A recent New York Times article stated that four-fifths of evangelical Christians intend to vote for Donald Trump. At the recent Republican convention, Trump thanked evangelicals for their support, adding, “I probably don’t deserve it.” This minor aside was perhaps a half-conscious reference to certain lifestyle choices: the multiple marriages, the gold-plated logos, the opulent lifestyle. Trump is right. He does not deserve the support of Christians, not simply for reasons of lifestyle, but because his values are fundamentally opposed to Christian commitments – commitments that Jesus urged in word and deed, principles for which he laid down his life. These values constitute the Kingdom of God, the heart of Jesus’ message.
There is no mystery about the heart of Jesus’ teaching. Jesus welcomed the downtrodden and embraced social outcasts. Those that society rejected, he accepted. Those that society feared – Samaritans, lepers, and other outsiders – he welcomed. Those that society shunned, he touched and healed. The bible that Jesus read and believed and preached, the Hebrew Bible, bears eloquent witness to the same principles. The God of Israel condemns those who “trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and push the afflicted out of the way.” “I will save the lame and gather the outcast.” Does Donald Trump represent these values, even remotely?
When approached by a rich man who wished to follow him, Jesus said, “sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come and follow me.” When a tax collector named Zaccheus desired to become Jesus’ follower, he said, “half my possessions I will give to the poor. If I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Much has been said about Trump University and other such business ventures. Does the long record of Trump’s business practices align even remotely with the ideals laid down by Jesus? How would Jesus respond to this record? Is it possible to imagine Trump repenting of anything?
When an argument arose among the disciples about who among them was the greatest, Jesus directed them to take their eyes off themselves and focus on the powerless: “whoever welcomes this little child welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me, welcomes him who sent me.” When Jesus went to a feast and saw guests competing for places of honor, he said, “those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Can these teachings be reconciled with the persona and character projected by Trump?
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Many Christian voters object strenuously to abortion, and support Trump in the hope that he will appoint Supreme Court justices sympathetic to their cause. The weight of this real and persisting moral issue cannot be denied. But should this one issue, important though it may be, cause Christians to jettison the manifest teaching of Jesus on all other subjects?
Jesus was a prophet, not a politician, and experience has shown that politicians must be complicated creatures: as public servants, they cannot pursue their own fierce moral vision while ignoring all others. A good prophet will almost certainly be a bad president. But there are better and worse politicians; some politicians are animated by visions of community and inclusion and have patience for the hard, painstaking work of governing. Other politicians galvanize followers by calling up the evil angels of grievance, fear and racial hostility. We must now decide which imperfect candidate is the better kind of politician, and which is the worse.
Greg Snyder is a professor of religion and chair of the religion department at Davidson College.