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August 21, 2020
President Trump receives non-stop criticism in the press. I agree that criticism is necessary when a president makes mistakes, but where are the voices expressing appreciation for the good things Trump has done? It’s unfair always to criticize and never to recognize any of the good things a president has done.
It might be a refreshing change to recall some of the remarkable, nation-changing good things that Trump has accomplished for America. Here is my personal list.
Because of space limitations, I have not given extensive arguments explaining why I think these actions are good for the United States. But more extensive arguments can be found in my books Christian Ethics,1 Politics According to the Bible,2 and The Poverty of Nations.3
1. Judges: Trump has appointed two Supreme Court justices, 53 federal appellate judges,4 and 146 District Court judges 5 (as well as two judges for the Court of International Trade6) who have been confirmed by the Senate so far. In addition, 64 more have been appointed and are awaiting Senate confirmation.7 All of them are committed to interpreting the Constitution and laws according to the original meaning of the words, rather than according to what a modern liberal judge thinks the law should have said.
As an evangelical Christian, I am glad to see that Trump’s two Supreme Court appointments have already been responsible for highly significant cases that increase religious freedom, such as the decisions (1) to allow state aid that is given to non-religious schools to be given also to religious schools (Montana decision),8 (2) to protect the right of religious schools to hire and fire employees based on the school’s religious convictions,9 and (3) to allow religious groups to be exempt from government regulations that would otherwise cause them to violate their consciences in matters of birth control (and, by implication, probably in matters of abortion and same-sex marriage, but that has not yet been tested).10
2. Historic tax cuts and deregulation: After eight years of high unemployment and meager growth under President Obama’s administration, the Trump tax cuts of 2017 and Trump’s extensive canceling of excessive government regulations on businesses have given a tremendous boost to the American economy. An estimated 25,000 pages of regulations have been canceled, resulting in a savings of $3,100 per household per year.11 Another result of tax cuts combined with deregulation has been the addition of thousands of new jobs, so that unemployment (before the coronavirus crisis) fell to the lowest point in 50 years,12 and unemployment among African-American and Hispanic workers was the lowest it has ever been in history.13
On election day, 2016 (11-8-16), the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 18,332.74.
This afternoon (8-21-20 at 2:29 p.m.) it stands at 27, 898.82, which is an increase of 52% in 3 ½ years, even including several months of the coronavirus epidemic. This is remarkable.
These economic changes affect ordinary people’s everyday lives, not just wealthy people. Tens of thousands of people who were unemployed have recovered the dignity of steady employment (including getting paid during the coronavirus crisis). Millions of ordinary Americans whose retirement savings are partially invested in the stock market (including my wife and me) are finally receiving some protection and even growth in their savings.
3. Building a stronger US military: Reversing the massive budget cuts that had seriously weakened our military under the Obama administration, President Trump has increased military spending by nearly $150 billion per year from $605 billion in 2016 to $750 billion, steadily rebuilding US military readiness.14
4. Protecting unborn babies: Numerous executive orders have increasingly restricted government funding for abortions (such as the reinstatement of the Mexico City policy).15 On February 22, 2019, the Trump administration announced that it would not allow organizations that provide referrals for abortions to receive federal family-planning money, which implies a cut in funding for Planned Parenthood (the nation’s largest abortion provider) unless they perform abortions in a separate facility and not refer patients to it.16 And on May 2, 2019, the Trump administration’s Department Of Health And Human Services issued a new rule protecting healthcare workers who decline on the basis of conscience or religious conviction to participate in procedures such as abortion or assisted suicide.17 Trump was the first president ever to personally attend the pro-life March for Life in Washington, DC on January 24, 2020.18
5. Expanding educational freedom: President Trump appointed Betsy DeVos, one of America’s leading advocates for greater school choice, to be Secretary of Education, resulting in rising supportfor charter schools, taxpayer-funded vouchers, and tax credits for private-school vouchers, programs aimed at expanding options for parents looking beyond traditional public schools as she brings attention to them.19
6. Standing with Israel: Reversing President Obama’s repeated marginalization and shunning of Israel, President Trump has reaffirmed our commitment to support and defend Israel. He decisively moved the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.20 He recognized the Golan Heights as part of Israel.21 He has welcomed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House several times and has repeatedly reaffirmed our support for Israel. I recently read in the Jerusalem Post a statement that Israel has never had a better friend in the White House than Donald Trump.22
7. Negotiating a historic agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates: On August 13, 2020, President Trump announced that Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) had come to a historic agreement to establish full diplomatic relations between the two countries,23 including the establishment of permanent embassies and the beginning of direct airline flights between the two countries. This is important because Dubai, the largest city in the UAE, is the leading financial center in the Middle East and plays a leading role in world air travel and tourism. The agreement will “strengthen regional checks on Iranian power.”24 It also has the potential to set a pattern for future agreements establishing peaceful relations between Israel and other Arab countries in the Middle East.25
8. Actually building a border wall: President Trump has relentlessly battled against Democratic stonewalling and liberal federal judges to build an effective, secure border wall along more than 200 miles of our southern border, and it could possibly reach as much as 450 miles by the end of 2020.26 Critics object that most of this construction is simply replacing old barriers that were already in place, but they fail to recognize that the government’s first priority has been to secure the highest traffic areas, and in many of those areas the old fence was not up to the job. An effective border wall is absolutely necessary to keep our nation secure and to gain some control over an immigration crisis that has spiraled out of control. It won’t stop all illegal immigration, but eventually it will likely stop over 95% of people who try to enter on foot.
This is important, because once the American people feel that the border is secure, it will be much easier to gain the political consensus necessary for a humane and just solution regarding the undocumented immigrants who are already here, and for widespread support for the legal entry of large numbers of immigrants who will contribute much of value to this great nation.
9. Comprehensive immigration reform proposals : President Trump has proposed and worked for sensible, comprehensive reform of our broken immigration system that would change our policy on legal immigration from a system based on extended family connections and randomness to a system based on merit, so that we prioritize admitting people who will be most likely to contribute positively to American society27(as well as those who are escaping from genuine threats to their lives in their homelands).
10. Religious freedom and freedom of conscience: President Trump’s administration has repeatedly and continually worked to defend religious freedom, and his Justice Department has defended religious freedom in numerous court cases, such as supporting the case of Colorado cake designer Jack Phillips at the Supreme Court (Phillips faced massive fines for politely declining to design a cake celebrating a same-sex wedding), 28 and the right of faith-based organizations not to be forced to provide access to abortifacients through their health care plans, overturning the Obamacare HHS regulation that had forced them to do so.29
In addition, in the first year of Trump’s presidency, the Department of Justice issued a strongly-worded, 25-page memorandum detailing exceptionally strong protections for religious liberty.30
11. Withdrawing from Paris climate accord: President Trump wisely and decisively removed United States from the Paris climate accord, a radical environmentalist program which, according to a Heritage Foundation study, would have brought massive increases to US energy prices with no statistically significant benefit to the environment31. Doubling or tripling of US energy costs (as under the Paris climate accord, according to the Heritage Foundation) would have harmed the poor most of all as they spend the highest portion of their budgets on energy. In addition, it would have cost America more than 206,000 jobs by 2040. 32
12. Energy production and energy independence: President Trump gave approval to the Keystone pipeline,33 the Dakota access pipeline,34 and oil production from the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge,35, a vast uninhabited region which could produce up to 20 percent of our petroleum needs.36 His administration has also granted more permits for mining of oil, gas, and coal from federal lands. 37 The result has been lower energy prices (which benefits everyone) and also US energy independence so that we are now becoming the leading exporter rather than a net importer of energy.38
13. Waterways of the US: The Trump administration’s decision to abandon the “waterways of the US” policy rightfully returned control of water on private lands to the owners of those lands, rather than the federal government seizing control over nearly all waterways in the United States. These rules have hindered farmers, ranchers, and developers.39 American Farm Bureau Chairman Zippy Duvall praised the action, saying: “Farmers and ranchers care about clean water and preserving the land, which are essential to producing healthy food and fiber and ensuring future generations can do the same. That’s why we support the new clean water rule. It provides clarity and certainty, allowing farmers to understand water regulations without having to hire teams of consultants and lawyers. We appreciate the commitment of the agencies involved and this administration to crafting a new regulation that achieves important regulatory oversight while allowing farmers to farm. Clean water, clear rules.” 40
14. Halting the increase in Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards: The Trump administration decision halted the Obama-imposed harsh annual increases in projected average miles per gallon required in new cars every year.41 This decision will lead to more consumer choice and less expensive and safer cars, which is much better than the Democratic policy of ever-higher mileage goals, requiring ever-lighter and smaller cars, which means more dangerous cars and less consumer choice.
