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Presidential Debates, Donald Trump’s Faith Council, and Why I Can’t Talk

September 27, 2016

Did You See the Presidential Debate?
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I watched the debate last night, every single word—did you? Beyond what was said, I was tuned in to the format, the non-verbal of each presidential candidate, and the seeming unfairness of the moderator. I’m sure it’s not easy to remain silent when maligned, especially when all or part of the malignant words are false.

Without breaking down the individual occurrences, I must say that Mr. Trump was interrupted by the moderator, where Secretary Clinton was not. Mr. Trump was confronted about apparent issues related to his candidacy, i.e. the “birther” controversy, the non-publicizing of his tax returns, his original view on the Iraq war, his dishonorable statements about certain women, payment of contractors on various projects over five decades, etc. Lester Holt’s biased moderation and Mrs. Clinton’s petulance made for a 90-minute injustice that was difficult to watch, let alone for Mr. Trump to stand and take without lashing out.

In that respect, I think Mr. Trump showed a ton of restraint and a ‘godliness,’ if you will, that surpasses many I have known who would consider themselves better but have behaved worse without contrition. Jesus really did set the bar high “while being reviled, he did not revile in return” (1 Peter 2:23). I sincerely pray that someday soon we will see genuine evidence/fruit that the rest of that verse is Mr. Trump’s capacity for patience when reviled, “but kept entrusting himself to Him who judges righteously.” Yes, as the debate progressed, Donald Trump began to appear rattled. Yes, he interrupted too frequently as the debate wore on—no doubt he said some unfair things, too. But in my opinion, the totality was really not that far from Mr. Trump’s frequent refrain of “The system is rigged.” This seemed especially evident when three of the four networks immediately proclaimed Mrs. Clinton the clear winner of this first Presidential Debate. Even the folks at Fox News invited Clinton campaign advisors on the air to give their pro-Hillary spin.

“My hope is in the Lord”—that is the phrase that keeps coming to mind.

Wow! Are you as weary as me with the one-sided lack of objectivity flowing from our pathetic, “fangs showing, nails ready” media? There are major risks and negatives in getting fully behind either candidate. Sadly, Christians have lined up on the side of “never Trump,” and “obviously Trump,” arguing without much nuance or even allowance that Christ followers might see some of this differently. As always, most grievous in such circumstance, is when true followers of Christ abandon our overarching mandates about loving each other, to assert “there is only one way to see this non-salvific issue—my way, the right way, today.” And, subsequently, the cause of Christ’s kingdom and the Father’s glory loses in a way that, I believe, transcends any particular election result.

Meeting Mr. Trump Personally
I have been a big fan of “The Apprentice” reality show simply for its entertainment and unveiling of so many human nature complexities. Further, I had written a blog, not so much endorsing Mr. Trump as saying that it was Jerry Falwell, Jr.’s right to do so. All that to say, no one was surprised when I was the first among my friends to predict that Donald Trump would win the Republican primaries and was asserting it strongly in private conversation more than a year before it actually happened. Now, saying he would win is a whole lot different than saying, he should win and in that respect I have always felt very torn. I like a lot of things that Mr. Trump stands for, and in other ways, not as much of late—his seeming volatility has raised issues and elevated concerns that are not normally in play in a presidential election.

This is why I was happy to be invited to a small gathering of pastors and Christian leaders last June, in Donald Trump’s boardroom. When I heard about the meeting, I called a friend who told me that Mr. Trump was gathering a group of ‘faith advisors,’ and I was welcome to participate. The room was so jammed with luminaries of evangelicalism that I have to be candid and say Mr. Trump didn’t make the top 5 people I was hoping to meet in that boardroom. What did impress me was Mr. Trump’s authenticity (he didn’t pose or pretend to be evangelical), his listening (he listened intently and with great humility to many, many people—some who spoke at length in matters they wanted him to hear), and most of all, his common sense view of economics, judicial philosophy, Supreme Court nominees, and the importance of church/state separation—including his promise to repeal the Johnson Amendment, which is said to restrict a minister’s freedom of speech in matters political campaigns. As the meeting ended, I got to shake Mr. Trump’s hand, meeting him personally, and I left feeling thankful for the invitation to be listed among those on his ‘Faith Council,’ which we were adamantly told was not an endorsement.

Since that meeting late last June, I have been waiting for the ‘Faith Council‘ to become a place where counsel is given about faith, or at least where people of faith offer counsel. So far, there has been none of the former and only a wee bit of the latter. There are regularly scheduled phone calls, through which we have relayed messages to Mr. Trump—including a strongly-worded letter during his post-convention relapse into reactive rhetoric. He actually wrote back to us appreciatively and seemed to correct course, no doubt in response to others more influential than the ‘Faith Council.’ Apart from that, we have migrated toward a grass-roots effort to ‘get out the vote,’ where we are exhorted on each conference call to register people to vote, recruit other Christian leaders to recruit people to vote, etc. We did have a wonderful, extended phone conversation with Mr. Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence. Mike is such an outstanding, unapologetically pro-life, biblically-based man of integrity that the entirety was worth it just to meet him a little more personally. (I am told he attends a ‘sister church’ of ours, College Park in Indianapolis, which tells me everything I need to know about his legitimate faith in Christ.) Interestingly though, as Mr. Pence’s faith in Christ was so authentic and contagious over that phone call, I found myself wondering, what more ‘Faith Council’ does Mr. Trump even need?

Is There Hope for America?

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“My hope is in the Lord”—that is the phrase that keeps coming to mind. I have called our church to prayer as the culmination of six weeks of preaching on prayer. Every day this week my wife, Kathy, and I are attending two of three prayer meetings on each of our campuses, and I’m seeing our congregation crying out to the Lord in ways I have not seen in our previous 28-year history. Really, a new high water mark in biblical, fervent, selfless, faith-filled, loud, crying out to the One who said, “Call to me and I will answer you and show you great and hidden things that you have not known” (Jeremiah 33:3). It’s not the teaching—in fact, my belief is that this unprecedented attendance and passion in prayer is unrelated to anything going on inside our church. I believe it is the situation in the world all around us. From police shootings, to a disrespect for the rule of law that borders on anarchy, to blatant examples of vicious racial profiling (which is great wickedness), to the terrorist attacks, mass shootings, general laxity and self-interest among God’s people, to the ongoing and everyday family, finance and health kinds of issues, people are just very, very overwhelmed and are sensing a need to cry out to the Lord as never before. After preaching and praying all weekend through Monday night, my voice is completely shot, so my prayers are quiet today but still heartfelt. For maybe the first or second time ever, I can truly say, “I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched” (Psalm 69:3). This is a blog primarily for pastors, and I hope you’re seizing this opportunity to lead your people to prayer as never before. What choice do we have?

Psalm 11:3 says, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” So we work on the foundations, “stand firm in the faith” (1 Corinthians 16:13), and refuse to be budged from the place of quietly confident biblical obedience—in anticipation of Proverbs 12:3, which says: “No one is established by wickedness, but the root of the righteous will never be moved.” Here is a link to a song we wrote that helps us stay centered right there, in times like these.

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