Saturday, 05 November 2016 16:48

Donald Trump and the Christian Conservative moral cross to bear

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by Dr. Albert Samuels
I have a number of friends who consider themselves to be social conservatives. Because of their self-identification, voting for Hillary out of the question.  They cite a laundry list of reasons:  Some point to her  positions on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. Others point to questions about her emails, the tragic deaths at Benghazi while she was Secretary of State, and general concerns about her truthfulness. And never far from the surface is the revulsion against her husband, former President Bill Clinton, for his well-documented history of sexual transgressions. All in all, these factors create a portrait of a candidate that many conservative Christians believe lacks the moral character to occupy the office of President of the United States.

I get it. I do not want anyone to interpret anything that I write as an attempt by me to justify or excuse Hillary Clinton’s behavior. Nor do I necessarily impugn the motives of my Christian brothers who identify with the Republican party and/or the conservative movement. Rather, I believe that many of my brothers and sisters approach these issues with good motives.

What concerns me is that many conservative Christians who wouldn’t vote for Hillary Clinton in a million years simultaneously endorse (and sometimes enthusiastically) a candidate like Donald Trump. It is simply difficult to square these two realities. All of the available evidence suggests pretty conclusively that, in the interests of moral consistency, those who insist Hillary Clinton is a morally unacceptable candidate should have at least equal, if not substantially more, trepidations about “going all in” with Donald Trump. On virtually every point where Mr. Trump has criticized Mrs. Clinton and questioned her fitness to be president, not only has he is guilty of the same things but he has done things that are far worse.  In fact, he perfectly embodies the Biblical description of a “hypocrite” as described by Jesus in his denunciation of the Pharisees in Matthew 23.

Time and space will not allow for an exhaustive inventory of Trump’s many flaws. But a few will suffice:

  1. Donald Trump is pathologically dishonest. Hillary’s “untruthfulness” is cited prominently by many believers as chief among the reasons why they consider her unacceptable. Yet, Donald Trump could give the Clintons seminars on dishonesty. Trump lies about big things, small things, and everything in between. The problem is not simply the fact that Trump has lied over and over again throughout this campaign: his entire campaign is based on a lie – the idea that the United States is being overrun by illegal immigration. (The pace of illegal immigration into the United States has slowed to zero since 2009, largely due to the economic impact of the Great Recession.  But this fact has not stopped demagogues like Donald Trump from insisting that the “border crisis” is out of control.) He continues to spout this falsehood and other fairy tales with reckless disregard for the truth. When confronted with video evidence of his past statements and deeds, he insists that it is not he – but it is his political opponents or the media who are falsely accusing him.  There is no depth too low for him to stoop to in this regard, and nothing is ever his fault.  Some of his lies have been particularly egregious – like insisting that he was against the war in Iraq before the invasion (Trump actually favored the invasion, like most Americans, did at the time.) or his recent pathetic attempt to deny that he was the leading spokesman for the “birtherism” (the despicable, racially-motivated movement that insisted, wholly without justification, that President Barack Obama was born in Kenya – not the United States – and thus not constitutionally eligible to be President).  Many of Trump’s other flaws stem from his fundamental lack of honesty.

  2. Nowhere is Trump’s fundamental dishonesty on greater display than in how he conducts his businesses. While criticizing Hillary Clinton’s lack of truthfulness, Donald Trump has literally amassed a fortune engaging in unethical business practices. Trump’s career is littered with a slew of bankruptcies, lawsuits, and a long string of contractors, creditors, investors, and customers who have been stiffed, shortchanged or outright scammed by him. Just this week, it was announced that another Trump entity, the Trump International Hotel in Toronto, has gone into receivership, adding yet another business failure to his resume. He has used the nation’s bankruptcy laws to reduce his own personal tax liability and amass millions while forcing creditors to take pennies on the dollar for what he owes them and stockholders absorb the brunt of his business losses. On November 28, twenty days after the election, the fraud trial of Trump University – the online real estate scam operated by Trump that separated thousands of Americans of their hard-earned money by falsely promising to share his real estate money making secrets with its customers – goes to court. Yet, without any shame, Donald Trump has actively stoked the idea in recent days that an indictment of Hillary Clinton is imminent [This claim is patently false.]. Meanwhile, he faces an actual trial shortly after the election, raising the unprecedented possibility of a president-elect dealing with a fraud trial in the midst of his transition period.

