A couple days after the historic election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the Divided States of America, my sweet, passionate, and fiercely anti-Trump wife forwarded me a Facebook post made by Franklin Graham. (Graham is a staunchly Christian conservative activist, and the son of the great evangelist, Billy.)
In his post—which has been shared over 240,000 times—Graham thanks God for “showing up” to help elect Trump to the Presidency. He credits the Trump-Pence victory to millions of Christians who gathered together for prayer meetings in churches and communities, and then showed up to vote. (According to some exit polls, Evangelicals voted overwhelmingly for Trump—81 to 16%, which is better than even George W. Bush in 2004.) Graham praises the God of the Bible for helping elect Trump and arresting, in its tracks, the progressive, atheistic, liberal agenda embodied by the Clinton-Kaine ticket.
On reading Graham’s post, my wife blew a gasket.
“Are we really supposed to believe that God helped elect this sick, twisted, amoral man to lead our country?!”
“Well,” I explained, “it is Franklin Graham. You know, Billy’s kid? I imagine he knows the God of heaven and earth a bit more than you do.”
My wife did not appreciate that.
We discussed the possibilities that God had, in fact, helped elected Donald Trump to the Presidency. To be honest, I shared my wife’s incredulity. I am a pro-life moderate Republican who generally supports Republican candidates when I can, but Trump fell on the other side of the “when I can” line. I would and could not reward his campaign behavior with my vote—no matter how convinced I was that Trump the President would not be incendiary as Trump the Candidate. I was unable to support Mrs. Clinton, either, given my disagreement with key components of the Democratic platform. I ended up finding a conservative third-party candidate I could support. So the notion that God helped elect Donald Trump struck me as absurd, given Trump’s apparent moral depravity and political inexperience.
But just because I don’t like Graham’s assertion does not mean that he is wrong. It just means I don’t like the idea. I suspect God has done many things on planet earth with which I would take issue. (His creation and tolerance of Justin Bieber is just one of many examples.) So I decided to think a bit more deeply about Rev. Graham’s assertion. I mean, if CNN is wrong and it was God who helped elect Donald Trump—and not that confounding Electoral College!—I want to know. That way I can fall in line and regard President-Elect Trump as the divinely-appointed leader he apparently is.
So, is Franklin Graham right? Did God help elect Donald Trump? I see three options: Yes, No, and Maybe.
Yes: A fallen man for a greater good.
Graham’s conviction is that God “intervened” in the election to ensure that the Clinton train stopped in its tracks. Now, how did God intervene? By infiltrating electronic voting machines with little divine bugs and making millions of Democratic votes in key swing states disappear? (And if so, would this not be election fraud?)
Probably Graham means that God “intervened” through the votes of his Christian people. In this way God “acted.” Truth be told, this is not theologically incorrect. Christians believe that they are the “body of Christ,” and that we serve the will of God on earth. When we serve a cup of cold water to a thirsty soul, we represent God himself. We are his hands and feet. So, judging by the voting choice of his people, God did—in some sense—help to elect Donald Trump to the Presidency.
The problem here is that not everything God’s people do represents the will of God. (Must I condescend to show you examples? Didn’t think so.) Another problem is that Evangelicals represent only a fraction of the Jesus-people of God. Catholics, minority Christians, mainline believers…none of them voted for Trump as Evangelicals did. Sure, Evangelicals are Graham’s main peeps, but to suggest that the Body of Christ is represented most perfectly by 81% of Evangelical Protestants, who themselves represent only 36% of the Christian population (Pew 2014) is a bit…umm…presumptuous. (Keep in mind that these figures are from not-super-reliable exit polls, which may have only measured white Evangelicals, and only Evangelicals who voted. So the real percentage of Evangelicals who voted for Trump is unknown, but much, much lower than 81%.)
