“Be careful what you pray for, you might get it.”
There are a number of biblical lenses through which to see the presidency of Donald Trump, but ever since the summer of 2016 when his candidacy as the Republican nominee became increasingly inevitable, I’ve been reminded time and again of the story of King Saul.
Despite years of living under judges who ruled on behalf of the Lord, the people of Israel looked around at neighboring nations and began to desire a king, a strong leader for their nation.
“We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Samuel 8:19-20).
The problem was that the people of Israel were dissatisfied with their leaders and their position relative to other nations, so they thought the solution lay in determining for themselves who would be the right leader to make Israel great.
Similarly, as the 2016 presidential campaign progressed, more and more conservatives and evangelicals thought they saw in Donald Trump a potential leader who would represent their cause. Never mind his lack of demonstrated prior commitment to the Christian faith. Never mind his prior demonstrations of infidelity. Never mind his callous attitudes toward the poor, toward immigrants, toward “the least of these.”
Conservative Christians and conservative leaders have become willing to grant Donald Trump an increasing number of “mulligans“ for behavior that an average church attender would be considered completely reprehensible and grounds for church discipline.
Why the double-standard? Much has been written elsewhere about the rationalizations that have allowed conservative evangelicals to support the presidency of a man with flagrant moral failings, in the hopes that at least his policies will advance the agenda of religious conservatives.
Sadly, two “huge” problems have become apparent.
First, many seem to have forgotten Jesus’ reminder that “my kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). As appealing as particular policy advances may seem, they do not in and of themselves advance the kingdom of God. They may advance our IDEAS of what American life should be like, but that is not the same thing as advancing the kingdom of God.
Second, it has become increasingly clear that the brand of “conservatism” that President Trump is advancing has less and less to do with any sort of genuine biblical vision of life public life, and much more to do with an ethnocentric and xenophobic desire to make America a great fortress for a certain “in” group, at the expense of those who do not fit a very narrow definition of “American.”
Donald Trump’s presidency is corrupting not only the vision of those who seek to demonstrate the kingdom of God in public life, it is corrupting the very vision of what it means to be American.
By the end of Saul’s reign, the king the Israelites chose was a paranoid failure. He did not create the greatness of which the Israelites dreamed, he instead ended his life in rejection.
What does this story say to us today? We should read the Old Testament account of King Saul and take warning. Choosing a leader based on a vision of national greatness is fraught with danger.
Our country has chosen a leader who many thought would make us great, including many who consider themselves conservative and evangelical. What has become increasingly apparent is that he never was the political savior many had hoped for, and his true character has far more to do with making America nationalistic and xenophobic than it does with greatness as espoused on the Statue of Liberty (“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses…”) or in a biblical understanding of religion (James 1:27).