Reagan & Trump: The Dishonesty of the Moral Equivalence Defense

If you’re going to say anything to help explain why evangelicals are so on board with Donald Trump, at least don’t be dishonest about it. The dishonesty rears its head particularly when comparing Trump to Ronald Reagan.

It happened again recently on Fox News when the Rev. Robert Jeffress stated that Reagan was a “known womanizer” also. Jeffress continued, “The reason we supported President Reagan was not because we supported womanizing or divorce. We supported his policies.”

I can try, I suppose, to give Jeffress the benefit of the doubt that he is merely ignorant. I hope that’s the case.

Lou Cannon, one of Reagan’s chief biographers, when asked about this claim, commented,

Reagan dated widely after his divorce before he met Nancy. I don’t think he looked at another woman after that. Neither of his wives ever accused him of infidelity. Definitely NOT a womanizer.

Well, what about the divorce? Doesn’t that make him the same as Trump?

William F. Buckley, a close friend of Reagan’s, shared that when someone told Reagan, “Well, you got divorced,” the response came back, rather heatedly, “I didn’t divorce anyone. She divorced me.”

All who have studied Reagan with more than a passing glance are well aware of how deeply hurt he was by that divorce. He didn’t want it; he had been completely faithful to his wife, actress Jane Wyman. She was unfaithful to him.

Consequently, from a Biblical standpoint, he was guiltless regarding that divorce. When he married Nancy in 1952, he was steadfastly faithful to her for their entire 52 years together. He loved her with all his heart, as everyone who knew them can attest.

The moral worlds of Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump don’t align; rather, they clash.

So, if you are one of those who tries to equate the morality of these two men, seeking to provide a rationale for why it’s fine to look the other way with respect to Trump’s many infidelities and other major character flaws, I respectfully ask you to change your tactic. This one is a dead end.

The New Paganism & the Christian Response

American Christians have had it pretty easy for the past few centuries. Whether or not the majority of the population was actually Christian at any time (only God knows for sure), the society, as a whole, always recognized the value of Christian belief and held a certain degree of respect for it.

Even during the debate over slavery that led to the Civil War, both sides were claiming to be following Scripture and used the Bible to argue their points.

That appeal to Scriptural authority no longer appears to be operative in the mainstream of American culture. The disdain for and rejection of Christian morality has now come to the forefront. It is most painfully obvious in the militaristic (I use that term advisedly) agenda that attempts to force everyone to embrace homosexuality as normal and legitimate.

I was teaching a Bible study last week where I used a passage from the Old Testament prophet Hosea, chapter 4, as he chastised his people for their faithlessness, and I believe it speaks to what we’re experiencing now:

Hear the word of the Lord, you Israelites, because the Lord has a charge to bring against you who live in the land: “There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land. . . .”

My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. “Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I also will ignore your children.”

That last line is not God being callous; rather, it’s simply pointing out that the faithlessness of the people has led to no real knowledge of Him, with the consequences naturally falling on the next generation.

The sins of the fathers definitely do reverberate through the generations. As I look at America as a historian, I can see the beginnings—the first generations—where knowledge of God was pervasive in the culture. Then I survey what has happened since. Here’s how I explain it:

  • First Generation: The nation began with vision and zeal based on Christian faith, whether we are referring to the early settlers or the Founders who fought for independence and set up the government.
  • Second Generation: The knowledge of God and the true faith continued in the society, but that initial vision and zeal began to abate. America still believed that Christianity was the bedrock of the culture, but the heart was not the same—head knowledge, not as much from the heart. When did this occur? I place it as starting after the Civil War with the introduction of new philosophies like evolution and new movements like progressivism.
  • Third Generation: This is when the true knowledge of the faith began to diminish and society operated primarily on the tradition that had been handed down. We continued to think certain things were moral and others were immoral, but we lost our rationale for why that was so. We stopped explaining morality from a Biblical foundation and just declared that some things were right and others were wrong. We had “Biblical memories” without Biblical knowledge.
  • Fourth Generation: As things progressed (regressed?), we then began to toss aside even the traditions that kept a certain morality in place. We lost our moorings and constructed different foundations with an entirely new concept of right and wrong.

