Wayne Grudem’s response in The Christian Post to John Piper’s widely circulated article, “Policies, Person’s, and Paths to Ruin,” made many good points. While Grudem’s arguments struck me well for the most part, there are two glaring errors in what he had to say, errors that far too many evangelicals make in defending their support of Trump.
Grudem states, “A candidate’s character and policies are both important to consider before voting. And I would agree that there are some character flaws so serious that they would by themselves disqualify a candidate (such as an avowed racist). But in most elections, and with most candidates, we have to choose between two rather ordinary human beings, both of whom have flaws. In that case, an evaluation of their policies becomes decisive. And that is the case in this election.” Everything Grudem said was fine until the very last sentence.
Grudem is right to say “A candidate’s character and policies are both important to consider before voting,” that “there are some character flaws so serious that they would by themselves disqualify a candidate,” and when two candidates are equally flawed “an evaluation of their policies becomes decisive.” But, with all due respect, Grudem couldn’t be more misguided when he states that in this election we are dealing with “two rather ordinary human beings, both of whom have flaws.”
Trump’s character flaws go well beyond those of the average individual. Grudem makes a false equivalency between Trump and Biden on characterological grounds, something that is completely unfounded in terms of how each man has lived their life. If anyone thinks the two people currently running for president are in the same category when it comes to their respective levels of human fallenness, they simply don’t know what they are talking about.
By any objective standard of theological, psychological, and moral assessment, Trump is a deeply disturbed human being and unrepentantly so. Trump is a toxic mix of pathologies that infect not only his character but the character of everyone around him. How many more times are we going to have to hear “unprecedented” applied to Trump’s aberrant and abhorrent behavior before evangelicals like Grudem stop thinking he is just like the rest of us?
Grudem rightly acknowledged “there are some character flaws so serious that they would by themselves disqualify a candidate (such as an avowed racist).” Given that he voted for Trump, I can only assume Grudem must not believe the character flaws in our current president are serious enough to disqualify him from being the leader of our country. It makes me wonder if Grudem and I are looking at the same person.
The other thing that disturbed me about Grudem’s response to Piper’s article is that he states, “Piper speaks of Trump’s character in entirely negative terms. Because of unbelievably hostile reporting in the mainstream press, other people can see no good character traits at all in President Trump. My assessment is different, and I think it is more balanced.” With all due respect, Grudem’s assessment of Trump is not more balanced but simply more out of touch with reality regarding the malevolent person Trump has proven himself to be over the years.
When it comes to Trump’s character, there is very little if anything positive. Grudem makes the same mistake so many evangelicals have made over the years about Trump—assuming his positive actions indicate underlying positive character traits. They don’t. Most everything Trump says or does emanate from his damaged soul. The positive actions he takes are not evidence of positive character traits, only that he knows how to manipulate his base and get their support. Trump has no internalized core values. He is an amoral man. His amorality frequently leads to acting in ways that are immoral in the eyes of the average person.
Piper has a more accurate view of Trump than Grudem. Piper’s view of Trump is more aligned with what the Apostle Paul said, “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people” (2 Timothy 3:1-5). This is a word-for-word description of Trump, and Grudem isn’t seeing him in a “more balanced” way to think otherwise
From reading Grudem’s op-ed, I better understand why so many evangelicals continue to support Trump after all the unethical, immoral, and potentially illegal things he has done as president—they think he’s a decent guy and shares their core values.
Grudem and evangelicals like him seem to think that the New York City con artist who filed for bankruptcy six times, refused to pay contractors, bilked students out of millions through his sham university, boasted about his (supposed) wealth, cheated on his three wives, bragged he could sexually assault women because he was famous, inflated his wealth when he needed loans, deflated his wealth when paying taxes, and paid off porn stars to keep them from talking is the old Donald Trump and that the new Donald Trump is a changed man.
It’s as if the majority of evangelicals believe Trump had a road to Damascus encounter with Christ shortly after he was elected and is a brand-new person standing up for all that is good, decent, and honorable. If that’s how they view him, no wonder they won’t stop supporting him. Tragically, they couldn’t be more wrong about Trump being a new man. Trump has only gotten worse over time, but many evangelicals don’t have eyes to see when it comes to the godless person they helped ascend to the presidency.
Unlike Grudem, I voted for Joe Biden. Even though the former vice-president clearly has his flaws, I see him as an “ordinary” man of character who is decent and honorable in ways Donald Trump never has been and never will be. When I stood at the voting booth, I simply could not bring myself to vote for a person whose deep-seated and intractable character defects warrant his removal from office, not four more years in the White House.
Chris Thurman, Ph.D., is a psychologist and author of The Lies We Believe. He is a contributor to, The Spiritual Danger of Donald Trump: 30 Evangelical Christians on Justice, Truth, and Moral Integrity. He is a member of the leadership committee of Christians Against Trumpism & Political Extremism