I started to respond only briefly to Jonathan Merritt's piece entitled, "The Awkward Love Story of Trump and American Evangelicals" and post it on Facebook. My commentary grew larger, however; much too large to be effective on that platform.
Thus, below are my initial thoughts to Merritt's piece:
@jonathanmerritt writes a stinging critique on 1K evangelicals meeting with Trump this week. There exist several weaknesses in his critique, however.
Among them, some are listed below (Merritt's words and contextual quotes are embolden with my response following):
1) "Many evangelicals who once opposed Trump’s candidacy are now awkwardly falling for him." Citing evangelicals who used to be for Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz and against Donald Trump of now "falling for" Trump is a problem in what way exactly? In political-party runoffs, this is 101 stuff. It could be they see only one other viable choice for whom to vote.
2) "This week, Trump announced a new evangelical advisory board. The list was full of people who once vehemently opposed his candidacy." And the problem is? Look. Both Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee were there, and they ran against the guy!
3) Merritt described the meeting as “unintentionally” but “often quite comical,” the single example of which Merritt cited was that an “unidentified speaker” (perhaps Georgia political strategist, Ralph Reed @ralphreed) opened the meeting by “drumroll please—misquoting Jesus.” Merritt quotes what he cites a misquote: ‘“a commandment from our Savior, when he said, “Call unto me, and I will do great and mighty things that you do not know.”’ Merritt then concludes: “It’s not spoken by Jesus, but written by the prophet Jeremiah, hundreds of years before Christ’s birth.”
In response, perhaps Merritt gets his funny-bone aroused much too quickly.
While it’s surely true the words, “Call unto me, and I will do great and mighty things that you do not know” are not in the red letter edition of our New Testament, but are found in Jeremiah’s prophecy (33:3) in the Old Testament, it’s most certainly not true that Reed (?) necessarily attributed the words wrongly to the lips of Jesus in the New Testament.
First, Reed (?) indicated a “commandment” came from “our Savior” not strictly speech from Jesus.
Second, while perhaps most often we find in Scripture our Lord Jesus identified as “our Savior” it’s hardly uncommon to also find God to be identified as “our Savior." Indeed “God our Savior” seems to be one of Paul’s favorite terms in the Pastorals.
Consider (embolden added):
“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1Tim 2:3-4)
“But hath in due times manifested his word through preaching, which is committed unto me according to the commandment of God our Saviour” (Titus 1:3; cp. also 1:4, 2:10, 3:4).
What is more, in Titus, Paul equates “God our Savior” with “Jesus Christ our Savior,” seemingly making Jesus and God One:
“Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (2:13).
Hasn’t Jonathan ever heard the phrase, Jesus is God in human flesh? (for other Scriptures where God is identified as “our Savior” see Jude 25 and perhaps 2 Peter 1:1).
Why Merritt, therefore, chooses to laugh at something he judges a “misquote” when, biblically speaking, it’s not all that funny seems strange. It actually seems like a stretch to me.
4) “The reality-television star and real-estate mogul is the living, breathing embodiment of what many evangelicals have spent their careers warring against.” That’s true. No argument.
But Merritt seems to forget that evangelicals have also spent their careers “warring against” the “living, breathing embodiment” of what Hillary Clinton brings to the political table. In fact, it’s quite easy to argue she brings far more objectionable socio-political garbage to the White House than Trump which, of course, is precisely why evangelicals are presently found trying to choke down a meal at Trump’s table.
Merritt nowhere in his article seems to acknowledge the dilemma evangelicals for Trump sincerely find themselves in. Rather Merritt frames the meeting as some sort of sellout of their values or implicit hypocrisy on display. From my perspective, Merritt doesn’t write from a posture of understanding evangelicals but from a posture of mocking and judging evangelicals.
5) “Why would evangelicals support a candidate who stands for much of what they claim to loathe? Because Trump is promising them the thing they want most.” By answering his own question the way he did, Merritt demonstrates his ears are closed to understanding what's at stake for evangelicals who find themselves supporting Trump.
The truth is, most evangelicals I know who affirm Trump do not affirm him because of his promises. Let’s face it, trusting politicians (new or old) to deliver all their “campaign promises” can only be the predictable behavior of a naïve youngster who’s voting for the very first time.
Hear me: I don’t trust Donald Trump.
How many times must I say this?
I don't trust Donald Trump to keep all his promises.
I hold no pie-in-the-sky naiveté that Trump will do everything with which I agree would be for the common good that he says he’d do.
But ironically, I do trust Hillary Clinton to do everything with which I disagree would be for the common good that she says she’d do.
And, this is definitively not a shot in the dark here.
While Trump has no political record to examine, Clinton’s public record undeniably stands as incontrovertible evidence that she poses a far less positive future for America than Trump.
Therefore, for me, and contrary to many on social media who seem to be simplistically assured the "lesser of two evils" is nonetheless about actually committing evil, something Christians should never do, it's not about the lesser of two evils. It's about the greater of two goods.
- Good #1: It would be a good if Donald Trump were not President of the United States.
- Good #2: It would be a greater good if Hillary Clinton were not President of the United States.
Thus, those who criticize evangelicals for choosing evil when they supposedly choose between the well-worn "lesser of two evils" are milking the wrong cow.
As a biblical believer, I'm called to do good not evil. And, when one good is greater than another good, I'm called to pursue the greater good. To me, this is Christian Ethics 101. But apparently, some of our brotherly (or sisterly) critics failed to take that particular course.
6) “Donald Trump is no dummy. He knows his audience better than they know themselves. Evangelicals are acutely aware of their waning cultural influence and shrinking share of the population. These religious leaders care about their principles, yes. But they care about something else even more: power… even if that means defying their own beliefs.” In response, neither are evangelicals necessarily dummies either, sadly, an implied derogatory thread interwoven throughout Merritt’s garment.
Second, to suggest that the 1K evangelicals meeting with Trump are more concerned with power than principle remains assertion without argument, a value judgment imposed without any substantial evidence to back it up, an empty literary hull, if you will. Merritt can claim what he wants. But to be persuasive, he’s going to need to produce the goods. He does not.
Finally, Merritt claims evangelicals for Trump will stop at nothing “even if that means defying their own beliefs.” Well, tit-for-tat, we could claim Jonathan Merritt will stop at nothing in the public arena if it means defying his own beliefs (and could produce the goods to go a long way showing it were we so inclined). But these types of claims usually reveal, do they not, a reckless abandon of understanding content toward an implied agenda to tarnish character.
After reading fully Merritt's article,
- Is Merritt’s article, therefore, an article the design of which seems to inform and understand what went on in the meeting between 1K evangelicals and Donald Trump?
- Does Merritt’s article appear more likely designed to tarnish evangelicals meeting with Donald Trump?
You be the judge.