That Fourth Generation is what we are now entering with a vengeance. “Who says that abortion and homosexuality are wrong? Sin? What an outmoded term. Those who continue to harbor those old ideas are narrow, bigoted, and need to be coerced into accepting our new enlightened age that rejects those silly restrictions.”

Yes, we’ve come a long way.

Many Christians are shocked by what they see developing. We have to fight for civic rights that we once thought inviolable. Businesses run by Christians are under attack for not bowing to the New Enlightenment.

Is there a Fifth Generation coming? If so, what will it be? Are we going to get even further from God’s truth in the next generation, or will there perhaps be a backlash as the consequences of accepting immorality as normal become more evident?

Like you, I would prefer a society that respects Christian faith. However, we need to see this time of spiritual stress also as an opportunity. As those who enter into the New Paganism (which is the more correct description) begin to suffer for it, we need to be ready to offer the hand of healing and direction back to Biblical truth.

Are we ready to do that? Rather than spending our time bemoaning the loss of what once was, are we willing to follow our Lord into this new field of harvest for Him?

The Question of the Dishonest Question

“Can’t I lead a good life without believing in Christianity?” That’s the question posed by many people. Is it an honest question or one that simply seeks to avoid truth? C. S. Lewis deals with it in his short, yet insightful, essay, “Man or Rabbit?” It can be found in God in the Dock.

Lewis clears away the unhelpful underbrush of the query and reveals the path such a person asking the question is attempting to follow. As he does so, he sheds light on the essential dishonesty in what at first appears to be an honest question.

Anyone who asks this question already knows about Christianity and is really saying, “Need I bother about it? Mayn’t I just evade the issue, just let sleeping dogs lie, and get on with being ‘good’? Aren’t good intentions enough to keep me safe and blameless without knocking at that dreadful door and making sure whether there is, or isn’t someone inside?”

Lewis is blunt: “The man is shirking. He is deliberately trying not to know whether Christianity is true or false, because he foresees endless trouble if it should turn out to be true.”

Pulling no punches, Lewis continues,

He is like the man who deliberately “forgets” to look at the notice board because, if he did, he might find his name down for some unpleasant duty.

He is like the man who won’t look at his bank account because he’s afraid of what he might find there.

He is like the man who won’t go to the doctor when he first feels a mysterious pain, because he is afraid of what the doctor may tell him.

This avoidance of truth gets to the heart of what is behind the question of whether one must be a Christian to be good. Someone who asks that may be looking for an “out.” At bottom, it’s not genuine honesty at all; the question is not a real question but a hope that one doesn’t have to hear the actual answer.

The man who remains an unbeliever for such reasons is not in a state of honest error. He is in a state of dishonest error, and that dishonesty will spread through all his thoughts and actions: a certain shiftiness, a vague worry in the background, a blunting of his whole mental edge, will result.

He has lost his intellectual virginity.

Lewis knows that God will forgive anyone who has mistakenly rejected Christ and then repents of that rejection. But that’s not the kind of person he is addressing here.

But to evade the Son of Man, to look the other way, to pretend you haven’t noticed, to become suddenly absorbed in something on the other side of the street, to leave the receiver off the telephone because it might be He who was ringing up, to leave unopened certain letters in a strange handwriting because they might be from Him—this is a different matter.

You may not be certain yet whether you ought to be a Christian; but you do know you ought to be a Man, not an ostrich, hiding its head in the sand.

Even if you can get a person to acknowledge his avoidance of finding the truth, there is another issue that Lewis says is an indication of the lowering of intellectual honor: the plaintive cry of “Will it help me? Will it make me happy?” Lewis challenges that approach with more bluntness:

Here is a door, behind which, according to some people, the secret of the universe is waiting for you. Either that’s true, or it isn’t. And if it isn’t, then what the door really conceals is simply the greatest fraud, the most colossal “sell” on record.

Isn’t it obviously the job of every man (that is a man and not a rabbit) to try to find out which, and then to devote his full energies either to serving this tremendous secret or to exposing and destroying this gigantic humbug?

