Can Christians Vote for Trump in Good Conscience? Imagining a Conversation Between Jesus and Donald Trump
As a Christian and an American, I’ve always wondered what a conversation between President Trump and Jesus Christ would be like. If Trump says “America first,” and Jesus says “the first shall be last,” where does that leave America?
I grew up in a conservative Baptist church in Oklahoma. My dad was a pastor. I pray — not daily, but probably weekly. Although I don’t like mixing religion and politics, it’s hard to separate my values from my vote completely. But nothing could have prepared me for the past four years.
We Christians have a decision to make in 2020. And for many evangelicals, it’s not as easy as those on the left or right would make it out to be.
Four years later, evangelicals are faced with the same choice, only now with a few Supreme Court justices to look back on.
Despite deciding overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016, the decision was agonizingly difficult for many evangelicals, given his personal morals and attitudes toward money, sex, and power. It wasn’t uncommon to hear people from my church say that they would have rather had Pence, but faced with the loss of Antonin Scalia’s Supreme Court seat, “held their nose” and voted anyway for the man at the top of the ticket.
So I would ask my fellow Christians, was it worth it? Putting aside the policy victories, how do you feel when you hear President Trump talk? How does it feel to have exalted this man to the world’s highest position? And if it still feels slightly rotten, why does it feel that way, even after three Supreme Court justices?
At first glance, Trump’s words and personality shouldn’t matter. If Court seats and abortion policy were all that mattered, a vote for Trump should feel neutral, like a business deal: you don’t have to like everyone who you do business with, and you sometimes make deals with people who do pretty rotten things in their personal lives. So long as the President delivers desired policy goals, why should you care how he talks or what he does in his personal life? Liberals forgave Bill Clinton for his indiscretions, so why shouldn’t evangelicals forgive Trump?
But I suspect that such logic isn’t satisfying. That something still feels uncomfortable.
The discomfort, I believe, comes from two things.
First, Christians are not the one-dimensional voters when it comes to policy that the media often portrays. Yes, many Christians oppose abortion, but we also want to help the poor and the sick. We want to show kindness to our neighbors, and are disturbed by images of children being separated from their parents at the border. We don’t like how the rich and the powerful use their influence in politics to ride over the less fortunate. In short, we want policies that take care of the “least of these.” For some, abortion is the most important issue — but it is not the only one, and a candidate can’t simply whitewash their pro-powerful, anti-poor positions by opposing abortion.
But the angst, I believe, runs deeper than policy; people rarely feel emotional over policy. The real discomfort, I believe, stems from how President Trump talks and behaves. Despite telling ourselves, “I don’t like the way the guy talks, but at least he’s delivering my policies,” words and personalities do matter. They matter a lot, as much or even more than policy. Because the words and examples of our leaders help shape our values, both as individuals and as a nation.
Jesus did not pass a single policy, but his words and life changed the world.
Words shape morality. Animals don’t have morals because they don’t have language — and you need language to describe abstract concepts like the difference between right and wrong. Or as Jesus put it, “it is not what goes into your mouth that makes you unclean, but what comes out of it.” Jesus’s message is perhaps history’s greatest testament to the power of words to shape morality: none of us have ever seen Him, but billions of people memorize, recite, and base their lives on his words 2,000 years after they were written.
Even more powerful than Jesus’s words is his example: to this day, we define ourselves as Christians not by how often we attend church or how perfectly we pray, but by how closely we follow the example of Jesus, who taught that above all, being a good person means being willing to sacrifice our own interests out of love for others.
At least that’s what we tell ourselves; it’s easy to get caught up in group identity while forgetting the example of Christ. And politicians are only too happy to take advantage of this by playing identity politics with faith, focusing more on the “-ian” than the “Christ.” There’s a difference between calling oneself a Christian and following Jesus, and it’s possible to be pro-Christian but anti-Jesus.
