Anyone who attended any conservative Bible college or seminary during the last few decades—as I did—is almost certain to recognize the name Wayne Grudem. Grudem’s 1,264-page digest on systematic theology—given the apt but boring title Systematic Theology—is required reading on many if not most conservative Christian campuses.
Policies Over Principles
Though unfamiliar to most rank-and-file evangelicals, among evangelical scholars Grudem is one of the most-respected evangelical leaders in the country today. He also happens to be an unapologetic Trump supporter. Last month, the website Townhall published a letter Grudem wrote to a Trump-opposing evangelical friend (yes, there are a few of us).
Grudem’s letter is far too long to reproduce here. The main point—not surprisingly—is that while Trump is a less-than-admirable person, his policies are largely in line with evangelical Christian doctrine—as Grudem defines such doctrine. So, as most evangelicals now concede, favorable policies trump character issues. Character mattered in 1998, when Bill Clinton had an affair with an intern; not so much now.
Grudem quotes himself from an article he wrote for the same Townhall publication during the 2016 presidential campaign:
He [Trump] is egotistical, bombastic, and brash. He often lacks nuance in his statements. Sometimes he blurts out mistaken ideas … that he later must abandon. He insults people. He can be vindictive when people attack him …. He has been married three times and claims to have been unfaithful in his marriages. These are certainly flaws, but I don’t think they are disqualifying flaws in this election.
Yet, back in 1998, James Dobson, founder of—and at the time, president—of the mega-ministry Focus on the Family wrote the following:
As it turns out, character DOES matter. You can’t run a family, let alone a country, without it. How foolish to believe that a person who lacks honesty and moral integrity is qualified to lead a nation and the world! Nevertheless, our people continue to say that the President is doing a good job even if they don’t respect him personally. Those two positions are fundamentally incompatible. In the Book of James the question is posed, “Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring” (James 3:11 NIV). The answer is no.
Like Grudem, Dobson backpedaled on the “character matters” theme when Donald Trump came along and promised to grant evangelicals their policies wish list in exchange for their unwavering support. With virtually no hesitation, evangelical leaders happily accepted the deal.
Dobson—or at least his ministry, Focus on the Family—is not unfamiliar with Professor Grudem. When I worked for that ministry during the early 2000s, one of my first assignments was to assemble a team of conservative Christian scholars who would write a doctrinal statement on “biblical sexual morality.” My boss at the time suggested I begin by calling none other than Wayne Grudem. I did so. Grudem was gracious, but declined, citing a busy workload. Despite his choice to decline the invitation, it was clear from his previous writings that there was a time when Grudem claimed to believe in the need for leaders to exhibit integrity and high moral standards. When the aforementioned—very rigid—statement was completed, Grudem was among the first to endorse it.
But now, Grudem says, “I see nothing wrong with speaking and writing in support of a certain political position or political candidate. Christian leaders have done that throughout the history of our country. And if I write an article saying that I disapprove of certain aspects of Donald Trump’s conduct, but I also support him as a candidate, I see nothing morally wrong with that.”
Take One for the Team
On the same day that I read Grudem’s letter supporting Trump I also ran across an excerpt from former Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ forthcoming book, Speaking for Myself: Faith, Freedom, and the Fight of Our Lives Inside the Trump White House. The book reveals that while Sanders was in North Korea with Trump, Kim Jong Un winked at her in a suggestive manner. Sanders interpreted that wink as a suggestive pass. On their return flight to the States, when Sanders informed the president, he responded, “He did. He f—ing hit on you. … Well, Sarah, that settles it. You’re going to North Korea and taking one for the team! Your husband and kids will miss you, but you’ll be a hero to your country!”
No doubt Trump made those statements in jest, but that does not make them any less revolting. (And, I suspect, if he thought having her do so would benefit him, he’d do his best to bring about such an encounter.)
Role Model In Chief
In 1993, NBA star Charles Barkley famously declared that he was not a role model for kids: “Just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.” Karl Malone, Barkley’s contemporary rival at the power forward position disagreed, saying,
I don’t think we can accept all the glory and the money that comes with being a famous athlete and not accept the responsibility of being a role model, of knowing that kids and even some adults are watching us and looking for us to set an example. I mean, why do we get endorsements in the first place? Because there are people who will follow our lead and buy a certain sneaker or cereal because we use it.
Whether Wayne Grudem’s view of beneficial policies is right or not is a topic for another discussion, but his assessment that policies surpass character takes a dangerously shortsighted view. People are watching. Whether President Trump wants to be a role model or not, he is, simply by virtue of presiding in the most powerful and prestigious office on the planet. He needs to understand that truth—although he might be incapable of such insight. But Wayne Grudem should not be unable to comprehend such an important concept. A “leader” who thinks it’s funny to suggest that one of his closest female subordinates should engage in a sexual encounter to further an attempt at a diplomatic victory is not a man to be emulated or admired.
Donald Trump is—as many have noted—a man with no moral compass. Following a man with no directional compass makes no sense. Following a man with no moral compass is ethical suicide. Wayne Grudem should understand that. But, like so many of his evangelical peers, the desire for political power has blinded him.