The spectacular rise of Donald Trump has, to put it mildly, provoked strong reactions. An astonishing number of people have voted for him, propelling him to the top of the Republican nomination race against all expectations. Yet for every die hard Trump supporter, there seem to be many more who are implacably opposed to ‘The Donald’, even from within his own party.
It’s a clash that is rocking American politics to the core, and recently it has spilled over into the Christian world. This has been seen most starkly in the case of Beni Johnson, the joint pastor of Bethel Church in California. Johnson came out in favour of Trump in a detailed Facebook post, but was soon forced to delete it when she received a huge barrage of angry responses.
It’s easy for Christians in the UK to join the bandwagon of those mocking Trump, and shake our heads in bewilderment at how anyone – let alone committed Christians – could support a politician who seems so self-evidently vile. And yet Matthew 7 reminds us that Jesus said: “Judge not, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
In the light of this, I wonder what it might look like if we used Beni Johnson’s eight reasons why she is supporting Trump not as a chance to feel smug about how wrong she is, but to reconsider our own politics and how we decide where to place our vote. Here’s what that might look like:
1. His policies are spot on.
In an age of celebrity-obsession, it can be easy to vote purely on the basis of our impressions of a leader. But surely we need to take the time to consider their policies too, and assess them in the light of our faith and our own God-given wisdom. So spend at least a few minutes reading manifestos and looking at candidates’ websites before you next head down to the polls.
2. He speaks for the little people.
Throughout the Bible, God not only speaks to but also through those on the margins of society – the poor, the oppressed, the forgotten. In the UK we’ve seen some shocking language being used by politicians about refugees, and yet because it’s not quite as outrageous as Trump, it can often go unnoticed and unchallenged.
3. Trump is not dependent on outside donors.
The influence of money in politics is a huge issue, particularly in the US but also in the UK. What kind of people or organisations donate to the party that you affiliate with, and how do you feel about that?
4. Trump is not an ordinary politician.
It’s wise for all of us to ask ourselves what kind of people we want making decisions on our behalf, and to interrogate the path that politicians have taken to get to elected office. Jesus spent 30 years before starting his ministry living alongside some of the poorest and most marginalised people of his time – what did your favourite politicians do before they got elected?
5. Trump speaks his mind.
The Bible says that “the mouth speaks what the heart is full of”, so we’d do well to weigh carefully the speech of politicians to whom we might give our vote. Before you vote, why not go to a hustings and ask yourself what the candidates’ words reveal about their core values?
6. He has a stellar family.
We can sometimes be tempted to siphon off a politician’s private life from their public persona. But while it’s of course right that political leaders and their families are able to enjoy their privacy, is it not fair for voters to be interested in how their representatives treat those closest to them as an indicator of how they might treat their constituents?
7. He lives out his values.
Again, while politicians deserve privacy, it’s right for us to scrutinise their personal conduct to see whether it matches their public rhetoric. Say what you like about Jeremy Corbyn, but the fact that he takes the night bus in London rather than charging a taxi to the taxpayer tells you something about his integrity.
8. Negotiation skills.
Those on the right are often correct when they criticise the left for lacking business experience in their representatives. Negotiation is a key element of both business and politics, and so having a grounding in enterprise can be an extremely useful basis for governing. Do you trust your representatives to negotiate fair deals on your behalf?
So the next time Donald Trump appears on your TV or laptop screen, don’t just get angry at Beni Johnson and her kind – think about why ‘The Donald’ doesn’t represent your faith and ask yourself who in your own context might. Then pray that our American brothers and sisters do the same!