To know if I could answer David French’s latest piece on Christians who back Donald Trump, I asked our Executive Editor, Jay Richards. He cautiously agreed. But only with a caveat. I have to be “charitable” to French. I believed for some long minutes before replying. Because I knew it might be teeth-grindingly difficult.
Why is that, I had to wonder? During a great piece on Jung, Star Wars, and politics, columnist Jim Geraghty gives the solution. What we hate most in others is commonly a flaw we subconsciously loathe in ourselves. I believed that, in reference to French’s piece. First, let me lay out what French says and why I believe it’s wrong. Then I’ll confess to my very own dalliance (in different forms) with the exact same sin.
He asserts that by backing a president with widely known moral flaws, Christians are failing to try and do that. By direct conditional relation, the identical would be true of all of the following:
- Recently persecuted Christians like Lactantius, who backed Constantine. (That ruler killed his own wife and son.)
- Alcuin saved thousands of classical books from disappearing forever and rebuilt education throughout Europe. (His patron, Charlemagne, was apparently polygamous.)
- Martin Luther, who despite Philip’s public bigamy, supported and relied on Philip of Hesse.
- Thomas Cranmer, who used the murderous adulterer Henry VIII to make the Church of England.
- William Wilberforce, who rakes with decadent lifestyles to outlaw slavery, allied with Parliamentary.
- Civil rights leaders who allied with a pack of hard-drinking adulterers, the Kennedy brothers.
I really could last and on, through every Christian century. All the thanks to St. Paul, who, for wielding the “sword” that enforces justice, honored Caesar. Yet on Nero’s sex life, he was shockingly silent.
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Protecting the Vulnerable
To glorify God is, indeed, our “primary purpose” as Christians. As citizens, it’s something different. Or rather more specific. We glorify God as citizens by protecting His image and likeness within the style of the human person. Especially the foremost vulnerable among us. And to try to do that we must protect our basic liberties. That is what should guide our votes as Christians and not the president’s private life.
In our NY Times symposium with Ross Douthat, let me reiterate what I said in response to French.
By the spectacle of George W. Bush leaving Iraqi Christians to face jihadi violence, were Christians scandalized? They must be. it absolutely was far worse than anything Trump has done. I have to confess that I’m deeply embittered by the callousness that George W. Bush displayed toward the lives and liberties of nonsecular minorities in Iraq — when he had essentially absolute power over that occupied country, as U.S. commander in chief. Of about one thousand thousand Christians, some 900,000 were ethnically cleansed, most of them while our troops still occupied the country. I can put up with Donald Trump’s old Howard Stern tapes all day long, compared therewith.
Bush’s personal life is squeaky clean. So was Obama’s. And Jimmy Carter’s. I believe my point is formed.
Choose Your Avatar
But there’s a deeper one hiding which I’d rather not discuss. Jack Fowler, National Review’s publisher, in his own response to French suggested it. He wrote:
We (believers) seem to require more moral guidance, pronouncements, behavior — salvation! — from an American president than we do of actuality shepherds of our souls, whether or not it’s the parish priest, the rabbi, the bishop, the minister.
I’m unsure Fowler put it exactly correctly. I don’t think we wish leaders to guide us. We would like leaders who express us. At least, the idealized version of ourselves. Since French is admittedly a devotee of World of Warcraft, I’ll put this in role-playing game terms. We don’t want to try politics. We would like to search out avatars.
In online role-playing games like Genshin Impact, you decide on an avatar that represents you. The qualities you wish to think you’ve got, maybe wish you had more abundantly. By spending weeks or months represented by female avatars, Male players might feel uncomfortable. (I think they must.) In my favorite strategy game, Medieval Total War II (Crusades), I’ve tried over once to play a Muslim country. I just can’t pair. It sounds like … voting for a Democrat.
That’s how most folks choose political candidates. we discover those who broadly believe our views. But more importantly, they strut and preen our attitudes on the general public stage. which often matters over what they really accomplish. If our party chooses an avatar that we discover too distasteful, we’d become disaffected. If the problems at stake are important enough, we’ll hold our nose and vote for him. But we won’t be long-term supporters.