I have stayed away from Donald Trump news for a while since it gets so annoying, but some of it is impossible to avoid. Truth be told, there are some policy decisions that I have liked, such as his Supreme Court choice, the tax plan (mostly), and scaling back on regulations that helped encourage investors. There are also things that are not so great and even predictably stupid, such as the disaster of a healthcare plan, the annoying Russia thing that won’t go away, trade tariffs, and dumb comments from him. But Donald Trump is a weird politician, seemingly impervious to scandals that would crush other politicians. This whole absurd saga with a pornstar that he allegedly had an affair with and paid hush money to is a great example of this. Many of us already cynically think that at least some politicians get involved in shady stuff anyway, but can you imagine if a “normal” politician got hit with a scandal like this? It would be politically disastrous, and yet for Trump, people’s reactions are kind of just like, “Oh yeah, well, there’s Trump for ya.” At the same time, his approval numbers are low despite the economy doing well, which is normally something that correlates with high approval ratings (whether the president actually did anything to truly affect the economy or not). He is some mutant politician; the things that would normally destroy a career don’t affect him that much, and the things that would normally help a politician don’t really assist him.
It makes for an odd situation for conservative evangelicals. He thankfully is not beholden to some of the really damaging and pigeon-brained ideas of the far left that jeopardize free speech and the free exercise of religion, and he also correctly rejects socialistic tendencies. He also continues to show poor character and poor judgment about what he says, and he’s still pretty reactionary. I mean, evangelicals grilled Bill Clinton for his sexual indiscretions, but Donald Trump seems to have his own laundry list of them. For some, instead of just simply stating that Trump often acts like a blockhead and has character concerns, we get rationalizations like these:
There is some truth in what Jeffress is saying; most evangelicals voted for Trump not because they thought he was some great spiritual leader but because his policies were deemed less crappy than Hillary’s. In that regard, I am actually in agreement, though I did not vote for him. However, he goes a bit far in saying that evangelicals support Trump as a “great” president and when he tries to brush this situation under the rug. It is so odd to me that he feels some great need to defend Trump over and over again, not only in this situation but others.
Jeffress here is an example of polarization and the rationalizations that go with entrenched positions. As analysis of the election showed, Trump won not so much because he was viewed as great but because Hillary was just an awful candidate. It was more of an anti-Hillary victory than a pro-Trump one. The Left does this as well as their pour all their hatred and anger on Trump, trying to paint everything that he does as racist and horrible. They are incapable of objectively saying anything that Trump’s administration might be doing well or at least competently, and it looks like the next election will probably be a rallying cry to destroy this monster named Trump that they, frankly, helped create.
The problem with unjustified polarization is that it leads to people becoming very insular, not communicating, and rationalizing things they shouldn’t. It’s something Christians should be wary of because our unwavering loyalty should only be given to Christ. It really makes me wonder what it will take for Jeffress to publicly criticize Trump, and while he does not come close to speaking for all evangelicals, it’s not a good look for the pastor of one of the largest churches in the DFW area. In fairness, there are some Christians who get way too social justice-y and start throwing out ignorant slogans and arguments without much careful thought, nuance, or sophisticated use of the Bible. That doesn’t help either and is no less a rationalized and polarized position.
The better path is to have an anchor of a biblical worldview that doesn’t put so much importance on secular political affairs. That doesn’t mean we don’t care, but it does mean we have the ability to not get too caught up in the fray and to inject some objective wisdom into the chaos. If Trump sins, does some dumb stuff, or says things he shouldn’t, we shouldn’t be afraid to say it. If Trump does something sensible, we should say that too. When Robert Jeffress and other Trump fanboys say some cringeworthy things, we should admit that and criticize it. When left-leaning Christians start sounding like 19 year old social justice warriors with the logic of bricks and the emotional control of prepubescent girls, we should call that out as well. We don’t have to circle the wagons and join a lot of this cultural mudslinging that has more to do with people’s immature emotions and simpleminded philosophies than anything substantial.
It can be hard to resist falling on either side of a fault line, but Christians should have the tools to stay above it. That’s the kind of cultural engagement we’d like to see more from the likes of Jeffress, not what he’s currently doing.