The administration officials and members of Congress who enabled President Trump’s attempts to delegitimize the presidential election did not truly believe he won. They chose to coddle the president’s deception (and, I suspect, self-deception) because they thought it would endear them to his most loyal voters, and they assumed no one would get hurt.
“What is the downside for humoring him for this little bit of time? No one seriously thinks the results will change,” an unnamed senior Republican official toldThe Washington Post in November. “He went golfing this weekend. It’s not like he’s plotting how to prevent Joe Biden from taking power on Jan. 20. He’s tweeting about filing some lawsuits, those lawsuits will fail, then he’ll tweet some more about how the election was stolen, and then he’ll leave.”
I think Trump will indeed leave, as he finally said he would in a brief video Thursday. But that doesn’t mean there was no downside. It doesn’t mean no one got hurt. In Washington on Wednesday, we witnessed a “failed insurrection,” to use the phrase of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in which pro-Trump demonstrators, some armed with guns, stormed the Capitol and rioted inside. The chaos claimed multiple lives as it made credible all but the direst warnings about what Trump’s elevation to the highest office in our country could bring.
Humoring him was not harmless.
For Christians, this should be no surprise. Scripture warns us that small patterns and habits grow to shape our lives in large ways. This is true of both faithfulness and sin, virtue and vice. “Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough?” Paul asked the Corinthian church, incredulous at their acceptance of open, incestuous adultery in their congregation (1 Cor. 5:6).
Not every Corinthian was guilty of this sin—so far as we know, only two people were involved (1 Cor. 5:1). But the whole church did tolerate it (v. 2), and Paul knew the corruption would spread if left unchecked. “God will judge those outside” the church, he concluded (v. 13). Among fellow Christians, we challenge each other—in love and humility—to conform our lives to the standard of God in Christ (Eph. 5:1–2).
Jesus hit on the same theme to close one of his parables. “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much” (Luke 16:10).
The small things we do shape who we become. A practice of small kindnesses grows into a character of magnanimity; a habit of small lies becomes a compulsive monster of deceit. This is true of groups as much as individuals. It was true of the body of Christ at Corinth, and it is true of our body politic in the United States today.
The madness in Washington last week was not created ex nihilo. It is the due result of five years of humoring deception, of falsely believing that truth could be brought about by lies. It is what happens when you embrace a president who is dishonest in the little things, and the big things, and just about everything. It is what happens when you “call evil good and good evil” for the sake of political convenience or power (Isa. 5:20). It is what happens when warnings about the importance of character are ignored. It is what happens when those who cautioned their fellow evangelicals against backing Trump—because he has lived a very public life of gaudy rapacity, vainglory, cruelty, dishonesty, and lust—are attacked and dismissed as “liberals” or accused of insufficient care for the unborn.
What we saw in Washington last Wednesday is what happens when the president insists he won an election he lost and, instead of telling him and the American people the truth, his allies go along with it. It is what happens when they file lawsuit after lawsuit without a whit of merit, pushing legal claims so bad they are dismissed in court after court, by judge after judge—including judges nominated by Trump himself.
It is what happens when they prioritize power over honesty and cosset mass delusion, even in Jesus’ name. It is what happens after two months of the president and his associates telling millions of disappointed, frightened, angry people that they were cheated, that the foundation of our representative government was undermined, that they really ought to do something about it, that maybe that something should be violent, and that they should “never concede.”
Well, some of them did do something. This is what the dough looks like leavened. This is where dishonesty in the little things leads.
In the immediate aftermath of Wednesday’s events, I’ve seen defensiveness over assignment of responsibility to white evangelicals because of our unusually high support for Trump at the ballot box. Is it fair, some have asked, to blame all evangelicals for actions (storming the Capitol) many would never condone, or for the election of a president many backed for policy reasons if at all?
Blame is too strong a term. Paul didn’t blame the church at Corinth for the adultery in their congregation. But he did call them to account for their toleration of it—acceptance of the sin was a sin itself. He also issued a bracing call to recommitment to “sincerity and truth” as followers of Jesus (1 Cor. 5:8), which is precisely what we need as well. It is an indictment of our discipleship and fidelity to the truth, as CT contributing editor Ed Stetzer recently argued in USA Today, that “not only our people, but many of our leaders, were easily fooled and co-opted by a movement that ended with the storming of the Capitol building.”
We must practice trustworthiness in the little things, scrutinizing our own actions and bearing one another’s burdens so that together we may “fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2), who is truth itself.
Bonnie Kristian is a columnist at Christianity Today.