This year’s national prayer breakfast was a study in contrasts. Washington Post columnist and former American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks spoke before Donald Trump. He delivered a theologically true and moving address about a profound and difficult biblical command—loving our enemies. It began like this:
As you have heard, I am not a priest or minister. I am a social scientist and a university professor. But most importantly, I am a follower of Jesus, who taught each of us to love God and to love each other.
I am here today to talk about what I believe is the biggest crisis facing our nation—and many other nations—today. This is the crisis of contempt—the polarization that is tearing our society apart. But if I do my job in the next few minutes, I promise I won’t depress you. On the contrary, I will show you why I believe that within this crisis resides the best opportunity we have ever had, as people of faith, to lift our nations up and bring them together.
I’d urge you to read the entire thing. It was powerful. It was profound. Most importantly, it was true. And note that throughout the entire speech he does not once urge any Christian to relent in the quest for justice. We can and should fight for the religious, cultural, and political values we hold dear, but as we seek justice we must also love our enemies. We must also bless those who persecute us. These are not tactics. They’re commands.
Then, Trump spoke. At the outset he said, “Arthur, I don’t know if I agree with you” and proceeded to do exactly what Trump does—hate on his enemies. He aired his grievances against political opponents in personally insulting terms, at length. But none of this is truly news. This is what the president does, day after day, on Twitter, during rallies, and to the press. It’s been a core theme of his presidency and, before that, his candidacy. When many of his most zealous Christian defenders say that “he fights,” this is exactly what they’re talking about.
The proper way for Christians to engage in politics is a rich subject—one worthy of book-length treatment—but there are some rather simple foundational principles that apply before the questions get complex. For example, all but a tiny few believers would agree that a Christian should not violate the Ten Commandments or any other clear, biblical command while pursuing or exercising political power.
But of course we see such behavior all the time from hardcore Christian Trump supporters. They’ll echo Trump’s lies. They’ll defend Trump’s lies. They’ll adopt many of his same rhetorical tactics, including engaging in mocking and insulting behavior as a matter of course. Take this tweet, for example, from Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of one of the nation’s most important Christian universities. He was very angry that Russell Moore, the head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission had tweeted his concern about the treatment of migrant children at the border. Falwell shot back with an insult:
Yet there are millions of Trump supporting Christians who would read that exchange and think, “That’s way too far. I’m not like that. My Trump-supporting friends aren’t like that.” And they’re right! They’re not like Falwell. They would never act like Falwell. But I’d submit that a person doesn’t necessarily wash his hands of sin by delegating that sin to another person.
Or, to put things more plainly, one doesn’t comply with the command to “love your enemies” by hiring someone to hate them for you.
Let’s talk for a moment about a far more common Christian Trump supporter. And I’m going to pull real-life examples from countless conversations, including with many close friends. Imagine a kind, sweet Christian woman—a person so nice in person that you’d hardly think it’s real. But she loves Trump, and she loves Trump because she’s sick and tired. She’s sick and tired of the elite media deriding her faith as bigoted. She’s sick and tired of a political party that rejects the humanity of unborn children. She’s appalled at the way she believes the media have gone out of their way to destroy good men. I mean, they treated Mitt Romney as if he was some sort of woman-hating, callous monster. Mitt. Romney.
Donald Trump says “Enough!” Sure, he’s rude, and she wishes he wouldn’t tweet quite like he does. But the bottom line is that he fights. He punches back. And that’s what we need.
She doesn’t necessarily like Trump’s lying, but the Democrats lie too, and if you read what she writes on social media, and you hear what she says to her friends, it’s full of condemnation against Adam Schiff, the Steele dossier, and the other laundry list of Resistance sins.
She doesn’t like Trump’s personal insults, but her political conversations are full of shock and anger at the opposition’s disrespect for a president she appreciates. That’s where she invests her emotion. That’s where she focuses her activism. Have you seen what The Squad says about Trump? The misdeeds freshman members of Congress loom far larger in her mind that the misconduct of the world’s most powerful man.
Here’s the end result—millions of Christians have not just decided to hire a hater to defend them from haters and to hire a liar to defend them from liars, they actively ignore, rationalize, minimize, or deny Trump’s sins. They do this in part because they can’t bring themselves to face the truth about Trump and in part because they know it is difficult to build and sustain a political movement if you’re constantly (or even frequently) criticizing the misconduct of its leader. To criticize Trump even a quarter of the time he does something wrong would be to unleash a constant drumbeat of criticism against the man they hope to re-elect.