15. Defeating ISIS: President Trump gave our military forces the freedom to defeat ISIS and drive them out of large sections of Iraq and Syria, which they did.42 This is far superior to the Democratic policy of inaction and appeasement, which had allowed ISIS to take over large areas of the Middle East. Under President Trump’s leadership, US military forces located and killed ISIS founder and terrorist leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on Oct. 26-27, 2019.43 President Trump also directed the killing of Iranian terrorist mastermind Qasem Soleimani on Jan. 2, 2020.44
16. Persuading European nations to pay more for NATO: President Trump has insisted that NATO countries start to pay their fair share of defense costs, and some NATO countries have responded by increasing their defense budgets. In 2017, five countries met the goal of spending 2% of their GDP on defense and that has now increased to nine according to the alliance’s latest budgetary data. The U.S. is set to spend over $750 billion (3.7% of GDP) on its military this year and leadsthe “above 2%” group, which now includes Bulgaria (3.25 percent), Greece (2.28 percent), the United Kingdom (2.14 percent), Estonia (2.14 percent), Romania (2.04 percent), Lithuania (2.03 percent), Latvia (2.01 percent) and Poland (2 percent)45
17. Protections against false accusation on college campuses: President Trump’s administration has restored many due process guidelines that universities must follow in processing title IX accusations of sexual assault on university campuses.46
18. Protecting freedom of speech on college campuses: President Trump issued an executive order giving more specific protections to freedom of speech on college campuses by threatening the loss of federal research dollars if they do not allow for free speech for all students and faculty members. On many campuses, conservative and religious students and faculty members have had their views censored or have faced retribution for expressing conservative or faith-based views 47
19. Protecting boys’ and girls’ bathrooms, locker rooms, and sports teams: On February 22, 2017, President Trump directed the Department of Education to revoke the Obama-administration’s guidance letter that had directed schools to allow children who claim to be “transgender” to use the bathrooms, locker rooms, and showers of their choice, and to join sports teams of their choice, even when their choices differed from their biological sex.
In a related decision President Trump issued an executive order banning transgender persons from entering our military forces, which would have allowed biological males free access to women’s bathrooms, locker rooms and showers, and similarly allowed biological females to enter men’s facilities. Present Trump’s order was upheld by the Supreme Court which lifted the block on the order by a 5-4 vote. While litigation will continue, the order stands for now. 48
20. Negotiating new trade agreements that are more favorable to the United States: President Trump has negotiated new trade agreements with Mexico, Canada, and China, and all of them give more favorable treatment to the United States than the previous treaties did.49
21. Streamlining environmental reviews for major construction projects: In order to build a new section of highway, a new subway line, or a new gas pipeline, the necessary environmental impact statements have recently taken an average of 4.5 years, and many ran for six years or longer.50 These delays massively increased construction costs and delayed relief for over-congested highways for many years. But on July 15, 2020, President Trump’s White House released new guidelines limiting environmental impact studies to two years and limiting less-extensive environmental assessments to one year.51 The Wall Street Journal says these new rules “could literally cut thousands of years of cumulative delay”52 for construction projects. This will be a huge help in renewing America’s aging infrastructure.
22. Sending weapons to Ukraine: Whereas President Obama sent only humanitarian aid, President Trump authorized the selling of actual military equipment to Ukraine, including Javelin missiles which were necessary to defend against Russian aggression.53
23. Standing up to China and Russia: Trump has been the first president to decisively denounce China’s blatant practice of industrial espionage and bullying,54 stealing of intellectual property,55 and violating international copyright protections.56 He has followed up with strong trade sanctions against China, 57 an increased US naval presence in the South China Sea,58 and the closing of the Chinese consulate in Houston, which was a center of Chinese espionage.59 The Trump administration has closed several Russian consulates in the US and expelled over 60 Russian “diplomats” (espionage agents),60 issued sanctions against several Russian officials,61 and persuaded several European nations to increase their defenses against potential Russian invasion.62
24. Withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal: President Trump withdrew the US from the Iran nuclear deal, called the Joint Comprehensive Plan for Action, which would have allowed Iran to build a nuclear bomb within the next few years.63
25. A wise COVID-19 response: President Trump imposed strict restrictions on travel from China on January 31, 2020, long before other leaders recognized the danger of this coronavirus. Then, when the COVID-19 virus began to spread rapidly within the United States, the dominant media narrative was a fear that we would run out of hospital beds to care for the sick. President Trump immediately mobilized the military to construct huge new hospital facilities in New York City and elsewhere, and soon there were enough beds.64 The next fear was that we would run out of ventilators. President Trump persuaded leaders of American industry to fast-track the manufacture of ventilators, and soon there were enough ventilators.65 Then the question was how soon to reopen buildings and meeting places, and President Trump wisely left the decision to local governors and other local officials who best know the different situations in their individual locations.
Finally, the FDA has fast-tracked the trial and approval process for a vaccine,66 and the federal government has made commitments to purchase millions of vaccines from various companies as soon as they are approved for widespread use. Several promising vaccines are now in the advanced stages of testing on human subjects. The previous record for rapid FDA approval of a new vaccine was four years from initial research to final approval, 67but under President Trump’s leadership experts are now optimistically predicting that an FDA-approved coronavirus vaccine will be available as early as October 2020, 68 which would be nine months from the time the outbreak of the coronavirus in Wuhan, China became known.
In addition, President Trump, working with Congress, quickly passed three coronavirus relief packages, with the result that millions of Americans continued to receive pay in spite of their workplaces being temporarily closed. 69
Unfortunately, many Democrats have decided to make the coronavirus tragedy a political issue, repeatedly criticizing President Trump’s response. With the benefit of hindsight, Monday morning quarterbacks can always claim they would have made better decisions in Sunday afternoon’s game, but they didn’t have to make instant decisions in the midst of the contest.
We need to recognize that President Trump, in dealing with the coronavirus crisis, has repeatedly had to make hard decisions in a situation where he had incomplete information and conflicting advice from different scientific, medical, economic, and educational experts. Others may disagree, but it seems to me that in a very difficult situation he has done a commendable job of balancing the need to protect Americans’ health, the need to avoid destroying our economy, the need to protect businesses from bankruptcy, and the need to get children back to school so that they will not be deprived of many crucial months in their education.
