This is the third column in which I am reviewing a speech by Dr. Mark Labberton, the president of Fuller Theological Seminary, an international evangelical institution in Pasadena, California. For months I have been seeking to hear from evangelicals how any among them could continue to support Donald Trump. This speech, given in May at a conservative Christian college, is the clearest answer I have thus far seen. Last week I reviewed Dr. Labberton’s analysis of two critical issues that must be addressed by any evangelical leader: the issue of power and the issue of race. This week I turn to the two other signal issues Labberton identifies, the issue of nationalism and the issue of economics.
The Issue of Nationalism
Strong nations throughout history have been tempted to assume that their military prowess backed by a deity’s blessing guarantees their right to dominate other tribes and peoples. Israel assumed that God’s authority justified its claim to be “first” in a complex world. The temptation is to assume that one’s nation has a claim on being first if that claim is backed by a deity’s blessing. On the contrary, Dr. Labberton suggests that this claim was only an evidence of Israel’s arrogant unfaithfulness to the God of history.
“Nationhood has a legitimate place, but not a central or a top-tier one ... For white evangelicals to embrace a platform and advocacy that promotes, prioritizes and defends America above all and over all is to embrace an idolatry … that has proven disastrous.” The nationalism that demeans other nations, particularly nations primarily populated by people of color, violates the universal truth of the gospel. Dr. Labberton holds that the notion that any nation has the God-given right to declare that it is first, contradicts God’s universal love. The clear implications of immigration policies that demean others “do not reflect Jesus Christ, but rather a cold white heart.”
The Issue of Economics
While all of Dr. Labberton’s four issues have implications focused on what is currently taking place in The United States, the issuer of economics comes the closest to making a definitive claim. The author narrows his focus as he considers the policies of the current administration concerning how the poor are treated. “The current administration’s rhetoric which is odious, pejorative and totalizing against our international neighbors … demonstrates a gospel of fake news when it ignores any needs or concerns that threaten our self-interest.”
Dr. Labberton offers a clear rebuke against tax policies “that create more national indebtedness and elevate the top 1 percent to even higher levels of wealth while cutting services and provision for children, the disabled and the poor. The economic policies that seek to defend the marginalized are castigated as disgusting ‘entitlements.’ One has to ask how this is reconciled with being followers of Jesus.”
While these four issues — power, race, nationalism and economics — form the central concerns in this speech, by no means do they exhaust the issues by which any administration and any leader must be judged. Among other vital matters, there are dishonesty, immorality, corruption and integrity and a trust in violence. And what about policies that separate children from there parents? About that, Trump suggested that the problem was not what is happening to children, but listening to them crying did not play well with the American electorate.
While I have read this speech with certain assumptions, my conclusion nevertheless must suggest that any faithful evangelical digesting it cannot but realize that on the basis of clear evidence no Christian can honestly continue to support Trump and the policies of his administration.
After working for the last month on an analysis of the Labberton speech, I recently realized that the speech responds to a somewhat different question than the one I had originally raised, and focuses on reasons why Christians cannot support Trump. There being no clues in his speech as to why evangelicals should support Trump, I have concluded that for many evangelicals party loyalty and conservative political ideology are just more important than the Christian faith.
It is now obvious that there is developing a serious split among evangelicals regarding support for Trump, a split that will continue to widen as long as honest Christians examine the evidence. While Dr. Labberton does not articulate a definitive personal position, I find it impossible to believe he could have come to any conclusion other than this: No honest Christ-centered evangelical can continue to support Donald Trump or the great majority of his policies.