Many conservative Christians are struggling with whether or not to support presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, and faith leaders have taken to comparing him to biblical figures like the wicked king Ahab or the redeemable pagan king Nebuchadnezzar. So which is he?
Steve Deace, an Iowa talk radio pundit who backed Ted Cruz in the presidential primary, warned Christian leaders against supporting Trump, calling him an Ahab. David Lane, founder of the American Renewal Project and leader of a movement to get pastors to run for political office, suggested The Donald may be more like Nebuchadnezzar, a Babylonian tyrant advised by the prophet Daniel who eventually honored the Hebrew God.
Many Christians have trouble with Trump not just because of his off-color comments, his demeaning insults, and his sleazy past, but because he says he has never asked God for forgiveness.
This may not seem like a big deal to your typical non-Christian. Why would Trump bother the Almighty with his sins? But to any Christian who believes that Jesus Christ constantly told everyone to repent, died on the cross to save us from our sins, and rose again to give us hope in eternal life, this is a key omission. Throughout scripture, Jesus emphasizes repentance (“go, and sin no more”) almost as much as faith.
But Trump told Frank Luntz last July, “I’m not sure I have ever asked God’s forgiveness. I don’t bring God into the picture.” He later told Anderson Cooper, “I try not to make mistakes where I have to ask forgiveness.” Trump then asked, “Why do I have to repent or ask forgiveness, if I am not making mistakes?”
Romans 3:23 answers his question, “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Trump may be a fine person by the world’s standards (a proposition which seems increasingly doubtful), but he certainly falls short of the sinless perfection required to enjoy the presence of God — we all do. Christianity is about recognizing this fact, repenting of your sin, and accepting Jesus’ sacrifice and the free gift of eternal life.
A Christian is someone who acknowledges his or her sinfulness, repents, and accepts Jesus Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection as the event which reconciles us to God. Granted, this may be a narrow, evangelical-focused definition of Christianity, but it places the Reverend Billy Graham and Martin Luther King Jr. on one side, and Donald J. Trump on the other. It also explains why many Christians hesitate to back him or consider him one of their own.
As Alan Noble, editor in chief of Christ and Pop Culture, wrote recently, “Any man who is so unaware of his own depravity that he cannot recognize his need for forgiveness is incapable of justly leading any country. There is simply no way around this fact for evangelicals.”
So if Trump is not exactly a Christian, how should Christian leaders see him? That’s where the arguments of Deace and Lane come into the picture. It actually makes a great deal of difference whether Trump is an irredeemable tyrant or a potentially good ruler who just needs humility.
Is The Donald a spitting image of the irredeemable Ahab, who led the people of Israel away from God? Or is he the promising Nebuchadnezzar, a potentially great ruler who needs to learn humility?
Next Page: Why Trump seems like the evil king Ahab.
Deace framed his connection between Trump and Ahab in terms of political archetypes in the Bible. According to him, there are three types: Josiah, the true statesman, “sold out to the cause of righteousness;” Hezekiah, the typical politician who does the principled thing when it’s easy but often lets his ego get in the way; and Ahab, “a pure megalomaniac whose only motivation is his own ego, elevation, and experiences. A hedonist/narcissist/tyrant.”
“Trump is an Ahab,” the pundit declared. “He is not like anything we have ever dealt with before. He is not a RINO, Republicrat, or any other kind of Hezekiah type. He won’t even pander to you on the bathroom issue when it would help him. Why? Because you’re all nothing but marks to him. He is utterly and undeniably shameless.”
Deace argued that Trump is emphatically not “a raving madman Hitler type,” or even “the kind of megalomaniac Obama is, with his Soviet-style ruthless pursuit of Marxism.” In this, the pundit is exactly right — Trump is not an ideologue, not of the anti-Semite or the anti-freedom persuasion.
“Rather, Trump is merely a conqueror convinced that if he’s calling all the shots the world would be a better place. He is a law unto himself,” the pundit concluded. This is accurate, up to a point. The Donald clearly lives by a certain code: he does not drink alcohol and even while he has cheated on multiple wives, he has a sort of morality he lives by. It does seem, however, that Trump thinks the world would benefit from his rule.
One of the common confusions about Trump is that he is an Alpha Male. Deace rightly argued that The Donald is not one — “Like most tyrants he is deeply insecure. How many 70-year old men are still defensive about their penis size?” The pundit wrote that “it is those very insecurities that cause him to lash out so maliciously. Think of the damaged Commodus in the movie ‘Gladiator.'”
Now that’s a burn! And it may not be entirely inaccurate. Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) is a tyrant who fights in the arena to prove his manliness to himself, but he also weakens Maximus (Russell Crowe) before the fight, giving himself an unfair advantage. This is the kind of wheeling-and-dealing that Trump is famous for: pulling the strings for himself, and then taking the spotlight to claim a win.
Trump may not be the Alpha Male, but there is a role for a true leader — “to confront and take down the tyrant.” Deace argues that the true leaders are the “men willing to storm the beaches of Normandy, proclaim we have ‘no king but Jesus,’ or face down Commodus in front of a full crowd at the Coliseum.” The pundit asked God to raise up some true Alpha Males in our own day.