It’s at this point that many Christian Trump supporters will deploy the, err, trump card—the statement that’s supposed to settle the argument. What about the babies? If push comes to shove, they tell themselves, I’m going to support the person who seeks to end the slaughter of unborn children in the womb over the candidates who wants to expand legal protection for abortion and even publiclyfund that horrible practice.
I’ve been pro-life from the moment I understood what abortion was. I formed a pro-life club at Harvard Law School that existed for two decades. I’ve worked for the most powerful pro-life legal organizations in America, and I’ve represented pro-life students (pro bono) in cases from coast-to-coast. I’ve helped raise millions of dollars for pro-life causes. I’ve never voted for a pro-choice politician, and I don’t ever intend to. But in more than three decades of pro-life work, I’ve understood two things quite clearly—the defense of the unborn does not justify sin, and the battle for the unborn is far more spiritual and cultural than it is legal and political.
Remember, the Christian command to love your enemies came from a savior who was an entirely innocent man about to be executed by his enemies, yet he was also dying for them at the same time. When the Apostle Paul told first-century Christians to be “kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil,” he was speaking to an early church that wasn’t enduring tweetings, it was facing beatings. It was facing death from the leaders of an evil regime. Those were the enemies Christians were to love.
Love isn’t optional, not even when lives are on the line.
In fact, love has long been the best and most enduring “weapon” of the pro-life movement. In spite of relentless media attacks, its fundamental, loving nature has persisted and borne fruit. And it’s made a life-and-death difference regardless of who is in the White House. I’m going to show you a chart that might shock you (but if you read me frequently, you’ve seen it before). It’s the abortion rate since Roe.
These numbers are from the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute, and their latest figures show the rate continuing to drop. Since the awful peak of the abortion rate, the number that matters most—human lives saved—has improved during every administration since Carter regardless of whether the president was pro-choice or pro-life, regardless of whether his judges upheld abortion restrictions or struck them down.
Does this mean that policy doesn’t matter? Of course not. But for all the focus on national politics, the policies that matter most are most often enacted at the state level. And when was one of the greatest bursts of pro-life lawmaking in recent American history? During the Obama administration:
The abortion rate has dropped for many reasons—including for reasons completely unrelated to the pro-life movement—but it’s simply true that more unplanned pregnancies are carried to term, and one reason is love. The best part of the pro-life movement loves babies, it loves moms, and it moves sacrificially to put that love in action.
Hate has no place in pro-life America. None. And embracing or defending hate—even hatred of the movement’s most vigorous opponents—for the sake of life contradicts the spirit of the movement and stands to do more harm than good to the political cause that so many Christians value the most.
American Evangelicals represent one of the most powerful religious movements in the world. They exercise veto power over the political success of any presidential candidate from one of America’s two great parties. Yet they don’t wield that power to veto the selection of a man who completely rejects—and even scorns—many of their core moral values.
I fully recognize what I’m saying. I fully recognize that refusing to hire a hater and refusing to hire a liar carries costs. If we see politics through worldly eyes, it makes no sense at all. Why would you adopt moral standards that put you at a disadvantage in an existential political struggle? If we don’t stand by Trump we will lose, and losing is unacceptable.
The pastor of my old church used to refer to the kingdom of God as “upside down.” The last are first? To gain your life, you have to lose it? It simply defies earthly common sense. As Paul said, “[T]he wisdom of the world is foolishness to God.” I’m reminded of the old Christian hymn, “Trust and Obey.” While it ruins the rhyme, I like the concept with the words reversed—obey and trust. Obey the creator of the universe when he tells me to love my enemies and then trust that justice will still be done and that God’s will still prevails.
I’m an imperfect man, but when I’m aware of my sin, I repent. And I make a simple vow—by God’s grace, I will love my enemies, and I will not hire anyone to hate them on my behalf.
One last thing …
Speaking of love, it felt appropriate to share perhaps the most powerful pop culture depiction of deep grief, forgiveness in the face of terrible wrongdoing, and the triumph of love, it’s hard to do better than “It’s Quiet Uptown” from the musical Hamilton:
Photograph of Donald Trump at the National Prayer Breakfast by Nicholas Kamm/ AFP/Getty Images.