Is Grace Cheap for Powerful Men?

Dr. James Dobson, a leader in evangelical Christianity, wrote an open letter and gave interviews in June 2016 endorsing Donald Trump for President.  In them, he referred to Donald Trump as a “baby Christian.”  Someone new to Christianity, having very recently been born again.  He explained that while Trump didn’t speak like a Christian or know much about Christian concerns, he was clearly a better leader than Hillary Clinton.  Other evangelical leaders, including Rick Perry, paralleled Trump with King David.  Franklin Graham liked the King David parallel and included Moses as another archetype for helping Christians understand Trump.  These leaders would have us understand that Trump might be a wayward leader, but God has anointed him for a specific political role.  We are all imperfect and the promise is that God’s power is able to overcome even human evil to bring about redemption.

It is hard to argue with grace.  Surely, God can do whatever God wants to do.  If God wants to make Donald Trump into the harbinger of the Kingdom of God, God can do it.  Our God is mighty and can achieve all things.  But what, exactly, have these men seen in Trump to make them think God is with him?  Why isn’t this politically conservative wish fulfillment dressed up in Christian theology?

I’m not going to spend time here on all the reasons I believe that Trump is NOT a biblical prophet in the modern age.  Nor do I believe he has been provided some special dispensation from heaven which has anointed him to this specific time and place.  If your theology leans in this direction, I suspect it is going to take more than a blog post to sort out that confusion.  Instead, I want to ask how it is that Christianity has gotten so comfortable forgiving our horrible men?

Or perhaps not forgiving, but offering publicly sanctioned redemption to these men.  Forgiveness is routed in something deeper than our national political life and is likely only capable in light of deep uncompromising love.  I’m frankly, unconcerned with how forgiven or unforgiven these public men are.  I am concerned with the Christian reputational rehabilitation we are offering that allows for social and political rehabilitation.  I am concerned about cheap grace.

As of Oct. 9, 2017, Trump has said 1,318 false or misleading statements in his 263 days in office.  He has admitted to sexually assaulting women and believes he gets away with it because of his wealth.   He cheats his employees and overturns rules and laws that protect the vulnerable out of spite for his predecessor.  He imperils the lives of those put in his charge.  He does not protect the widows, orphans, strangers (Deut. 10:17-19).  He does not defend the oppressed (Ps 82:3).  We do not see evidence of him having been raised up in Christ, a new creation serving God and reconciling humanity (2 Cor. 5:17).   Or maybe I’m missing something.

It is one thing to suggest that Trump is new to Christianity and that that newness is revealed in poorly articulated Christian theology.  It is another to dress up clearly anti-Christian stances and name them a Christianity-not-yet-fully conceived.  It might be true that Donald Trump is in process, learning to become something he is not yet.  But all visible evidence leads us to believe that whatever Trump is becoming, it isn’t something shaped by a Christian ethical lens.

And of course, I’m unfairly picking on Trump.  Lots of terrible men have washed in this reputational spin cycle.  Bill Clinton was King David in the 90s.  Newt Gingrich was King David in 2011.  Mark Sanford compared himself to King David in 2009.  I could go on and on.  In high school, a local pastor in my hometown had an affair with the wife of a member of the congregation.  My peers made sense of the story using King David as their go-to explanation.  It is a parallel that I think most of us who grew up in or around the evangelical church have heard before.  God’s “get out of jail free” card.

Grace is real, but it is also specific.  It has real effects in the world.  It has real effects in relationship.  To be born again means to leave the old life behind and take on Christ.  God’s grace, we affirm, can reach down into the hardest and darkest of places and bring about a new creation.  But just because you like someone’s politics doesn’t mean God is at work in them.  King David wrote psalms which evidence a depth of relationship that reflects back to us the richness of human experience and striving with God.  David had his faults. They were large and public.  But as Meir Soloveichik has so clearly articulated, David portrayed a “depth and intimacy” with God that we gloss over when we forgive sins for political expediency.  We are the ones cheapening grace.

I think Donald Trump is, at his foundation, transactional.  He is willing to work with pastors to gain their support.  He is willing to say the right things about prayer and about supporting Christian causes because he believes he will get what he needs out of those deals.  He is not, I think, deeply duplicitous as much as he is transparent.  My question is not aimed at the sins of Donald Trump, but aimed at the sins of my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.  Why are we so willing to forgive our powerful men?

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