Trump and the civic virtues that Paul builds on

“Whoever aspires to be an overseer [leader] desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil.” (1 Timothy 3:1-6)

Every single one of these qualities is relevant to being president of our nation. Trump:

  • is not above reproach
  • hasn’t been faithful to his wives
  • isn’t temperate
  • isn’t self-controlled
  • isn’t respectable
  • isn’t a good teacher
  • is quarrelsome
  • is a lover of money
  • is a recent “convert”
  • is conceited

If you truly believe that you must vote the lesser of two evils among the top two candidates, and that Trump is the least evil of them, then I respect your conscience.

But at least agree with me on this: Trump is not only severely unqualified to be a leader. He is also in danger of the terrible wrath and judgment of God. He needs to repent of his dripping, oozing arrogance and trust the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of his sins and the re-creation of his dead, haughty heart.

“And the haughtiness of man shall be humbled, and the lofty pride of men shall be brought low, and the LORD alone will be exalted in that day.” (Isaiah 2:17)

“Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:5)


Objection: We shouldn’t judge

You can and you should judge Trump’s heart to some extent. Jesus commands us to be fruit-inspectors:

“You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:16-20)

Jesus would have us consider the overflow of the mouth:

“The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45)

Making such moral evaluations is part of your fruit-inspecting responsibility as you evaluate your (potential or existing) leaders.

Consider also:

1. Just verses later after warning against making hypocritical judgments (Matthew 7:1-4) Jesus teaches that removing the log in our own eye frees us up to more capably help our brothers with faults in their own (7:5).

2. In the very next verse (7:6) Jesus says not to throw pearls before “dogs” or “swine”, which requires making a reasonable judgment call on who fits the description.

3. You don’t need to make an infallible divine judgment to make a reasonable and cautious discerning judgment.

4. You make reasonable character judgments everyday. Consider for example moral evaluations you have previously made of the character of Hillary Clinton.

5. Jesus himself says to do this well (not superficially): “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” (John 7:24)

Removing our own hypocrisy doesn’t exempt us from making moral value judgments of character. Instead it makes us more capable of making them with more clarity and humility.


Objection: Trump is not trying to be a local leader of the church

1 Timothy 3:1-7 is concerned that leaders be above reproach *even before outsiders* — non-believers. The text (along with the similar passage Titus 1) assumes that non-believing outsiders have access to a moral sense of what it means to be “above reproach.” Paul is taking a public standard of civic virtues and building upon them for local church leaders. Trump absolutely qualifies for being the target of such a foundational standard.

Also, Romans 1 and 2 speak of a moral law that God has made clear both in visible nature and in the inner conscience. Donald Trump doesn’t need Scripture to know that he should exhibit virtues of humility, faithfulness, temperateness, self-control, and peace.

Furthermore, Trump is absolutely (albeit inadvertently) vying for a position of being a civic minister of God. A governing authority “is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer… The authorities are ministers of God.” (Romans 13:4,6)


Objection: you can’t hold non-believers accountable to the same standards as a believer

In the context of 1 Corinthians 5 this means that I can’t excommunicate them from the church if they don’t claim to be fellow Christians. But the Bible elsewhere expects pagan kings to act with basic virtues: humility, equity, justice, even sexual morality, etc. This is much of the basis for indictments made by God via the major prophets of the Old Testament, and the indictment made by John the Baptist of Herod.

Also, Trump doubly qualifies for moral evaluation. Not only is he a fair target with the standard of civic virtues for leadership (humility, faithfulness, temperateness, self-control, and peace), he also claims to be a Christian (while attempting to be chummy with evangelicals).

Paul says of false brothers seeking table-fellowship:

“I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.” (1 Corinthians 5:11)

More reading