to make it a Christian thing to vote for Trump. Even if your faith and beliefs guide you in deciding what issues are most important in the election (which I hope they do), you have to protect that faith from being dishonored or misunderstood when you talk about why and how you're voting.

Those opposing Trump need to be alert to the same problem. It is all too easy for opposition to Trump by Christians to turn into "Cruz is the Christian candidate" or "Rubio is more Christian than Trump." Again, that risks sending the wrong message about what we believe and why we're voting, and can make Christianity seem as small and narrow as a political candidate's platform or issue statement.

Christianity is far more precious than a list of issues. The life-transforming power of Christianity is the gospel of Jesus Christ and its effect on our lives. Support for other candidates should be based on arguments that this person is better qualified to be president, not that this person is more Christian than the other. Otherwise the world sees us pointing fingers at other Christians and saying those who vote differently than us are bad Christians. And yet we're not even disagreeing over the doctrines of Christianity; we're disagreeing over politicians. That kind of infighting and condemnation turns people away from the gospel. It also hurts our brothers and sisters. We must agree we are one body in Christ, one Church, even if we disagree strongly on who to vote for this year. Keep yourself Christian first, and safeguard your faith so that it influences how you think about the election, but doesn't get influenced at all by what is happening in the election.

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