Faced with such an issue, can you really remain wholly absorbed in your own blessed “moral development”?

What’s needed, Lewis explains, is the realization that we can’t ever be “good” in the sense that God intends for us. “Mere morality is not the end of life. You were made for something quite different from that.”

What, then, is that “something quite different”?

We are to be re-made. All the rabbit in us is to disappear. . . . We shall bleed and squeal as the handfuls of fur come out; and then, surprisingly, we shall find underneath it all a thing we have never yet imagined: a real Man, an ageless god, a son of God, strong, radiant, wise, beautiful, and drenched in joy. . . .

Morality is a mountain which we cannot climb by our own efforts; and if we could we should only perish in the ice and unbreathable air of the summit, lacking those wings with which the rest of the journey has to be accomplished.

For it is from there that the real ascent begins. The ropes and axes are “done away” and the rest is a matter of flying.

I don’t know about you, but I would like to fly.

An Appeal to Evangelicals

This post is not intended as a hit piece on Donald Trump. It’s simply a statement of a few facts and an appeal.

It’s now pretty well established (and I waited on this one) that Trump had a brief affair with a porn star (celebrity name: Stormy Daniels) after marrying Melania and four months after the birth of their son.

It’s also pretty well established—particularly by the abrupt silence of the woman in question after having given interviews earlier—that she was paid $130,000 in hush money.

Some will say, well, that affair was many years ago, so it doesn’t matter. But the hush money was paid during the presidential election campaign of 2016.

That’s not that long ago.

Evangelical leaders are, in effect, giving Trump a “mulligan” on his morality. That’s the term used by Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. Franklin Graham has come along and commented that Trump has never lied to him, so he believes the denials.

How does he know Trump has never lied to him? How does one confirm that, especially when Trump has shown a great penchant for lying throughout his life? All I have to do is think of things he said during the Republican primaries as he slandered his opponents.

But that’s Trump, right? We knew what we were getting. After all, I’m told repeatedly, we didn’t elect a pastor-in-chief. I agree. We didn’t.

Yet since when have evangelicals not thought it important to weigh in on the character of our elected officials? We thought it was of the utmost importance when Bill Clinton was dragging the Oval Office through the moral slime.

Now, we apparently don’t care.

As long as we get the policies we want, we will either look the other way (the passive approach) or go out of our way to provide excuses and rationalizations (the activist approach).

Lest you misunderstand me—which happens quite often—I am pleased with most of what the Trump administration is doing in public policy. My concern continues to be twofold: the damage being done to the Christian witness as we uncritically support immoral behavior; the damage being done long-term to American conservatism due to the Trump brand.

The pressing need among evangelicals (a term some have now chosen not to use because it has become so watered-down) is to be faithful to our higher calling as disciple-makers. We cannot fulfill that calling if we wink at sin in our society, whether it manifests itself in the media, on the campuses, or in the White House.

We need to be consistent with our message: sin separates from God; only through repentance and faith in the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross can anyone be saved. And that applies to everyone.

If we fail to communicate that, we have failed in our primary mission. God is seeking those who will be faithful to that mission.

Lewis’s “Poison of Subjectivism” in Our Day

Subjectivism: the belief that moral judgments are statements concerning the emotional or mental reactions of the individual or the community.

In other words, we make up our own morality without any reference to an outside, objective authority, i.e., God.

Subjectivism has become rampant in most of what used to be called Christian civilization. Moreover, those who, as a recent president infamously remarked, “cling to their religion,” are pressured, by law, to violate their consciences and accept the new ideas of morality. At this time, we await a Supreme Court decision on whether a Christian bakery must be forced to make and decorate a same-sex-marriage-affirming cake.

This type of subjectivism is a poison that will lead to the destruction of traditional Christian morality in a society, thus destroying that society eventually.

“The Poison of Subjectivism” is an essay by C. S. Lewis that addresses this danger. Strong statements such as this one against the subjective mindset would be roundly condemned in our day:

This whole attempt to jettison traditional values as something subjective and to substitute a new scheme of values for them is wrong. It is like trying to lift yourself by your own coat collar.

