President Trump’s tweets and statements about four Democratic congresswomen have been dominating the news this week.
Critics are decrying his rhetoric as racist. Several Republicans joined a wide range of Democrats in criticizing the president’s comments. Democrats in the House of Representatives (joined by four Republicans and one Independent) passed a resolution yesterday condemning his statements. Historian Jon Meacham claimed that Mr. Trump is the most racist president since Andrew Johnson.
However, the president denies that he or his statements are racist. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a news conference yesterday that he did not believe the president is a racist. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy agreed, stating: “I believe this is about ideology; this is about socialism versus freedom.” Others are defending Mr. Trump and criticizing his opponents.
Four responses to Donald Trump
As the leader of a nonpartisan ministry with readers in 203 countries, my purpose today is not to take a side in this debate. Rather, my goal as a cultural theologian is to offer context and analysis and then to consider biblical responses.
With regard to Mr. Trump’s presidency and the current controversy, there are four broad categories on a spectrum of response.
One: Some are opposed to Mr. Trump himself. They consider the current controversy to be another example of character unfit for the office of president.
Two: Some are opposed to the president’s policies. They disagree with him on abortion, border security, transgender persons in the military, and a host of other issues.
Three: Some support the president’s policies. They voted for him in 2016 with the Supreme Court and judiciary in mind. They agree with his stance on abortion and are grateful for his support of religious liberty. Many regret the president’s rhetoric, but they consider him a better alternative than Hillary Clinton in 2016 or the Democratic Party today.
Four: Some support the president personally. They believe his business background, lack of political debts, and aggressive defense of America are necessary for the times. Some evangelicals believe his leadership should be understood in light of Romans 13 and the priority of defending the nation rather than the Sermon on the Mount and its descriptions of personal character. Some also liken him to Cyrus the Great, the Persian king who liberated the Jews (cf. Isaiah 45:1–7).
Of course, many who are in the first category also embrace the second; some in the first category embrace the policies affirmed by those in the third.
And many who are in the third category also affirm the fourth. However, this is not necessarily so, especially with regard to evangelicals.
While the media seems to believe that every evangelical who voted for Mr. Trump also supports everything he says and does, this is not true. I am personally acquainted with Christian leaders who fit in the third category but not the fourth, just as I know of Christian leaders who embrace both categories.
We must “connect before we correct”
Judging from comments on previous Daily Articles, we have readers in various combinations of each category. Wherever we see ourselves, it is important as culture-changing Christians that we relate to those with whom we disagree in ways that honor our Lord and extend his kingdom.
In his excellent work, The Daniel Dilemma: How to Stand Firm & Love Well in a Culture of Compromise, Pastor Chris Hodges notes that for many Christians, “We mean well, but we don’t love well.” He explains: “Truth without grace is mean. Grace without truth is meaningless.”
According to Hodges, “People are ready for God, but they want hope, not a debate.” He adds that we must “connect before we correct,” since “reaching people is our purpose.” As a result, he warns, “The moment you make engaging with other people about ‘being right,’ you need to stop and check your heart.”
He quotes author J. S. Knox, who stated, “You cannot antagonize and influence at the same time.” Hodges adds, “We have to earn someone’s respect before we can build a relationship. And we have to have a relationship before we can have influence.”
“Be kind to one another”
How are we to build such a relationship?
According to Scripture, you and I are to “walk in wisdom toward outsiders” and to “let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:5, 6). And we are to “always [be] prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).
I italicized “always” to show that there are no exceptions to these priorities.
How are we to respond when people disagree with us? “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness” (2 Timothy 2:24–25).
We are to “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). And we are to “pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Romans 14:19).
Here’s the bottom line: “Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:1–2). We are to speak the truth, but only and always in love (Ephesians 4:15).
Choosing light and love
You and I have little influence on President Trump or his supporters or critics in Washington and the media. But we are directly responsible for the way we talk about them and to each other.
Let’s give Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. the last word: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
Will you choose light and love today?