But perhaps Graham meant something else. Perhaps Graham meant that God “elected” Trump in the same way that he “elected” Pharaoh in the days of Moses. Pharaoh was a wicked leader, but God hardened his heart and appointed the man for His own purposes—leading to the release of the Israelite slaves from Egypt. God’s ways are not our ways, and it is the Potter’s prerogative to coordinate events as He chooses. Without getting overly theological, those who accept the sovereign predetermination of God over all human history must believe that Donald Trump is God’s man for the office, no matter what. Why? Because Trump won. What happens is the will of God. Full stop. Knowing this, we must remember what the Apostle Paul says and “submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established” (Rom. 13:1). For better or worse, Donald Trump is God’s sovereign choice.
If you’re a Calvinist, this might be the case. It does, however, raise the sticky issue of whether or not Pol Pot, Hitler, or Stalin were also God’s choice. Maybe from a certain theological perspective, I guess. But it’s still more than a bit problematic.
All this is beside the point, though, because it seems that Graham is saying something more than Trump is God’s sovereignly pre-determined man, or that God chose Trump through the votes of his people. Graham is saying that he believes God wanted Donald Trump to win and that God made sure he did. Why? Because God has political opinions on all the hot topics of the day—abortion and gay marriage, especially—that agree with the Republican party platform. Yes, God cares about certain components of the Democratic platform—like caring better for the poor and elderly, and preserving the earth, and maybe abolishing the death penalty. But compared to all that—according to Graham and other conservative Christians—the deaths of millions of unborn children and the re-establishment of traditional, conjugal marriage matter more. Lots more. As a Republican, Trump offers a better chance of restoring traditional Christian moral norms to America, so God mobilized His people to pick His man—overlooking that man’s massive moral flaws. Among other things, God saw the stakes of losing the Supreme Court to a long-lasting liberal majority, and decided to compel his people to get off their butts and ensure that did not happen.
You might not buy that, but it’s what Graham was probably thinking. God likes Trump’s positions on key issues more than He likes Hillary’s, so He made sure Trump won—ignoring much about Trump along the way.
No: Trump is God’s man? Are you serious?
As Nicole Risk asks in an online line follow-up to Franklin Graham’s post in The Daily Kos, How could anybody possibly believe that God helped elect Donald Trump to the Presidency?! As she suggests, to conclude that God helped elect Trump would lead us to conclude that all the hate-crimes committed in Trump’s name were also the will of God. (If you hadn’t heard, hate-crimes are up since the election.) This is a problem for anybody who believes that God is, you know, opposed to hate crimes. (Unfortunately, this might not include everybody.)
Honestly, Risk is not making a good point. To the extent that God has acted/intervened in the course of human history, that does not make Him responsible for the consequent domino effects of those actions or our free will in how we act subsequent to His deeds. If God elected me to the Presidency and I did something really stupid—which would happen 100 times in the first 100 days—that does not mean that God is responsible for the stupid things I did. (At least, according to my theology and sense of personal responsibility.) Nor is God responsible for the violent, racist Trump-supporters unleashed by the Trump surge. Bad actors do not necessarily cancel out the good reasons millions of decent Americans had for rejecting the establishment and voting for a new direction.
Having said that, Risk’s general point is also worth considering. Why would a holy God of love and grace elevate a man to the Presidency who represents so much of what He Himself opposes? Donald Trump has boasted about using his fame and power to sexually attack women. (For which he apologized, kind of.) He has stated publicly he does not believe he needs the forgiveness of God, in direct contradiction to every part of the Bible he has apparently not read. He has made fun of a disabled man. (Can you imagine Jesus doing that?) He has refused to release his taxes so Americans can see how responsible he has been with his (and by “his” I mean “God’s”) money. He has denied taking advantage of a woman who accuses him of sexual violence by suggesting she is too ugly to aggress. He profited off a strip club. He owns lots of casinos. He has said he’s attracted to his daughter and would date her, and agreed with Howard Stern that Ivanka is a “piece of ass.” He has been married three times, and admits committing numerous affairs. He has stirred up fears of immigrants and foreigners in a way that plays on our anxieties, instead of inspiring us to love and welcome those who are different in the manner that the New Testament and Old Testament teach. He just agreed to settle a fraud lawsuit with former students of Trump University for 25 million dollars.