Then he gives two propositions that should, he advises, be “written into our minds with indelible ink.” They are the following:

(1) The human mind has no more power of inventing a new value than of planting a new sun in the sky or a new primary colour in the spectrum.

(2) Every attempt to do so consists in arbitrarily selecting some one maxim of traditional morality, isolating it from the rest, and erecting it into an unam necessarium.

In the case of same-sex marriage, there remains the vague concept of marriage and an even more vague definition of love. Both come from traditional morality, but they are lifted from their Biblical basis and given a new twist. The arbitrary selection of “love” as the highest good, isolated from all the boundaries in which we are to understand that word, provides a new morality that rests solely on subjective belief.

“All idea of ‘new’ or ‘scientific’ or ‘modern’ moralities,” Lewis counters, “must therefore be dismissed as mere confusion of thought.” It comes down to only two alternatives:

Either the maxims of traditional morality must be accepted as axioms of practical reason which neither admit nor require argument to support them . . . or else there are no values at all, what we mistook for values being ‘projections’ of irrational emotions.

Irrational emotions abound in the actions of those pushing the latest new morality. Objections to their newfound right and wrong must be shouted down, and if that doesn’t work, the strong arm of the government must be brought to bear against any who oppose this new understanding.

What makes this even worse is that many, under the banner of Christian love, try to give the new morality a Christian affirmation. Lewis will have none of that:

A theology which goes about to represent our practical reason as radically unsound is heading for disaster. If we once admit that what God means by “goodness” is sheerly different from what we judge to be good, there is no difference left between pure religion and devil worship.

Government and pseudo-science come together in an unholy alliance to advance the “new” morality and ensure that everyone accepts it:

Many a popular “planner” on a democratic platform, many a mild-eyed scientist in a democratic laboratory means, in the last resort, just what the Fascist means.

He believes that “good” means whatever men are conditioned to approve. He believes that it is the function of him and his kind to condition men; to create consciences by eugenics, psychological manipulation of infants, state education and mass propaganda.

Politicians team with the social scientists to “create” a new “conscience.” Propaganda wins the day as the unthinking masses (you pick the percentage of the population that fits that description) are led along this destructive path.

The planners, Lewis believes, may not yet fully realize what they have done, but once they grasp the power they have in their hands, they will use it fully.

He must awake to the logic of his position sooner or later; and when he does, what barrier remains between us and the final division of the race into a few conditioners who stand themselves outside morality and the many conditioned in whom such morality as the experts choose is produced at the experts’ pleasure?

If “good” means only the local ideology, how can those who invent the local ideology be guided by any idea of good themselves?

Lewis then summarizes where the society ends up:

The very idea of freedom presupposes some objective moral law which overarches rulers and ruled alike. Subjectivism about values is eternally incompatible with democracy. We and our rulers are of one kind only so long as we are subject to one law.

But if there is no Law of Nature, the ethos of any society is the creation of its rulers, educators, and conditioners; and every creator stands above and outside his own creation.

We have a choice between creators: the one holy God who gives us His objective standard of morality or the people who seek to overturn that objective morality and substitute their own whims (that allow them to do as they please) as the new morality.

The first unites us with Eternal Love; the second leads to eternal misery and remorse.

Evangelicals, Morality, & Politics

I came across a new poll yesterday that I wish could have surprised me more than it did. It’s only one poll, but, sadly, it mirrors what I have been observing in recent years, especially since the last presidential campaign. It’s about people like me: white evangelicals. Here’s what it shows:

I can hear the response already: well, God can use people in public office who are not Christians. I agree. He can. But please show me any Scripture that encourages Christians to actively promote ungodly, immoral people as our political leaders.

My greatest concern is not for our national politics; rather, it’s for the witness we are supposed to be to the world. We are supposed to be the salt that preserves what is righteous and good. We are supposed to be lights that reveal the path God wants all to follow.

I’ll just let the apostle Paul end my blog today. Chapter 5 of Ephesians says what I think we need to hear:

But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. . . .

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.

Therefore do not be partakers with them; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.

Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret.

