The puzzling trend that has some evangelicals jumping on the Donald Trump bandwagon is puzzling to me. When I express my concern, I am sometimes given an argument that goes something like this: “We’re not electing a pastor, we’re choosing a president.” The idea being that to expect the kind of “saintly” behavior, rhetoric, and demeanor demanded of the clergy in a politician is not a standard we should apply.
That’s partly true, particularly when it comes to purely theological and spiritual issues. But when it comes to things like character and integrity, standards highlighted in scripture for those who aspire to leadership in religious bodies also make sense in any context where someone is considered for a position of private or public trust.
For example, when the Apostle Paul instructed a young and emerging church leader in one of his letters, he profiled a good and decent person. And I think most Americans would agree that there are some very basic standards of goodness and decency that should be shared by all effective leaders.
So Paul listed some of these things in his admonition to young Timothy in the third chapter of his first letter to him. And I think what Paul described transcends the church and religion. There are universal qualities that can and should also apply to leaders everywhere.
A good leader should be “blameless,” which means “above reproach” and free from scandal. A leader should be faithful to his or her spouse, demonstrating through the capacity to keep his or her word in the most essential relationship, that he or she will be trustworthy in other contexts.
A good leader should be able to control his tongue. The old word is “sober-minded,” which denotes the trend toward serious reflection and careful articulation.
A good leader should be “hospitable,” according to Paul. Interestingly, the Greek root for that English word is the compound of “xenos” (stranger or foreigner) and “philos” (loving), or literally, “a lover of foreigners or outsiders.”
A good leader is not violent, but gentle and never quarrelsome.
And a good leader should never be “a lover of money.” Someone in charge must never be driven by personal gain, or use personal gain in a selfish way.
Yes, all of these matters of character apply to leadership in the church. But don’t they also make sense in a larger context? I think so. I know some like Trump because he promotes himself as a man who can get things done. But this strikes me as something akin to the “Mussolini made the trains run on time” argument.
The presidency is a powerful job. Theodore Roosevelt called it a “bully pulpit.” But he also said: “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”
Sacrificing the good in the pursuit of great is a prescription for disaster. The Scripture reminds us, “When the godly are in authority, the people rejoice. But when the wicked are in power, they groan.” (Proverbs 29:2 New Living Translation)