Columns Opinion Richard Mouw: Civil Evangelicalism

Comparing Trump to two biblical kings

During last year’s presidential campaign, Ken Burns posed a question to evangelical Christians about the Republican candidate: “What part of Donald Trump reminds you of Jesus Christ?”

The evangelical leaders who supported Trump in the campaign—folks like James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Jr. and Franklin Graham—did not think it necessary to make that kind of comparison.  They seemed quite willing to grant that there were a lot of things about Trump that Jesus would disapprove of. But some of them simply excused Trump on the grounds that that he was a “baby Christian,” not very far along in his journey of faith. And, furthermore, as one of them put it: “we are not electing a pastor-in-chief.”

I am willing to give them a pass on all of that. As an evangelical,  I typically don’t evaluate presidential performances on whether the leader reminds me of Jesus. I am glad that Lincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation, and that Lyndon Johnson worked diligently for voting rights. I also cheered Nixon for his role in opening up China up to the rest of the world, and George W. Bush for saving lives in the global HIV-AIDS crisis. I think I have good support from the Bible for my views on those matters, and I do think the Bible gives us some measures for evaluating national leadership.

Actually, the evangelical Trump supporters pointed to some biblical measures during the campaign. A reporter called me right after the Republican convention for some background theological discussion about what she was hearing from evangelicals about their support for Trump. When she asked them whether the Bible had any role in their support for his candidacy, they responded by comparing him to two biblical kings: David and Cyrus.

The David comparison is certainly apt. The great king of Israel did some very bad things in his personal life—most notably, having a man killed so that he could commit adultery with the man’s wife. But he is also celebrated in the Bible for some good accomplishments as a national leader.

And even if we discount Trump’s professions of religious faith,  we still have the Cyrus example to consider. The Persian ruler was one of the few pagan rulers in the Bible to get high praise. The Bible even refers to him as God’s “anointed” servant.

So, two good reference points from the Bible. And now we are at the half-year mark in Mr. Trump’s presidency, so I think it is important to see how he is doing in the light of what we know about those two kings. Is President Trump being David-like in his leadership?  Or, lowering the bar a little: is he living up to the standards set by the pagan King Cyrus?

Here are some of things we can think about. In one of the first of many psalms that he wrote, King David asks God to bless his reign. He wants to lead, he writes, the kind of nation where “the needy are not permanently ignored” and “the hopes of the oppressed are not forever dashed” (Psalm 9:18). And  at many points David also asks God to give him a humble and contrite spirit. How do Trump’s many public statements—including his inaugural address and his speech to the National Prayer Breakfast—measure up to that kind of spirit?

And what we know about King Cyrus is that he purposely undid the brutal policies that his predecessor, Nebuchadnezzar, instituted against the captive Jewish people, a minority group in his kingdom. The prophet Daniel had given clear instructions to Nebuchadnezzar about what God required of a pagan ruler: “Therefore, O king, may my advice be pleasing to you. Break away from your sins by doing what is right, and from your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor. Perhaps your prosperity will be prolonged” (Daniel 4: 27).

But Nebuchadnezzar refused to listen, and instead he engaged in some self-aggrandizing boasting: “Is this not the great Babylon that I have built for a royal residence by my own mighty strength and for my majestic honor?” (Daniel 4: 30).  So, as the biblical story goes, God punished Nebuchadnezzar and later raised up Cyrus. And Cyrus got it right.

So, I’m not fixated on how President Trump compares to Jesus.  But I’m glad that many of my fellow evangelicals agree that we should expect Trump to be David-like and Cyrus-like in his leadership.

The time is ripe now for evangelicals to conduct a job performance review in this regard. I have my Bible handy whenever Mr. Trump’s evangelical supporters are ready to get started!

This story is available for republication.

About the author

Richard Mouw

Richard Mouw is Professor of Faith and Public Life at Fuller Theological Seminary, where he also served as president for twenty years. He is the author of twenty books, including Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World. He earned his PhD in Philosophy at the University of Chicago.

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