         Also, Newsweek’s Kurt Eichenwald has done extensive reporting on the complex, intricate, and shadowy business ties that the Trump Organization has with foreign governments and figures with criminal ties – many of whom have interests that are opposed to those of the United States. In a President Trump, we would have a president who will literally have to choose between what is in the national security interests of the United States or what is in the best interest of his businesses on a host of issues. For all of the right’s pillorying the Clinton Foundation for its supposed “pay for play” culture (another GOP claim that is rich in innuendo, but is short on actual evidence), it is Donald Trump who would have a presidency characterized by a bewildering array of conflicts of interests on multiple fronts.  What Trump has been successful at is selling the idea that he is successful. Even more, than his false claims about illegal immigration, Trump markets his image of a successful businessman as his primary credential for the presidency. Yet, it is that very credential that most demonstrate his fundamental unfitness to serve in the Oval Office.

  1. Trump harps on Bill Clinton’s sexual indiscretions when he is hardly an admirable example on this very point. The world knows far more than it needs to know about Bill Clinton’s multiple violations of his marriage vows. The Starr report went into excruciating detail about his affair with Monica Lewinsky. One might think that someone who also has not been faithful to his wives would not want to bring this topic up for fear that it would highlight his own hypocrisy. But you would be wrong. A man who has actually bragged about his affairs in the past has the nerve to invite Bill Clinton’s sexual accusers to the second presidential debate. We did not need the Access Hollywood video to know that Donald Trump is a vile misogynist. But it strains credulity to believe Trump’s claims that the comments caught on tape are just “locker room talk” that he didn’t act on in light of subsequent revelations and what we already knew about Trump. His claim that “nobody respects women more than me” would be laughable except for the fact that he seems to truly believe his own falsehoods.  But Trump’s hypocrisy on this issue is symptomatic of Republicans: merciless attacks on Bill Clinton’s sexual promiscuity by prominent critics who are guilty of the same sin. Newt Gingrich, Bob Livingston, Rudy Guiliani, David Vitter, and Mark Sanford are high-profile examples of the morality of the Pharisee in this regard.

       Conservatives hold Hillary Clinton responsible for Bill’s infidelity and blame her for choosing not to leave her husband. “It must simply be a political marriage,” they say. The possibility that Hillary actually loves her husband despite his flaws and that the two of them may have resolved to make their marriage work apparently never occurs to them. To be sure, I have no way of knowing that this is what the Clintons have done for sure: but the important point is, neither do the Clinton haters either. What a tragedy that I hear many conservative Christians justifying their steadfast opposition to Hillary Clinton on the flimsy excuse that she should have divorced her husband. Does it matter to them that God hates divorce (Mal. 2:16)? That while Scripture allows for divorce in cases of marital infidelity, it certainly does not require divorce (Mat. 19:3-9). In fact, the prophet Hosea is instructed to take back his unfaithful wife Gomer, after she has sold herself to prostitution (Hos. 3:1)! Isn’t it interesting that Al Gore distanced himself from Bill Clinton when he ran for President in 2000 because of his sex scandal? But in the end, it was Al and Tipper Gore who ultimately divorced; meanwhile, Bill and Hillary are still together. Hence, Jesus warns, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Mat. 7:1-2).

