When the history books are written about the Donald Trump era, one anecdote is likely to drive historians and researchers crazy. They’re likely to wonder how the leadership of a major political party, as well as some of Trump’s most diehard supporters, didn’t seem to care that their standard-bearer did and said things that would never be tolerated if the rest of us did them.
Here’s a man who, during the campaign, plastered a private cell phone number on social media, mocked the disabled, condoned violence from his supporters, and reveled in degrading women. Here’s a man who, in office, has had few qualms about firing off hateful and degrading memes about his foes, believes that anything less than fawning coverage is “fake news,” and knowingly spews racial slurs at lawmakers of color.
And yet, we’re told that none of that really matters. This trend is particularly pronounced with the religious right. The nation’s so-called moral guardians have made what can only be described as a Faustian deal with Trump. They have told us that it doesn’t really matter that our president is a boor and a bully. No, no–what really matters is that Trump promised to not only make America great again, but make America Christian again.
As a result, the last four-plus years have seen some bizarre mental contortions and distortions from evangelical pastors and speakers who support Trump. One such example was recently served up by a pastor from California’s High Desert. He thinks that we should care more about the nation’s character than Trump’s character.
Shane Idleman pastors Westside Christian Fellowship in Leona Valley, over 60 miles north of Los Angeles. His stock in trade is calling out the church for being all too willing to compromise truth for the sake of the culture.
That’s what makes a November episode of one of his podcasts, “Idleman Unplugged,” hard to understand. Just as the impeachment hearings were getting underway, Idleman was asked why so many Christians are still loyal to Trump. In response, Idleman claimed that impeachment is an attack on our values. Listen here.
In what has become a standard religious right talking point, Idleman claimed that Trump was “the only thing between Bible-believing Christians and what secular society wants to do.” As he saw it, whatever you may think about Trump’s 280-character tirades, what should really matter is that he governs in a manner that honors God. After all, he not only stands against abortion, but is appointing dozens of conservative judges to our courts.
Idleman also couldn’t understand how people could oppose a man who “at least wants to hear from godly people.” To Idleman’s mind, we should support a president who is “fighting for biblical values,” whether he is a Christian or not.
Just in case we didn’t get the point, Idleman googled down on it in a recent column for Charisma magazine. He wrote it after Daniel Deitrich, a worship leader from South Bend, Indiana; wrote a song about the sense of betrayal he felt after 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump in 2016. Listen to it here.
In response, Idleman claimed that the media were out to put a negative spin on Trump because, at bottom, they and Trump’s opponents were “coming after you, me and our Christian values.”
Idleman also claimed that Trump’s foes “don’t care what the facts are” about Trump’s presidency. As Idleman sees it, these are the facts.
Let this sink in: Innocent children are being protected, godly counsel is surrounding President Trump, terror is being restrained, good judges are being selected, socialism is being resisted, families are being encouraged via employment (black employment is at an all-time high), prayer is being brought back in schools, God’s wisdom is being sought, and on and on it goes.
For those reasons, Idleman concludes, “I’m more concerned with our nation’s national character than the president’s personal character.”
I hope I’m misreading what you’re saying, Pastor Shane. Are you saying that we shouldn’t care about Trump’s personal character? I find that hard to believe, especially considering that the character of our president is inextricably tied to our character as a nation.
For that reason, I believe we have every right to care about Trump’s personal behavior. And we have every right to ask whether any good he may do in office is worth condoning behavior that would not be tolerated from the rest of us. For this left-leaning charismatic Christian, the answer is no. It’s a call that I’ve had to make at least twice in recent years.
In 2010, I refused to even consider supporting Alvin Greene’s run for a Senate seat in South Carolina after it emerged he’d shown lewd pictures to a student in a computer lab at the University of South Carolina, and also appeared to have lied about his finances. And in 2018, I decided I could not support Archie Parnell’s bid for a House seat covering most of the South Carolina side of the Charlotte area. Forty years earlier, he violently attacked his then-wife, and he has yet to come to a mature understanding about the impact his attack on others.
I agreed with Greene and Parnell’s policy stances 10,000 percent. And yet, I could not possibly support them. A lot of people in South Carolina came to the same conclusion. Even though both the 2010 Senate race and the 2018 House race should have been winnable on paper, both Greene and Parnell lost badly–in part because South Carolina Democrats were not willing to sacrifice their integrity for the sake of flipping seats.
Are winning elections so important that we must support people who are manifestly unfit for office just in the name of sticking it to the other party? If you really believe care about the truth, the answer to that question should not just be no, but hell no. Perhaps if Idleman took off his orange-tinted blinders and his MAGA hat and kept them off for a while, he would come to the same conclusion.
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