Same question, Same Answer

On the 13th November, 2016, I was the Lead Pastor at Gold Hill Baptist Church. I loved the fellowship then, and I love it still. They have never been afraid to face tough questions and think about how Christians can live in todays world faithfully and Biblically (surely the two are synonymous?). That day was a Sunday morning and just a few days before the American People had chosen Donald Trump as their next president. He won the election.

In our two gatherings I preached a sermon entitled, ‘Did God appoint Donald Trump’? You can listen to the message by clicking the link below.

‘Did God appoint Donald Trump?’ A sermon delivered at Gold Hill Baptist Church in Bucks by me on 13th November 2016.

Does God decide every election?

The message I preached argued that God permitted Donald Trump to be president, but that God did not appoint him. I argued that whilst the simplistic answer to my question might be ‘yes’, an answer I heard many times then and have heard many times since, I was not so sure. The de-contextualised use of Romans 13:1-7 or Proverbs 8:15-16 is not a sufficient exegetical methodology to make such bold claims. I won’t rehearse the message here- you can listen to it for yourself at the link above, but I do stand by what I said, and believe that today, on the eve of the inauguration of President-Elect Biden and Vice-President-Elect Kamala Harris, the same question could be posed about their appointment. Did God appoint them? No – the American people did, and God permitted it.

God permits a great deal within God’s sovereign purposes – including the appointment of bad regimes and rulers (I am not making that statement about the Trump Administration or suggesting it about the Biden Administration by the way – readers can make up their own minds – by their fruits you shall know them). God permitted Israel to have a king despite the fact that God told them it was not what God wanted. God let Israel live with the consequences of their actions and choices, despite telling them not to do it. God permitted Haman to rise to power, but that doesn’t mean God wanted it. God has permitted inhumanity to take place because God has given humanity choices – but that is not the same as God causing it. God has allowed us, part of God’s Creation, to behave irresponsibly and selfishly toward the planet, toward nations, toward others and toward ourselves, despite God’s specific instructions on how we should live and how we should treat the planet and one another.

God permits a great deal within God’s sovereign purposes – including the appointment of bad regimes and rulers… but that doesn’t mean God wanted it. God has permitted inhumanity to take place because God has given humanity choices – but that is not the same as God causing it. God has allowed us, part of God’s Creation, to behave irresponsibly and selfishly toward the planet, toward nations, toward others and toward ourselves, despite God’s specific instructions on how we should live and how we should treat the planet and one another.

Back in 2016, I asked whether those Christians who were adamant that God had appointed President Trump would have been willing to affirm that God had appointed Hilary Clinton if she had won. She didn’t, so the point was a moot one. Now, however, the question of President-Elect Biden’s victory is a real one. Despite the conspiracy theories, the wild arguments and the vociferous protests, there is no evidence of wide-spread electoral fraud, Biden won the votes. Court after court (many with Trump-appointed judges) have thrown out case after case because there simply is no evidence of the wild and incendiary claims of a mass election-steal that President Trump and his supporters have claimed. In fact, Biden won more convincingly than Trump did, with the largest popular vote in U.S. history and the majority of electoral-college votes in the U.S. system (something that Donald Trump did not do – Clinton won the popular vote but lost the electoral college, and so lost the election because those are the rules of the U.S. system.)

Consistency

Here’s the challenge. My position is that God did not appoint Trump, and God did not appoint Biden. If you think God did appoint Trump because God is Sovereign, then you have to also accept that God appointed Biden. You cannot suggest that God appointed Trump but that somehow evil won this time round, and God lost this election. You can’t use the ‘Sovereignty of God’ approach when it suits you and disregard it when you don’t like the outcome – that’s inconsistent at best and disingenuous at worst. Either God appointed them both or God appointed neither of them, but God permitted their appointment by the American voters. This is the position I take. The American People appointed Trump, and the American People appointed Biden, and they (and the rest of the world) live with consequences.

You can’t use the ‘Sovereignty of God’ approach when it suits you and disregard it when you don’t like the outcome

I know that God ‘appointed’ King Cyrus according to Scripture – for the deliverance of God’s people and the furtherance of God’s Kingdom and I know that God used Pharoah etc. and ‘raised him up’ for the time, but the suggestion that these specific examples mean that God always decides elections is not at all a strong one. In the end, I am not suggesting that God did not know who would win the elections in the U.S., but I am suggesting that God using the choices that people make is not the same as God making those choices for them. Again – I’d ask you to listen to the message I preached back in 2016.

How can we assess the Christian claims of our political leaders?

