by John H. Horst
As a seminary graduate (M.A. in Theology, Asia Pacific Theological Seminary, M.Div., Bethel University), but also as a politically active Evangelical Christian (recent candidate for U.S. Congress in California’s 52nd Congressional District), I was dismayed to read Professor Wayne Grudem’s endorsement of Donald Trump. Having studied theology and ethics from his books, his endorsement was a shocking example of a utilitarian ethic – and a nakedly politically one at that. I have long felt Evangelical leaders endorsing presidential candidates lacks any substantial distinction from the Popes of old crowing kings and queens. Having seen the spiritual impotence and political tyranny this produced through the ages, one would think our theological academe would know better.
But I am not writing to excoriate Donald Trump, as did writers like John Mark N. Reynolds. Scott McKnight’s response is better as it points out the “dilution of the Gospel” by what has become the essential identification of Evangelicalism with Republican politics. But the problem is much, much more grave than this.
I will state it up front. I will be voting for Donald Trump. But I am not voting for him because I like him. (I don’t). I am voting for him because he is actually a mirror of the immorality from which Evangelical leaders persistently avert their eyes in return for proximity to political power. While perhaps not motivated by this proximity to power, the theological academe in American Evangelicalism is even more deserving of the same indictment.
And I will make no pretense of irenics; that day has passed and is now buried under $20 trillion dollars of debt. And our theological academe has long since forfeited any right to expect an irenic discussion on political matters, busy as they are dancing around the golden calf of fiat money as they waive the incense of student loans. Each and every one of their paychecks is morally tainted.
It is this stinking hot mess of economic immorality that desperately needs to be exposed. If we have to marry a prostitute in order to hold up a mirror in front of what has become of Evangelicalism and its academe, the sooner the better. When this hot mess of debt collapses under its own weight, the crisis will be epic and will demand Christian leaders with at least some reservoir of moral credibility. Grudem now has none. Neither does James Dobson nor any other of what is left of their generation of Evangelical leadership.
In the process of selling the birthright of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for a mess of political pottage, we social conservatives have become idolaters. It isn’t that we are wrong: I consider myself a social conservative, and on each point of debate in the ‘culture wars’ I agree with – and can rather expertly argue – the Evangelical social conservative position. The problem is our arguments – and our biblical rationales for them – have become our idols.
The reason we do not make ‘images’ of God is because He has already done this for us. He has created His image to be seen by us first in the mirror, and then in our neighbor. Anything which then prevents or impedes us from seeing the image of God where He has created it to be seen: in ourselves and in our neighbor – gay, straight, or ‘otherwise’ – has become our idol.
We are like the ‘expert in the law’ in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. St. Luke twice opens a window into his motives and intentions. First, we are told he arose to ‘test’ Jesus. Having been asked what one must do the gain eternal life, Jesus basically says: “You’re the lawyer; you tell me.” The lawyer expertly answers: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus agrees. But again, Luke reveals the underlying motives: Trying to justify himself, he asks “Who is my neighbor?”
The lawyer, like us today, was seeking the hope of eternal life in being right. We are, if nothing else, ‘experts’ in the Natural Law arguments we deploy in the midst of the ‘culture wars’. And like the lawyer, if we are not careful we will discover that the hope of eternal life is not to be found where we have been seeking it. The lawyer does not find this hope until confronted with the compassionate motives and intentions of the hated Samaritan, and the command to “go and do likewise.” Taking a public stand against homosexual marriage has now become nothing but an exercise in justifying ourselves to our peers and otherwise buying a socially conservative version of street cred in what is looking more and more like a gang war than a proclamation of the Gospel.
In a study commissioned by the National Association of Evangelicals – which was limited to senior pastors – the burden of student debt on younger pastors was a surprise to the NAE leadership. And if the burden on senior pastors was a surprise, what can we expect to find if we were to survey younger, lower paid associate and youth pastors? But the response was to propose “clergy benevolence matching grants that can be used to help pay down or pay off student loans, help with medical expenses, or prepare for retirement.” It apparently does not occur to anyone in leadership to question the underlying economics.
There are only two kinds of obligations which cannot be discharged in a bankruptcy: taxes and student loans. The idea was to create an incentive for banks to make loans to young people who otherwise would not be able to afford a college education. But when this relatively sound idea was paired with a 100% taxpayer guarantee for most of these loans, the $1.3T student debt crisis we now find ourselves in was mathematically – and morally – inevitable.
The steady increase in college tuition – both in secular higher education and in our Christian colleges and seminaries – is simply the function of an unrestrained money supply. When a financial institution can lend on a note not dischargeable in bankruptcy and fully guaranteed by the taxpayer, there is no longer any risk to the lender. And schools – ours included – know full well that they can charge whatever they please, since lenders are happy to make these risk-free loans when every extra dollar will return around $0.06 a year.
In 2010 the student loan industry was effectively nationalized under the pretense of ending the abuses of private sector banks. But in their place was put what has become known as “Sallie Mae” – the “Fannie Mae” of student loans. And just like with Fannie Mae, Sallie Mae securitizes their loans and sells those securities to Wall Street. And so shareholders owning bank stock have been replaced with shareholders owning Sallie Mae stock. But the underlying business model of profiting from an unrestrained money supply in higher education has been left completely intact.
If Professor Grudem and other Evangelical leaders of his generation were to actually take the discipline of ethics seriously, and entertain the painfully obvious economic ethics of the Old Testament, this outrage would merit at least as much attention as outrages to the Judeo-Christian traditions of marriage and family. Morality is and always will be essentially about restraint. And in an economy subject to biblical ethics, the immorality of an unrestrained money supply should be obvious on its face. But apparently it isn’t – for if it were, what would become of our Christian colleges and universities? If donors among those who profit from their Sallie Mae investments were put in their proper moral place on this matter, what would become of Evangelical political influence?
Again, I am voting for Donald Trump this year because he will owe nothing to the Republican Establishment and will be free to – pardon my dancing along the borders of sanctified language – call BS on Wall Street even if not for the moral reasons described above. Fortunately for those of us who cherish our American traditions and fear a Trump presidency, the converse is also true: The Republican Congress will owe nothing to Donald Trump. Imagine! A Congress whose first debt is to their oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States!
But perhaps from an eternal perspective, I am voting for Donald Trump because I frankly look forward to watching Evangelicalism married to a prostitute, that we might come face to face with our own whoring after the false gods of fiat money and political influence.
And hopefully repent – sooner rather than later.
John H. Horst earned his Master of Arts in Theology from Asia Pacific Theological Seminary and holds a Master of Divinity from Bethel University. As an active member of his community, Horst is the Treasurer of three organizations including, the Mira Mesa Town Council, the San Diego Chapter of ICS2, and Pacific Lighthouse Christian Fellowship. He is currently an information security engineer and trainer. He resides in San Diego, CA with his wife and two sons.