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.