A Call for Presidential Repentance

Shortly after Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, I wrote an “Appeal to Christians Regarding President-Elect Donald Trump,” which local and nationally known faith leaders, scholars, and ministers co-signed.

The petition began with an expression of concern about Trump’s character:

President-elect Donald Trump has bragged about sexual assault and berated his female accusers. He has repeatedly disparaged African Americans, Latinos, and other communities. He has denied what is true and promoted what is not. He has threatened political opponents, called for torture of U.S. enemies, and has failed to quickly and unequivocally denounce and distance himself from race-based crimes committed in his name.

Character matters, and a position of power brings out more of what is already there. People can change, yes—that’s the power of the Gospel! But Trump has expressed no interest in asking for forgiveness of wrongdoing, as he famously said in 2015.

My concerns about Trump’s character have only grown—perhaps a post for another time. Today, I simply want to say that more than ever, I stand by the five commitments in that “Appeal to Christians” petition:

  1. We will pray for President Trump, elected officials, our nation, our churches, and each other.
  2. Rooted in the teachings of Jesus and the prophets, we will tell the truth about the world around us, and we will speak up for those who have been marginalized and taken advantage of.
  3. We will actively resist the temptation to overlook or normalize values, speech, and behavior that are in conflict with what Scripture calls us to.
  4. In the name of Jesus, we call President Trump to repentance for dishonoring the image of God in others.
  5. We will fix our eyes on Jesus and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, redouble our efforts to honor the image of God in all people and to love all our neighbors as ourselves.

I’ve prayed for this presidential administration more than for any other. But the third commitment has been more difficult for me. Saying nothing or ignoring the news is easier. We can easily be desensitized, or lose our sense of shock. But it’s important that we keep our moral bearings.

Trump knew the other night that he would say in his State of the Union address: “We must reject the politics of revenge, resistance, and retribution.” Those words themselves are right. Did he mean them?

I don’t think so. Earlier that same day he is reported to have called Chuck Schumer a “son of a b*tch.” He called Omarasa “that dog” after she published a book about working for the Trump administration. He referred to the pornographic film actress he cheated with on his then pregnant wife as “Horseface.” The list goes on.

Trump doesn’t “reject the politics of revenge,” as his SOTU address called for. By his own admission practicing “politics of revenge” is, for him, a way of life. In a previous speech in which he shared advice for achieving success, he said: “Get even with people. If they screw you, screw them back 10 times as hard. I really believe it.”

So why is he pretending he believes otherwise? And are we being discerning in putting his words to the test?

Monday night’s talk of putting away revenge is not Trump turning over a new leaf (though we wish it were!)—it’s disingenuous lying (and gaslighting). In other contexts we would readily identify this as an abuser’s means of keeping control: he wants to keep others from pushing back on him while he continues to say whatever vindictive thing he wants to say.

Just as we would want our children to stand up to bullies at school, I hope the media and citizens alike point this discrepancy out—because as Marilyn Chandler McEntyre writes, we have “the responsibility not to tolerate lies.”

Frank Bruni was right on the money the morning after the address:

He pretends to care about matters that don’t move him in the least. He feigns blamelessness in situations where he’s entirely culpable and takes credit in circumstances where he has more to apologize for. He presents himself in a positive light, as one kind of person, when his actions paint him in a negative light, as a different character altogether. Many of his biggest lies are to himself.

Jeremiah warned the people about false prophets who said, “Peace, peace,” where there was no peace. So let’s acknowledge that Trump’s own words—about himself and directed to others—testify against him: he does not want to move beyond revenge politics. He just wants to quiet any who oppose him. That is not “peace.”

Consider this short post, then, one citizen’s small effort to make good on the third and fourth commitments from the petition above: to “actively resist the temptation to overlook or normalize values, speech, and behavior that are in conflict with what Scripture calls us to,” and “to call President Trump to repentance for dishonoring the image of God in others.”

Those are commitments that those who voted for Trump and those who voted for Hillary (and those who voted for Evan and those who voted for Jill!) can all get behind.

In his State of the Union address, Trump called on America to “choose greatness.”

I call on him to repent, come clean, begin telling the truth, and choose the greatness that he will only know when he asks God for forgiveness and begins to walk, as Scripture says, in the light of the Lord.

3 thoughts on “A Call for Presidential Repentance

  1. An observation, just after I went to press…

    The post focused on the “revenge” portion of Trump’s line, “We must reject the politics of revenge, resistance, and retribution.”

    But Trump (or his speechwriter) is doing something more subtle here, too. Notice that he sneaks in “resistance” (a word that is value-neutral) between “revenge” and “retribution,” neither of which are value-neutral and almost always have negative connotations.

    Does “resistance” fit among those words?

    Not really. Thinking just through a biblical lens, “revenge” and “retribution” are acts God alone can engage in (and often, thank God, doesn’t!), whereas the Scripture discourages us from practicing them. For example, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18) and, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘”Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord'” (Rom. 12:19).

    “Resistance,” on the other hand, is used in both James and 1 Peter to say, “Resist the devil.” If you’re resisting the right thing or being, resistance is a good thing! One thinks of the need to resist injustice, or oppression, or unwanted advances.

    “Resistance,” then, does not fit with “revenge” and “retribution.”

    It just so happens, however, to be the word of choice among many who oppose Trump to identify themselves: the Resistance.

    Once again–this line seems designed solely to call out and silence the opposition, not to actually himself make any kind of turning away from revenge or retribution.

  2. That so many in American churches support Trump shows me how sold out the American church is.

    I don’t require that a president agree with me theologically (technically, I don’t require that of anyone!), and no, I don’t want a “pastor in chief.” But Galatians 5:22 is still a good standard for any leader. These are characteristics of a mature person. And our current president does not measure up.

    1. Yes. I think the conversation is far beyond the “pastor in chief” angle, as you suggest. Even some entry-level morality and consistent respect in interacting with others would be good.

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