Of Prophets and Politicians – A Trump Redux

The Word of God says:

“They have installed kings, but not through Me. They have appointed leaders, but without my approval.”  – Hosea 8:4

“4 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and went to Samuel at Ramah.They said to him, “Look, you are old, and your sons do not follow your example. Therefore, appoint a king to judge us the same as all the other nations have. When they said, “Give us a king to judge us,” Samuel considered their demand sinful, so he prayed to the Lord. But the Lord told him, “Listen to the people and everything they say to you. They have not rejected you; they have rejected Me as their king.” – 1 Samuel 8:4-5

“Some take pride in chariots, and others in horses, but we take pride in the name of Yahweh our God.” – Psalm 20:7

In my previous post, I made a broad defense of evangelical Christians, who voted for Donald Trump once the circumstances had obtained, whereby Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton had become the only two viable choices for the presidential office. I argued that Christians who had voted early for Trump had a greater moral burden to bear than those who voted for him as a kind of last resort, i.e. as a means to avert a Clinton presidency: a presidency that many on both the political Right and the political Left thought would be a disaster.

In this post, however, I want to focus on what I thought would be a case of a sub-Christian, or unbiblical motivation for voting for Trump. This sub-Christian or unbiblical motivation, I had implied, would likely correlate with those voters, who made the conscious decision to vote for Trump right from the start of the election cycle (i.e. in the earliest part of the primaries). Speculative as it may be, I imagine that those who consciously decided to vote for Trump right from the beginning were more likely to have possessed an unbiblical motivation than those who voted later, only to ensure that Hilary would not win.

So, what would that unbiblical or sub-Christian motivation for electing a president be?

First, some clarification with regard to motives. It seems obvious, that that which would motivate a vote, any vote, would be a mixture of belief and desire. Here, one’s desire for having things a certain way would influence one’s beliefs about what the best way would be for those things to be actualized in reality. Vice-versa, one’s beliefs about the way things should be will give rise to certain desires. Thus, beliefs about the way things should be lead to desires that influence one’s beliefs about how those beliefs might be best actualized.

For true Christians, then, it seems that the way one would want a society or culture to be is…well, Christian. In other words, we would want all people to believe in Jesus Christ, trust Him for their salvation, believe the things He believed, and also desire to become more like Him.

The hope then is, as individuals come to believe and behave more like Christ, real peace, real love, and real joy will emerge in families, local communities, major urban centers, nations, and ultimately entire cultures. Further, if one believes this to be true, then it would seem reasonable to want people of influence, e.g. politicians, to be on board with this same kind of program. The hope being that politicians can aid in this vision, becoming allies of the Church in its mission.

And, in fact, there have been very clear examples in the church’s history of exactly this kind of alliance being formed, either in specific events (e.g. The Edict of Thessalonica) or in enduring institutions, e.g. The “Holy” Roman Empire (perhaps the greatest misnomer in history).

Voltaire on the Holy Roman Empire
Christianity and Politics: Strange Bedfellows?

But, the Bible is clear, both in the Old and New Testament, that whatever engagement the people of God are supposed to have in the world, especially as it relates to building God’s Kingdom on Earth, that that construction project cannot be ultimately successful through the normal mechanisms of politics and social engagement. History is replete with attempts by the church, both in its Roman Catholic and Protestant forms, to create culture in the Church’s image, possibly in the hopes that the Word of God could be implanted in the hearts of men and women from the top down. But, not from a divine “top,” rather from a political, human “top.” However,  in attempting just this, both Holy Roman Emperors and Genevese theologians tragically discovered that conversion through worldly mechanisms is not within the will of God.

Calvin’s Geneva: A Bloody Success?

This is not to say that those political structures were the same as modern, Western-style Democracy. But still, the principle stands for all forms of governance. Attempts to Christianize culture through the instrument of politics and political might is not grounded in the Bible. For Jesus Himself had to undergo this very same trial:

So he took Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. The Devil said to Him, “I will give You their splendor and all this authority, because it has been given over to me, and I can give it to anyone I want. If You, then, will worship me, all will be Yours.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written: Worship the Lord your God,and serve Him only.” (Luke 4: 5-8)

In fact, it is this kind of power, a power offered by the “ruler of this world” that most Jews were expecting when Jesus showed up on the scene. What they received as a Messiah, however, was quite different than what they had expected, for indeed, “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is God’s power to us who are being saved” (1 Cor 1:18). Real power is not political, it is spiritual. It comes from loving self-sacrifice, not from external coercion. It starts in the hearts of men and works upward and outward. It cannot be actualized through external means other than the Spirit of God.

Still, this is not to say that Christians cannot vote for candidates that they believe will be the best, most moral, and most effective leaders for the common good of all people. In fact, why would anyone, in a relatively free nation like the United States, do otherwise? As long as the believing Christian is aware of their own motivations for electing government officials, and knows that he or she is not voting for a candidate in the hopes that that candidate will act as a kind of messiah, then even a vote for Donald Trump, regardless of whether or not he was the objectively better choice, should not be held against that Christian voter. To do so, would be legalistic and unjustly accusatory (a job usually reserved for the Evil One anyway).

Moreover, if some candidates are themselves Christian (not saying one way or the other whether Trump is), or at least act favorably to certain features of historical Christianity, then again I see no reason not to vote for them. So long as Christians are not in the business of pinning the success of the Church with regard to spreading the Gospel on politicians, they can, guilt-free, vote for whomever they see as best fit for the job.

However, if the underlying motive of some Christians, and this time with regard to voting for Trump, was that Trump would, in some way, make not only America great again, but the Church in America great again…well, then I think that those evangelicals, or Catholics, may have fallen into the same temptation of the Israelites in 1 Sam 8, or the Zealots in the 1st century AD. For, indeed, we do not trust in chariots or horses (or presidents or supreme courts), but in the name of the Lord, our God.

Finally, it could be argued, that if the Church does fail to recognize this temptation to worldly power, and thereby fails to avoid it, then this desire to actualize an eschatological reality apart from, or without faith in God’s will, will lead to tragedy. For, as Colin Gunton has reminded us in light of the church’s own history:

“nearly all the most discreditable actions of church institutions…flow from an improper anticipation of eschatology.” 1(Colin Gunton, A Brief Theology of Revelation [T & T Clark, 1995], 97, n. 19).

Therefore, let us not try and wrest the Kingdom of God out of the providential hands of God, and hand it over to some human leader. To make that attempt is a project not in Kingdom building, but in the building of the next dystopia, itself the perennial project of the unrighteous and faithless among us.

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