John Piper’s Unmanly Contempt for Politics

By | 2017-06-02T18:30:05+00:00 January 24, 2017|
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John Piper’s notion of politics would sacrifice our country on the altar of perfect morality.

What is it with elite Evangelicals and their inability, or unwillingness, to understand politics?

Russell Moore deemed the tens of millions of Evangelicals who supported Trump “racists” and people who love fame and money more than Jesus. Not to be upstaged, popular Christian theologian and author John Piper has entered the fray. On the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration, Piper decided the time was ripe to publish an anti-Trump screed that declared Trump “morally unqualified” to be president.

According to Piper, Trump’s “immoral behavior in the past, and his ongoing unwillingness to renounce it as evil, show that he is morally unfit to lead our nation.” He cites a litany of charges to bolster his case. Among them are Trump’s “adultery,” his alleged mocking of a disabled New York Times reporter, and “acting like a demagogue” by “appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than rational arguments.”

Certainly Trump’s past adultery is problematic, but no Evangelical supporter of his has ever condoned it. Piper seems to forget that the selection of Trump wasn’t made in a vacuum. This election was a choice between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Her public actions as secretary of state were reasonably deemed far more egregious by some Evangelicals when compared to Trump’s private vices.

Moreover, Trump wasn’t attempting to become a leader within the church, where his character would have been absolutely crucial in the final analysis. He was running for the office of the president, whose constitutional qualifications do not include a morality clause (if it did, Warren G. Harding, John F. Kennedy, and Bill Clinton would have never served as president).

Piper once understood politics in this light—or at least appeared to.

Back in 2012, he wrote that he would be voting either for “Obama or Romney” because of the hard fact that one of them “will be president.” Of the choice before Christians in the 2012 contest, Piper wrote, “The likelihood that both presidencies will be identical in the good and evil they do is infinitesimal. One will very probably do more good amid the bad, even if only a little.”

In 2016, however, Piper argued that the Bible does not mandate Christians to vote (true, but why the sudden recurrence to a purely legalistic argument?) and preposterously claimed that both candidates were equally wicked. In fact, on numerous occasions he insisted that they both drop out of the race. But this is mere timidity masquerading as high principle, avoiding the hard choices of politics entirely by extricating oneself from the political process. Like the abolitionists of old, Piper was seemingly more concerned with preserving the sanctity of his own conscience than he was with coming to grips with the very real choice which faced the nation.

Hillary Clinton would have continued Obama’s pedal-to-metal progressivism. It would likely have been eight more years of expanding the administrative state, installing “living constitution”-style judges, higher taxes, increasing crime rates in our cities, shipping even more jobs overseas, and a feckless foreign policy that sacrifices our blood and treasure for the sake of supposed foreign “moderates.” Regarding religious liberty—something that should be near and dear to Piper’s heart—Hillary pledged to look into the tax exempt status of churches, opposed the Little Sisters of the Poor in their fight against the federal government’s mandated coverage of abortifacients, and supports the Equality Act (which would add sexual orientation and “gender identity” as protected classes under the Civil Rights Act).

Trump on the other hand supports pro-life measures, restoring law and order in poorer communities, stopping pointless wars that have taken too many lives, nominating judges who respect the Constitution as it was written (or what little we have left of it), actually enforcing our immigration laws so that criminals and drug lords aren’t allowed free entrance into our country, and ending fake “free trade” policies that have contributed to the ever-widening cleavage between Belmont and Fishtown.

But if you’re a great moralist like John Piper, then Trump and Clinton were interchangeable options whose policies would have caused equal harm to our country.

Piper’s understanding of politics would therefore have us sacrifice our country on the altar of “morality” as we watch it burn to a cinder. This way of thinking, which is not exclusive to Protestants, is indicative of a more general problem the political philosopher Leo Strauss diagnosed decades ago: an “unmanly contempt for politics.” This sentiment is especially tantalizing to Christians because of the promises of the Kingdom to come.

But it should not be so. The Bible has little to say about the particular details of politics. It doesn’t speak to the domestic and foreign policy nations should implement in order to preserve themselves and their citizens. Yet, we currently live in a world in which a good understanding of politics—which, according Aristotle is the architectonic art for human beings—is absolutely vital if we wish to pass along the blessings of liberty to our posterity.

