Note from the Editor-in-Chief: I’m excited to be able to host this article from our friend, Fred Smith, which he has graciously allowed us to cross-post from his wonderful, encouraging devotional blog. I wanted Fred’s thoughts here to be a part of the conversation we’re having at The Heart of the Matter. I hope you enjoy it.
Facebook is not the place for subtlety and we all know that. Yet, this week I posted a spoof from the Babylon Bee and several good friends took it seriously. I know I should file disclaimers, but I don’t. It was the one telling us that scores of Trump supporters were abandoning him because he preferred McDonald’s over Chick-fil-A. I thought it was funny and said more about the fickleness of supporters than the animus of his detractors.
However, one of my friends made a comment about evangelicals who are “Trump haters” and ignore the fact that God has used imperfect leaders and kings many times in the past to accomplish His purposes. Having just taught a series of lessons on Jacob and his conniving, deceit, and other imperfections it would be hard for me to disagree. After all, God clearly overlooked the “crooked timber” of his life when making him a carrier of the promise and the one named Israel – the father of the nation. Jacob was no George Washington!
Still, their response caused me to think about our current situation with all the controversy swirling around this President and the investigations into whether he knowingly broke the law. First, hating is wrong – especially evangelical hating – whether it is directed to Trump, Obama, the Clintons, or Nixon. If it is Gentiles hating Jews as we have seen in recent weeks or Jews despising Gentiles so prevalent in the Old and New Testaments, it is not permitted. All hatred is self-destructive for an individual, church or nation.
But there are also important differences between Old Testament leaders and Presidents.
First, kings were not elected. Instead, they were a dynasty and often were a law unto themselves for much of the history of Israel. Yes, there were a few, like Josiah, who held the Law in high esteem but there were many (if not most) who did what seemed right to them for their own purposes. Prophets may have called them on it but history shows prophets, while speaking for God, were likely ignored or punished by the king. After all, might makes right. Clearly, having kings at all was not God’s first choice. Samuel warned the people what would happen if they insisted on having a king. But they wanted so badly to be like other nations and have someone who would fight for them. That was worth giving up personal responsibility and many freedoms as well.
Second, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. There is none righteous, no not one. We are all imperfect and holding anyone up to a standard of perfection is futile and doomed to create disillusionment. It’s often a matter of our going after people with sins different from ours that is so appealing. Other times, we attack those whose sins we share but keep in the shadows. We cannot hope to ever have perfect leaders – or followers.
Third – and last – the issue for me concerning President Trump as it was with Bill and Hillary Clinton, Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, Warren G. Harding or any other President is whether they have broken what we all accept as the Rule of Law. Presidents are not kings. That is what protects us from the divine right of kings and “arbitrary decrees” as John Locke described. They, like us, are subject to the Rule of Law and if they break one or several established laws they should be held accountable – not hated or treated more harshly than any other citizen. I don’t look to any President as setting the moral standard for the nation. Some will be better examples of integrity and competence than others. Some will better represent the dignity of the office. However, it does not matter to me if the President (or any elected official) is a Christian. There is no magic in that as we have discovered time after time in the failures of both religious, business and civic leaders who have used the cover of being Christian to their advantage despite their duplicity or incompetence. I don’t consider America as the new Israel and the carrier of the Abrahamic blessing to all the nations. We are exceptional in many ways but we are not anointed. We are all subject to the Rule of Law and that is one of the several things that makes us unique and admirable. If we are going to be exceptional then let it be in this.
So, my friends are right that evangelical haters of President Trump are wrong. It is not only offensive for us as Christians but is a terrible example to other believers and those outside the faith. It is easy to allow our faith to be distorted and defined by our political alignment. For too many, politics has become their religion and those who do not share their beliefs – Left and Right – are heretics, apostates or worse. But, that should not be us.
Fred Smith is a graduate of Denver University and Harvard Divinity School. He spent several years as teacher and administrator at Charlotte Christian School and The Stony Brook School before co-founding Leadership Network with Bob Buford and serving as President for 12 years. Fred is the Founder and President of The Gathering, an international association of individuals, families and private foundations giving to Christian ministries. Fred will tell you his true vocation is that of a Sunday School teacher and it is this role for which he would most like to be remembered. Fred and his wife, Carol, have two grown daughters and a son-in-law. They also have three well-loved grandchildren.