Max Lucado is a pastor in San Antonio and a bestselling author of 32 books, including the most recent Glory Days. In a 2004 piece, Christianity Today dubbed Lucado “America’s Pastor,” alluding to his broad appeal to mainstream Americans. Part of that appeal can be attributed to his approach to politics: typically, he stays out of it. He never endorsed or opposed a presidential candidate. Then Trump happened.
In a recent blog post, Lucado chose to speak out against what he calls Trump’s “antics,” insisting that, “such insensitivities wouldn’t even be acceptable even for a middle school student body election.”
We talked to Lucado about his motivation for speaking up and how Trump has changed his attitude toward pastoral involvement in politics.
Prior to you publishing your post, “Decency for President” this week, how would you describe your typical approach to politics as a pastor?
I don’t even put a candidate’s bumper sticker on my car. People don’t attend church to hear my views on a presidential candidate.
In this case, it’s not so much a question about particular policies or strategies about government or even particular opinions. It’s a case of public derision of people. It’s belittling people publicly. It would be none of my business, I would have absolutely no right to speak up except that he repeatedly brandishes the Bible and calls himself a Christian.
I wrote this article and sent it to the Trump team in hopes that they would respond. But they never did. I cannot imagine what their world must be like. Who knows? It probably got lost in some email basket out there. But I tried because I felt that that would be more appropriate to do.
It’s a high stakes thing from my perspective because people make decisions about Christ on the basis of Christians and how we behave. If he’s going to call himself a Christian one day and call someone a bimbo the next or make fun of somebody’s menstrual cycle, it’s just beyond reason to me.
So the tipping point for you came when Trump made outright claims of being a Christian and associated himself with evangelicals?
Yes. There was one occasion he held up a Bible. On another occasion, at Liberty University, he read from Scripture. On multiple occasions he’s said “Of course I’m a Christian.” There was a time in Iowa when he said “I’m a Christian,” and somebody asked about forgiveness and he said “I’ve never asked God for forgiveness.”
I can’t imagine that. I’m just shaking my head going “How does that work?” Does a swimmer say “I’ve never gotten wet?” Does a musician say “I’ve never sung a song?” How does a person claim to be a Christian and never need to ask for forgiveness?
Is it fair to say that you wrote this without thinking through what the fallout might be?
There is no strategy to this. It is what it is. It’s a statement. I have a webpage as you probably know and most of the things I write about are Christian life. The post that preceded this was about living a life of contagious joy. I don’t get into controversy well. I certainly don’t enjoy it this much.
But this was on my heart and as I prayed about it I felt a blessing to pursue it. I don’t expect it to do anymore. I’m not going to head up any campaign. I’m not going to serve as Mr. Trump’s faith advisory team and I don’t have any desire for that as well. I feel like I’ve been obedient.
What has your strategy been for engaging politics in previous years? What is your thinking going forward after this?
This is a question that pastors wrestle with. Our strategy as a church is to remind people of the power of prayer. Prayer moves God, and God moves nations. Our first and foremost responsibility is to pray. Then we always remind our church of the importance of voting. We have voter registration opportunities on all of our church campuses. This weekend we’ll be urging people to vote—the primaries in Texas are next week. We are very deliberate about not letting any candidates speak from our pulpits. We will let somebody speak who is an elected official if there is a reason for it.
We urge people to pray. We urge people to vote. We protect the pulpit unless there’s a particular reason otherwise.
Does your Trump post change that at all?
This is a blog on my personal webpage. That’s pretty important. I didn’t put this out over my church webpage. It only goes out to people who voluntarily go to my personal webpage and it is a break with precedent with me. I’ve never done anything like this. It’s an unprecedented act on my part. I do not want to continue this. I have no desire to police presidential candidates.
But when Bill Clinton was in office in the late ’90s, I spoke out against it. I talked about what Jesus would say to Bill Clinton and what Jesus would say to Monica Lewinsky. I remember those sermons because those topics were just so much on people’s minds. So I spoke out against it.
This time I felt the same nudging to do so. So it’s just three times I’ve spoken out—in about 30 years. To be honest, there’s been people who have been frustrated that I haven’t gotten more involved. I understand that. Some of them are politicians who wanted an endorsement.
Have you considered endorsing someone?
I’ve considered and always resisted it. I really look up to Mike Huckabee. I look up to Ted Cruz. I’ve never met Marco Rubio but he seems like a phenomenal guy. I’ve had a luncheon with Ben Carson.
Here are examples of candidates who have been able to run a campaign without belittling people. They run for office without pushing other people down. If we don’t say anything and there’s no consequence, even if my voice is a small one, then it turns into a Jerry Springer free-for-all.
You described Trump’s tone and words as “indecent.” Would you describe any of Trump’s policies as “indecent”?
I’ve tried to stay away from that. My concern is not so much with his policies as with his tone. My disagreement with his policies is what would cause me to cast my vote for someone else, but it’s my concern for the fact that he calls himself a Christian and has a certain tone, that would cause me to write the blog.
Many Christians talk about voting for president as a “commander-in-chief and not a pastor-in-chief.” What do you think of that statement?
I think that’s a good statement. We don’t elect a president to spiritually oversee the affairs of a nation. We do elect a commander-in-chief to set a respectable standard for our nation and to be the kind of man or woman that we would respect when they speak. That we would know their character and their desire lines up with their faith, whatever their faith would be.
I appreciate the idea that we don’t want to elect a pastor-in-chief. I’m a pastor and I understand that it’s my assignment to spiritually oversee the affairs of a circle of people. That’s not the job of a president. They are much more what I would see as a Daniel or Nehemiah. They are much more concerned about the affairs of our country.
But boy, we have to call upon them. We pay a high price as a people if we don’t hold our leaders to a high standard.
Richard Clark is the managing editor of Christianity Today Online. You can follow him on Twitter.