Evangelicals' political soul searching must transcend Trump

Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden leads Trump by 36 points nationally among Latinos: poll Trump dismisses climate change role in fires, says Newsom needs to manage forest better Jimmy Kimmel hits Trump for rallies while hosting Emmy Awards MORE began his journey to the presidency by denigrating migrants fleeing poverty and unspeakable violence. His administration has since separated thousands of families as a warning to others seeking safer, better lives for their children. More recently, Trump’s policies have led to record-low refugee admission rates, rejecting thousands fleeing the horrors of war.

Evangelicals voted overwhelmingly for Trump. But they must ask themselves how his actions align with the Bible. Matthew 25:31-46 describes how Jesus will return to Earth to separate the “righteous” from the “cursed” based on how he was treated as a stranger in disguise: “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me.”

Do Trump’s migrant and refugee policies comport with biblical descriptions of the “righteous,” who will inherit “eternal life” for helping strangers in need? Or do they track more closely with the actions of those facing “eternal punishment” for rejecting the poor and downtrodden?

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In pondering this moral quandary, evangelicals would be wise to remember the Lord’s words: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for the least of my brothers and sisters, you did for me.” And, no, the Bible does not distinguish between national borders. (“All the nations will be gathered before Him.”

The vast majority of migrants and asylum seekers at America’s southern frontier are Christians. The Bible is explicit: “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”

Beyond his treatment of migrants, Trump has pursued policies that overwhelmingly benefit the ultra-wealthy. But Biblical condemnation of the rich and the accumulation of wealth is unequivocal.

James writes: “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days.”

With parallels to Trump’s business practices, James continues: “The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. [Their cries] have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence.”

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According to Luke, a rich man agonizes in hell simply for having lived a life of “luxury.” Matthew is clear: Christians shall not “store up treasures on earth.” Importantly, Jesus’ parable explaining that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter” heaven is one of a select few teachings to span all three synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), cementing the Bible’s anti-wealth message.

In sharp contrast to the scriptures, Trump told his ultra-wealthy friends that “You all just got a lot richer” following the passage of his enormous tax cuts. Indeed, the Trump tax cuts for the wealthy have led to an explosion in wealth and income inequality, already at levels not seen since 1929, when Wall Street greed sparked the Great Depression.

Importantly, a detailed analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service found that Trump’s colossal tax cuts had virtually no effect on the economy or wages. Despite Trump’s repeated promises, this stunning lack of economic growth underscores the tax cuts’ one-sided gains for the ultra-wealthy.

Moreover, significant moral (let alone Biblical) concerns arise over the trillions and trillions of dollars in debt accrued due to the Trump tax cuts. Future generations will be forced to contend with the crushing deficits that Trump is racking up.

Biblical wisdom on wealth, debts and migration aside, many evangelicals voted for Trump based solely on their pro-life convictions. In opposing abortion, evangelicals frequently cite two biblical passages. However, these verses are silent on the all-important question of when life begins.

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Fortunately, the scriptures provide clear answers here. In the Book of Genesis we learn that “man became a living being” only after God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” From the Book of Job: “the Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” The Book of Revelation details how the dead arise after inhaling “the breath of life from God.” Similarly, God told Ezekiel, “I will put breath in you, and you will come to life.”

In short, the Bible holds that life begins when the breath of God fills a newborn’s lungs. It makes no reference to life beginning at conception (or of abortion, which was a relatively common practice during Jesus’ time).

Moreover, a Mosaic law found in the same book as the Ten Commandments holds that causing a miscarriage is not a capital crime. Instead, a monetary fine must be paid.

A different Mosaic law provides the closest example to a biblical reference to abortion: God causes the miscarriage of any fetus conceived through an extramarital affair.

Until a few decades ago, leading American evangelicals used these Biblical passages to argue that life begins at birth, not at conception. A 1968 issue of the evangelical movement’s flagship journal (the Billy Graham-founded Christianity Today) makes it abundantly clear: “God does not regard the fetus as a soul.”

Indeed, American evangelicals (and many Republican politicians) were largely ambivalent about abortion prior to the 1980s. In a hallmark of how rapidly political considerations have altered the evangelical movement, leading evangelicals frequently argued that the notion of life beginning at conception – a core tenet of Catholicism – had no biblical basis.

Marik von Rennenkampff served as an analyst with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, as well as an Obama administration appointee at the U.S. Department of Defense. Follow him on Twitter @MvonRen.