This week Pope Francis made news by declaring that Donald Trump is not a Christian. I posted an article about the Pope's announcement on my personal Facebook site and later deleted it due the heated manner in which friends were taking sides. Lost in the bluster are two important questions.
"Should a person's faith be the primary factor in selecting a political candidate, and how should we assess the faith-statements made by political figures?"
Pardon the pun, I would suggest that the personal faith of a candidate shouldn't trump all other factors. Christians should consider a number of factors when choosing their candidate, and there may be times when the best candidate does not share our particular brand of faith.
I would suggest that we consider the following four factors during this year's election.
First, we should consider character. Good leaders are people of character and integrity. They are honest, kind, and trustworthy. They treat people well and put the needs of others ahead of their own.
Second, we should evaluate their competence. Some candidates may have good character but little competence, the ability to accomplish objectives that help people flourish. We are told to pray for our leaders so that our lives can be quiet and peaceful. Enacting policies to help people flourish takes competence, especially in today's polarized political climate.
Third, we need to consider their policy positions. The things which candidates propose doing should be consistent with Christ-centered values about life and people. Specifically, their policy proposals should demonstrate a desire to protect and bless the most vulnerable members of our communities. Their policies should promote peace, personal sacrifice, responsibility, and self-control. On this matter, we also need to resist the thought that we can legislate Christian morality. Perfect laws won't produce Godly, Christ-centered people. Only Christ can accomplish that. Our laws shouldn't impede spiritual growth but they will never produce it.
And fourth, we should seek a candidate who fears God. By fear of God, I don't necessarily mean a candidate who shares all of my faith convictions. Rather, I mean a candidate who understands that he or she will answer to God for how they govern. Scripture teaches that fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, and that wisdom is a prerequisite for all forms of leadership.
Having established that one's religious position, or faith, isn't the only factor to be considered when voting, let's move on to the more vexing question, "Is Donald Trump a Christian?"
The mere question raises the hackles of many on the basis that we should not judge others. We must also acknowledge that only God knows the true status of a person's heart.
That being said, we are told throughout scripture, especially the New Testament, to exercise discernment when selecting our leaders. In fact, we are told to judge them, to assess the evidence of Godliness in their lives, to discern whether they demonstrate the virtues of spiritual maturity. This applies specifically to spiritual leaders, not elected officials but it does establish a basis for discerning the spiritual maturity of others.
Two things lead me, and others to conclude that Trump is not a Christian at this time. Let's start with the issue of virtues and vices. The Christian virtues of the New Testament are gentleness, humility, forgiveness, kindness, self-sacrifice, and compassion. These are not virtues which quickly come to mind when observing Mr. Trump's public persona. This is the lesser of two factors which lead to me to suspect that Donald Trump is not a Christian.
For me, the more convincing factor in assessing Trump's spiritual state are his own emphatic statements that he has neither needed, nor sought God's forgiveness. If Trump continues to hold that position we must conclude that he is not a Christian. Christianity begins with an acknowledgment of our sin and a posture of repentance. In Trump's own words, he has not acknowledged his sin or recognized anything from which he should repent.
So what does this mean about how we should vote, and how we should treat Donald Trump. First of all we should consider his character, his competence, and his history of policy advocacy. What kind of person is he? How well do we think he will able to get things done politically? What has he stood for, and what has he promised to do? In these areas we need to allow each other the freedom to conduct our own assessments and vote our conscience.
In terms of how we should treat Trump, we should love him as we would love someone who has not yet understood God's grace, and we should pray for Him.
To my shame, I haven't done well in either category. But from this point forward, I will work on doing better.
(Note) Also read Why Donald Trump threatens to Trump the Gospel, a call for unity among Christians who view Trump's candidacy differently.
"This blog is my way of connecting with people at Central and beyond to encourage them to make their space in the world more like Heaven."
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog reflect my thoughts and opinions as an individual, not the formal positions of our church. Central includes people with a wide range of opinions on important issues like those addressed in my posts. It is also a place where we can discuss these issues with civility and grace.