A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)
Wednesday, January 24, 2018
The President as Pastor-in-Chief?
It has been common for Donald Trump's evangelical supporters to justify their support of a man of extremely questionable character by uttering the now familiar shibboleth that the POTUS is not the "pastor-in-chief" (a phrase first uttered in reference to President Obama). I think if we drill down beneath that phrase we will find something unacknowledged by those who have used it and also something quite unsavory. Let's get underneath the topsoil, shall we?
As we begin this discussion, let me say that I assume Donald Trump is a Christian because he says he is. I have to say I don't find many of his views to be Christian, but only God know his heart, and so I will take him at his word (not easy to do since he utters at least six impossible things before breakfast every morning). The reason I mention this is what I have to say applies to all who lead and who claim to follow Jesus.
First, to say the president's role is not pastoral in order to justify his lack of character implies that only pastoral leaders should be moral. Character does not apply to other leaders. The problem with this view from a Christian perspective is that the Bible nowhere restricts character to the priestly class. God expects all of his people to be moral. It is true that those who lead are judged more harshly, but that is because they are to model for everyone else what God expects of them too. There are not two different standards for leaders and followers. To suggest that the POTUS is not the pastor-in-chief is to deflect from what the Bible clearly affirms: all leaders are to be people of high character, including a POTUS who says he's a Christian. Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, Jr., and Ralph Reed need to bone up a little on what the Bible says about character and leadership.
Second, and let me head this one off right now before someone comments, I know there are no perfect leaders. It astounds me that anyone would even offer up such a defense, but they have. I wrote a post before last year's presidential election saying that I could not in good conscience vote for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton because in my view both candidates grossly failed the character test. The response I received from people was that there was no perfect candidate, as if that is what I expected. Frankly, it's a ridiculous response to a serious concern about the character all leaders, though flawed, should exhibit. It's not an issue of being perfect; it is a matter of consistently displaying a moral compass, which I concluded neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump had. People need to stop using the "nobody's perfect" dodge to distract from serious moral failings.
Third, the "pastor-in-chief" distraction now being used by Trump's evangelical supporters is beyond hypocritical since these same religious leaders went after former president Bill Clinton for his egregious behavior. What they have shown is not that character counts, but that morality can be sacrificed on the altar of political expediency. The real problem these Christian leaders had with Bill Clinton was not that he was immoral, but that he had the wrong politics. When it comes to lack of moral character, Donald Trump is Bill Clinton on steroids, but because he has the right politics in their eyes, Trump is given a pass since he will further their agenda. Incidentally, there was a group of religious leaders in first century Judea who willingly collaborated with Rome in order to get what they wanted-- the Sadducees.
Two caveats need to be mentioned here. First, I am not reducing a individual's character to their personal behavior alone. I am well aware of the fact that the positions people take on social issues-- abortion, poverty, et al-- are in fact moral positions. I am only dealing with the "pastor-in-chief" argument before us. Second, there are plenty of evangelical leaders who have not supported Donald Trump and have said so publicly--Max Lucado, Al Mohler, Philip Yancey-- to name only three. So we must be careful not to lump members of a group together as if the movement is monolithic. We should no more do that for evangelicalism than we should for Mainline Protestantism.
Character indeed counts... well... only when it's good political fodder against your opponents.