Christians such as Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin made it a point to take politics seriously and to think about how best to view the human things in light of the eternal things. We would do well to study their example and to avoid the related pitfalls of utopianism and an unhealthy disdain for humanity to which far too many Christians have succumbed.

About the Author:

Mike Sabo
Mike Sabo is a recent graduate of the Van Andel Graduate School of Statesmanship at Hillsdale College. He and his wife live in Alexandria, VA.
  • Dave Edwards

    Mr. Sabo, you don’t like anyone, do you? This is your third piece for American Greatness, and this is the third time you attack someone for expressing their opinion. Your last two pieces attacked religious leaders for not properly understanding politics. Have you considered that you might not properly understand to role of a religious leader?
    You are a good writer, Mr. Sabo, but next time you should spend your time on more than a rant about why you don’t like someone.

    • Severn

      You’re written a lot of comments on this site, and they invariably consist of you attacking the authors for expressing their opinions.

      • Dave Edwards

        True. It’s not my fault that their opinions are stupid.

        • qazer

          And it ain’t Sabo’s fault that Piper is a coward.

          • Dave Edwards

            A coward for going against the political brainwashing of the right?

          • qazer

            1) A coward for failing to take a consistent stance. He changed his claimed principles between 2008 and 2012 and didn’t give any explanation. Given what he said in 2008, he should have said “Both candidates are immoral, but we must choose.” As Sabo explains, he wimped out on that hard choice. (If he’d chosen Clinton, I’d disagree, but that would at least display the courage of conviction)

            2) In general, Piper has IMO long displayed a timidity on cultural/sexual/political issues where his theology puts him at odds with the zeitgeist. Not going to go into it all here.

          • Dave Edwards

            It sounds like he needs to stand by the truth instead of going with the prevailing winds of the political moment. This may be the start.

          • jrrt1

            I don’t think you know enough about John Piper. He is a well-regarded against-the-grain teacher/preacher/prophet-type.

            The problem with his position has nothing to do with right or left: it’s that he’s messed up scripturally on this point and failed to rightly discern the times. In other words it’s both a Biblical interpretation (exegetical) and application (expository) error at the same time.

            Referred to before but read 1 Chron 12 about Davids strong/wise men–this verse (32) is about those of the tribe of Issachar who bound their futures and fortunes to David: “…32 Of the sons of Issachar, men who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do, their chiefs were two hundred; and all their kinsmen were at their command.”

            Moore and Piper failed this (and, IMO the ‘Esther test’ as well); Erickson did also. As a life-long evangelical, I’m glad that large portions of the evangelical congregations had more spiritual ‘light’ or wisdom than some, at least, of their shepherds!

        • RIPUN19452017

          Dave. don’t you have ANY liberal friends you can share your vast wisdom with.

        • CatoYounger

          Look in the mirror.

    • Gleimhart Mantooso

      Concern troll.

    • JClarke

      Criticism does not equal an attack. This isn’t a rant about disliking someone, it’s a reasonable article challenging a particular position taken by a public figure.

    • CatoYounger

      Did your feelings get hurt?

  • CM DeNeve

    Let’s see what Mr. Piper does in light of Trump restoring the Mexico City policy and his future actions. I’m thinking he is someone who will be willing to see the light if he is proven wrong.

    • Dave Edwards

      I am sure he saw that coming.

  • Krystall Nacht

    Mr. Piper doesn’t understand women.

    Seems like a Gay to me.

    • Dave Edwards

      A gay???

      • Lurker

        I hear that Mike Pence can cure that with a shot of a lightening bolt from his fingertips.

  • Steve Saban

    The Establishment Elitism of Jesus Christ
    Mike Sabo (Only at American Greatness)

    What is with religious figures and their poor understanding of politics?

    Jesus of Nazareth, a self-proclaimed “messiah” (and part-time carpenter) cannot stop his sanctimonious judgments on the Sanhedrin. Does he not understand the need for prudence in politics?

    Harry Jaffa one wrote “The original equality of all human beings was an equality of sovereignty; no man had more right to rule another than the other had to rule him.” This is how Lincoln understood our equality. That is not the way Jesus understands it. He thinks equality comes through him. He would have us make him a king and even a god! (Evan McMullin all over again).

