Michael G. Coleman
Are believers at liberty to support any political leader regardless of ethical conduct? Part 2
Updated: Dec 22, 2019
My argument against the support of President Trump is not based on religious grounds, it is based purely on ethical grounds. However, there are many sincere Christians in the United States who voted for Trump in the past elections because they were persuaded by their pastors as well as by propaganda from Christian broadcasters and Fox News that—as unethical and unsavory as Trump was—God could use him to get conservatives justices on the Supreme Court, who in turn would support biblically based morality at a time when the nation has largely endorsed unbiblical lifestyles such as homosexual marriages and abortion-on-demand. Trump also promised the Religious Right and Evangelicals that he would support their agenda. Consequently, leaders like Franklin Graham (son of the widely esteemed evangelist, Billy Graham) jumped on Trump’s bandwagon and thus in the 2016 elections Trump received formidable support from Evangelicals and the Religious Right.
It is now high time to question the very foundation of the notion that Christians should attempt to make America moral and God-fearing through the establishment of a kind of theocracy. People of faith should consider the fact that even a grand coalition of the most pious believers cannot create the kingdom of God on the earth. There will be no utopia on earth until Jesus makes a brand-new earth in which there will be no sin! Our mission is not to create the kingdom of God in the United States or anywhere else. Rather, our mission is to lead people to embrace God’s kingdom of grace in their hearts and to lovingly live productive lives in harmony with the perfect example of Jesus and the teachings of Scripture; through this means alone must we prepare people for God’s kingdom of glory at Christ’s Second Coming.
Jesus did not ingratiate himself with political operatives or become enmeshed in government in order to change the world. Rather, he ministered to the needs of human beings and defended the stranger and the less-fortunate while preaching the gospel. I do not wish to convey the idea that Christians should not serve in government or actively seek to uproot injustices via the ballot box or through petition and protest. Joseph, Daniel, and Esther all served faithfully in government in ungodly nations. Moreover, Paul was fully aware of his rights as a Roman citizen and he used these rights to full advantage in order to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. Therefore, it is appropriate for people of faith to use legitimate political mechanisms to address issues of injustice such as racism and systemic economic oppression. However, we should remember that ultimately the change we desire must come about through persuasion and divine transformation rather than political activism.
For example, I believe that abortion-on-demand is absolutely immoral and is clearly against the teachings of Scripture. I am frankly horrified that millions of unborn human beings are dying under the hedonistically-oriented notion of “pro-choice” while civilized nations such as the United States seemingly ignore evidence from biology that indicate a rapid development of the fetus. Within six weeks from conception, the fetus shows the contours of a baby’s head and the budding of its limbs; its heart is beating, and its tongue and vocal cords are forming. By the end of 12 weeks, the average fetus is a fully formed baby. It has all its limbs; it can open and close its fist and it can definitely feel pain. Why would we want to play God and interfere with such a rapid developmental process, the result of which is a unique human being? How is it that people would seek to save dogs and cats from distress and harm but subject unborn human beings to distress and death? Nevertheless, persuasion would have a far more lasting impact on the reduction of abortion in the United States than the selection of conservative Supreme Court justices—some of whom have demonstrated questionable ethical conduct.
History shows us that a cozy alliance of church and state brings about more harm than good. A large portion of Christianity became corrupt, violent, and regressive under the union of church and state that gave rise to the abuses of the Roman Catholic hierarchy from the 6th to the 18thcentury. In his first pilgrimage to Rome, Martin Luther, the 16th Century Protestant reformer, was shocked at the vast difference between the humble example of Jesus Christ as recorded in Scripture and the extravagant and prideful lifestyle of those church officials who claimed to be chief representatives of Christ. Furthermore, Luther was horrified that in its quest to find funds to support its violent crusades, the Roman Catholic Church promised to the highest bidder automatic transport to heaven at death and the forgiveness of all sins—past, present, and future. These and other abuses led Luther and other Protestant reformers to break away from Roman Catholicism. However, notwithstanding their initial shock at the abuses of Roman Catholicism, some of the Protestant churches aligned themselves with the powers and privileges of the state and began to mimic some of the morally corrosive tendencies of the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Today, Christianity is on life-support in many of the countries of Europe where Protestant Christianity had formed alliances with the state.
