President Trump’s words at the National Prayer Breakfast should be cause for concern, though more about conservatives than about him. Allow me to take a roundabout way to explain why.
Andrew Klavan at PJ Media was a Trump supporter, albeit not an enthusiastic one. In an article from a couple weeks ago called ‘Why Some Wise Men Fear Trump,’ Klavan reflects on why Christian and Jewish friends he respects were uneasy about electing Trump — that, even if he turned out to be a good president, it was a bad thing.
Though this seemed a strange thing to say, Klavan felt his own apprehensions about Trump’s behavior on the campaign trail. Upon reflection, he surmised that he and his friends were nervous because Trump is the first post-Christian president. I’ll let Andrew explain in his own words:
Don’t misunderstand this. I don’t mean he’s evil and I’m not even commenting on his religious beliefs. (He says he goes to church.) But he is the first president who ran a campaign without reference to Christian cultural norms. We — myself included — voted for him in spite of the fact that he exalted his wealth and insulted those of his critics who were not rich as “losers” and “failures.” As for his sexual behavior… Bill Clinton committed adultery and may well have committed rape, but he lied about it. He knew it was wrong. He lived, as an adulterer and hypocrite, within Christian norms. Trump bragged about his adulteries and paraded his flirtations. He said he never asked God for forgiveness, he just tried to make his wrongs right.
What is of concern here to Klavan and his friends is not Trump specifically, but the people who elected him. The right-of-center voters who punched his name at the poll are disproportionately Christian, yet they did not hold Trump to the standard of Christian morals to which presidents are traditionally held. Nor did he seem even to be evaluated within that framework.
Some conservatives would argue that Klavan is letting Obama off the hook. He doesn’t, but the objection misses the point. He continues:
Again, this is not a question of right or wrong, good or bad. Barack Obama believed in leftism, which is tyranny, and I doubt he truly worshipped anything not named Barack. But leftist tyranny is a perversion of Christianity; it is Christianity without Christ. It accepts Christian care for the poor and the weak and transfers that responsibility from the individual to the state. This is destructive and oppressive — but again, it’s shaped by Christian norms. Exalting wealth, deriding lack of wealth, bragging about adultery and eschewing God’s forgiveness — these may be non-hypocritical even occasionally beneficial behaviors, but they are non-Christian acts and we elected Trump either in spite of them or possibly because of them.
This brings me to President Trump’s behavior at the National Prayer Breakfast. First, after he was introduced by Mark Burnett, the producer of not only ‘The Bible’ miniseries, but also ‘The Apprentice,’ Trump took the opportunity to reference the current host of his old show, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and his comparatively low ratings.
“We know how that turned out,” Trump said. “The ratings went right down the tubes. It has been a disaster. I want to just pray for Arnold…for those ratings.”
It was likely a joke, though characteristic of Trump’s belittling of rivals and his need to compare himself favorably with others. The larger problem is that it was an inappropriate comment for the National Prayer Breakfast. Trump does not recognize the solemnity of such an occasion.
Later, after the chaplain of the Senate spoke, Trump continued, thanking him.
“Thank you as well to senator [sic] chaplain Barry Black for his moving words,” he said. “I don’t know, chaplain, whether that’s an appointed position? Is that an appointed position? I don’t know if you’re Democrat or Republican, but I’m appointing you for another year. The hell with it.”
As CNN helpfully explained, “To many, especially the religious leaders in the room, ‘hell’ is a swear word.” Bless your heart for clearing that up, CNN.
The president apparently is one of the people who need that explained to them. This is unsurprising. He reportedly is new to the faith, and considering his lifestyle and personal image for much of his life, he should be given grace in his personal life as he comes to understand it and know Christ more.
This was a typical argument of serious Christians who sought to justify their support of a man they recognized to be of dubious morals. But although it is fine apply to people personally, it has nothing to do with his qualifications to be leader of the free world. The phrase “we’re not electing a pastor” recognizes the responsibilities that accompany being a pastor, but what concerns Klavan, his friends and others is that Republican voters did not find the responsibilities of the office of the president to be sufficient to warrant a similar standard, and did not apply the same scrutiny via Christian morality customarily applied to candidates.
While I’ve never been Donald Trump’s biggest fan, I don’t believe his presidency represents some sort of disaster from which America cannot recover. I do, however, wonder who we are capable of electing if we continue to slide away from the requirement of our nation’s leaders to adhere to a framework of Christian norms.
The reactions of American Christians to happenings such as this National Prayer Breakfast will tell us a lot about whether the fear is founded.