The key things that we must now do, are what I asked people to do back in 2016. Assess the ‘godliness’ of a Presidency not by the claims that they make, the Divine mandate that they invoke, or the political posturing that they engage in to win, convince or persuade Christians that they are God’s candidates. Instead, we ask ourselves:

  1. Does this Presidency honour God?
  2. Does this Presidency create a context for Kingdom-values?
  3. Does this Presidency enable and support the preaching of the Gospel?
  4. Does this Presidency serve the poor and the marginalised?
  5. Does this Presidency protect God’s People, including both the Church and Israel?
  6. Does this Presidency stand for the dignity of life and the Image of God in people – before birth, during birth, in life, as we approach death, and across all races, creeds, colours, genders and abilities?
  7. Does this Presidency take seriously the call to be part of God’s Creation, to care for it, tend it and nurture it?
  8. Does this Presidency reject prejudice and discrimination?
  9. Does this Presidency, cultivate character, integrity, honour and truth?
  10. Does this Presidency listen to others, seek to hear wisdom and walk in it and seek to be fair, just and equitable?
  11. Does this President themselves live out the claims of Christian faith and integrity and character? Are they themselves people of honour, compassion, servantheartedness, justice and equity?
  12. Does this President themselves hold power lightly and remain humble, honest and open?

I am not going to make these evaluations for you as you consider the Trump Administration, and we wait to see what the Biden Administration will look like as we explore these questions and issues. For what it’s worth, I think Trump has done some of these well, and others badly, if at all. I also think Biden will do some well, and others badly. Time will tell. But we must not allow our own prejudices and confirmation biases to predetermine our answers to these questions. My list is not exhaustive – it’s illustrative rather than comprehensive.

But we must not allow our own prejudices and confirmation biases to predetermine our answers to these questions. My list is not exhaustive – it’s illustrative rather than comprehensive.

Taking Public Posture Seriously

Here in the U.K., for some years we have held to ‘Nolan’s Principles for Public Life’. They are a good start for any public leader – and they are certainly compatible with the teaching of Christian Spirituality and ethics. I will be writing about them in the weeks ahead. They are:

  1. Selflessness – Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest.
  2. Integrity – Holders of public office must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence them in their work. They should not act or take decisions in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends. They must declare and resolve any interests and relationships.
  3. Objectivity – Holders of public office must act and take decisions impartially, fairly and on merit, using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias.
  4. Accountability – Holders of public office are accountable to the public for their decisions and actions and must submit themselves to the scrutiny necessary to ensure this.
  5. Openness – Holders of public office should act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner. Information should not be withheld from the public unless there are clear and lawful reasons for so doing.
  6. Honesty – Holders of public office should be truthful.
  7. Leadership – Holders of public office should exhibit these principles in their own behaviour. They should actively promote and robustly support the principles and be willing to challenge poor behaviour wherever it occurs.

Do these presidents display these traits? Are they embodying some of these ‘evidences’ of character and integrity. Are we?

What is our posture?

What do we do now? We pray for Donald Trump and Mike Pence as they exit office and we pray for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as they enter office. We keep our hearts rooted in the Gospel. We stay close to Christ. We search the Scriptures to see if the claims they make are justified. We hold their actions, attitudes and words under the lens of Scripture. We refuse to allow the Church or the Gospel to become political footballs. We speak the truth to power. We speak up when things are wrong. We celebrate when things are right. And we keep focussed on God’s purposes and our identity in God, putting our nationalism, our politics and our preferences under the call to be followers of Jesus. And if we are leaders, we stand up, speak out, and above all, we kneel and seek God’s Kingdom and God’s righteousness first.

What do we do now? We pray for Donald Trump and Mike Pence as they exit office and we pray for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as they enter office. We keep our hearts rooted in the Gospel. He stay close to Christ. We search the Scriptures to see if the claims they make are justified. We hold their actions, attitudes and words under the lens of Scripture. We refuse to allow the Church or the Gospel to become political footballs. We speak the truth to power. We speak up when things are wrong. We celebrate when things are right. And we keep focussed on God’s purposes and our identity in God, putting our nationalism, our politics and our preferences under the call to be followers of Jesus. And if we are leaders – we stand up, speak out, and above all, we kneel and seek God’s Kingdom and God’s righteousness first.

One last thing to remember, I think. When I write a piece like this, it is not from the perspective of judgement or condescension about Americans, American politics, or American Christians. There are godly people whose perspective differs on these things. It is important, however to make sure that our positions, attitudes and understanding is based on the truth, and not on some theory that our favourite pundit, politician or guru is espousing. We must each ensure that we investigate the claims we are presented with, the statements we are given, and the demands of allegiance that others stake upon us. ‘We have no king but Jesus,’ is our cry whilst we seek to live as faithful Christians in our world. America is not the New Jerusalem, and its leaders are not the saviours of the world. And closer to home, here in the UK and in Northern Ireland, the part of the UK that I call ‘home’, we must also be careful to remember that there are deep flaws and challenges in our own communities, societies, and churches, that need our attention.

2 comments

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: