I promise you, I really wasn’t going to write a blog post related to the election. I figure at this point, generally, most of us have a good idea who we’re going to vote for or not vote for, and why. And technically speaking, this blog update isn’t really about the election. I’m trying extra hard not to get into pointless arguments via social media. If it matters to you, I do not care at all for Donald Trump as a presidential candidate, and I will be voting for Hillary Clinton because I think I ultimately agree with her more than any other candidate, including Gary Johnson and Jill Stein.
However, if you’re voting for Donald Trump, I don’t want to unfriend you on social media or (worse yet) stop hanging out in real life. This isn’t a blog post about who I am voting for. No, what finally made my blood boil over and sucked me in to saying something is this little ditty, attacking and labeling my former pastor, Max Lucado, as a Pharisee, and elevating Trump’s Christianity above Max’s. If you’re not aware, Max wrote this about Trump back in February, and you can read a little more about his thought process here in an interview with NPR.
I encourage you, nay, I beseech you, to read all 3. Don’t worry, I’ll wait. *waits patiently, sips beverage, eats snack, checks email* Have you read them yet? No? Okay, fine, let me quickly summarize for you. Max has the audacity to point out that one cannot objectively describe Trump’s behavior as “decent,” that if Trump had shown up at Max’s house acting like he acts now and wanted to date Max’s daughter, Max would have said “no.” Max says he has done this, not simply because Trump is a candidate for president, as Max typically stays away from endorsing candidates or telling people in his congregation how to vote, but particularly because Trump also was touting his Christian faith and bona fides one day, and engaging in hateful, harmful name-calling and rhetoric the next (and the next, and the next, and…). And what is the response of Mr. Riley? To call Max a Pharisee who misses the point.
Perhaps a good place to start would be to be honest and clear about where I’m coming from here. I believe in a God who is neither a Republican, nor a Democrat, nor a liberal, nor a libertarian, nor a conservative. I don’t believe any candidate is God’s candidate, and similarly, I believe all candidates are real people, children of God whom God loves, as their creator. I hold it as Truth that God loved the WORLD (not a person, people, nation, group, religion, but the entire WORLD because God created the whole world and everything in it) so much He sent His only Son to die for our sins. This means that Jesus died the same for Hillary as for Donald, the same for Max as for James, and the same as for me as for everyone else. As much as I may see something else when I look at someone, particularly candidates for public office who I am exposed to on a daily basis, I believe God sees them as His children, just as worthy of love and salvation as I am, and with access to grace and mercy through Jesus equal to mine. If I am following God, I should be following Him in striving to see others, especially others who are different than me and with whom I disagree, as He sees them.
Furthermore, I believe people of good conscience, including those who share the labels “Christian” or “Follower of Christ” with me, can and do occupy all ends of the political spectrum. In following Jesus, I believe there is almost always more than one way to vote in any election, more than one political party to identify with, and more than one position to take on issues of public policy, both foreign and domestic. I don’t say this because I’m some sort of moral relativist who believes all positions and views are equally valid. I don’t. However, I think good people of faith can disagree about how best to go about accomplishing what they feel are parts of their faith they are called to live out through participation in a public society and through government. Additionally, although I believe God is perfect and His Word is divine and true, I also don’t think it is some cut-and-dry instruction manual that couldn’t possibly be misunderstood or read through human bias. We should struggle for the Truth, and to sincerely and earnestly seek to live this out, but I also think a dash of humility and allowance that our imperfect human understanding could always be improved could go a long way.
So, this is where I’m coming from: God is above our human politics, and children of God may disagree and vote and govern differently, and I’m okay with that. This doesn’t mean I don’t have a mind or opinions of my own, that I don’t disagree with others. Of course I do, and I expect others will disagree with me. And I welcome that dialogue, especially when done in a loving and Christian tone.
What then, is my beef with this post by James Patrick Riley? Not only can he not find a way to disagree with Max respectfully, without going for the low blow of calling him a Pharisee, his argumentation is weak and flawed; he doesn’t even bother to suggest anything Max has claimed about Trump is untrue. He is certainly welcome to his opinion, but I hold that his opinion is wrong. That alone probably wouldn’t be enough to provoke me to write this, but he drags through the mud the reputation of a man who, though only my pastor for 2 years, played a significant role in developing my faith, and continues to do so with his writing. Max Lucado doesn’t need little ol’ me to defend him, but I want to come to his defense. And, plus, someone on the Internet is wrong! *shocked face*
Where do I start? First, James labels Max as a Pharisee because he ignores “weightier matters of the law.” In response, I would ask what is the weightiest matter of the law? If you read Mr. Riley’s article as I do, you’d think it is being staunchly pro-life, hating Muslims, and glorifying the rich. I’m going to respectfully point instead to Matthew 22: 36-40 – when Jesus was asked about the most important commandment in the law, he answered with loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself. I would think that love would include decency – I have a difficult time imagining how I might love someone without being decent towards them. I can speak hard truth or tell people what they don’t want to hear, but still always balance it with love and decency. But instead, as the weightiest matter of the law, Mr. Riley offers abortion (hardly a cut-and-dry issue across the Christian faith – for example, you can read here how the Methodist church supports the legal option of abortion in at least some cases, and recognizes the church’s view on abortion is not church law), hating Muslims (technically, he uses the phrase “Islamo-pandering” but his disdain for an entire religion and people seems right on point with the essence of hate; ironic that he begins his blog post with the story of the Good Samaritan), and glorifying the rich (again, Mr. Riley’s exact words are “class warfare,” but somehow I feel like it’s safe to assume he isn’t concerned here with the marginalized poor, despite the numerous references to the poor and social justice throughout the Bible and Jesus’ assertion of the barrier earthly wealth can present to entering the kingdom of heaven in Mark 10:25 or his suggestion to pay your taxes in Matthew 22:15-22).