When the church enters into a cozy relationship with the state this coalition often breeds a lack of courage and conscience among its leaders. Conversely, those believers who resist the privileges of political power tend to have enormous courage and foresight when this world needs them the most. For example, during the rise of Hitler in Germany in the early 1930s, the majority of the Christian leaders in Germany—Protestant and Catholic—were reluctant to speak out against Hitler’s racially and religiously discriminatory policies. Later on, when Hitler’s diabolic policies moved from the persecution of Jews, blacks, and other minorities to the full-blown Holocaust, many of these leaders kept silent for fear of harm. However, from the inception of Hitler’s ascent to power, Detrich Bonhoeffer, a Protestant pastor and leader, warned Germany of being ensnared into the idolatry of looking to a political leader as their savior. In 1933, Bonhoeffer, believing that the Protestant Church in Germany had become too acquiescing and nearly complicit with the state, reacted to Hitler’s persecution of the Jews by admonishing the church to boldly resist these efforts. Bonhoeffer’s active resistance to Hitler and the Nazi regime would continue until he was hanged on April 9, 1945, following two years of imprisonment. He has left the world a powerful example of civil disobedience and a tremendous book on what it means to be a disciple of Christ (The Cost of Discipleship). These things we should never forgot!
Thus, to answer the question: To what extent should people of faith rely on political means to bring about change in society? People of faith should use legitimate political mechanism to address issues of systemic injustice, to maintain law and order, and to defend the poor, the oppressed, and the stranger. However, they should not rely on political measures to create a utopia or a theocracy. Share the gospel, speak truth to power, do good to others, and depend upon persuasion in combination with God’s grace to transform the hearts of human beings. But resist the temptation to rely on political agency to change the world.
During his campaign for the presidency, candidate Trump promised that if elected he would “drain the swamp” in government, however, since becoming president of the USA he has instead installed a cesspool of iniquity. Moreover, President Trump’s proclivity to put his self-interest above the ethical and democratic values of the United States has placed the national security and electoral system of the nation at risk. The reports from our national intelligence agencies and Special Counsel Robert Muller are explicit in the opinion that Russia took measures to subvert the 2016 elections and that it will try to interfere with the 2020 elections. Yet the Trump administration discredit these reports and have done virtually nothing to protect the 2020 elections. People of faith should be encouraged to pray and work for change but we are not at liberty to support leaders who consistently display glaring unethical and inhumane conduct.
In virtually every age of recorded history you can find two kind of believers: those who exhibit courage and conscience vis-à-vis enormous violation of human rights and those who rely on appeasement and rationalization in an attempt to preserve their comforts and avoid the risk of disruption and harm. In the centuries of the transatlantic slavery and its aftermath there were pastors and church leaders who defended this inhumane institution while other people of faith, such as Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, William Wilberforce, Sojourner Truth, and Ellen G. White, courageously spoke out against it and worked to eradicate it. The same scenario followed in the years of Jim Crow discrimination in the United States: some Christian leaders and churches maintained separate facilities for blacks and whites, while others resisted these measures. The same scenario is taking place today in dealing with the bigotry, abuse of power, and inhumane actions of President Donald Trump: some religious leaders actively or nonchalantly support Trump while others are galvanized by conscience and courage to speak out against his blatantly unethical behavior. In this regard, it is important to remember Jesus’s words on one occasion when his relatives approached: “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:50)
Like the character in a well-known fable, President Trump is naked but he and his collaborators publicly declare that he is wearing the most magnificent, transparent, and translucent outfit. Truth is indeed stranger than fiction. I doubt if even the great ancient Greek writer, Homer, has written a tragedy with the ironic combination of comical improprieties and insidious threats to democracy that the presidency of Donald Trump and his collaborators have unleashed on this democratic republic!
May God help us to open our eyes because cherished rights and freedoms that tens of thousands have sacrificed over many years to retain might be swept away overnight!