But all things become visible when they are exposed to the light. . . .

Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time because the days are evil.

Taking a Stand Against Evil

Back in the 2008 election, I held an event on the Southeastern campus where I compared the Republican and Democrat platforms. Without saying anything myself about my own beliefs, I simply laid out the differences between the parties. Normally, that’s a very effective approach. At the very least, it makes people come to grips with the extremism on the Democrat side on issues like abortion. This year, the Democrat platform is even more extreme, pushing same-sex marriage also.

At the top of the Democrat ticket this year, we have a woman who is arguably the most corrupt candidate in presidential electoral history. New revelations about her come out every day.

hillary-scandals

The combination of her private e-mail server while secretary of state and her mingling of her high position with donations to the Clinton Foundation are an abomination.

get-a-meeting

And should she be inaugurated as president in January, the oath of office might be unique:

do-you-promise

In a normal year, Hillary Clinton would be defeated handily. But this is not a normal year.

While it’s still valid to compare the two party platforms, the effect is not the same as it was for me back in 2008. I had my doubts about John McCain as the Republican nominee that year, and those doubts persisted when Mitt Romney was nominated in 2012, yet I still voted for them.

This year, we keep hearing a mantra that goes something like this: “There is no perfect person running for president. Both candidates are flawed. We just have to choose the lesser of two evils.”

I’m a little sick of hearing that. Here’s why.

It’s no big revelation that no perfect person is running for the office. There never has been one of those throughout American history. All candidates have some flaws, but there is a distinct difference between having flaws and being evil. I will never choose the latter.

Sadly, this year we have the latter. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump represent evils that I cannot stomach in the White House—nor any other political office no matter what level.

I love the Republican platform. However, the person at the top of the ticket is not someone who actually believes in that platform. I am for candidates who truly support that platform, which is why Republicans down ticket will receive my vote. The one at the top, though, will not.

There is a difference between being a flawed candidate and being a reprehensible one. McCain was a maverick who couldn’t always be counted on, but he adhered to most of the platform. Romney had the baggage of having introduced a prototype of Obamacare when he was governor of Massachusetts. Yet he was a decent man with a strong family who has always been faithful to his wife.

So despite their flaws, I could vote for them. Trump goes beyond simply having flaws. His character is absolutely despicable. I won’t repeat the litany of horrible words and actions throughout his life (and continuing today, not just somewhere in the distant past). Almost daily, he reminds us how despicable he is.

Trump went to Gettysburg to deliver what was supposed to be a serious speech about policy. Instead, he made other headlines by using that august forum to declare he’s contemplating suing all those women who have come forth to tell of his unwanted sexual advances:

seven-accusations-ago

His campaign has been a disaster (to use one of his favorite words). Many Republicans now have had second thoughts. Too bad they didn’t have first ones.

results-of-primary

Yet, despite everything Trump has done, and despite the latest round of evidence that he is a moral reprobate, many evangelical leaders have reaffirmed their support for him. I find that incomprehensible.

Fear of Hillary Clinton has led people who used to stand for Biblical principles and Biblical morality to abandon that stand. I know, they think they are doing the right thing by keeping Clinton out of office. But putting Trump is that office is not the right thing either. He’s a petulant man-child who will not follow through on his promises.

I want a good Supreme Court as much as anyone. Trump will not deliver it. Even if he should offer a solid nominee, that nominee will not make it through the Senate. He will then compromise with the Democrats and nominate someone they can like. Mark my words. Hanging everything on Supreme Court picks is a false hope.

I will not choose the lesser of two evils. I will not willingly choose blatant evil. Both candidates qualify as evil.

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accept-the-results

However this turns out, we will have no choice but to accept the results. Here’s where real Christian faith comes in. Can we still believe that God is working in ways we may not see? Do we maintain the confidence that the best way to assure God hasn’t given up on us is for us to stand apart from the evil choices before us?

The Lord will work through His people if they stand firm against all types of evil. By giving in to evil, we short-circuit much of what He might do to extricate us from that evil.

It’s time to take that stand and then see what the Lord really will do in spite of the circumstances we now face. I am taking that stand.