Growing up in church in Oklahoma, we were always taught that Christian leadership was supposed to be “servant leadership”: those in authority should model their lives after Christ, who washed His disciples’ feet and later sacrificed His life on their behalf — and did so over calls from more militant elements for a political solution replacing the Roman state with one based on their religious identity. His sacrifice was the ultimate demonstration of the primacy of peace, forgiveness, and “turning the other cheek” over “us vs. them.”
No leader is perfect of course; all have sinned — me, you, Trump, Obama — and no one can perfectly live up to the example of Jesus.
But we should at least try. Normal people make mistakes, but they also feel remorse when they do something they know is wrong. But with Trump, the way he talks, the way he never apologizes, never admits fault, positively brags about the bad things he does and seems to relish in putting others down, he doesn’t feel like a guy who’s trying his best but sometimes comes up short: he feels like someone whose his entire person and value system are the complete opposite of the person of Jesus Christ.
Trump doesn’t just do immoral things on occasion: the very idea of morality seems foreign to him. Trump doesn’t just say unkind things: the very idea of kindness is not in his nature, unless he’s able to get something out of it. Trump simply does not understand why anyone would do something nice for someone else if it doesn’t also benefit them; all relationships are transactional. It’s why he secretly mocks Christians and soldiers as “suckers and losers” (as confirmed by Republican Senators, Trump’s staff, and family members). Indeed, his whole campaign is based on the idea that, not only should we be under no obligation to do simple acts to protect others — like wear a mask — but that we actively should not do so, because doing nice things for others without getting something in return makes you weak.
I wonder what the world would look like if, instead of Bible verses and the life of Jesus, little children in church were memorizing Donald J. Trump quotes and learning how to model their lives off his.
Instead of healing the disabled, he mocks them.
Instead of welcoming strangers, he rips away their children.
Instead of “turn the other cheek,” it’s “dominate the streets.”
Are these Christian values?
Ask yourself: would America be a more moral nation today if for the past 2000 years we’d been teaching our children from the Gospel of Trump?
Ask yourself: if Donald Trump met Jesus, what would he think of Him? What would a man with gold-plated toilets, who loves winning above all else, who actually enjoys firing people so much that it became his catchphrase, think of a man who washed his disciples’ feet like a lowly servant? Would Trump respect Jesus? Or would he think he was a loser for dying on the cross?
I’ve tried to imagine how that conversation would go. Putting words in the mouth of Jesus Himself felt a little too blasphemous, so instead I’ve imagined Trump sitting down with the Apostle Paul: as authoritative a figure as possible on the Christian faith. Here’s how I think it might play out.
Donald Trump and the Apostle Paul: An Interview
Paul: “Welcome to the Kingdom, Donald.”
Trump: “Thanks for having me, it’s great to be here. You know, your book is my favorite — the Bible, it’s my favorite book. Absolutely tremendous writing you’ve done there Paul.”
Paul: “Well I’m certainly glad to hear that. Which of my books is your favorite?”
Trump: “Well I just said it, the Bible. I think it’s incredible, the whole Bible’s incredible.”
Paul: “No I mean which of my books within the Bible is your favorite. Are you more of a Galatians kind of guy, or 1st Corinthians.”
Trump: “Well, I — I wouldn’t want to get into it. Because to me that’s very personal. You know, when I talk about the Bible it’s very personal so I don’t want to get into verses. The Bible means a lot to me but I don’t want to get into specifics. Uh, Two Corinthians, I like Two Corinthians.”
Paul: “Well, you’re probably nervous. I shouldn’t have put you on the spot like that. How are you anyway?”
Trump: “I’m good, couldn’t be better. And you know Paul, we’re winning. We have strong borders, a big beautiful wall, and I’ve appointed more judges than anyone in history. We’re opening churches for the Christians, just like we’re opening our great, beautiful country. We’re winning so much, it’s fantastic.”
Paul: “And you think all this winning is the will of God?”
Trump: “I do. I think the big man’s probably really happy with what we’re doing. Under me, the Christians are dominating now like nobody’s ever dominated before. Christianity was losing, but now we’re dominating.”
