Americans continue to be divided over President Trump’s actions and his words. Nowhere is this more evident than within the Lord’s church, which can serve as a microcosm of the country at large.
When I think back to Oct. 7, 2016, the day Donald Trump issued an apology for vulgar comments he made in 2005, it doesn’t seem like that long ago.
One week earlier, Trump had begun narrowing the gap with Hillary Clinton — he was trailing her by only 2.5 percentage points in the RCP national average, within the margin of error. However, a week after the Access Hollywood tape surfaced, Clinton had soared back to a 7-point lead. It looked like things were going to end badly for Trump.
Trump’s comments prompted one of my first blog posts, “The Sins of Others,” where I addressed the way that we, as Christians, can sometimes fall into the trap of hypocrisy. I could sense that, in the heat of the moment, many Americans were picking up proverbial stones to throw at Trump. But was that the right attitude for a Christian to manifest?
After reading John 8, and studying what Jesus taught to the scribes and the Pharisees, I concluded that the answer was no.
The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
John 8:3-11 (ESV)
At the time, I was disappointed with Trump. I was forced to weigh the pros and cons of voting for a man who could say such vile things. I spent several hours meditating on Bible verses before I even started writing my article.
Polling experts and historians will debate for years the significance of that particular “October surprise” — CNN described it as Trump’s “moment of reckoning” — and what the exact political ramifications were for the Trump campaign.
In a way, the Nov. 8 election was itself a moment of reckoning; it served as a referendum on Donald Trump’s transgressions. The election offered Americans a unique opportunity to cast a “protest vote,” once and for all showing their objection to Trump’s candidacy. Sure, Clinton would win the election — but, more importantly, America’s conscience would be clean if they could ensure that Trump paid a heavy price for his misdeeds.
But then something curious happened: instead of crucifying Trump for his flaws, America elected him president. And in the process, the nation rejected the advice of the mainstream media, past presidents and leaders of both political parties.
I was too young to follow the political happenings in Washington when President Bill Clinton acted with impropriety and was impeached by Congress. However, I do know that he was acquitted of all charges. This is a prime example of Congress not holding one president accountable for his vile and gross misconduct, yet presuming to lecture the American people on why a presidential candidate’s words should debar him from running for elected office. The hypocrisy was rich.
Election night presented America with a choice: vote against a candidate because of his shortcomings, vote for a candidate despite his shortcomings or not vote at all. And while some may disagree, Donald Trump has proven he possesses both flaws and virtues.
At the end of the day, the election was a staggering reminder that God is the one in control.
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.
Romans 13:1 (ESV)
Still, many privately wondered how God could allow a person who said such vile things about other people to become president. To answer that question, we must explore the dichotomy between words and actions.
There is a necessary distinction between what people say and what they do. It boils down to this: there is a difference between an actual fire and shouting fire in a crowded theater.
If you take the man’s personality out of the equation, and simply look at what he has accomplished, America is better off today than it was yesterday. President Trump has done more to advance religious liberty in his first 150 days in office than his predecessor did in eight years.
He chose a Vice President who is committed to protecting Christians who are persecuted in foreign countries, he restored balance to the Supreme Court, he reinstated a ban on foreign aid to groups who promote abortion overseas, and he signed an executive order promoting free speech and religious freedom.
But if you take the man himself out of the equation, you have nothing. Perhaps God, in His great wisdom, understood this and allowed Trump — in all his imperfection — to win the election. It still remains to be seen how God will use President Trump, whether for our good or ill.
However, words also carry weight. It’s worth noting that a person’s standing can just as easily be ruined by developing a reputation for crying wolf. Whether or not there really is a fire in the crowded theater can certainly affect the reputation of the person who shouted out a false warning. Similarly, insulting and ridiculing others can damage how we view a public figure.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus reminded the scribes and the Pharisees that everyone will be held responsible for their words on Judgment Day.
“I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
Matthew 12:36-37 (ESV)
And again, in the Book of Proverbs:
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.”
Proverbs 18:21 (ESV)
Simply put, words matter. But are we intent on only condemning the “bad” words? Should we not also be praising people when they say good things?
Take President Trump for instance: he promised that “people of faith” would no longer be “targeted, bullied or silenced anywhere;” he reminded the country that “America will thrive, as long as we continue to have faith in each other and faith in God;” and, in remembering the death of a slain soldier, quoted John 15:13, which says “there is no greater act of love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
We elected all of Donald Trump. We can pray that over time he improves in areas where he lacks discipline, but that’s all we can do. We don’t have the privilege of a perfect president — nor do we deserve one.
We must accept the fact that President Trump may never change. He could very likely continue to rail against his opponents on Twitter, mocking and insulting them every time they say something dishonest or incorrect about him. And yes, some of us may find this beneath the dignity of his office.
But should we be the ones publicly criticizing him for those insults? And, if so, are we also publicly praising his good moments? These are questions that require serious consideration.
I’m reminded here of another parable that Jesus taught — the “Parable of the Two Sons.” I believe that we can learn an important lesson from this parable.
“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.”
Matthew 21:28-31 (ESV)
President Trump’s words may occasionally fail to live up to our highest expectations, but his actions have proven to be those of a man who cares deeply for his country. Sometimes we can get so stuck on a person’s imperfections that we blind ourselves to an individual’s positive traits.
Let’s open our eyes to both.