It seems these days everyone is looking for someone to blame for the rise of Donald Trump. A wry article from The Week lists a whopping “33 people to blame,” and even this is not exhaustive. Noticeably absent from that list is Rush Limbaugh, but that finger has since been pointed as well. This week, however, I heard perhaps the most absurd possibility—and it is certainly the most ironic given the blamers.
Let’s just say there’s no shortage of blame to go around—perhaps to all parties mentioned so far. But as I’ve argued already, the Evangelical pulpit must own a large share of it. And that is what makes this latest Trump-shaming so painful and ironic. It comes from John MacArthur at his 2016 Shepherd’s Conference. When asked about the election during a panel Q&A, he quoth,
The Evangelical interest in Donald Trump and his crassness and rudeness and brashness and profanity—the way has been prepared by Mark Driscoll for that among Evangelicals.
From Mark Driscoll to Donald Trump? So he explains:
One of these articles talked about “Remember the Moral Majority, when ‘moral’ meant something?” And now we have a man running for president being advocated by Christian university presidents and pastors who is a public adulterer? Multiple marriage—does family mean anything? Does anybody care about family? When you’ve lived with women that weren’t your wife while you were married to other ones, and have paraded your sexual exploits in a book? So what happened to the Moral Majority? Evangelicalism used to kind of be equated with the Moral Majority; morality doesn’t define us anymore. . . .
Of course, the brashness and rudeness in political campaigns is nothing new, although the sexual immorality has, so far, usually stayed on the Democrat side. More on this in a second.
Al Mohler then adds: “A significant number of evangelicals are being deluded—maybe deluded themselves—they are demonstrating a lack of discernment that is staggering just in terms of this presidential election.”
He then explains why so many Evangelicals are supporting Trump: he says it’s because they are essentially Evangelicals in name only, not those who are dedicated, go to church, know doctrine, and would know better than to support “this coarseness and crude language.”
First, note that these two explanations for Trump differ markedly. MacArthur argues that Mark Driscoll’s coarseness has paved the way. This assumes that we are talking about church-going Evangelicals who take seriously what their pastor says—just from a pastor MacArthur doesn’t like. But then Mohler argues that these Trump supporters are not true Evangelicals and are not church-goers. So which is it?
More to the point, however, the two explanations may differ, but they have one thing in common: they both lay blame on someone else.
Both of these gentlemen decry Trump’s vulgarity and immorality. Both are shocked with this presidential election. Yet consider: what were these same Christian leaders advocating in 2012? They were both either promoting, or at least enabling, Mitt Romney—a man we would all agree is a public idolater.
Both men in 2012 directly addressed the question of whether they would vote for a Mormon for president. Both said unequivocally yes. Both used the line that you’re not voting for a pastor but a president. Both followed the classic dualism of separating politics and government from God’s Word in this area.
For his part, MacArthur said the president is merely “a temporal, earthly function.” Christians, he said, must vote for the “lesser of evils” most promising to uphold “morality.”
Mohler at the same time was arguing adamantly in favor of voting for a Mormon. He did so multiple times. He very cautiously approached the subject early in the primaries. But when it became clear that Romney would be the nominee, and the choice would be Romney or Obama (in the popular mind anyway), Mohler went in full force. At a Ligonier conference he argued that it was “absolutely” OK to support the public idolater for president, and a week later he assured a group of Florida pastors on a conference call that he would have “no ethical or theological reluctance” doing so.
Mohler did make sure to denounce Mormonism itself in the harshest terms. This may seem exculpatory since he made sure to put distance between the man and his religion; but when you consider it thoroughly, it is a strong witness against himself and against his current condemnation of Evangelical delusion with Trump.