26. Reforming the Department of Veterans Affairs: On June 23, 2017, President Trump signed the Veterans Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, which gave the Secretary of Veterans Affairs streamlined authority to fire unproductive employees and to appoint new medical directors at VA hospitals.70 But even before that law, the Trump administration had begun to clean house, and over 500 employees were fired from the Veterans Administration in the first six months of Trump’s presidency.71
27. Criminal justice reform: President Trump signed the First Step Act on December 21, 2018.This law gives judges more flexibility in reducing mandatory sentencing guidelines in individual cases, eliminates the “three strikes” requirement of life imprisonment for some offenses, improves opportunities for academic and vocational education within prisons, provides more support for the successful reentry of released prisoners into society, and requires prisoners to be placed in prisons near their place of primary residence where possible 72
28. Reducing prescription drug prices: on July 24, 2000, President Trump signed four executive orders aimed at reducing prescription drug prices. These included requiring federal health centers to make insulin and epinephrine available at massive discounts to low income persons, prohibiting secret deals between drug manufacturers and pharmacy “benefit manager” middlemen, ensuring patients directly benefit from available discounts at the pharmacy counter. allowing more importation of prescription drugs from Canada and other countries where prices are lower, and reducing prices for Medicare Part B drugs if they are available for lower prices in other economically advanced countries.73
I personally doubt the wisdom of using price controls instead of fostering greater competition to reduce drug prices, but I’m still listing this as a good action because it may be a useful first step in providing a signal that Republicans are serious about solving the real problem of expensive drugs that many people cannot afford.
29. Protecting federal property from rioters: The movement that began as peaceful and well-justified protests against the murder of George Floyd was soon co-opted by the presence of lawless rioters whose goal was destruction of property by looting and arson that began in Minneapolis and soon spread to Seattle, Portland, Chicago, New York, and other cities. In contrast to the weak Democratic mayors and governors who adopted a policy of appeasement that only encouraged more violence and even resulted in the burning of a police station in Minneapolis,74 President Trump announced in Washington, DC that any destruction of federal statues and monuments would result in fines up to $10,000, and suddenly the attacks on these statues came to an abrupt halt. When rioters threatened to destroy the US courthouse in Portland, and the governor and the mayor were not protecting this federal property, President Trump sent in federal officers learn to protect it, which they did. The courthouse was not destroyed and the slightly over 100 US marshals and DHS officers inside the building were protected until eventually the mayor of Portland sent local and state police to protect the building.75
According to the 1807 Insurrection Act, the president has the legal authority to take any measures (including deploying federal troops or other law enforcement officials) necessary to suppress any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination or conspiracy, even without an invitation or permission from the governor of the state in which that federal property is located. An example of this happened in 1957 when President Dwight Eisenhower sent federal troops into Arkansas, over the objections of Governor Orval Faubus, to enforce federal school desegregation orders and protect African-American schoolchildren from a mob that had gathered to stop them outside Central High School in Little Rock. 76
In a further response to the violence threatening many of our cities, President Trump’s Department of Justice has now launched Operation Legend, in which over 1000 additional federal agents have been dispatched to work alongside local law enforcement officers in nine cities to apprehend the most violent instigators of these riots. They have now located and arrested 1485 suspects for violent crimes, including 90 homicides.77
30. Welcoming evangelical Christians into positions of influence: This may not be important to others, but, speaking as an evangelical Christian, I see it as a positive factor that, rather than marginalizing evangelical Christians (as was the practice of the Obama administration), President Trump has appointed a remarkably large number of evangelicals to high government offices. These include Vice President Mike Pence, Ben Carson (Secretary of Housing and Urban Development), Betsy DeVos (Secretary of Education), Rick Perry (former secretary of energy), Scott Pruitt (former administrator of Environmental Protection Agency), Dan Coats (former director of national intelligence), Mike Pompeo (Secretary of State), Russ Vought (Director of Office of Management and Budget), and Kayleigh McEnany (White House Press Secretary), and others.
The context: refusing to waiver in the face of the most biased reporting in American history: These 30 good actions have all been accomplished in spite of a remarkably hostile national media. The Media Research Center analyzed all the evaluative statements made by reporters, anchors, and nonpartisan sources (such as experts or voters but not people identified as Democrats or Republicans) during June and July of 2020 on “World News Tonight “ ( ABC), “Evening News” (CBS), and “NBC Nightly News” (NBC). They counted 34 positive evaluative statements made about President Trump and 634 negative statements during those two months. By contrast, there were eight positive statements and four negative evaluative statements about Biden during the same time period. (Biden had become the presumptive Democratic nominee on April 8 when Bernie Sanders suspended his campaign.)
These numbers indicate that, for every time that viewers heard a negative evaluation of Biden, they heard 158 negative evaluations of Trump. For every positive statement they heard about Trump, they heard 18 negative statements. This is not balanced reporting, nor is it responsible journalism. Someone may object that the Media Research Center is a politically conservative content analysis organization, but that does not invalidate their tabulations, which I suspect would be consistent with the perceptions of any viewers who watch these newscasts for a few days. A similar kind of bias could also be seen on CNN or MSNBC.
Research director Rich Noyes at the Media Research Center was quoted as saying, “I have been studying the news media and elections for more than 35 years. Trust me – there has never been anything like it.” He called this “the most biased presidential campaign coverage in modern media history.”79
I point out this media bias in order to observe that President Trump’s unwavering commitment to common-sense conservative political policies is remarkable. Few human beings would have the courage and strength of character to persist in the face of such overwhelmingly hostile mainstream news coverage. And he has not done this while avoiding the press but has held 17 solo press conferences and 44 joint press conferences in 3 ½ years (as of July 20th) 80 plus numerous less formal interchanges with the press when he leaves or returns to the White House by helicopter.
In addition, he has done all this while enduring 3 ½ years of “resistance” by a massive special counsel investigation (that came to nothing), impeachment by the House (that came to nothing), and numerous nationwide injunctions against his executive orders issued by individual US District Court judges. In this context, Trump’s resolute pursuit of the policies on which he campaigned seems to me to be commendable.
Divine blessing or divine judgment? Speaking as an evangelical Christian, I believe that God exercises providential control over the history of nations. The Old Testament says, “The Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men” (Daniel 4:17). Similarly, the New Testament says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1).
But that doesn’t mean that all rulers are good. Sometimes God gives a nation oppressive rulers as a means of divine judgment, as when he led Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, to carry off the Jewish people into exile (2 Kings 24:10- 25:21). At other times he gives leaders who will bring blessing to a nation, as when God led Cyrus, king of Persia, to decree that the Jewish people could return to their homeland (Ezra 1:1-4).
So here is a question for my fellow Christians: If you believe (as I do) that God is sovereign over the affairs of nations, do you think that Donald Trump’s presidency has been an evidence of divine blessing or divine judgment? I admit that perceiving divine purposes in human events is a task that cannot be proved with certainty one way or another, but when I look over this list of 30 actions, it appears to me to be far more characteristic of divine blessing than of divine judgment. If others disagree, I respect your right to have a different opinion, but that is my view.