Deace emphatically warned Christian leaders against teaming up with The Donald. “The tyrant cannot be negotiated with. He cannot be befriended. Nor can he show empathy,” he wrote. Why? Because “all is weakness to him. Therefore, everything is transactional. You are there for as long as you’re useful, and then gone when you are not.”
When PJ Media asked Deace whether or not he stuck by his comments comparing Trump to Ahab, he tweeted, “to the Nth degree. To the last syllable.”
To the Nth degreee.
To the last syllable. https://t.co/OFvjpwiK8F
— Steve Deace (@SteveDeaceShow) June 9, 2016
Deace wasn’t the first one to make this comparison, either. Russell Moore did it in early May.
The pundit made some pretty stellar arguments, but there is room for disagreement. In comments to PJ Media, David Lane argued that Trump isn’t Ahab, but he might be Nebuchadnezzar.
Next Page: How The Donald could be the redeemable leader Nebuchadnezzar.
Evangelical organizer David Lane, leader of the pastors in politics movement that has convinced over 500 pastors to run for political office this year, quoted Anne Graham Lotz (the author evangelist daughter of the Reverend Billy Graham), who said she would vote for whomever won the Republican nomination.
“When I vote for [Mr. Trump], I’m going to pray for him every day,” Lotz wrote. “Daniel served under Nebuchadnezzar, he was like the Saddam Hussein of his day, and in the end, Nebuchadnezzar gave glory to the God of Daniel because of what he saw in Daniel’s life.”
This is the way Christians ought to serve non-Christian rulers — faithfully and in a way that inspires them to honor God. Lane framed the argument for Trump in fascinating terms.
“Is Donald J. Trump God’s instrument for delivering America from the false religion of Secularism?” Lane asked. “I don’t have a clue. Secularism’s pastors and evangelists now control the institutional forces governing contemporary America: public education, higher learning, mainstream media, Big Business, and Hollywood.”
The evangelical organizer suggested that God could be fundamentally ironic in his choice of leader. “What a dissonant note, how shocking, is it to believe that the vehicle God would use to restore America’s Judeo-Christian heritage and reestablish a Biblically-based culture would be a pagan who does not even know the Lord God Jehovah.” What a concept! But God has done this before — “Welcome to the mindset of Israel in the Babylonian captivity.”
Lane brought up the Babylonian captivity because when Nebuchadnezzar conquered the kingdom of Judah, he deported much of the Jewish people to Babylon. In captivity, the prophet Daniel impressed the Babylonian king and convinced him to honor the Jewish God. The Hebrews only returned when the Persian King Cyrus conquered Babylon and allowed them to go back to Israel.
“If Trump is not a Nebuchadnezzar then I’m praying that he is a Cyrus,” Lane wrote. “A pagan whom God gave the honorific title of ‘shepherd’ (Is. 44:28) and ‘anointed’ (Is. 45:1), 150 years or so before he was born. Isaiah 45:3, ‘That you may know that I, the LORD, who call you by your name, am the God of Israel.’ There’s no evidence that Cyrus ever surrendered himself to the Living God.”
The evangelical organizer emphasized an important Old Testament point — that God uses people regardless of their faith or willingness to help Him.
Lane quoted Dr. John N. Oswald in his Isaiah Commentary. “It is not necessary for the Creator to have permission of someone’s faith before that person can be given a front-rank position in God’s plans,” Oswald wrote. “He is the Lord, and we will serve him, either without glad comprehension, or in spite of our sullen rebellion or placid ignorance.”
The evangelical organizer made his argument for Trump on such terms. “I do believe in the sovereignty of God. Who knows, maybe Trump will be like King Cyrus, the vehicle that God created to deliver His people from the Babylonian captivity and used to rebuild Jerusalem,” Lane wrote.
Next Page: Can we expect God to use Trump in this way? It would be surprising.
This would be an impressive feat on God’s part. Not only is Trump notoriously a sleaze, but he has tried to use the government’s power of eminent domain to take private land for his own private use. He brags about manipulating politicians, and shows a penchant for employing the power of the state to serve his own interests.
But then again, The Donald has promised that “Christianity will have power” if he is president, and as Lane notes, Trump would likely shatter much of the secularist ruling consensus in our culture and politics. It is entirely possible that a faith-based understanding might gain traction under a Trump presidency — either through his administration or in reaction to the weakening of anti-Christian assumptions embedded in the secular culture.
Christians should still be careful about Trump, however. The last ruler who gave Christianity power fundamentally altered the church, and not for the better. The Emperor Constantine may have made the Roman Empire officially Christian (even though there were many pagans high in his administration), but he also turned a vibrant growing church into a lazy monopoly faith. Trump likely cannot do this, but Constantine should be a cautionary tale.
Still, Lane shows why some Christians can embrace Trump as a true sign of hope for a conservative culture long silenced by political correctness. Under a Trump presidency, conservative Christians could finally speak their minds about their faith without rebuke, and perhaps the irrational anger against Christian bakers wishing to protect their consciences and avoid gay weddings might finally subside. Now, that indeed would be a miracle.