The Wall Street Journal has established that it was likely that Donald Trump had a fling with a porn star a few years back, and that she was paid a tidy sum to keep her mouth shut about it. But as far as I can tell, the story has caused barely a ripple. Even the all-purpose scandal suffix — -gate — hasn’t done the trick. The story has circulated widely enough, but porngate has somehow not caught fire. The nation is not exactly aghast.
Over at National Review, David French has written capably enough about the silence of conservative Christians on the topic, and has laid out some of his reasons that help explain the lack of condemnation. Now when I get to the point (eventually) I want to add another possible reason for this, and then go on to add my own caution about all of it. But to get to all of that you will have to read further on, and soldier through some intermediate stuff first.
To Be Clear
But before proceeding any further, since I will no doubt be accused by somebody as being among the complicit, as somehow being among those “keep-their-heads-down conservatives” who will not condemn vile behavior when emanating from the Donald, let me say plainly what I think about it. If we are playing the standard political whataboutism game in the other direction, I’ll play.
Of course I condemn it. A man who will betray his wife this way will betray anybody. This kind of thing is calculating and vile, and all the more vile for being calculating. Scripture condemns adultery (Ex. 20:14), and in Old Testament Israel, it was a capital offense (Lev. 20:10). Under the New Covenant, this kind of covenant-breaking is no less worthy of condemnation (Rom. 1:32). However worldly wise he thinks he is, a man who commits adultery is without understanding (Prov. 6:32).
“How shall I pardon thee for this? thy children have forsaken me, and sworn by them that are no gods: when I had fed them to the full, they then committed adultery, and assembled themselves by troops in the harlots’ houses” (Jeremiah 5:7).
And they would have consorted with porn queens too, if given half a chance. A man who commits adultery like this will not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal. 6:19, 21). Put bluntly, this means that apart from repentance and faith, adulterers are thrown into the lake of fire, and this most certainly includes our president—but without excluding any number of past presidents.
That clear enough for everybody?
But the real reason I think this hasn’t gotten any attention is that it is yesterday’s newspaper. Listen. Donald Trump has not lived a sexually virtuous life. Everybody in the world knew this before the election. I did not vote for him, and this was one of the central reasons why. I opposed him through the primaries because character matters. In the general election, I wrote in the name of someone else for president because character matters.
Remember? He was on the cover of Playboy. That cover was framed and mounted on the wall behind Jerry Falwell and his wife doing their photo op with Trump, meaning that his involvement in porn was not something he was ashamed of. In one account he bragged about waking up next to “top women.” In The Art of the Deal, he said this: “If I told the real stories of my experiences with women, often seemingly very happily married and important women, this book would be a guaranteed best-seller.” And there was the infamous Access Hollywood tape, where he thoughtfully explained the sort of monkeyshines women let alpha males get away with. Whatever the story with Stormy Daniels might be, the one thing it is not is news.
I say these things as a simple observer, and not a cheerleader. The cheerleading comes later, and on different grounds.
When it came to the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, and all the forces that conspired to get him elected, all of these issues were already baked in. And I think it is not an indicator of how little the electorate cares about sexual morality in their leaders. Rather it is an indicator of how much they care about the unrelenting contempt that the elites have been heaping upon them for a generation or two. If everything else were equal, of course they would care about marital fidelity in their president—or, if we are insistent on going back to the good old days, the appearance of marital fidelity in their presidents. But everything else is not even close to being equal.
The establishment is trying to bring down Donald Trump by using revelations that would have brought down Marco Rubio, or Rick Santorum, or Jeb Bush, or Ted Cruz, et al. They are in the middle of losing a pitched battle at Midway, and have decided to send in the triremes.
The Judgment with Which You Judge
I don’t believe that conservative Christians should adopt an approach to politics that amounts to “the ends justify the means.” If the devil sidles up to you and whispers that if you just agree to wink at this little adulterous peccadillo, then he will be sure to give you lots and lots of conservative judges, the answer of no deal should be clear enough. Of course not. No deal.