Paul: “Dominating? That’s an interesting choice of words. Do you think God calls us to dominate over others?”
Trump: “Well I think God wants to win. You know, I’m a winner — I hate losing. Never liked it — I like to win. And I think God and I probably have a lot in common. So whatever you want to call it, yeah I think winning — and the Christians are doing so much winning under me.”
Paul: “And you think God needs your help to win?”
Trump: “Sure, sure I do.”
Paul: “You talk a lot about winning. Christ told his followers they must ‘take up your cross.’ What do you think that means?”
Trump: “I — you know, that’s not a fair question. I don’t like it when people play ‘gotcha’ with me. The Bible’s my favorite book, terrific book, I already told you that. But I can’t — you know, what was it again? Take up your cross? I — I don’t like the sound of that. Gotta say, it doesn’t sound like my kind of thing.”
Paul: “It means that to serve God, we must deny ourselves. Jesus told His disciples, ‘If anyone wants to come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.’ Let me ask you, what have you ever sacrificed of your own interest because you thought it was the right thing to do?”
Trump: “Well sure, I’ve made sacrifices. I sacrifice. Everyone knows I’ve given more to charity than almost anyone in the history of our great country. I gave up my very valuable, very profitable business to become president. Believe me, if I’d stayed in business, I’d have made more money than you could even believe. So I’ve given up a lot to lead our country.”
Paul: “Now Mr. President, you do know that lying is a sin. Do you think the Father in Heaven does not see when you charge leaders of foreign nations and companies to stay in your hotels, or bill the Secret Service to fly on your private planes? Do you think He does not know every number on your tax returns? You may boast that you have given millions to charity, but leaving properties you own undeveloped does not count as giving to the poor. Have you not read, ‘It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven’?”
Trump: “So I’m rich, ok? What I do in my personal life is my business — I’m about results. And I think it’s unfair — really unfair — for you to criticize me, after the results I’ve gotten for the Christians. So let’s talk about that for a while.”
Paul: “Fair enough. Where should we start? What are you most proud of?”
Trump: “I have so many accomplishments, great, beautiful accomplishments, it’s hard to know where to start. But if I have to choose one thing, it’s got to be the wall. We’re doing a great job protecting our beautiful country, and keeping our borders strong and secure from a lot of bad people.”
Paul: “What about your policy of family separation at the border? The children you took from their parents?”
Trump: “Look, those parents should not have brought their children. I can’t be responsible for everything that happens. And when you’re doing a great job like us securing our borders, a few people are gonna get hurt.”
Paul: “Have you not read how Christ said He would determine the unrighteous on the day of judgment? ‘For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ What, Mr. President, have you done for the least of these — the poor, the sick, the strangers?”
Trump: “We’ve done so much, more than anyone in history. I built a great economy, I brought back our jobs. And on health care, believe me, we’re gonna do so much. I removed the individual mandate, and we’re going to repeal and replace Obamacare with a beautiful health care plan the likes of which the world has never seen. But you know, on the immigrants, look I’m not a bad guy. People say I don’t like people — I like people. But we can’t afford it. The people who are coming in, they’re taking our jobs, they’re taking benefits paid by our taxes. And the people who are coming, they’re not good people. They’re bringing crime, they’re bringing drugs, they’re rapists. Believe me, we don’t want those people.”
Paul: “Who did Jesus ever turn away? Jesus spent His time with the outcasts — prostitutes, lepers, Samaritans. Have you not read, ‘if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.’ And Jesus was a poor carpenter; your nation has more resources than any in history. You talk about borders, about ‘those people.’ But I myself wrote, ‘there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’ And if I were writing this today, there are a few more groups I’d add.”
Trump: “I’m not gonna hang out with losers, ok? I like winners. If Jesus wants to hang out with losers, that’s his thing. But me — I don’t like losers, not my type. And how are you gonna get rich if you give to everyone who asks? I know about money — and I didn’t get rich by giving everything away. You want to talk about giving, let’s talk about all I’ve given to the Christians. I did the Muslim ban, I appointed so many judges, they have so much to thank me for — I’ve done more for the Christians than anyone in history except Jesus. The radical left wants to close churches because they’re afraid of the China virus. But you know what? We’re opening churches. Christians can pray again. We’re putting God back where he belongs: in public school!”