Is a person’s foundational theological commitments not part of their “morality”? Indeed, are these commitments not the foundation of the person’s morality? Of course they are! So why give them a pass? These commitments ought to be the foundational think we consider. It is often pointed out that we could elect a confession Evangelical who turns out to behave inconsistently with his professed commitments. Sure this is true. But this does not give you free rein to act as if those presuppositions do not matter at all and thereupon ignore them altogether. It certain does not justify selecting someone who tells you up front that He defies God and thinks he himself will be a god someday. Think!
As I argued before, when it comes to the public realm, these men suddenly act as if the First Table of the law doesn’t matter, but that the Second matters for everything. It creates the dichotomous view that we can support men who deny, degrade, defame, and defy God Himself as long as they promise not to commit adultery, murder, or steal. (Yet even these latter are routinely supported by the same government under a variety of justifications.) Shall we support all manner of evil just because the candidate is nice?
What do the Scriptures tell us? They tell us in every way possible that the First Table of the law is the more important of the two. It is the foundation of the rest, the greatest of all, without which the rest has no authority and thus means nothing. Jesus Himself taught this (Matt. 22:37–40). So why would you expect anyone, especially a professed public idolater, to uphold commandments 6 thru 10 when they trample 1 thru 5? Just because they’re nice?
And who exactly has deluded themselves?
These Christian leaders, and scores more like them, have upheld this godless standard of politics, elections, and government for centuries now. For years they have argued essentially, and often explicitly, that the First Table doesn’t matter in the public square. But as soon as a Trump comes along, they wring their hair, crying out about his infractions of the Second Table of the law. And now they’re blindsided by the fact that the mass of Evangelical voters have capitulated on that Table, too.
Well, guess what? These masses of Evangelicals are not self-deluded. They are merely taking their leaders’ teaching to its logical conclusion: if the First Table of the law is not crucial for political candidates, then why should the Second be? If we can wink at open, first-order idolatry, why not wink at vulgarity and adultery? Forgive me if I find the sudden alarm and blame-shifting completely unmoving.
Indeed, as I already hinted, these leaders have been enabling the Second Table violations as well all along. Under the guise of electing candidates who are “moral” and nice, we have the promulgation and extension of various degrees of welfarism, warfarism, cronyism, government education, expansion of government coercion, etc. What are these except various avenues of theft, covetousness, greed, and murder with a badge? All of this has been supported, passed, voted for, and winked at. Now we’re shocked we have an adulterer running for office?
In fact, all these infractions are called “law and order” by the same people who tell us we may “absolutely” support candidates who are open idolaters. After all, both have said, this is a president, not a pastor. And that, too, is hooey.
When you understand the enormity and perpetual nature of this perennial Evangelical error, you will realize that to blame Trump on Driscoll is about as absurd as anything anyone could say. These leaders, and hundreds like them, have been running institutions for decades now, burning through literally billions of dollars, producing materials, media, Christian minds, and countless American pastors who believe and teach the same truncated message regarding the law and public square. They have leveraged billions in order to mold and shape a broad swath of evangelicalism to believe that the First Table is not crucial when it comes to public office.
When that same broad swath of Evangelicals takes that teaching to its logical end, these leaders are shocked and dismayed. Yet they cannot see past their own inner self-contradictions. They do what the rest of the conservative and even pagan world does: blame someone else. Blames Driscoll. Blame the media. Blame pseudo-Evangelicals.
No brothers, blame yourselves. Blame yourselves for your very real and culpable role in molding and shaping a generation of Evangelicals who could so easily make such a decision, for it is perfectly congruous with the public theological standards you have promoted for years.
We have created a personality-centered, pseudo-pious Christianity in which Evangelical pulpits are denuded of understanding of the public application of God’s law, and of the boldness to proclaim it against mainstream sentiments.
After the decades we’ve cultivated it, we’re now once again reaping the harvest of a truncated faith. When the planters of this bitter harvest look out and see a tare field speckled with wheat, they are shocked. In this, they have not remembered their own actions. They’re the ones who planted only part of the Word in only part of the field; and they’re the ones who’ve cultivated the weeds in public theology all along.