But people are talking as though this cozy arrangement with Trump is the very first time that conservative Christians in politics have been tempted to sell their souls. The complicit silence that David French is talking about has been going on for decades. And the silence that is most to be condemned is the silence that effectively silences. Right? If you are silent about something that everybody already knows about, e.g. Trump’s infidelities, there is some inconsistency there. But if you are silent about the adulteries, molestations and cover-ups that the world does not know about, but which everyone in the upper circles of your conservative circle of thought leaders “knows,” then that is where the real challenge to your integrity lies.
Condemning Trump’s open adulteries takes little courage and even less detective work. Remaining relatively silent about them is a form of culpable expedience.
But remaining silent where the silence enables and fortifies an ongoing hypocritical evangelical “work”—that is the real compromise. That is where the real problem lies, and pretty close to the bone too. And there is an instinctive knowledge of this principle. Don’t be too vocal in your condemnations because what goes around comes around. Condemnations of misbehavior by Democrats doesn’t count because that is just politics and everybody expects it. Criticize too close to home and people take it personally, and they sometimes retaliate on the basis of what they know about you.
““Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1–2, ESV).
Turning big flat rocks over usually reveals all kinds of creepy crawlies. And anybody who believes that the big flat rocks of evangelical “influence” organizations don’t have anything to worry about in this regard really needs to get out more.
What Is Actually Happening
So let me explain something. We are not witnessing a clash between the vile Trump and the virtuous establishment. The establishment has been, is, and will be, every bit as immoral as Trump has been, but because he is so insolently open about it, and has not minded tearing the lid off their hypocrisies, they hate him. Why he is doing it in this way is a mystery to me, but the fact that this is what he is doing is no mystery at all.
He is draining the swamp. That is no mystery. But why such a swamp creature would set about to drain the swamp—that really is a mystery. Okay, you’ve got me scratching my head.
In the meantime, there is a populist revolt against the elites going on. The two big indicators have been the Brexit vote and Trump’s election. Trying to stop it with this kind of tactic is like spreading your picnic blanket over the top of a volcano.
In the meantime, without going in all rah-rah for Trump as a person, I can say that the first year of his administration has resulted in far more good than I would have expected, and going further than this, it has resulted in far more good than I would have expected from a president who had met all the moral specifications on my list.
As Buffalo Springfield taught us so many years ago: “Something’s happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear.” That’s my insight.
The Finger of God
We need to remember the moral limitations that are placed on us are not limitations for God. God uses sin and sinful actors to accomplish His good purposes. We don’t get to do that, but as the sovereign God, He does. God draws straight using crooked lines. Habakkuk complained to God about why He was using the Babylonians to judge Israel when the Babylonians were far worse than the Israelites (Hab. 1:13). A reasonable question, we might think. And Isaiah points to the same reality when God used the Assyrians to accomplish His purposes, and told them not to boast over it. It had nothing to do with them (Is. 10:15). Cyrus the Great was by no means a godly character, and yet God used him as a messiah (Is. 45:1), and brought about the return of the Jews to their land through him. And of course the prime example of this is how the God of all love orchestrated the behavior of all the regional rulers of Palestine, steeped in their wickedness, in order to bring in salvation for the whole world.
“For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, for to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done” (Acts 4:27–28).
So please rest assured, when I preach the cross, I am not preaching the virtues of Herod, Pontius Pilate, and the Gentiles, followed by the Jews. I am preaching the ineffable wisdom of God.
“The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: He turneth it whithersoever he will” (Prov. 21:1).
I believe that this is what we are witnessing. God is being kind to us, and He is doing it in such a way as to preclude boasting on our part.
There will be a world after Trump. What conservative Christians need to do is behave during the Trump years in such a way as to not disqualify them from doing good in the years to follow the Trump years. There are three ways they might disqualify themselves. The first is through personal dishonesty or immorality. The second is through connivance at the immorality of others for the sake of “the agenda.” The third is through a dogged refusal to acknowledge the gifts that God is giving us, gifts that we do not deserve at all.
The first group are the secret hypocrites, the liars that fight for traditional family values in public and betray them in their private lives. The second is the group that David French was addressing—those who justify the means because of the end. The third group is made up of people most likely to applaud David French thoughtlessly, people who have #NeverTrumped themselves into a state of ungrateful delusion.