Conclusion: If President Trump is reelected (as I hope he will be), we can expect four more years of the same type of White House activity: more originalist judges, ongoing lower taxes and deregulation, continuing funding for a stronger military, further restrictions on abortion, more school choice, continued support for Israel, hundreds of additional miles of border wall, a humane and just solution to immigration, continuing protection of religious freedom and freedom of conscience, abundant safe energy production, continued protection against Islamic terrorism, a stronger NATO alliance, more free speech protections on college campuses, continued protection of separate boys and girls sports teams and locker rooms, more trade agreements that are fair to the US, accelerated renewal of our aging infrastructure, unflinching resistance to Russian and Chinese aggressiveness, continued isolation of Iran and multilateral containment of their hostile expansionist ambitions, normalization of relations between Israel and other Arab nations, and further solutions to the problem of high drug prices.
No doubt more beneficial actions could be added to this list, but these should be enough to justify another four good years with Donald Trump as president.
Wayne Grudem is Distinguished Research Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies at Phoenix Seminary in Arizona.
The views expressed in this article represent the views of the author and should not be understood to represent the position of Phoenix Seminary.
1 Wayne Grudem, Christian Ethics (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018).
2 Wayne Grudem, Politics According to the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010).
3 Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus, The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution (Wheaton: Crossway, 2015).
4 Carrie Campbell Severino, “200 Judges: A Milestone for President Trump,” USA Today, June 25, 2020 https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2020/06/25/donald-trump-200th-court-appointment-milestone-column/3250922001/ (Retrieved July 21, 2020)
6 Carlie Porterfield, “Trump Confirms 200th Judge, The Most In a First Term Since Carter,” Forbes, June 24, 2020 https://www.forbes.com/sites/carlieporterfield/2020/06/24/trump-confirms-200th-judge-the-most-in-a-first-term-since-carter/#137989677781 (Retrieved July 21, 2020)
7“Current Federal Judicial Vacancies,” Ballotpedia, https://ballotpedia.org/Current_federal_judicial_vacancies (Retrieved July 21, 2020) There are currently 36 nominees awaiting a hearing with the Senate Judiciary Committee. There are currently 12 nominees awaiting a committee vote in the appropriate U.S. Senate committee. There are currently 16 nominees awaiting a confirmation vote in the full U.S. Senate.
8 Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue No. 18-1195, Decided June 30, 2020 https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/19pdf/18-1195_g314.pdf (Retrieved July 21, 2020)
9 O Lady of Guadalupe v. Morrissey-Berru and St. James School v. Biel, No. 19-267, Decided July 8, 2020 https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/19pdf/19-267_1an2.pdf (Retrieved July 21, 2020)
10 Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania, No. 19-431, Decided July 8, 2020 https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/19pdf/19-431_5i36.pdf (Retrieved July 21, 2020)
11 Lucas Manfriedi, “Trump Unveils Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient Vehicles Rule,” Fox Business, July 16, 2020 https://www.foxbusiness.com/money/trump-unveils-safer-affordable-fuel-efficient-vehicles-rule (Retrieved August 20, 2020)
12 Catherine Thorbecke, “Unemployment Rate Falls to Lowest Level in 50 Years,” ABCNews.com, October 4, 2019 https://abcnews.go.com/Business/unemployment-rate-falls-lowest-level-50-years/story?id=66058946 (Retrieved July 21, 2020)
13Maggie Fitzgerald, “Black and Hispanic Unemployment is at a Record Low,” CNBC.com, October 4, 2019 https://www.cnbc.com/2019/10/04/black-and-hispanic-unemployment-is-at-a-record-low.html
14 See “U.S. Military Spending/Defense Budget 1960-2020,” MacroTrends, https://www.macrotrends.net/countries/USA/united-states/military-spending-defense-budget (Retrieved July 22, 2020) and “DOD Releases Fiscal Year 2020 Budget,” U.S. Department of Defense, https://www.defense.gov/Newsroom/Releases/Release/Article/1782623/dod-releases-fiscal-year-2020-budget-proposal/ (Retrieved July 22, 2020)
15 Ramesh Ponnuru, “Donald Trump’s Pro-Life Presidency,” National Review, February 6, 2020 https://www.nationalreview.com/magazine/2020/02/24/donald-trumps-pro-life-presidency/#slide-1 (Retrieved July 22, 2020)
16 “Trump Administration Blocks Funds for Planned Parenthood and Others over Abortion Referrals,” New York Times, February 22, 2019 https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/22/health/trump-defunds-planned-parenthood.html (Retrieved July 24, 2020)
17 “New HHS Rule Protects Pro-Life Healthcare Workers,” Christianity Today, May 2, 2019 https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2018/january/hhs-division-conscience-protections-prolife-abortion-trump.html (Retrieved July 24, 2020) See also, “White House Unveils Rule to Protect Health Workers’ Religious, Moral Beliefs,” Wall Street Journal, May 2, 2019 https://www.wsj.com/articles/white-house-unveils-rules-to-protect-health-workers-religious-moral-beliefs-11556816255 (Retrieved July 24, 2020)
18 https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/remarks-president-trump-47th-annual-march-life/ (Retrieved August 18, 2020)
20 Alex Pappas, “Trump Officially Recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital, Orders Embassy to Move for U.S.,” Fox News, December 6, 2017 https://www.foxnews.com/politics/trump-officially-recognizes-jerusalem-as-israels-capital-orders-embassy-move-for-us (Retrieved July 22, 2020)
21 Natasha Turek, “Trump Officially Recognized Israel’s Annexation of Golan Heights, Here ‘s What it Means,” CNBC.com, March 27, 2019 https://www.cnbc.com/2019/03/27/trump-officially-recognized-israels-annexation-of-golan-heights.html (Retrieved July 22, 2020)
22 Mike Evans, “Israel’s Greatest Friend Sits in the White House,” The Jerusalem Post, May 29, 2019 https://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Israels-greatest-friend-sits-in-the-White-House-591063 (Retrieved July 22, 2020)
23Deirdre Shesgreen, John Fritze, Michael Collins, David Jackson, “Trump announces Israel and United Arab Emirates will formalize diplomatic ties in potentially historic deal,” USA Today, August 14, 2020
24 “Trump’s Mid-East Breakthrough,” The Wall Street Journal, August 14, 2020 https://www.wsj.com/articles/trumps-mideast- -11597360774?mod=searchresults&page=1&pos=1.(Retrieved August 18, 2020
26 Adam Shaw, “Trump Tours Wall as Construction Hits 200 Mile Mark, Says Southern Border Has ‘Never Been More Secure,’” Fox News.com, June 23, 2020 https://www.foxnews.com/politics/trump-wall-200-mile-mark-southern-border (Retrieved July 22, 2020)
27 James Carafano, “Trump’s Immigration Wins – Despite Opposition, Here’s How He Produced Real Results,” Fox News.com, June 23, 2020 https://www.foxnews.com/opinion/trump-immigration-wins-produced-real-results-james-carafano (Retrieved July 22, 2020)
28 Stoyan Zaimov, “Trump Administration Motions to Argue on Behalf of Jack Phillips in Supreme Court Gay Wedding Cake Case,” The Christian Post, October 27, 2017,https://www.christianpost.com/news/trump-admin-motions-to-argue-on-behalf-of-jack-phillips-in-supreme-court-gay-wedding-cake-case.html (Retrieved July 23, 2020)
29 Robert Pear, “Trump Administration Rolls Back Birth Control Mandate,” New York Times, October 6, 2017 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/06/us/politics/trump-contraception-birth-control.html (Retrieved July 23, 2020)
30 Office of the Attorney General, Memorandum for All Executive Departments and Agencies, Federal Law Protections for Religious Liberty, October 6, 2017https://www.justice.gov/opa/press-release/file/1001891/download?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery (Retrieved August 21, 2020). See also https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/president-donald-j-trump-stands-religious-freedom-united-states/
31 Kevin Dayaratna, Nicolas Loris and David Kreutzer, “Consequences of Paris Protocol “ Devastating Economic Costs, Essentially Zero Environmental Benefits,” The Heritage Foundation, April 13, 2016 https://www.heritage.org/environment/report/consequences-paris-protocol-devastating-economic-costs-essentially-zero (Retrieved July 23, 2020)
33 Matthew Brown, “Trump Administration Approves Keystone Pipeline on U.S.Land,” ABCNews.com, January 22, 2020 https://abcnews.go.com/Business/wireStory/trump-administration-approve-keystone-pipeline-us-land-68456805 (Retrieved July 23, 2020)
34 Courtney Norris, “Trump Signs Order to Advance Keystone XL and Dakota Pipelines, PBS.com,January 23, 2017 https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/trump-signs-order-advance-keystone-xl-dakota-pipelines (Retrieved July 23, 2020)
35 “Interior Opens More of Alaska Reserve to Oil Development,” Associated Press, June 25, 2020 accessed at https://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Interior-opens-more-of-Alaska-reserve-to-oil-15367331.php (Retrieved July 23, 2020). See also https://www.wsj.com/articles/interior-secretary-to-approve-oil-drilling-in-alaska-s-arctic-refuge-11597667400?mod=hp_lead_pos11.
