It’s no secret that Donald Trump is no choir boy. Twice divorced and remarried to mistresses, the philandering swindler has tried to use eminent domain to steal property from widows, and drew attention early in this cycle by mocking former prisoners of war and disabled reporters. Nevertheless, he seems to know just the right things to say to American evangelicals.
At the same time, the New York Times is no deep theological rag. As The Federalist‘s Mollie Hemingway has pointed out numerous times, the paper proves surprisingly illiterate about matters of Christianity. No, Jesus isn’t buried in a tomb. No, Easter is not about Jesus’ ascension into heaven. No, the book of Romans doesn’t call for the execution of gay people.
But on Tuesday, the paper published an article which oozes a fundamental understanding of Christianity. In “The Theology of Donald Trump,” Peter Wehner of the Ethics and Public Policy Center points out the fundamental reason why Christians should have trouble supporting such a man: his fundamental values are more Nietzschean than Christian. It is rather ironic that this article dropped on the same day Hillary Clinton got away with breaking the law and putting national security at risk, but I digress.
Trump admires strength more than humility, power more than sacrifice, achievement in himself more than reliance on God. This ironically makes him a fitting contrast to Jesus Christ — a man The Donald once essentially described as an egomaniac. In his speech to evangelicals last month, Trump emphasized power more than anything else.
“And I say to you folks, because you have such power, such influence. Unfortunately the government has weeded it away from you pretty strongly. But you’re going to get it back. Remember this: if you ever add up, the men and women here are the most important, powerful lobbyists. You’re more powerful,” Trump declared. “Because you have men and women, you probably have something like 75, 80 percent of the country believing. But you don’t use your power. You don’t use your power.”
There are so many problems with this, it’s laughable. Not only is there not one Christian church which can excerise “power” in the way Trump describes, but Christianity and the Church aren’t about power — they are about surrendering it. As Wehner write in the Times, Christians follow Jesus, who declared, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” “Blessed are the meek,” and who emphasized, “My strength is made perfect in weakness.”
Wehner knows his Bible, and he knows that Jesus was not about power, but about sacrifice, forgiveness, and love. After all, this is a savior who was humiliated and crucified by the powerful — and is worshipped FOR DYING and later rising from the dead. Jesus never held political power, he never told the Jews to revolt against their oppressors, and he explicitly said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” You don’t get much more of a “loser” — in Trump’s estimation — than that.
But there are even better reasons to doubt Trump’s identity as a Christian. The Donald has testified, on numerous occasions, that he does not remember asking God for forgiveness for his sins. Jesus constantly taught repentance, and even told his followers to pray to God, saying “forgive us our sins.” Trump cannot even remember praying The Lord’s Prayer sincerely once — and that should cast huge asperions on whether Trump is a true believer.
If Trump doesn’t really believe in the values of Jesus Christ, what values does he believe in? Wehner has a deep theological answer for that, as well (emphasis added).
To better understand Mr. Trump’s approach to life, ethics and politics, we should not look to Christ but to Friedrich Nietzsche, who was repulsed by Christianity and Christ. “What is good?” Nietzsche asks in “The Anti-Christ“: “Whatever augments the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself in man. What is evil? Whatever springs from weakness. What is happiness? The feeling that power increases – that resistance is overcome.”
Whether or not he has read a word of Nietzsche (I’m guessing not), Mr. Trump embodies a Nietzschean morality rather than a Christian one. It is characterized by indifference to objective truth (there are no facts, only interpretations), the repudiation of Christian concern for the poor and the weak, and disdain for the powerless. It celebrates the “Übermensch,” or Superman, who rejects Christian Morality in favor of his own. For Nietzsche, strength was intrinsically good and weakness was intrinsically bad. So, too, for Donald Trump.
Next Page: Why many Christians still back Trump. Did he really just get baptized?!
Despite Wehner’s scathing critique of The Donald (and similar attacks from leaders like Russell Moore), many conservative Christians are supporting Trump. Infamously, James Dobson recently declared that “Trump appears to be tender to the things of the Spirit,” meaning the Holy Spirit.
Eric Metaxas, author of books about virtue and popular biographies of William Wilberforce and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, has said Christians “must vote for Trump, because with all his foibles, peccadilloes, and metaphorical warts, he is nonetheless the last best hope of keeping America from sliding into oblivion, the tank, the abyss, the dustbin of history, if you will.”
Dobson and Metaxas are known for their integrity, which led this reporter to question how they could support The Donald so thoroughly. In an interview with radio host Mike Gallagher, Metaxas recalled an underreported part of Trump’s meeting with evangelicals last month.
The one thing that was not reported on, and this is big, Cardinal Dolan walked him to the catechism [sic — I think he meant the baptistry] and baptized him in front of 750 people. He is now a Roman Catholic. It’s unbelievable.
Indeed, this event would be “yuge,” and would help explain why so many Christians with integrity have begun insisting that Trump is indeed a Christian. Roman Catholics believe that salvation is given through the Sacraments, and baptism is the first of these. Even non-Catholics hail the importance of baptism, as even Jesus was baptized.
Although Trump may not fully appreciate Christian doctrine and live by it, his baptism does suggest at least an openness to faith. The problem is that Christians are called to recognize one another by the “fruit of the spirit.” The Donald seems especially lacking in these qualities: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. First Corinthians (not “one” or “two Corinthians”) emphasizes what is meant by love, and it’s very service oriented — “it does not boast, it is not proud.”
Nevertheless, the stunning news today that presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton will face no charges involving her private email server suggests that Metaxas may be right about Trump being “the last best hope” to preserve America. Hillary’s escape from justice presents a huge threat to the rule of law in this country, and if she becomes president that could arguably signal the downfall of American values.
Clinton has taken stances on abortion and religious liberty which would push our country even farther left, alienating conservative Christians and removing their ability to live by their values. Worse, she has shown a terrible sense of ruthless political maneuvering which she could only have learned from Richard Nixon himself. The idea that Hillary will nominate the next two Supreme Court justices also does not sit well with values voters.
With Trump and Clinton disliked by huge segments of the population, there is a non-zero chance that a third party candidate, like the Libertarian Gary Johnson, might be able to steal states and force the election into the House of Representatives. From there, Congress would have to decide the president.
Nevertheless, with the Republican Party most likely to fall in line behind him, The Donald may be the only hope of keeping this morally heinous woman from the Oval Office. Christian leaders like Metaxas do not deny Trump’s sins and errors, but they sadly may be right that he is better than the alternative.
It is telling that when the New York Times does go out of its way to present Christianity well, it is only to attack the presumptive Republican nominee. While Wehner is not a New York Times reporter but a guest columnist, it seems unlikely that the newspaper would have published his column if Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio had won the Republican primary.