Lucado, Trump, and the Gospel

Last week in the Washington Post Max Lucado, a well-known pastor and author called out Donald Trump for his lack of decency.

We can only hope, and pray, for a return to verbal decency. Perhaps Mr. Trump will better manage his comments. (Worthy of a prayer, for sure.) Or, perhaps the American public will remember the key role of the president: to be the face of America. When he or she speaks, he or she speaks for us. Whether we agree or disagree with the policies of the president, do we not hope that they speak in a way that is consistent with the status of the office?

It’s an entirely reasonable critique and Lucado is right to call out Trump’s verbal bullying. But by focusing his critique solely on decency, Lucado misses the more significant issues that Trump should raise for Lucado and those like him. So I was glad to read Skye Jethani’s recent post where he raises two of the three issues that bugged me about Lucado’s critique.

First, unlike Lucado, Skye thinks pastors should talk about politics more, not less.

Being a pastor is hard enough. Most have no interest in upsetting more people by talking about politics, but that may be precisely the problem. By not tackling the complicated intersection of Christian faith and politics, pastors have abandoned this area of spiritual formation to the “Christian” voices on the radio and cable news claiming to speak for the church. The average Christian, therefore, has her political ideology shaped more by pundits dressed in a veneer of Christian faith than by her pastor or local church community.

Skye helpfully differentiates between politics and partisan politics and I couldn’t agree more. Second, Skye thinks Christians should be more concerned with Trump’s ideas rather than his indecency.

By focusing on Mr. Trump’s uncouth language rather than his anti-Christian ideas, we perpetuate a problem within American Christianity—a focus on style rather than substance. If Donald Trump was a soft-spoken, mild-mannered politician but advocated the same unchristian, bigoted, and illegal policies would he still attract the concern of Christian leaders? I fear he would not.

Absolutely! By focusing on the messenger’s style rather than his content we betray the ways our churches have adopted the American value of style – buzz, hype, etc – over substance.

To Skye’s two critiques I’ll add a third: By making Trump’s ugly and destructive rhetoric the focus, pastors like Lucado (and me!) are let off the hook. By calling out his indecency we don’t have to consider our own complicity in his success. While Skye rightly wonders about the impact of what we pastors don’t say, we should also wonder about why what we do say seems to have so little impact on whether those in our churches see Trump as a legitimate candidate.

Is the gospel we preach weekly robust enough to take on the likes of a Donald Trump? For many, it seems, the answer is no. While white, evangelical pastors like Lucado are great at showing the gospel’s personal implications, too often the personal becomes private and those under our care are underexposed to the universal implications of Christ’s lordship. The result is that people can attend church regularly, utterly believe that Jesus has saved them from sin, and see nothing contradictory about supporting a man whose deficiencies go far beyond his lack of decency.

Author: David Swanson

Pastor of New Community Covenant Church in Bronzeville. Collecting signs of life.

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