Paul: “I’m not so sure God wants his followers to risk their lives — and the lives of others — just to go to church. After all, He told us, ‘when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to pray standing in public and on the street corners to be seen by men. But when you pray, go into your closet and shut the door.’ You talk about putting God back in school: can humans take God out or put Him back anywhere? You think that for Him to exist, the state must force children to believe? He’s Jesus Christ, not Santa Claus. So I can assure you, God is perfectly happy for Christians to pray from home or on Zoom; He can still hear you.”
Trump: “Geez, how did you guys get so famous talking like that? You sound like Sleepy Joe, hiding down in his basement! Maybe that worked back in your time, but I know how to win today. You should have seen my ratings on The Apprentice — tremendous ratings, the best ratings of any TV show in history. How many people did Jesus feed — 5,000? My rallies are so much bigger.”
Paul: “Your boasting sounds forced. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole lump? Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but one who humbles himself will be exalted. Can you tell me about a time you’ve humbled yourself, or made a mistake?”
Trump: “You know, I don’t think I can. I’m a successful guy, I’ve done a lot of great things in my life, and I don’t apologize for it. It’s why Kanye likes me — he sees I have the best cars, the best women, he sees my success, and he likes that strength. So no, I don’t think I’ve made any mistakes in my presidency, not a single one. I truly think, and a lot of smart people agree with me, that I’m probably the greatest person in the history of this world, maybe except for Jesus, and I’m proud about it, very proud.”
Paul: “Have you ever heard that pride comes before a fall? Indeed, Christ taught us that it is the meek who are blessed, for they shall inherit the earth. Jesus did not attract his followers with shows of strength, but with humility and love.”
Trump: “Meek? I don’t do meek. That sounds weak — and I don’t like weakness. I like strength. But look, I like to win, and I know how to make deals. And I think we can help each other. I need your followers’ support to win my election. There’s a lot of stuff I still don’t know about them — like if they believe all this ‘blessed are the meek’, they sound like suckers, total losers, to be honest. Not saying they’re all losers, but meek sounds like loser. Except that TV preacher who scammed his followers into funding a private jet for him — I like that. He’s smart. But that’s ok, I like suckers who like me. And I know they don’t like abortion. That’s why the evangelicals vote for me. No one said I could do it. They said, ‘this guy has gold toilets, he sleeps with porn stars,’ after that horrible tape, they said I’d lose the evangelicals. But they voted for me anyway. So look, here’s the deal, Christians are gonna love it. I’ll appoint conservative justices to ban abortion, if you help me win this election. I didn’t used to be against abortion, but if it helps me win the election, I’ll do it.”
Paul: “You can’t make deals with God. The Kingdom of God was never about power — Christ died rather than lead an army against the Romans. And being His follower is not about what you call yourself, or one side winning over another. Being a follower of Christ is about love, not hate. Forgiveness, not toughness. Humility, not pride. Helping the poor and the sick, not accumulating treasures on this earth. It is written, ‘Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.’”
Trump: “Jesus Christ, I love Christians, but I don’t get you. I hate to say this, but you sound like a loser. In fact, to me, you might just be the biggest loser in history. Jesus too — huge loser. I’m not gonna say this to my supporters, but let’s face it, it’s true. He could have had it all. He had all this power, all these people following him. He could have had women, he could have had riches, could have conquered the world. It could have been a great victory, maybe even greater than my tremendous electoral college victory. But what did he do? He gave up. He let the Romans walk all over him. He died. I’ve never understood it — just like the soldiers who die for their country without getting anything in return. I’m different. I don’t like losing. I don’t let people walk over me. That’s why America needs me. In my world, it’s America first. And in my America, it’s Christians first.”
Paul: “Don’t you remember? ‘The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.’”