Second, Mr. Riley accuses Max of traditionally being private with his politics as a way to not offend the Democrats in his congregation. You have already read how I feel about suggesting one political party is somehow the party of God. To that, I would add, I don’t think Max’s reticence to tell people who he’ll be voting for is about some soft-hearted attempt to not offend anyone, or even some cynical attempt to boost or maintain church membership. Rather, I believe it has much more to do with keeping his focus on the cross and recognizing Jesus’ death and resurrection transcend all. I also believe Max is living out Romans 14:21 and avoiding doing anything else that might cause another believer to stumble. If he says he is voting for one candidate and everyone else in his congregation should too or else, and someone leaves the church and turns away from following Christ, even if that is an individual choice, I doubt Max would want that on his conscience.
Next, Mr. Riley criticizes Max for choosing to criticize Donald Trump, but not President Obama, again citing the issue of abortion as if it was the end-all, be-all issue of Christianity. I would point out here that Mr. Riley appears to have missed an important point – Max chose to criticize Trump because Trump was promoting himself as a Christian and courting the evangelical vote, not simply because he is a public figure running for office. He then goes on detail Trump’s very recent change on the issue of abortion and gives him the benefit of the doubt as being sincere. Riley then hits the point where he pushed me mentally over the edge, suggesting that Trump is the “real” Christian because he “acts like it,” not Max “who puts on a polite show of neutrality.”
Really? Have we really hit the point where people are questioning and criticizing Max Lucado’s Christianity and suggesting Trump is somehow more Christian. Mr. Riley tries to defend Trump from the variety of criticisms he has faced from some Christians for various things like casinos and gambling, being foul mouthed, arrogance, and strip clubs and philandering. He then goes on to remind us about all the people in the Bible who were imperfect that God managed to use, and that Trump is really a good guy if you’d just give him a chance, and if you won’t, it’s because obviously you’re a Pharisee who values style over substance.
Again, I ask, really? I don’t know if I can adequately respond to all the excuses Riley makes for Trump. But more importantly, I don’t have to. Riley is completely missing the point. Max mentions nothing of casinos and gambling, specific language, arrogance alone, strips clubs, or philandering. Rather, the issue is quite simply one of how Trump treats people: indecently. It’s not just about using the word bimbo, it’s about using that word publicly and repeatedly to describe a daughter of God. It’s about mocking a former POW. It’s about making demeaning references to someone’s menstrual cycle. It’s about using language to incite violence, or at least condone it. To put it as clearly as possible – This. Is. Not. How. Jesus. Acted. Not even close. This isn’t some issue of valuing manners and politeness and never offending people over doing the right thing – treating people well, treating others lovingly, IS the right thing. It’s the second greatest commandment after loving God.
Christianity isn’t a competition. Max, I’m sure, would be the first to tell you that he was just as dead in his sin before Christ as Trump. But if we’re going to look at who is following more closely in the shoes of Jesus, making disciples, loving the world, it’s not even close. To pretend Trump is more Christian in his action is complete and utter nonsense that clearly and disgustingly places politics above of faith, completely ignoring the foundations of Christianity.
And yes, the Bible is full of people who had shady pasts, were outcasts from the religious crowds. But one thing they shared in common, when God did use them for His will, was that they humbled themselves, submitted themselves fully to Him, and repented and turned from their sins. I can’t say on this matter of decency I see much humility, submission to God, or repentance from Donald. Instead, it seems like each week he seeks to outdo himself saying more and more outrageous and indecent things.
So, if you choose to vote for Donald Trump this fall, that is totally your right, and I don’t think you’re a horrible person for it. If you legitimately believe as a Christian that a vote for him is the best expression of your faith and that he will do the best job representing your values and morals, please, by all means, vote for him. I can accept people of good intentions will come down differently on politics, and I refuse to give in to the push to demonize people who vote differently than I do. But, don’t get so caught up in defending Donald Trump that you call Max Lucado a Pharisee and suggest Trump is more of a Christian than Lucado, simply because Max points out that being decent matters and that Trump is not decent. And don’t hypocritically criticize someone for being typically tight-lipped about politics while simultaneously criticizing someone for pointing out the truth about the horse you decided to back in the race. And if you do, you might want to actually point out how their critique was false or incorrect, instead of attacking their character while missing the major point of the Christian faith and instead reducing Christianity to hating Muslims and being pro-life. That’s not the Christianity Max “the Pharisee” Lucado taught me about, at least 😉