Can God Use Donald Trump?September 27, 2016
Given the political rise of a thrice-married casino mogul with a history of misogyny and racism, many conservative Christians have abandoned the "character matters" mantra. Some of these Christians supporting Donald Trump even started floating a new idea: God can use imperfect people like Trump. That is a political claim, but also a deeply religious one.
"I believe God is using him," author-turned-presidential-candidate-turned-Trump-surrogate Ben Carson claimed.
"God has harnessed imperfect people to fulfill His perfect will," GOP megadonor Foster Friess wrote. "Saul of Tarsus spent most of his life killing people whose beliefs he rejected but then became the Number One Salesman for the loving things Jesus wanted to see happen in our fallen world."
“We serve a mighty God who uses imperfect people to achieve his perfect will," religious-political activist Ralph Reed argued.
"And as we look at who is to be the next president of the United States, many people are looking at qualities," Franklin Graham said at a Trump event. "And I’d like to take just a moment to look at the Bible. Some of the individuals are our patriarchs: Abraham - great man of faith. But he lied. Moses led his people out of bondage, but he disobeyed God. David committed adultery and then he committed murder. The Apostles turned their back on the Lord Jesus Christ in his greatest hour of need, they turned their backs and they ran. Peter denied him three times. All of this to say, there is none of us is perfect."
"I don’t think God sits things out," former Congresswoman and presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann insisted. "He’s a sovereign God. Donald Trump became our nominee. ... I also see that at the end of the day God raised up, I believe, Donald Trump who was going to be the nominee in this election."
Like many political statements, each of those are half true. God does use imperfect people, even transforming adulterers and murders into holy leaders. But Carson, Friess, Reed, Graham, Bachmann, and many others making similar claims all make a key theological error. Just because God can use an adulterer, liar, racist, and cheater like Donald Trump, that doesn't mean we should endorse Trump for president. There are several logical flaws in jumping from God uses imperfect people to adding that we should vote for Trump.
1. God can use an imperfect person with horrible character like Donald Trump, but that doesn't mean God actually will. What if Trump hardens his heart and refuses to yield to love and mercy? What if God decides to let us suffer the consequences of our own actions and merely watches as we pick Trump? While it remains theologically correct that God could potentially use Trump for good, there's no assurance God will and therefore we shouldn't sacrifice our principles to support Trump.
2. God can use an imperfect and corrupt person, but that means God could just as easily use Hillary Clinton. What if God decides to use an imperfect person to make America a better nation, but chooses Clinton as that leader? What if God decides to raise up as our imperfect leader the candidate who actually goes to church and knows the Bible? While it remains theologically correct that God could use any imperfect person, it doesn't logically allow us to therefore anoint one imperfect candidate over another.
3. God can use imperfect people and place them in power, but that doesn't mean God will raise someone up for good. What if God decided to raise up Trump as the nominee to punish the Republican Party for coddling racists and not caring about the poor? What if God decides to give us President Trump as punishment just like God sent godless Assyrian and Babylonian leaders to punish ancient Israel? While it remains theologically correct that God could raise up Trump for divine purposes, that doesn't mean Trump is good and that we should then align our witness with Trump's character.
To make the argument we should back Trump (or Clinton) because God used imperfect leaders in the Bible is to make a partisan decision first and then look for proof-texts in the scriptures. That's allowing partisan politics to guide how we read the Bible instead of letting the Bible guide how we think about politics. The danger of crafting theology to justify partisan voting decisions is our political allegiances may blind us to key biblical insights. As I note in my new book on faith and politics in 2016 (Vote Your Conscience), we too often allow partisanship to trump principles.