It has been customary to give a new president 100 days before evaluating his administration. With President Donald Trump, many could not wait even 100 hours—and for good reason. Trump and his team tripped out of the starting block and fell flat on their collective faces. The President’s executive order temporarily suspending refugee resettlement and banning travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries was an administrative and legal disaster. His every cabinet pick has faced fierce opposition. And amid reports of a White House staff in chaos, the President has only amplified his critique of the press.
Before and after the election, CT has also weighed in on our political or moral concerns about Trump. He has promoted policies and appointed people who work against matters we have editorialized on—his callousness toward refugees and his seeming indifference to the environment are two examples. And while evangelicals may disagree about the President’s policies on such matters, few would argue that Trump is a moral exemplar. Both the Left and the Right have noted vices and ethical problems, from utter self-centeredness to cruel remarks to blatant conflicts of interest, and more.
One dimension that has been mostly neglected, though, especially among Christians, is a matter of some consequence. To understand its gravity, we must begin with the most positive of theological statements: Trump is a man whom God loves. He is a sinner for whom Christ died. Despite his evident moral failings, Trump nonetheless has been created in the image of God. He may be a political and moral enemy for many of our readers, but that is all the more reason we are called to love him and pray for him (Matt. 5:44).
To love such a man surely includes challenging the policies and moral tenor of his administration. But this prophetic work too easily slips into “rejoicing in evil” (1 Cor. 13:6). We note this especially among late-night comedians (and their viewers) who delight in mocking Trump’s every misstep to the reward of soaring television ratings. Humor is a divine gift designed, in part, to relieve unbearable tension—which today is at a breaking point politically. So these comedians play an important role in a democracy. Still, a fine line runs between righteous satire and rejoicing in the foolishness of others, and when it is crossed, it does not bode well for Christian witness or for the health of the republic.
What might better characterize our reaction is less satire and more lament. Blessed are those who mourn their sins (Matt. 5:4), and because they see themselves in solidarity with all sinners, who also mourn the sins of others.
And, more shocking still (given the current climate), instead of being quick to speak truth to power, we might also, from time to time, speak mercy to the immoral. And if there is anyone who needs mercy, it is Trump.
Some believe that Trump is a baby Christian who is making his way in the faith. While we would never presume to judge another’s heart, we are deeply troubled by what is observable about Trump’s spiritual health. Aside from his ethical breaches and questionable character, his attitude toward the sacred has been confused and cavalier. He says he “reveres” Jesus not for his death and resurrection on our behalf, but mainly for his “bravery and courage.” In Iowa, he spoke of the Lord’s Supper, saying, “I drink my little wine ... and have my little cracker.” He is reputed to have said he has no need of forgiveness, but he qualified that in an interview with Cal Thomas: “I will be asking for forgiveness, but hopefully I won’t have to be asking for much forgiveness.” He fundamentally sees himself not as a sinner in need of mercy but as an “honorable man.”
Again, it is for God alone to judge the state of the heart. But the gospel of Jesus Christ casts the behavior of Trump in a transcendent light, and that light looks to us like darkness (Luke 11:35).
Not all evangelicals will agree with our assessment. But can we agree on this? To continue to attack or defend his policies depending on our assessment of the common good. And to do so as men and women who know themselves and Trump as sinners in the hands of a righteous God, who will brook no evil—and who will never fail to welcome the penitent.
Mark Galli is editor in chief of Christianity Today.
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