  1. For all of his talk about the dangers of electing Hillary to be Commander in Chief, Donald Trump represents a clear and present danger to America’s foreign policy posture and the peace of the world. For all of the Republicans’ hot tempered criticisms of Barack Obama’s foreign policy and a potential Hillary Clinton presidency, they have yet to offer a sensible alternative that would make America safer. This is particularly true with Candidate Trump, who betrays a shocking ignorance of the world he purports to lead. The Republicans have nominated a candidate who doesn’t know the difference between Aleppo and Mosul, who has said more nations should get nuclear weapons and has contemplated using nukes against terrorist groups, has raised questions about the future of NATO (threatening the security infrastructure that Europe has relied on for seven decades) and has reveled in the fact that he is being actively supported by Russia, an American adversary.  A candidate who accuses his opponent of selling out U.S. interests (when Clinton supported the Iran nuclear deal) but then refuses to accept the consensus of  U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia is actively meddling in the U.S. election process is the epitome of a hypocrite. His coziness to Vladimir Putin is tantamount to disloyalty to the United States.

This is only a brief sketch of the many flaws in Trump’s character that should give Christians pause from the uncritical endorsement of him we see from so many others. And to be sure, some conservative Christians have opposed Trump’s candidacy, and many have gone to great lengths to affirm that they believe Donald Trump represents everything Christianity should be against. The point here is not to suggest that those who vote for Donald Trump are not being faithful Christians.  Rather, we must decisively reject the erroneous idea, propagated by the so-called “Christian Right” that Christian social ethics is synonymous with uncritical support for the fortunes of the Republican party – the idea that voting Republican represents a “litmus test” for whether someone truly is a Christian. The fact of the matter is that Christians live in a fallen world and should not act like we are surprised that our governments are led by men and women who fall far short of God’s standards of righteousness and holiness (Mat. 4:8-9; Rom. 1:18-32; Rom. 3:23; 1 John 2:15-16).  Character flaws are not Democratic or Republican; they are human.  

Far worse, Christian conservatives too often have narrowly defined the universe of “family values” issues that believers should judge candidates on – such as abortion and same-sex marriages – while ignoring tons of other moral concerns: racism, social injustice, environmental degradation, war (and specifically, lying about the reasons for the Iraq War), poverty, inequality, economic policy, and foreign policy among others. Apparently, God does not care about these issues, they seem to say. When a broader range of moral concerns are incorporated into a Biblical vision for the political world, it turns out that God’s Word does not fit neatly within the narrow ideological prisms of conservatism or liberalism (or any other “ism” for that matter). For example, the Bible, to be sure, does condemn homosexuality (Lev. 19:22; Rom. 1: 26-27; 1 Cor. 6: 9) and abortion by implication (Jer. 1: 5).  But the Bible literally has hundreds of verses about poverty, how the poor are to be treated with compassion, and God’s concern for social justice. But guess what the “Christian Right” spends the most time focusing on? Social conservatives emphasize the things the Bible barely mentions, and barely mention the things that the Bible emphasizes. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill, and cumin. But you have neglected the most important matters of the law – justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat and swallow a camel” (Mat. 23:23-24).

Rather than seeing politics as a clarion call for us to huddle in our partisan corners, it should call believers to humility. Christian social ethics cannot be reduced to a carefully selected Picadilly menu of hot-button issues that are characterized by litmus tests and pat answers to difficult moral dilemmas. Christians must expand their moral universe to include concern for social issues that might make us feel uncomfortable. Believers are free to come to different conclusions about how best many of these issues should be addressed and we should not be shunning our brothers and sisters simply because we disagree on politics. There is plenty of room for people of faith to have different opinions on “disputable matters” without withdrawing fellowship from one another (Rom 14; 1 Cor. 8). Above all, we should be praying for all leaders in authority (myself included, especially!), not just those we agree with politically, and being about the business of being good citizens (Mat. 22:21; Rom. 13: 1-5; I Tim. 2:1-4).  It is only when the church embraces the Bible’s true ideal for its social engagement that it can expect the world around us to pay attention to its witness.

Dr. Albert L. Samuels is a native of Shreveport, LA. He holds a B.A. in Political Science and a M.A. in Social Sciences (both from Southern University) and a Ph.D. in Political Science from Louisiana State University.


Albert Samuels

Dr. Albert Samuels, Ph.D.m rofessor and Chair, Department of Political Science and Geography at Southern University

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