The Obama era will come to an end on the morning of Friday, January 20th as Donald J. Trump is inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States of America. Christians in America are divided between those who embrace Trump, those who oppose him, and those who take a “wait-and-see” mentality.
Regardless of which category a Christian falls into, here are three things each of us owes President Trump:
1. We owe him the benefit of the doubt.
We owe President Trump the benefit of the doubt. For Christians who supported his candidacy, this imperative can be taken for granted. But for others of us who did not support his candidacy, this imperative is a necessary reminder.
During the election cycle, we opposed Mr. Trump’s nomination and candidacy for a variety of reasons, including reservations about his ideological framework, policy stances, temperament, and rhetoric. Yet Mr. Trump was victorious, and after his inauguration, our pride might be tempted to justify our pre-inaugural opposition. It may be easy to interpret his post-inaugural words and works in a worse light than the evidence demands and, in doing so, say “See, I told you so.”
But we owe it to President Trump and to our fellow citizens to hope that he does well, to give him the benefit of the doubt, to affirm him and his Cabinet when they do well for our nation. We owe it to President Trump because he is our President, and one of the Bible’s few political imperatives is to give leaders the respect that is due to their office (Rom 13:1-7). We also owe it to our fellow citizens not to perpetuate the dishonest, disrespectful, and even toxic nature of this year’s political discourse.
2. We owe him our honest criticism.
We owe President Trump our honest criticism. Christians who opposed his candidacy will probably have no trouble recognizing the merits of this imperative. At the same time, Christians who cheered his candidacy might be tempted to ignore it, to their own detriment and to the detriment of our nation.
Our nation’s political discourse has broken down, in part, because many citizens and commentators have given up on politics. They’ve given up on the idea of politics as a bipartisan attempt to achieve the common good. In the place of it, they’ve embraced a winner-takes-all mentality that demonizes the opposition and lionizes one’s own party or candidate. Pro-Trumpers could be be lured into embracing everything Trump does, and agree with everything he says.
Just as the kings of Egypt and Persia needed Joseph and Daniel to speak hard truths to them (Gen 41; Dan 2), so President Trump needs us to speak our minds with honest criticism. The Proverbs remind us that we should speak the truth, even when the truth hurts, and that our truth-telling will bring healing (Prov 12:16-18). Because we are Christians who are committed to truth, and because we are citizens of a democratic republic in which we are encouraged to speak up for the common good, we owe him our honest criticism.
3. We owe him our prayers.
For those of us who are interested in our nation’s politics, it’s easy to forget the importance of prayer. Ask yourself: when is the last time you prayed for President Obama, or for members of Congress? When is the last time you prayed for Mr. Trump or his incoming Cabinet? For many of us the answer is, “not very often” or “never.”
But the Bible is clear that Christians should seek God’s guidance for those in authority. The apostle Paul wrote to his protégé, Timothy, “Therefore I exhort first of all that all supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (1 Tim 2:1-2). That’s a direct command, one of the few clear imperatives the Bible gives us concerning government and politics.
We should be careful not to get so caught up in discussion and debate that we forget to appeal to the King who rules over the world’s rulers. “A king’s heart is like streams of water in the Lord’s hand: he directs it wherever He chooses” (Prov 22:1). Rather than trusting in a new President or in an opposing political party, we should be trusting the One in whose hands they govern.
The Heart and Strength of Every Good Political Movement
As Christians, we know that Christ was raised from the dead and that he will return one day to set the world aright. Having this knowledge, we as Christians should serve our nation by being the heart and strength of every good movement of social, cultural, or political concern. But we can’t be the heart and strength of any good movement if our public life is characterized by cynical opposition, naïve optimism, or apathetic spirituality.
So the ball is in our court. Let’s give President Trump our benefit of the doubt, our honest criticism, and our consistent prayers.
Bruce Ashford is the Provost and Dean of Faculty at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he also serves as Professor of Theology and Culture. He co-authored the recently-released "One Nation Under God: A Christian Hope for American Politics" (B&H Academic, Dec. 2015) with Chris Pappalardo. Follow him on Twitter @BruceAshford.