36 “Trans-Alaskan Pipeline History,” https://aoghs.org/transportation/trans-alaska-pipeline/ (Retrieved July 24, 2020)
37 “Trump Administration Scores Big on Energy from Public Lands,’ Institute for Energy Research, January 10, 2020 https://www.instituteforenergyresearch.org/fossil-fuels/gas-and-oil/trump-administration-scores-big-on-energy-from-public-lands/ (Retrieved July 23, 2020)
38 Jude Clemente, “The U.S. is Becoming the World’s Largest Oil and Natural Gas Exporter,” Forbes, March 22, 2020 https://www.forbes.com/sites/judeclemente/2020/03/22/the-us-is-becoming-the-worlds-largest-oil-and-natural-gas-exporter/#66e5c1fb5cb2 (Retrieved July 23, 2020)
39 Stephanie Ebbs, “Trump Administration Removes Federal Protections from Streams, Wetlands,” ABCNews.com January 23, 2020 https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/trump-administration-removes-federal-protections-streams-wetlands/story?id=68463935 (Retrieved July 23, 2020)
40 “New Clean Water Rule Provides Clarity, Certainty to Farmers and Ranchers,” https://www.fb.org/newsroom/new-clean-water-rule-provides-clarity-certainty-to-farmers-and-ranchers (Retrieved July 23, 2020)
41 Ledyard King, “Trump Administration Scraps Obama Fuel efficiency Standard, Opts for Laxer Rule,” USA Today.com, March 31, 2020 https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2020/03/31/trump-eases-up-obama-era-fuel-efficiencies-rules-cars-trucks/5093923002/ (Retrieved July 23, 2020)
42 Deb Reichmann, “Trump Says ISIS Territory in Syria Nearly Eliminated,” Military Times, March 20, 2019 https://www.militarytimes.com/flashpoints/2019/03/20/trump-says-isis-territory-in-syria-nearly-eliminated/ (Retrieved July 23, 2000)
45 Niail McCarthy, “NATO Defense Expenditure,” Statista.com, December 3, 2019 https://www.statista.com/chart/14636/defense-expenditures-of-nato-countries/ (Retrieved July 23, 2020)
46 David French, “Just How Easy Should It Be to Destroy a Young Man’s Life?” National Review, January 30, 2019 https://www.nationalreview.com/2019/01/just-how-easy-should-it-be-to-destroy-a-young-mans-life/ (Retrieved July 23, 2020)
47 Adam Shaw, “Trump Signs Executive Order to Promote Free Speech on College Campuses,” Fox News.com, March 21, 2019 https://www.foxnews.com/politics/trump-signs-executive-order-to-promote-free-speech-on-college-campuses (Retrieved July 23, 2020). For examples, see http://centerforacademicfreedom.org/
48 Adam Liptak, “Supreme Court Revives Transgender Ban on Military Service,” New York Times, January 22, 2019 https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/22/us/politics/transgender-ban-military-supreme-court.html (Retrieved July 23, 2020)
50 Reid Frazier, “Trump Administration Finalizing Rollback of Rules for Landmark Environmental Law,” July 15, 2020 https://stateimpact.npr.org/pennsylvania/2020/07/15/trump-administration-finalizing-rollback-of-rules-for-landmark-environmental-law/ (Retrieved July 24, 2020)
51 Timothy Puko, “Trump to Put New Environmental Rules into Force,” Wall Street Journal, July 15, 2020 https://www.wsj.com/articles/trump-to-put-new-environmental-review-rules-into-force-11594832858 (Retrieved July 24, 2020)
53 “U.S. Approves Ukraine’s Purchase of 150 Javelin Anti-Tank Missiles,” The Defense Post, October 3, 2019, https://www.thedefensepost.com/2019/10/03/us-approves-ukraine-javelin-anti-tank-missile-sale/ (Retrieved July 23, 2020)
54 Ben Shapiro, “Trump is Right on the China Threat,” RealClearPolitics.com, August 28, 2019 https://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2019/08/28/trump_is_right_on_the_china_threat_141108.html (Retrieved July 24, 2020)
55 Sherisse Pham, “How Much Has the U.S. Lost from China’s IP Theft?” CNN.com, March 23, 2018 https://money.cnn.com/2018/03/23/technology/china-us-trump-tariffs-ip-theft/index.html (Retrieved July 24, 2020)
56 Roslyn Layton, “China Expert Applauds Trump’s Hardline on China, Says Congress, CEOs, and Media Need to Do More,” Forbes, July 18, 2019 https://www.forbes.com/sites/roslynlayton/2019/07/18/china-expert-applauds-trumps-hard-line-on-china-says-congress-ceos-and-media-need-to-do-more/#454a7e912f35 (Retrieved July 24, 2020)
57 Numerous examples must recent being: Tyler Olson, “Trump Administration Adds 11 Companies to Sanctions List Over Uighur Oppression, Fox News.com, July 14, 2020 https://www.foxnews.com/politics/trump-administration-adds-11-companies-to-sanctions-list-over-uighur-oppression (Retrieved July 24, 2020)
58 Mark Moore, “U.S. Increasing Naval Presence in South China Sea as Check on China,” New York Post, July 6, 2020 https://nypost.com/2020/07/06/us-increasing-naval-presence-in-south-china-sea-as-check-on-china/ (Retrieved July 24, 2020)
59 Ken Moritsugu and Matthew Lee, “U.S. Orders China to Close its Consulate in Houston,” ABCNews.com, July 22, 2020 https://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/china-us-orders-close-consulate-houston-71914064 (Retrieved July 24, 2020)
60 Laurel Wamsley, “U.S. Expels 60 Russian Officials, Closes Consulate in Seattle,”NPR.org, March 26, 2018 https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/03/26/596966272/us-expels-dozens-of-russian-diplomats-closes-consulate-in-seattle (Retrieved July 24, 2020)
61Morgan Chalfant, “Trump Administration Rolls Out New Sanctions over Russian Occupation,” The Hill.com, January 29, 2020 https://thehill.com/homenews/administration/480541-trump-administration-rolls-out-new-sanctions-over-russian-occupation (Retrieved July 24, 2020)
62 David Reid, “European Defense Spending to Hit 300 Billion by 2021 as Experts Say Trump’s Pressure is Paying Off,” CNBC.com, November 1, 2019 https://www.cnbc.com/2019/11/01/european-defense-spending-to-hit-300-billion-by-2021-analysts-say.html (Retrieved July 24, 2020)
63Mark Landler, “Trump Abandons Iran Nuclear Deal He Long Scorned, New York Times, May 8, 2018 https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/08/world/middleeast/trump-iran-nuclear-deal.html
64J, Edward Moreno, “Trump Says 1,000 Additional Military Personnel to Deploy to New York City,” TheHill.com, April 4, 2020 https://thehill.com/policy/defense/491184-trump-says-1000-additional-military-personnel-to-deploy-to-ny (Retrieved July 24, 2020)
65 Nick Givas, “Trump Cheers America’s Production of Ventilators, Sending Them to other Countries Hit Hard by Coronavirus,” FoxNews.com, April 22, 2020 https://www.foxnews.com/us/trump-cheers-americas-production-of-ventilators-sending-them-to-other-countries-hit-hard-by (Retrieved July 24, 2020)
(Retrieved August 18, 2020)
68 Tommy Beer, “Coronavirus Vaccine Begins Final Phase of Testing in the U.S.” Forbes.com, July 27, 2020 https://www.forbes.com/sites/tommybeer/2020/07/27/coronavirus-vaccine-begins-final-phase-of-testing-in-the-us/#342aa814566f (Retrieved August 18, 2020)
https://www.politico.com/news/2020/03/25/whats-in-stimulus-package-coronavirus-149282 (Retrieved July 24, 2020)
https://www.whitehouse.gov/articles/congress-didnt-act-on-prescription-drug-prices-so-president-trump-did/ (Retrieved August 18, 2020)