I know that much of the campaign was showmanship, and Trump is even now, as we speak, “walking back” some of his more incendiary statements. But that does not mean Donald Trump does not have to own everything he’s said or done during the campaign. Why and how would God help elect a man to the Presidency who gives so little indication that he cares a whit what God thinks is holy and good? God exalts the humble, not the brash and morally depraved. God appointed King David because David was a man after His own heart. By any simple evaluation, Donald Trump is more Ahab, more Zedekiah—a king among those who “did evil in the eyes of the Lord and did not humble [themselves].”
Yes, of course, but what about Romans 13? What about the idea that God appoints all authorities as his servants? Well, that would have also been true had Hillary Clinton won the election. Paul’s point is not that God likes all these rulers, but that they serve under His authority and we should submit to them as we submit to Him.
Okay, well then what about abortion and gay marriage being the defining moral issues of our day? Aren’t they? I agree that our society will someday be judged by its casual tolerance of abortion-on-demand and its re-definition of ancient institutions. But it is hard to believe that Donald Trump is God’s man to lead the charge, here—the William Wilberforce of the modern era. Trump has already said that gay marriage is “settled law,” and is not interested in fighting that battle. And his pro-life credentials are, shall we say, less than convincing.
So, no. There’s as much chance that God elected Donald Trump to the Presidency as there is that King Herod—a man Jesus refers to as a wicked “fox”—was God’s man for the job. He wasn’t.
Maybe: Who knows about these things?
Really, do we have any idea what sort of role God had in the Presidential Election of 2016? The question itself makes a whole lot of assumptions about God’s identity as God, His political opinions (does he even have those?), and His involvement in the affairs of earth. Besides which, how would we even know if God helped elect Donald Trump? Because Franklin Graham says so?
Due respect to Graham, but that’s not good enough for me. I will readily acknowledge and happily proclaim that Christians worship a God who takes interest in our lives and world. (The resurrection of Jesus comes to mind, along with the establishment of His church.) I believe firmly that He works through the deeds of His people—in both supernatural and naturalistic ways.
At the same time, I wouldn’t dare claim to know what political actions God takes in the world today. (Unless it was spelled out for me by multiple, credible, well-attested prophetic sources. And even then, I would be skeptical.) Like Job, such knowledge is too wonderful for me. Thinking we can know what God does and why leads to an ignorant spiritual immaturity in which we think the world revolves around us and our agendas.
Years ago, for example, a friend of mine was fasting for spiritual renewal, and there happened to be a minor stock market crash on that particular day. My friend was convinced it was because he fasted. I must confess that I cannot prove that God did not respond to my friend’s prayers with what was probably a perfectly normal stock market correction. (Although my friend will probably also admit that he was not actually praying for a stock market correction, and does not even know how a stock market correction advanced the will of God, unless God was sticking it to a few stock brokers. Which is not unlikely, I s’pose.) Along these lines, neither can I prove that God did not, contrary to Pastor John Hagee’s claim, send Hurricane Katrina into New Orleans in 2005 to stop a gay-pride parade that was supposed to happen. I cannot prove that God did not do that.
