This has been a depressing election year, but little has been more depressing than the willingness of so many evangelical Christians to tolerate or even justify some of the worst words, beliefs, and actions of Donald Trump.
When he won the primary, I hoped that many evangelical Republicans would recognize how antithetical Trump’s character is to core Christian values and refuse to support him. And some did. But according to national polls, although many evangelicals initially hesitated, the vast majority of white evangelicals ultimately chose to back Trump. People averted their eyes from things like Trump’s pride, racism, materialism, and bullying in order to convince themselves they could support him in good conscience.
But finally, over the past two days, Trump’s boasts of sexually assaulting women—bragging that he can grab them by their genitals, doesn’t wait for their consent, and that he can do anything to them because he’s famous—seem to have roused many who have tried to make peace with his candidacy. Elected officials in his own party are abandoning him by the hour, and something, finally, seems to have broken through.
Our witness as the body of Christ has already suffered damage due to many Christians leaders’ declaration of Trump as the evangelical choice. That stain will not go away quickly, but at the very least, people can make a different decision before actually casting their ballots. And let’s not forget: as vile as Trump’s comments about sexual assault were, they are just the latest in a very long line of horrific, indefensible, and unChristian conduct from Trump.
To name just a few things: It was deeply offensive when Trump led the campaign to delegitimize our first black president based on racist lies about his place of birth. It was equally offensive when he launched his presidential bid by calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals, and when he said a judge couldn’t do his job because he was Mexican-American. It was appalling when Trump called to ban all Muslims from entering the United States, when he lied about American Muslims celebrating 9/11 by the thousands, and when he reveled in telling a story of Muslims being executed with bullets dipped in pig’s blood. It was sickening, too, when he mocked a disabled man for his disability, and when he pledged to murder the innocent children and wives of suspected terrorists.
Trump’s racism, sexism, admiration for brutal dictators, and disdain for the vulnerable are well-documented. Moreover, he says he’s a Christian, but he also says he’s never asked God for forgiveness. He has boasted of his promiscuity and affairs with married women. He’s made money through operating casinos and strip clubs. He calls people names, bullies them, and mocks women based on their appearance. He has refused to pay people money he owes them for their work, he has encouraged violence at his campaign events, and he has lied countless times. Perhaps most importantly for Christians, he almost never apologizes and has never shown genuine contrition for his sins. He is unrepentant.
Some see all this but still defend voting for Trump based on the flaws of his opponent. But Trump’s character flaws are different in degree and kind from those of any other presidential nominee in any of our lifetimes. Moreover, Trump is the only candidate who has promised to give Christians “power” if they vote for him, saying, “If I’m there, you’re going to have plenty of power. You don’t need anybody else. You’re going to have somebody representing you very, very well.” That is precisely the temptation Jesus resisted in the desert, and as his followers, it would tarnish our witness if we did not resist it as well. Policies are indeed important, but they are not as important as the integrity of the gospel message of Jesus Christ.
Even if all Christians were to abandon Trump tomorrow, we would still have to reckon with the fact that so many tolerated him for so long, and we will need to humbly discern where we failed as a body and what we must change going forward. But there is still time to reverse course before the ballots are cast and to prevent further damage to the church’s witness. The cost of doing otherwise would be very steep.