One hardly knows where to start with this article, but three overarching characteristics stand out.
1) It is intellectually dishonest.
"His many years of business conduct show that he is not racist or anti-(legal) immigrant or anti-Semitic or misogynistic..."
Grudem presents Trump as a flawed but basically normal nominee. I honestly don't have the gumption to argue about this. I don't know if the first person Grudem deceived was himself, or if he is engaging in calculated deceit. In either case, anyone open to the idea that Grudem might be wrong can simply do a 5-minute google search and see that he is. So let me outsource this. On racism, check out Nicholas Kristoff's recent column. And for a blow by blow account of Trump's disgraceful and unprecedented behavior as he seeks the presidency, follow James Fallows' amazing "time capsule" series. He's at #65 and counting. Read them all. Seriously.
Donald Trump is a demagogue with authoritarian instincts. He is a man governed by appetites, not thoughts. He does not give considered judgments; he excretes passions. To say this is not to claim any special insight into his character. It's only to say that I'm a sentient being with an interest in the news. There are two groups of people who don't know that Donald Trump is unfit for the presidency. The first are ordinary people with better things to do than pay attention to politics. As they begin to tune in to the election this fall, they can be persuaded. The second are people who do pay attention to politics and choose not to know the truth. That's Grudem. And I'm not under the illusion there's anything that could be said to change his mind. But perhaps we can persuade those who are still persuadable.
People have difficulty, I think, fully grasping how dangerous Donald Trump is. The logic of the demagogue, and what this would mean for a Trump presidency, is still not well-understood. Demagogues stoke fear and anger against marginal groups of people in order to gain power and popularity. The process continues without end, because it is the lifeblood of the demagogue’s power. Without a heightened sense of threat, the demagogue is just a tick without a host. And so the threat must remain. The only thing that’s certain about a Trump presidency is that he will scapegoat and persecute whole groups of people. The only question is how far he’ll go. This is the logic of the authoritarian demagogue.
|Trump makes his appearance on stage at the Republican Convention, July 18, 2016.|
Ordinarily, ideology is very important in a presidential election. You vote for the candidate you agree with on the issues. But ordinarily, both candidates have some measure of competence, display normal amounts of human decency, and appear capable of feelings such as shame and guilt. Ordinarily, both candidates believe in democracy and human rights. There's little evidence Trump possesses any of these qualities or beliefs. This has never happened before. In these circumstances, ideology recedes and our common humanity moves to the fore.
We’ve never seen such a radically anti-Christian figure come this close to the pinnacle of power in the United States. His most profound theological statement was when he declared he had never had reason to ask God for forgiveness. Trump is the negation of Christianity personified. He is a man who "breathes out violence," as Psalm 27 so evocatively puts it. His recklessness and contempt for human life is too obvious to take his "pro-life" claims seriously.
I would like to see an intellectually honest defense of Donald Trump from an evangelical Christian. I imagine it would go something like this: "I'm voting for the dangerous racist because he might appoint justices who might reduce abortions." Or, "I'm risking war and global turmoil in hopes that Trump will make the abortion rate, which has trended down during Obama's presidency, go down faster." As much as I would disagree with that choice, it has a coherent internal logic and accords with reality. It's a plausible scenario. And if that's where you're at, I haven't thought of a good argument to convince you otherwise. But I've yet to hear anyone make that argument. And I think that's telling. Grudem was either unwilling or unable to make an honest defense of voting for Trump. Why?
Another intellectually honest case for Trump would be something like: "I'm voting for the incompetent demagogue because at least he'll be on our side." That brings us to point number two.
2) It is selfish.
"a Trump-appointed Supreme Court, together with dozens of lower court judges appointed by him, would probably result in significant advances in many of the policy areas important to Christians. It would also open the door to huge expansion of influence for the many Christian lobbying groups..."
Superficially, Grudem frames his case as a disinterested defense of what is best for the country. He quotes the scripture about seeking the welfare of the city in which you are in exile. In the same way, he says, we should seek the welfare of the United States. Grudem poses this question to guide our decision: "Which vote is most likely to bring the best results for the nation?"
At a time when many Christians are invested in unchristian attachments to patriotism and American exceptionalism, this is a dangerous question to serve as our guide. It invites Christians to vote through the lens of nationalist hierarchy (my nation first) rather than cultivating equal concern for all human life.