But I have my doubts on both these matters, as the suggestion that God was involved doesn’t make a lot of sense. (What did the poor citizens of New Orleans have to do with the scheduling of a gay pride parade?) Similarly, I have my doubts that God helped elect Donald Trump President. We just don’t know, and I doubt we can. I’m not denying that God is ever involved in world events or that he takes interest in the election of certain government officials. Scripture insists that God oversees everything. But the Bible tells a different story. God’s activity in Scripture seems to take place most obviously in the preaching of the gospel to the ends of the earth, in the building of his Church, in the activity of the Holy Spirit in healing people of sin and brokenness, and in the small acts of service done in His name: feeding the hungry, freeing the oppressed, caring for widows and orphans. There are exceptions in Scripture, but we are on much firmer ground believing that God acts in the world at the personal level. God’s activity in political and world events has been shrouded behind a curtain that remains drawn—and for good reason.
So then…What do we know?
We just don’t know what role God had in this election. On the other hand, while I don’t know that God did or didn’t help elect Donald Trump, I do know a couple things.
First, I know that regardless of whether or not God helped elect Donald Trump President, Donald Trump will be the President. Part of the life of faith is accepting reality as it has been given to us, and submitting to those who are in charge. Right or wrong, Donald Trump is that man. As Mrs. Clinton has said, he deserves an open mind. As Scripture instructs, I will submit to him as I submit to God. I might not like it, but at this point I am reminded that the Church has endured many imperfect political leaders and has outlasted them all. I am also reminded that our True Leader, Jesus the Lord of Life, is far wiser and more trustworthy than any political leader we have ever elected. Regardless of what happens to America during the Trump years, President Jesus can guide and sustain us and work things out for the good of His kingdom on earth—if we work with Him in His efforts.
So I know that. Come January, Donald Trump will be our President. But I know one other thing, as well. I don’t know whether God helped elect Donald Trump as President, but I certainly do know that we did.
By “we,” I do not only mean “we Americans,” but “we Evangelicals.” While the exact percentage and enthusiasm of Evangelical Trump supporters is unknown, Franklin Graham is right that Evangelical Protestants were, nonetheless, a key constituency in the President-Elect’s victory. Trump successfully convinced enough of us that he was a better casino-bet than Mrs. Clinton. Given my Republicanism, I wish I could have voted for Trump, but I could not. I do accept, however, the fact that many of my Evangelical brethren did. Along with economically beleaguered blue-collar rural Americans, we helped delivered this election for Donald Trump.
This means many things. First, it means we need to discuss it. How should we interpret the fact that such a high percentage of Protestant Evangelicals were desperate enough to vote for a thrice-married casino magnate? It means that we are apparently that desperate for new leadership. I pray and hope that conversation is ongoing, and that it’s leads to, among other things, the realization that there’s not enough good people going into politics and more of us should take a shot. But it also means we need to own it. If this goes terribly, it’s our mess. If this goes wonderfully, it’s our responsibility to build on Trump’s success. (I suspect it will go somewhere in the middle.) There is no running from this, one way or another.
Finally, though, our support of Trump means that we need to hold President Trump accountable to the promises he made us, and all Americans. He promised to protect the lives of the unborn. Will he? Or was he just speaking our language to get our votes? (Politicians do that, you know.) He also promised to protect our religious freedoms. Will he? And in a way that protects the dignity and religious freedoms of all Americans—including Muslims? (Jesus has A LOT to say about treating others the way we want to be treated.) He also promised to restore jobs to a sluggish economy. Will he? And not so that we can live more comfortable lives, but so that we can live even more generous lives, allowing us to share the American bounty with our neighbors at home and abroad?
Donald Trump is our President. I seriously doubt we can know whether God helped to elect Him. But I do know we did. That’s fine. It’s a democracy. It does mean, however, that it’s up to us to make sure he’s the President he promised to be—for us and all Americans. It’s up to us to pray for him, support him and all our local officials who work so hard to make America great.
And it’s up to us to decide if we want to do anything like this, ever again.
What about you? Do you think God had anything to do with the election of Donald Trump? I've obviously got my own opinions, but am curious to hear yours. Please be respectful, though. Otherwise, I'll delete your comment as quickly as my sins have been erased from the mind of God. Which is faster than a Jimmy John's deliveryman. And they're freaky-fast.