76Jack L. Rozdilsky Heriberto Urby Jr., “Yes, Donald Trump Can Send Federal Troops Into States (No Permission Needed),” The National Interest, June 5, 2020 https://nationalinterest.org/blog/reboot/yes-donald-trump-can-send-federal-troops-states-no-permission-needed-160566 (Retrieved August 18, 2020)
77 Katie Pavlich, “Boom: Operation Legend Takes Dozens of Killers off the Streets, Tracks down Thousands of Fugitives,” Townhall.com, August 19, 2020 https://townhall.com/tipsheet/katiepavlich/2020/08/19/ag-barr-makes-huge-announcement-on-operation-legend-n2574657
78 There are many examples including Caleb Parke, “Evangelical Leaders Gather to Pray for Trump at White House, Blasting Impeachment Effort,” Fox News.com, October 30, 2019 https://www.foxnews.com/politics/trump-impeachment-pastors-pray-white-house (Retrieved July 23, 2020)
https://www.foxnews.com/media/evening-newscasts-150-times-more-negative-trump (Retrieved August 18, 2020)
80 “President News Conferences,” https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/statistics/data/presidential-news-conferences (Retrieved August 18, 2020)
Permission for Pastors to Preach about Politics
September 21, 2020
If you’re a pastor during this election season, the easy path is to say nothing about politics. You won’t step on anybody’s toes. Nobody will walk out in the middle of your sermon. You won’t lose disgruntled members (and donors!). A few people might ask you to say more about politics, and they will grumble, but they won’t leave the church. You’re safe.
But does God want you to stay silent at this time?
I can’t answer that for you. It’s between you and God whether you preach about any political issues at all, and, if you do, which issues you decide to preach about. But I can make some observations that I think will give you a sense of permission (not from me, but from the Bible) to preach about at least some key political issues.
Whether you are a Trump supporter or a Biden supporter or somewhere in between, I intend my first seven points to apply to you, because I believe a democracy is healthy when differing views are expressed thoughtfully and carefully. My last three points will be based on my own preferences in this election.
1. Your listeners need to see that the Bible speaks to all of life, including politics.
“Whether you eat or drink,” says Paul, “or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). But can we do politics to the glory of God? Of course, because politics must be included in the phrase “whatever you do.”
Paul also says that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for . . . training in righteousness,” so that we may be “complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Surely voting in an election is part of “every good work” that God wants us to do, and that gives a reason why we should expect Scripture to be “profitable for . . . training” in what kinds of candidates and policies we should support.
But if a pastor goes through an entire election season and gives no teaching about the Bible’s application to political questions, he will be acting as if the Bible is irrelevant to political questions. Then how will his listeners ever think that the Bible is relevant for all of life?
In addition, many modern political issues were moral issues that the Bible talked about long before they became political issues in modern society – such as freedom of religion, abortion, sexuality, care for the poor, and racial discrimination. Should pastors not preach about such moral issues when they have implications for politics?
2. God cares about secular governments and their leaders
I decided to search out whether the Bible ever recorded some examples in which God’s people (those who were genuine believers) had a good influence, not just on the nation of Israel, but on secular governments outside of Israel. Does God care about secular governments and their leaders? I found much more than I expected.
For example, Joseph was the highest official after Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and had great influence in the decisions of Pharaoh (see Gen. 41:37–45; 42:6; 45:8–9, 26). Daniel was a high official in King Nebuchadnezzar’s court. He was “ruler over the whole province of Babylon” and “chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon” (Dan. 2:48). He was regularly “at the king’s court” (v. 49). And he gave moral instruction to the king:
“Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity” (Dan. 4:27).
I found more examples than these. Nehemiah was “cupbearer to the king” (Neh. 1:11), a position of high responsibility before King Artaxerxes of Persia. Mordecai “was second in rank to King Ahasuerus” of Persia (Esth. 10:3; see also 9:4). Queen Esther also had significant influence on the decisions of Ahasuerus, risking her very life in order to save the Jewish people from destruction (see Esth. 5:1–8; 7:1–6; 8:3–13; 9:12–15, 29–32).
The Bible doesn’t merely say that these things happened, but the narrative texts view these events in a positive light, for they regularly record this influence on secular governments as a result of God’s favor toward his people and as a measure of blessing to those governments. This reminds us of God’s promise to Abraham that “in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 22:18).
I realize that these examples are not exactly the same as a pastor preaching about politics today, but there are similarities. In the ancient world, giving advice and guidance to the king was the way to bring about beneficial political policies. In modern democracies, voting, and giving guidance to others who vote, is the way to bring about beneficial political policies.
The New Testament provides two additional examples: John the Baptist rebuked the Roman ruler Herod “for all the evil things that Herod had done” (Luke 3:19), which certainly must have included not only privately known sins but also publicly known governing decisions.
Another possible example is the apostle Paul. While Paul was in prison in Caesarea, he stood trial before the Roman governor Felix:
[Felix] sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you” (Acts 24:24–25).
The fact that Felix was “alarmed” and that Paul reasoned with him about “righteousness” and “the coming judgment” indicates that Paul was telling Felix that he would be accountable for his actions at “the coming judgment.” When the book of Acts tells us that Paul “reasoned” with Felix, the word (present participle of Greek dialegomai) indicates a back-and-forth conversation or discussion. We cannot be sure what they discussed, but it is very possible that Felix asked Paul, “What about this decision that I made? What about this policy? What about this ruling?” I cannot be sure about this, but at least we can say that Paul was discussing substantive issues with Felix, which may have included governmental decisions, and in that way Paul would have been “preaching about politics” to a Roman governor.