But leave that aside for now. Even on his own terms, Grudem fails dramatically. As the article goes on it becomes increasingly clear that for Grudem, the biggest reason to vote for Trump is that he will be on team White evangelical. He openly speculates that a Trump administration will lead to "huge expansion of influence for the many Christian lobbying groups." Does that sit well with you? Christians as just another interest group jockeying for position?
After his introduction explaining that a) Christians should vote, and b) Christians should vote for Trump, the meat of the article explores "the results we could expect from a Clinton presidency with what we could expect from a Trump presidency." Well over one-third of the ensuing analysis is devoted to the protection of so-called religious liberty for White evangelicals.
Grudem is deeply concerned about protecting the traditional prerogatives of a certain kind of conservative White Christianity. He does not acknowledge that this might have trade-offs, that the same judges likely to support restrictions on abortion and special protections for evangelicalism are also likely to harm women and workers and erode the rights of LGBT people, African Americans, and immigrants. As long as a policy seems good for his own community, Grudem shows no apparent interest in its consequences for others.
Grudem's Christianity appears insular, embattled, defensive. Preoccupied with lost power and declining cultural authority, it desperately reaches for an anti-Christian strong man to restore its fortunes. This is a Christianity so self-absorbed that its posture toward the broader polity is described by words such as take and impose, rather than give and sacrifice.
Grudem's article has a short section on "minorities." Apparently all "minorities" are indistinguishable and have the same concerns. You have to read it to believe it. Almost all of this section either paraphrases or quotes directly Donald Trump's convention speech. Because if there's one thing we know, it's that we can take Donald Trump at his word. For the varied problems facing over one-third of the nation's population, Grudem has a grand total of two original sentences:
Two of the deepest causes of poverty among minority groups and racial tensions in our country are failing public schools in our inner cities and lack of available jobs...[quotes Trump]...By contrast, Clinton will bow to the teachers’ unions and oppose school choice at every turn, and she will continue to strangle businesses with high taxes and regulations, preventing job growth.It's not a coincidence that these sentences read like every boilerplate Republican speech you've ever heard. That brings us to point number three.
3) It bows the knee to a political party.
"this election is not just about Hillary Clinton. It is about defeating the far left liberal agenda that any Democratic nominee would champion..."
It's hard to convey here how thoroughly Grudem outsources any sense of Christian conviction toward the end of the article. He runs through a litany of issues, offering a veritable cliffs notes version of the Republican Party platform. Grudem is a theologian. But here he trades in his theology card so that he can adopt the posture of a partisan hack. Behold! A miraculous congruence between the will of God and the GOP!
Why doesn't Grudem's cliffs notes list of policy areas mention issues of importance to other groups of people? What about voting rights, criminal justice reform, the war on drugs, Native land rights, deportations of families, police brutality, and so on? Is it because Christian theology has nothing to say to those who are affected by these issues? Or is it because the GOP has so little to say?
This almost defies belief, but Grudem notes that his largest disagreement with Trump is on trade policy. He found a way to excuse Trump's racism, misogyny, and violence, but he couldn't get past Trump's heresy on trade. Hatred can be explained away, but God forbid that he should defy GOP orthodoxy on trade policy.
This is not bold and prophetic Christianity. This is a co-opted Christ ready to be put into service for a political party.
As 4 of 5 White evangelicals prepare to vote for Trump, Grudem's article almost perfectly captures why they are going to do so. It is dishonest, selfish, and partisan while claiming to be honest, selfless, and Christian. It is an exercise in selling one's soul and calling it conviction.
I probably shouldn't write all this without going on the record myself. I can't write about co-opted Christianity without being at least dimly aware of how my own faith is bound by time and place, shaken by fear, corrupted by desire for approval. My own faith constantly stumbles toward something more comfortable, more palatable, more understandable to other people, than the kind of life Jesus invites us to discover. So is this a message from one co-opted Christian to another?
For the record, because I am a Christian I cannot support many of Hillary Clinton's positions, especially those pertaining to abortion, war, and the death penalty. She is far too ready to take life, and far too complacent about protecting it. Nor can I support her brand of nationalism and her insufficient concern for the poorest and most vulnerable people.
Don't vote for Hillary Clinton if such a vote violates your conscience. There is ample reason to withhold your vote from her. But in the same spirit, do not vote for the most dangerous and unchristian nominee of our lifetimes, a man who literally makes our fellow citizens and people around the world fear for their lives. People say this is a lesser-of-two evils election. For the Christian voter, that’s the only kind of election there is. If you think you’ve ever participated in another kind, you left your Christianity behind somewhere.