Then he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit says the LORD of hosts.: Zechariah 4:6 ESV
The article cited at the beginning of this one was written by Dr. Adrian Rogers, long time pastor of the Bellevue Baptist Church in the Memphis suburbs, one of the largest and most influential churches in the Southern Baptist Convention. Dr. Rogers served two terms as president of the Southern Baptist Convention and is considered one of the main spokespersons and leaders in the movement known as the “Conservative Resurgence” in the denomination, which was a movement to return control of the six seminaries, two mission boards and a scattering of other entities owned by the SBC to those who held a conservative theological perspective. Noting that Dr. Rogers was addressing the issue of presidential character following revelations that had come about leading to the impeachment of President Clinton, the lengthy, comprehensive article is perhaps one of the best representations of Evangelical Christian thought when the issues at hand involved a Democratic President who, at the time was an active member of one of the larger, more prominent Southern Baptist churches in the state of Arkansas.
You won’t find many Evangelical Christian leaders who would apply these same principles to the sitting President in the same way they did to President Clinton. Dr Rogers passed away several years before the last election so we don’t know where he would stand. There’s no doubt the character of the current President would fall far short of that evaluation. Prior to his election in 2016, his debauchery and immorality were known publicly, manly because he admitted to it and celebrated it by claiming he was doing nothing wrong, by his own standards. Divorces, multiple affairs, his investments intended to legitimize debauchery by bringing in sexually oriented businesses and gaming casinos to his hotels for business guests and his general “playboy” image which he promoted via television as entertainment were part of his identity. His marriage partners weren’t women who promoted family values, they were gold diggers who sought the fame and fortune being married to him brought about.
The accusations of sexual assault, some 24 of them, all ring with plausibility. All of the accusers have evidence, he’s settled undisclosed amounts with several of them. He’s been convicted of fraud, the Trump University fiasco being the most notable case among several, his foundation, an institution both he and his children were deeply involved in, was shut down because of corruption and tax fraud. His “fixer” attorney is serving time in prison because of a cover-up involving an affair he had with a porn star. There’s a longer list of his corruption and debauchery you can google if you need more evidence in a character contest between he and Bill Clinton.
Since he’s taken office, there’s no evidence in his lifestyle or conduct that indicates his encounters with Evangelical leaders have led to any kind of repentance. He continues to operate sexually oriented businesses and hold events where strippers are present to entertain guests. The evidence laid out in the Mueller Report goes beyond anything Clinton ever did as does the investigation into his attempted bribery of Ukraine in exchange for something he could use against a political opponent. The immorality and corruption, including attempts to use presidential power to cover up what he’d done, has implications which go far beyond anything that prompted the impeachment of Bill Clinton. Brushing it off or saying it didn’t happen or calling it a partisan witch hunt is willful ignorance. It happened whether you believe it or not.
But the point is made regardless of what you believe. The Evangelical Christians who have embraced Donald Trump and who support him because he dangles political favors in front of them are violating their own principles and standards in order to do so.
“Do not be mismatched with unbelievers. For what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness? Or what fellowship is there between light and darkness? What agreement does Christ have with Belial? Or what does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the Temple of God with idols? For we are the Temple of the living God… ” 2 Corinthians 6:14-17a NRSV
The most important thing an individual Christian has is the testimony of a transformed life. It’s a testimony to the very power of God through the Holy Spirit, redeeming a sinner by grace alone through faith alone. United in a body with other believers who have had the same transformational experience, the church is both a universal body of Christ and it is a local body that is visible and present in the world, not isolated or withdrawn or cloistered, but being the presence of Christ in the transformed lives of members whose mission and purpose is to go, make disciples, baptize and teach. The strength for doing this comes from the Spirit alone. The church does not need the protection of worldly power nor the strength of worldly influences to accomplish its mission and purpose.
There are several passages in the New Testament that give clear instructions regarding how Christians and the church are to relate to government and political authority. When the New Testament was written, government was an entirely different entity than it is now. The concept is put forth that all authority, even that held by secular, pagan government, is subject to God’s authority. Christians were instructed to respect the governing authorities largely because of their witness and testimony and because they were operating within a whole different kind of Kingdom that was clearly separate from that which ruled the political world. The church was founded and structured to be an institution that could carry out its mission and purpose under the authority of any government. As the Roman government engaged in horrible persecution against the church, it was this very testimony, visible in the fact that Christians did not resist the persecution but even through horrible torture and punishment, kept their faith strong that led to the evangelism of thousands upon thousands of people and to the Emperor himself having somewhat of a “conversion” experience, if not necessarily spiritual, at least coming to the realization that there was a spiritual power behind the Christian gospel.
But nowhere in the Bible are Christians instructed to take over and use the secular power of the state to advance their mission and purpose. It’s clear that all they need for the advancement of the mission and purpose to which they are called is the presence of God with them. Every time the church has engaged in an alliance with secular government, it becomes corrupted and distracted. A false gospel narrative emerges that takes on the characteristics of the needs of those who are in power and which justifies their corruption rather than transforming their character. There are about 1500 years of church history that testify to the corruption of both doctrinal integrity and character of the leadership of the church when it is an institution belonging to the state.
It was very easy for the religious right to step away and have an objective perspective when it came to President Clinton, because many Evangelicals and conservatives did not support him politically. The current President poses a much tougher proposition for them because of the politics. If the same standard applies, the politics should make no difference at all. Religious right critics of Clinton determined that his conduct precluded their having to accept his claim of repentance and forgiveness. That same standard must be applied to the current President, whose behavior and actions while he has been in office are equally as corrupt and sinful as were his actions prior to becoming President. So by the previous standard applied to President Clinton, this President is also unrepentant. He’s said as much himself on more than one occasion, proclaiming openly that he doesn’t need forgiveness because he does nothing wrong.
Here’s what Dr. Al Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, had to say about supporting Trump.
“When it comes to Donald Trump, evangelicals are going to have to ask the huge question, ‘Is it worth destroying our moral credibility to support someone who is beneath the baseline level of human decency for anyone who should deserve our vote?’ I think that’s a far bigger question than the 2016 election. This election is a disaster for the American people; it’s an excruciating moment for American evangelicals.”
“Can we put up with someone and can we offer them our vote and support when we know that person not only sounds like what he presumes and presents as a playboy, but as a sexual predator? This is so far over the line that I think we have to recognize we wouldn’t want this person as our next door neighbor, much less as the inhabitant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And long term I’m afraid people are going to remember evangelicals in this election for supporting the unsupportable and defending the absolutely indefensible.”
I think that says it all.