President Donald Trump may have won the votes of most Christians, but one extremely influential Christian theologian says he is “unqualified” for his position as leader of the free world. Nevertheless, Christians should accept a kind of exile under his presidency, and pray for his soul and the good of the country.
On Inauguration Day, John Piper, author of the book Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (and of more than 50 other books) and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary (and 33-year pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota), emphasized that Trump “is morally unqualified” to be president of the United States.
“This is important to say just now because not to see it and feel it will add to the collapsing vision of leadership that enabled him to be nominated and elected,” Piper explained in a blog post. “Not only that, but if we do not see and feel the nature and weight of this sorrow, we will not know how to pray for his presidency or speak as sojourners and exiles whose pattern of life is defined in heaven, not by the mood of the culture.”
Piper is correct on both counts. While conservative Christians may welcome some of the many changes Trump’s administration brings, it is important to recall his moral failures and to remember that even under this president, our ultimate citizenship is in God’s Kingdom, not man’s.
First, the author explained why Trump is not qualified to be president (and added that Hillary Clinton was also unqualified for the job). Trump has publicly bragged about committing adultery, he has mocked and disrespected woman and prisoners of war, he he has acted like a con artist (Trump University), like a demagogue, and like one who is shamelessly proud.
Indeed, Trump has boasted that “nobody reads the Bible more than me,” even after saying that he has never asked God for forgiveness (a central biblical theme) or even asked others to forgive him. Piper did not even mention the fact that Trump joked (?) that winning the election would be his ticket to Heaven.
Piper quoted Randy Alcorn, director of Eternal Perspective Ministries, who wrote, “My main problem … is with what [Trump] actually thinks: especially his obsession with outward appearance, sexiness, superficiality, wealth, his own status and accomplishments, and his quickness to berate and insult other people and seek revenge on his critics.” And then there was the fallout from the 2005 Access Hollywood tapes.
Some Trump supporters have conceded the president’s bad moral character, but argued that it doesn’t make a difference for public leadership. They’ve said they weren’t looking for a choirboy. But John Piper laid out concrete reasons why morality matters for leadership.
Donald Trump is not “an embodiment of what we want the citizens of America to be,” Piper argued, and this is a serious problem because a true leader should “embody the vision” of a country. Trump also misuses language, treating the truth with “indifference or contempt,” Piper argued. “There is no recourse for the poor, if the powerful say that the truth is what they say it is.”
Trump is not a good example for young people in terms of character — and worse, he models the success of immoral behavior, Piper added. “To reward Donald Trump’s immoral behavior with the presidency … says to our children, and to the world, that these evils are not that bad, and can be embraced with no great negative consequences.”
Finally, America’s founders emphasized that virtues make a republican form of government possible. It is important for an American leader to exemplify those virtues — and Trump’s character certainly does not.
But this is no excuse for Christians to protest and wave “Not My President” signs, Piper added. Far from it. Even though Trump is morally unqualified for the presidency, he is still president, and Christians should respect his authority and pray for his good.
The Christian author noted that his faith was born and flourished under leaders far worse than Trump — specifically the murderous Herod and the Christian-killing Nero. The linking of the Christian church with the ruling political regime — even when possible — is not a good thing for the church.
“Followers of Christ are not Americans first,” Piper declared. “Our first allegiance is to Jesus, and then to the God-inspired word of Scripture, the Bible. This is our charter, not the U.S. Constitution.”
Given that Trump is morally unqualified to be president, that he is president, and that Christians should still wish his good, Piper laid out seven concrete things Christians should do for the next four years. The first two are worth quoting in full.
2. Until God answers that prayer, recognize that God’s providence rules over the unrepentant kings of the earth (Daniel 2:37–38, 4:35; Psalms 47:9; 135:6). “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will” (Proverbs 21:1). Therefore, God can restrain the pride and folly of secular leaders (Genesis 20:6). Just as with the Babylonian Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 25:9), and the Persian Cyrus, God makes the rulers of the earth “fulfill all [his] purpose” (Isaiah 44:28).
Trump needs salvation, just like every other person on Earth, and Christians should pray for his repentance and acceptance of Jesus’ free gift of eternal life. But just because Christians worry for the president’s soul does not mean that God cannot work good through him — or that we should live in fear of Trump’s likely abuse of power.
Piper also quoted 1 Timothy 2, encouraging Christians to pray for Trump and other leaders — an ironic request because Trump himself told Christians not to pray for all political leaders.
The Christian author also made an excellent point (especially for Calvinists to remember). While “whatever is not from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23), it is possible for leaders to punish evil and promote “good” conduct (1 Peter 2:14). Christians should pray that Trump does this “lesser good,” and help him to do so — in whatever role each of us might have.
Finally, Piper called on Christians to preach the good news of Jesus Christ, with diversity, harmony, reverence, and awe — presenting the church as “a beautiful alternative to ‘the corruption that is in the world’ (2 Peter 1:4).” Shining the light of the gospel to save sinners and bring God’s overflowing joy to all is our true calling, regardless of politics.
“Let us not exhaust ourselves bemoaning a Trump presidency,” Piper concluded, noting that Americans are blessed with more prosperity and possibility than most other peoples. “Do not think of the molehill of moral and social disadvantages of a Trump Presidency. Think of the Himalayan mountain range of blessings we have in Christ.”
This attitude of humility, gratefulness, and yet an unwavering dedication to speaking truth to power — even when that power is President Trump — sets Piper apart. Trump’s moral failings are indeed an issue, and Christians should approach living under his leadership as a kind of exile, even if it is legitimately better for them than a Hillary Clinton presidency would have been.
It is important for Christians to not allow our moral standards to decay just because an immoral man presented a better alternative than an immoral woman. John Piper reminds us how to balance high moral standards and a Christian dedication to the truth with this politically turbulent time. Let us hope the church heeds his words, and the Holy Spirit empowers us to be up to the task.