3. Preaching “the whole counsel of God” will include preaching about civil government
Paul’s ministry also provides a good pattern for pastors to follow today: not merely preaching on our favorite passages of Scripture, but faithfully preaching about everything that the Bible teaches. Paul told the church leaders at Ephesus that he had been faithful in teaching them “the whole counsel of God”:
Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. (Acts 20:26-27)
I hope I will be able to say that to the thousands of students I have taught in 43 years as a professor of theology: “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). But surely that must include some teaching about politics.
The New Testament has two passages that specifically address the responsibilities of civil governments (Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-14) and several other verses with implications for government (such as Matthew 22:21 and 1 Timothy 2:1-3). The Old Testament contains many details about the actions of good and evil kings. The words “king” and “kings” occur 112 times in Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes alone, and “ruler/rulers” is found another 20 times.
Therefore, if a pastor feels a responsibility for declaring “the whole counsel of God” to his people, he will have to do some teaching on biblical principles regarding civil government. And what better time to do that than in the middle of an election season when questions about good and bad governmental policies are on everybody’s mind?
4. Pastors throughout history have preached about politics
Historian Alvin Schmidt, in his book, How Christianity Changed the World, points out that the spread of Christian influence on government was primarily responsible for outlawing infanticide, child abandonment, and abortion in the Roman Empire (in AD 374); granting of property rights and other protections to women throughout history; prohibiting the burning alive of widows along with their dead husbands in India (in 1829); and outlawing the painful and crippling practice of binding young women’s feet in China (in 1912). These reforms all required changes in a country’s laws, which is a political process that could not have happened unless numerous pastors had been teaching government officials and those who influenced them about the evils of these practices (that is, preaching about politics).
In the years leading up to the American War of Independence, many pastors were preaching that resistance to tyranny (that is, resistance to the reign of King George III of England) was a morally good action, while a minority of pastors disagreed, urging continued submission to the British. But the point is that both sides were preaching about the possibility of independence from Britain, which was both a moral issue and the most crucial political issue of the day. In 1750, Boston pastor Jonathan Mayhew delivered one of the most influential sermons in American history, “A Discourse Concerning Unlimited Submission,” in which he defended the moral goodness of seeking freedom from British tyranny. His sermon was reprinted and widely distributed throughout the American colonies.
Later, pastors played a major role in the struggle against slavery. In fact, two-thirds of the leading American abolitionists in the mid–1830s were Christian clergymen who were preaching “politics” from the pulpit, saying that slavery should be abolished.
And in the 1960s, the American civil rights movement that resulted in the outlawing of racial segregation and discrimination was led by Martin Luther King Jr., a Baptist pastor who dared to preach about such “political” issues (which were, in actuality, also deeply moral issues).
5. It’s not against the law to preach about political issues
It is a widespread myth that churches will lose their tax-exempt status if the pastor begins to speak about political issues. That is not true.
In 1954, the IRS code was amended to prohibit pastors or churches from explicitly saying they support or oppose any individual political candidate by name. (This amendment was introduced by then-Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson, so this is often called the Johnson Amendment.) However, in the 66 years since this amendment was adopted, no church has ever lost its tax-exempt status on the basis of anything a pastor said in the pulpit .
Clarification: In 1992, the IRS did revoke the tax-exempt determination letter they had sent to the Church at Pierce Creek in New York State, not because of anything the pastor had said in the pulpit, but because the church had taken out full-page ads opposing Bill Clinton in USA Today and The Washington Times. The IRS action was more symbolic than harmful to the church because church’s tax-exempt status was not affected, and no donations lost their tax-exempt status. This is because, unlike other nonprofit organizations, churches are automatically tax-exempt organizations whether or not they have an IRS determination letter affirming that status.
And the law in any case has never prohibited pastors or churches from taking positions on any moral or political issues that are part of an election campaign.
In addition, many legal experts believe the IRS would lose if this issue ever came into a court of law, because restricting what any pastor can say is a violation of freedom of speech and freedom of religion, both of which are part of the First Amendment to the Constitution. These experts believe the IRS regulation is unconstitutional, and I think they are correct.
Because of the particular status of tax law in the United States, such a law cannot be challenged in court until the IRS brings an action accusing someone of violating it. During the 2010s, a Christian legal advocacy group, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), coordinated the efforts of hundreds of pastors who intentionally wrote sermons violating the Johnson Amendment by endorsing a candidate by name (such as Mitt Romney for president). The ADF then collected these sermons and sent them to the IRS, hoping that the IRS would charge some of these pastors with violating the Johnson Amendment so that they could finally have the amendment declared unconstitutional in a court of law.
But the IRS did nothing about these sermons. Why? My personal opinion (and it is only that) is that the legal experts in the IRS decided there was too great a possibility that the courts would find that the Johnson Amendment, in telling pastors what they could and could not say, was unconstitutional because it was violating both freedom of religion and freedom of speech, which are First Amendment rights and have higher authority than any law passed by Congress.
The Johnson amendment has never been repealed by Congress, but on May 4, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order directing the Department of the Treasury (which includes the IRS) not to target the tax-exempt status of the churches who favor or oppose specific political candidates.
Two kingdoms? One objection is that there are two kingdoms in operation – the kingdom of God and the kingdom of man – and that the church should teach about and build the kingdom of God and not get involved in the kingdom of man. Didn’t Jesus say, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36)?
But surely these two kingdoms influence each other, for good or ill. And surely Christians are still called to do good for those who are not yet members of Jesus’ kingdom:
So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:10)
If we are to obey Jesus’ command “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39), that certainly includes seeking good government, not destructive and harmful government, for our neighbors as well as ourselves.
6. Some people may leave your church, but the question is, have you been faithful to God?
Just last week a pastor told me that when he gave a message on political issues, one couple became angry and left the church. I replied that that does not mean he was wrong. It may just mean that he was faithfully teaching the Word of God and they rejected its teachings. (Later he told me that he had had a good conversation with them and they decided to return.)
People walked out on Jesus when he began to preach unpopular truths (John 6:66), and the people in his hometown of Nazareth were so troubled by his teaching that they even tried to throw him off a cliff (Luke 4:29). Paul was a remarkably successful evangelist to the Gentiles, but opponents who disliked his message eventually drove him out of Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, Thessalonica, and Berea (Acts 13:50; 14 5-6, 19; 17:5, 13-14). Yet at the end of his life he had the joy of knowing that he had been faithful to God: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).
If you believe that God is calling you to speak on some political/ moral issues, it is important to settle in your mind beforehand that a sense of God’s approval on your speaking will be more valuable to you than avoiding the (possible) loss of some friendships and supporters. That is a decision that only you can make. And who knows if God will bring more people to your church in response to your faithfulness?
7. Pastors today have an unusual opportunity to influence the direction of history
Will it make a difference whether you speak on politics or not? Yes, it will make a difference. I recently spoke at a local church about the issues at stake in this election, and what surprised me was the thoughtful, mature people who came up to me afterward and said, “Thank you for that clear explanation. I was so confused. I didn’t know what to think.” In my opinion, most pastors would be amazed at how many people in their churches aren’t sure how to vote this year, and aren’t even sure if they will vote at all.
