One of the difficult things about staying off social media (for the most part) for Lent is that I can’t spout off at the mouth about the absurdity of this presidential primary thing. Actually, that’s one of the benefits of staying off social media. It reminds me that I need to feel “heard” far more than is actually necessary. That’s usually one of the best things about a social media sabbatical for me. More than the lack of input, it’s the lack of output.
But man. This election has made it difficult. I have been truly horrified to see Donald Trump championed by so many people. I think it’s pretty clear that Christians who actually act like Christians don’t have a ton of time for Donald Trump. But they, more and more, seem to be ok with Ted Cruz, who I also don’t particularly care for (for pretty much all the reasons found here). I think the Cruz thing is relatively subtle compared to the bloviation from Donald Trump. I can’t believe that any Christian would support a man whose personal fidelity to his wife, his prosperity from casinos, his uncharitable demeanor, his Howard Stern appearances would all be things, individually, that would disqualify him without even a second thought from Christians even, say, 30-40 years ago. The combination of all those things (and more)? I can’t believe anyone who pretends to love Jesus would come close to him.
The other day, I posted a link on my Tumblr account to a New York Times column by a conservative (politically and theologically) writer named Ross Douthat. I like Douthat a lot. I admit it. I think he’s smart and winsome and appropriately critical. Anyway, I posted the link and added the comment that “I don’t know how my spiritual family can be ok with voting for this guy.” And I mean exactly that. I don’t understand. I am confused. I cannot defend the willingness because I just don’t get it. I’m not saying you’re not a Christian if you vote for that guy. I’m just saying I don’t understand the rationale.
Someone came back with this comment: “Judge not? How do you know the hearts of ANY of the candidates? You don’t. So don’t try to judge their hearts, and stop judging the hearts of voters you don’t even know.” I thought that was pretty perfect. The irony of this being used to defend DONALD TRUMP, the guy who has advanced his cause by being a bully and a “judge” of people, was not lost on me.
However, as I thought about that sentiment, I was, in a very small way, grateful for Donald Trump. No, seriously. Grateful.
What Donald Trump has done is enabled us all to have a conversation about what it means to judge people. I think if you got liberal and conservative people in a room and asked if it was ok to judge people, at least half the room would immediately say no. At least. Many of those would maybe even chuck the Bible at you to defend the answer.
But if I got liberal and conservative people in a room and asked if it was ok to judge Donald Trump, the room would be much more united. Apparently, 30-ish% of the room would answer “NO!” angrily (perhaps violently…. ok, low blow, I admit.) but everyone else would be like “OH HECK YES.” Why? Why would people suddenly be ok with judging someone if that someone was Donald Trump?
I think, actually, it’s because this person is someone we feel is more clearly assessed, more clearly judged. Look at the weight of his conduct, the way he has lived his life, and tell me that we know nothing of his interior world. Can you? I don’t think so. And actually, I think this is Biblical judging. I think this is the kind of judging that is both allowed and encouraged by the Bible. Judging someone by the “fruit” of their life. As Jesus insists, “Good fruit doesn’t come from a bad tree.” And Trump’s fruit… well….
Leaving aside the politics of it all (which isn’t really what interests me about Trump anyway), this is perhaps a way forward for us to have ethical conversations. Moral conversations. Judge-y conversations. Everything in our culture has geared us towards being non-judgmental. As if making a judgment is the worst thing you might do. Really, I think the best part of wisdom is to weight up a person or situation and try to accurately read what’s going on in their interior world.
It’s not wrong to look at what a person’s life has produced and to make a judgment about their character. To do otherwise is foolish. Easy example: A convicted pedophile applies for a daycare position. Should we abstain from judging him because of his past? Should we put him with children? Of course not. His actions have told us that, at least at some point and probably currently, he is not the kind of person that should be around children. A woman has been convicted of several shoplifting infractions. Do you want her counting the cash at a fundraiser? I don’t know that that’s a good idea.
What’s difficult is that Jesus invites a kind of judgment about others, a weighing of the fruit of their lives, but he does not permit his people to be judgmental. And this is a fine line to walk. I look at Donald Trump and I say, “That man should not lead a country. Look at his character!” But what I cannot say, explicitly or implicitly, is “I am way, way better than that man” or “That man has no value.” Christian evaluation of character is done humbly and honestly. I am a flawed human being who, were I to be placed under the microscope, would horrify almost anyone. And Donald Trump is not so morally repugnant that he has no worth as a human being. I can hold those two tensions in hand and still decide that he should not be someone who holds high office.
Making moral judgments is ok. It’s not always easy. And certainly, things get more grey than Donald Trump or theft or pedophilia. This kind of conversation will not make everyone comfortable about all kinds of judgment. Things need to be handled with tact and care. But perhaps this will at least begin a conversation between people who normally speak past each other and we can say to one another, “Perhaps we can be more morally discriminating than we thought. What does it look like to do this rightly?”
What our world needs is not an absence of judgment. Our world needs a moral backbone to be able to say “This is wrong!” and to be able to give reasons for that judgment. We can’t keep retreating into non-judgment and think that we’re making space for everyone. The reality is that if we want to make space for minority voices and hurt people, we need people strong enough to judge and put their foot down. Judging is not necessarily a terrible thing. It could be! It could be abused and misused. But the answer is not to put down that tool. The answer is to use that tool correctly.
So maybe Donald Trump is helping us. Maybe we now have a way to reflect together, “Who are you and I to judge? How should we do it?” I think that conversation might even be worth the Trump noise. Let’s just not be distracted by it. Let’s use it.