    Jesus has deemed tens of millions of Jews “hypocrites” and “Pharisees” for rejecting this completely absurd claim. Prostrating himself before liberal groups, including tax collectors and prostitutes, he has shown himself completely ignorant of the needs of a state and the “social contract” basis for our regime. He rejects the “rule of law” and instead would have us “turn the other cheek.” But this is mere
    timidity masquerading as high principle, avoiding the hard choices of politics entirely by extricating oneself from the political process. Like the abolitionists of old, Jesus is seemingly more concerned with preserving the sanctity of his own conscience than he is with coming to grips with the very real choice which faced the nation.

    Certainly, many decrees of the Sanhedrin are problematic, but Jesus seems to forget that their selection
    wasn’t made in a vacuum. The Jews had the choice between the Sanhedrin and Hillary Clinton. Her public actions as secretary of state were reasonably deemed far more egregious by some Jews when compared to the Sanhedrin’s private vices. He claims to speak truth, but what is truth? It’s time to combat fake news with some alternative facts.

    Considering that Jesus has advocated for citizenship of the world, he should not be taken seriously when speaking of politics considering the needs of a people to protect their “common good” by enforcing our immigration laws so that criminals, drug lords, Romans, and the uncircumcised aren’t allowed free entrance into our country. As the Holy Scripture says “[t]hat to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Jesus does not understand this, instead proposing a utopian fantasy unmoored from reality. Jesus’s understanding of politics would therefore have us sacrifice our country on the altar of “morality” as we watch it burn to a cinder.

    Religious elites, like Jesus, are just as hollow as its elite counterparts in the “conservative” movement. This means that it is all the more important for Jews to do the hard work of studying Scripture and seeking out its application in their own lives, families, synagogues, and communities. Unfortunately, it seems that their home grown elites cannot be of as much help to them in this endeavor as they may previously have believed. But given that fact that Barabbas garnered such strong support among Jews in the election, Jews evidently couldn’t care less about what their elites think, anyway.

    • Dave Edwards

      Is this a real piece?

      • CatoYounger

        No, Saban is trying to be clever (and failing) by interchanging some words.

    • Gleimhart Mantooso

      You’re only wrong about everything, though I will limit myself to addressing just a few items.

      1) If Jews did the hard work of studying Scripture, they would understand that Scripture testifies of Jesus.

      2) Jesus was the very opposite of the religious elite of His day; The sanctimonious pharisees were.

      3) Your many claims about what Jesus the Christ did and said are fabricated, which essentially means you’re speaking for your father, the devil.

      It’s not a matter of whether you’re going to worship Christ. At some point you will. The only question is if your worship will begin on this side of eternity, or on the other side, at Judgment. I hope for you and all like you it will begin during the former.

    • Derek Pandamonium

      You understand absolutely nothing about Jesus or Jews.

      “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”

      Why try to conflate the two?

    • AEJ

      Pitting Christians and Jews against each other…. um… no.
      Christianity dealt with its relationship to Judaism and to the Jewish people long ago, both in a personal sense and theologically.

    • Fred Freud

      zzzzzzzzzz… huh, I’m sorry, were you saying something?

    • CatoYounger

      That may be the stupidest thing written on the internet today, congrats.

  • Gleimhart Mantooso

    The Pipers and Moores are the modern analog of the biblical pharisees. Religious leaders who care more about their moral grandstanding than about the suffering of their fellow citizens.

  • Derek Pandamonium

    Anyone who couldn’t discern that Trump was a hundred times better than obama clone hillary shouldn’t be voting in the first place. To pretend anything Trump has ever said or done, will ever say or do rises to the level of incompetency and malfeasance of obama and hillary is idiotic.

  • faye gebhart

    I remember the Sunday after the “blue dress” was found. I went to church and heard a message on some bad King of Judah or Israel from Kings or Chronicles, which didn’t follow the current sermon series. Then we went to Sunday school and listened to more than 30 minutes of railing against Mr. Clinton. After awhile, in one of my moments of total clarity of what God expects from me, I raised my hand and asked “Could we pray for our President and his family?” You could have heard a pin drop. Recently, I have been challenged with the way Jesus approached various people: bi-racial, theologically-challenged, government hacks, brutal military occupiers, swindlers, sexually deviant, and just plain nasty folks (like me). One of my favorite interactions is where He looked at the Roman Centurion and admired him for his faith; I laugh thinking of how many heads exploded at that moment. Then there is the letter Jeremiah wrote to Ezekiel and Daniel in Babylon in Jeremiah 29. Many love verse 11 and so on, but they don’t know the context. Judah was being punished by God, partially for trusting in politics and not Him. He was also asking them to be a blessing to Trump, er I mean Nebuchadnezzar. Just a couple thoughts, Regards, Doug

    • AEJ

      I’m a Christian also, and I appreciate your broader points here. I would just say though, as regarding your reference to Jeremiah (“Judah was being punished by God, partially for trusting in politics and not Him”) that one should be careful not to treat that as applicable in all times, in all places, in all situations. I am reminded of Jesus’ retort in Matthew 4:7.
      I’d also say that trusting Shemaiah the ‘dreamer’ rather than Jeremiah the prophet is a little different -for me- than trusting politics over God. But I do see your point in your thoughts on that. Overall, though, I don’t find engagement in politics to be contra the Scriptures.

  • Clifford

    I think it is tied to the poverty of their intellectual education. See Noll’s Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.

  • RIPUN19452017

    Another excellent article by Mr. Sabo , well reasoned and articulated.

  • I share John Piper’s theology for the most part (except that he’s a baptist), and respect his years of service and ministry, but I can’t respect his moral obtuseness retarding President Trump (thank God!) and the election. Christians who think and thought Donald Trump was a horrible man with terrible character were using selective judgment. And everything he said (not did) was interpreted in the worst possible light. There was not one shred of evidence that he abused women, for instance, but things he said were taken to mean he was a serial abuser of women. Wrong!

    I too was skeptical of President Trump too, but for some reason I had an open mind to look at the evidence, and the more I saw the more I came to trust the man. Becoming acquainted with his kids was the first step. You simply don’t raise children like his (five of them) if you are a narcissistic moral monster. It just isn’t possible. I also came to see that everyone who knows the man likes him. The “dishonest media” (thank you Mr. President!), the radical progressive Democrat Party, and the inconceivably brainless NeverTrumpers had a year and a half to come up with people who confirmed their worst assessment of the man, and they got squat! Even when they got someone who hated him, or wanted their own 15 minutes of fame (e.g. Miss Universe), when you looked at what actually happened, and what Trump actually said, he comes out looking like a good and decent human being. And finally, Mike Pence. I don’t believe he’d stand up in public before the entire country, yea world, and say he vouches that Mr. Trump is a good man, and lie about it.

    So by all means, let’s continue to call out those who continue to push the lie, for whatever strange psychological reason they do. MAGA!

    • Captain Mann

      What’s wrong with Baptists? Besides that fact that they don’t understand the teachings of baptism, that is.

      • Captain, that’s a fantastic question! I often do this when I’m writing/blogging/commenting, put in a little dig at the Baptists. The reason is that today adult baptism is the default position of the vast majority of conservative Christians, but for most of Christian history it was non-existent, or a fringe position. RC Sproul in a book on Reformed Theology made this point, and said that because of this, the burden of proof should be on the Baptists. It was only when dispensational premillennialism took over conservative Christianity in the 19th Century (and fundamentalism in the next) that adult baptism became the default.

        And for the life of me I don’t see how there could be such a thing as a “Reformed Baptist,” an oxymoron if ever there was one. If we really understand the covenant, then we baptize our children.

        • CatoYounger

          Exactly. The first baptisms during the Pentacost took place as adult baptisms because they were the first Christians after Christ’s sacrifice and they were adults. Those very same Christians though, baptized their infant children, and so on.

        • Captain Mann

          Well, you had me until that last piece about baptizing children. There is only one baptism, and water baptism isn’t it. The apostle Paul said so.

          • Well, Captain, my Captain, we will just have to agree to disagree, Big League!

          • Captain Mann

            Big league, indeed. MAGA! It would be fun to sit awhile with you.

          • Thanks, Captain, that’s a great compliment! Especially with some adult beverages to get the ideas flowing (you know I’m no Baptist!).

  • Dan

    Good discussion. I agree. Christians shouldn’t ignore politics and economics.

  • CatoYounger

    Well said. I am so sick of Never Trumpers and their desire to use their disapproval of Trump as a proxy for them being morally better than other people. It really reminds me of some liberals I know. In 6 days Trump has reinstated the Mexico Policy on abortion, strengthened law and order, put in place steps to increase jobs and people’s well-being, etc. I can’t think of a single order Trump has signed that Hillary would have done. To equate the two is foolish.