What if you persuaded just 10 people to vote who otherwise would not have voted? Then if only 1,000 pastors like you influenced just 10 people to vote, that would be 10,000 additional votes. (Remember, George W. Bush won the presidency in 2000 by just 537 votes in the state of Florida.) And you might persuade more than 10 people. “In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good” (Ecclesiastes 11:6). The nation is at a decision point, and you have a unique opportunity to influence the outcome.
Will you succeed? Will your preferred candidate win? No one knows. The question is whether you have done your part. In years to come, will you be able to look back on 2020 and know that you were faithful to God’s guidance in doing what you were able to do?
8. This election is about more than the next four years
The policies that Democrats and Republicans promise to enact have never in my lifetime been so different, perhaps never in American history (for the differences, see my “Letter to an Anti-Trump Christian Friend,” and also the platforms of Democratic and Republican parties –– the Republicans kept their 2016 platform for 2020). America is truly at a turning point, and because of the immense power that judges now have, this election could set the direction of our nation not just for the next four years, but for the next 10 or 20 years or even more.
Let me explain why. If Joe Biden wins the election and if Democrats gain a majority in the Senate, the Democratic platform promises to make Washington DC the 51st state (p. 58-59), which would automatically add two more Democratic senators to the U.S. Senate, making it more difficult for Republicans to ever regain a majority. And their platform holds open the possibility of making Puerto Rico the 52nd state (p. 59), giving a potential of yet two more Democratic senators.
Present Trump has appointed and the Senate has so far confirmed 212 judges who now serve in the 852 district and circuit judgeships in the United States. But that positive influence on the judicial system could be quickly diluted because the Democratic platform says they are committed to “creating new federal district and circuit judgeships” (p. 38).
Trump has also appointed two of the nine Supreme Court justices (Gorsuch and Kavanaugh), and, with the death of Justice Ginsburg, he may yet be able to appoint a third justice giving the court a 6-3 majority of conservative or “originalist” justices who will rule according to the original meaning of the Constitution and laws (but Chief Justice John Roberts is an unreliable originalist vote). Whoever wins this presidential election will likely be able to choose one or perhaps two justices (Breyer is 82, Thomas is 72, and Alito is 70).
Even if no one retires, several Democrats have raised the possibility of adding six new seats to the Supreme Court, which could give a 9-6 majority of young, “living Constitution” judges who do not consider themselves subject to the original meanings of the Constitution and laws, but think that they have the authority to rewrite these documents according to what they now think the Constitution or law should have said.
The result would be one politically far left policy after another imposed on the country, not by laws passed through Congress and signed by the president, but by judicial rulings that would find a way to claim that these rulings are “constitutional” and therefore impossible to change by any future president or Congress.
But if President Trump is reelected, the next four years will look very different from the Democratic vision. Trump will likely appoint one or two more Supreme Court justices and hundreds of additional district and circuit court judges who believe that “no one is above the law,” and therefore they will not consider themselves to be above the Constitution and the laws and able to give them new meanings, but rather will consider themselves to be subject to the law, understood according to the meaning of the words at the time the law or the Constitution itself were written. Therefore new laws will only be created, not by the novel ideas of powerful judges, but as they should be created, through the actions of state legislatures and governors and the actions of the US Congress and the president, all of whom are accountable to the people through the election process.
9. Genuine threats to religious freedom
In my view, the most troubling possibility is the threat of a significant loss of religious freedom that would likely follow a Biden-Harris victory. The Democratic platform promises, “We will reject the Trump Administration’s use of broad religious exemptions to allow businesses, medical providers, social service agencies, and others to discriminate” (p. 48).
This sentence, if understood in the context of recent Democratic policy advocacy and judicial activism, predicts a whole series of lawsuits attempting to force Christians in businesses to violate their consciences by requiring that their insurance plans pay for abortifacient medicines, abortions, and sex-change surgeries. It predicts that doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals would be required to participate in abortions or lose their jobs. It predicts that professional counselors would be prohibited from attempting to help homosexual men and women who want to begin to live a heterosexual lifestyle. It predicts that Christian bakeries, photographers, and florists would face heavy fines for “discrimination” and be driven into bankruptcy if they refused to bake a cake, take wedding photographs, or provide flower arrangements for same-sex weddings. The 2020 Democratic platform says Democrats will “reject” the Trump administration’s “broad religious exemptions” that today are still protecting Christians from such government oppression.
In addition, this platform statement predicts that Christian adoption agencies and foster care agencies would be put out of business because of “discrimination” unless they were willing to place children with homosexual, lesbian, and transgender couples. It predicts that Christian schools and colleges would be forced to close because of “discrimination” unless they allowed transgender students to use restrooms, locker rooms, showers, and on-campus housing that corresponds to their chosen “gender identity” rather than their biological sex. And, if Canada and some European countries provide a precedent, this statement predicts that even pastors and other Christian leaders might be prosecuted for hate speech if they dare to speak publicly against any aspect of the LGBT+ agenda.
10. What political issues could a pastor preach about today?
Here are some suggestions of topics on which Democrats and Republicans clearly differ, and on which I think the Bible does give helpful guidance:
(1) Religious freedom: the “free exercise” of religion includes life outside the walls of the church, which we should be able to live according to our consciences (Hebrews 13:18; 1 Peter 3:16; Acts 5:29; Daniel 3:13-20; 1 Corinthians 10:31)
(2) Obeying the law: The Bible requires that we obey the law (Romans 13:1-5; 1 Peter 2:13-14), except when it commands us to sin against God (Acts 5:29). Therefore:
– judges do not have a right to change the meaning of laws or of our highest human law, the American Constitution (the Constitution provides another means of changing laws)
– peaceful protests are lawful, but rioting, looting, arson, and assaulting police officers are not lawful or morally right
(2) Abortion: unborn children should be protected by law (Exodus 21:22-25; Psalm 51:5; Deuteronomy 30:19-20; Psalm 139:13)
(3) Sexual orientation and gender identity: governments should not require us to treat biological males like females and biological females like males. (Genesis 1:27; Leviticus 12:2-5; 18:22; Numbers 27:8-9; Deuteronomy 22:5; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Timothy 5:1-2; Titus 2:2-6)
(5) Marijuana: medical marijuana should be allowed by law, and regulated like other medicines, but recreational marijuana is highly destructive to a society and should be prohibited (Ephesians 5:18; 1 Peter 4:7; 1 Thessalonians 5:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; Revelation 9:21; 21:8)
(6) Immigration and border security: how does God want us to wisely apply the command to “love the sojourner” (Deuteronomy 10:19) as well as the commands to be subject to the government and obey its laws (Romans 13:1-5). If we dislike current immigration laws, what is the best way to get those laws changed? Is it right for a nation to have a wall to protect its borders? ? (Exodus 22:21; 23:9; Deuteronomy 10:19; Psalm 122:7; Psalm 51:18; 2 Chronicles 36:19; Nehemiah 1:3; 2:17; Proverbs 25:28)
(7) Global warming/climate change: Did God create an earth with such beneficial energy sources as coal, oil, and natural gas, but also booby-trap them so that by using them we would destroy the earth? Or did he create an earth with self-correcting mechanisms and long-term cycles of gradual warming and cooling? (Genesis 1:28, 31; 1 Timothy 4:4-5; 6:17; Genesis 9:11; Psalm 104:9; Jeremiah 5:22; Isaiah 45:18)
[Note: I list the alleged threat of catastrophic global warming as an issue here because it is one of the primary rationales behind the push by Democrats for ever-increasing government control of our lives. For more information see the Cornwall Alliance or chapter 41of my Christian Ethics.]
(8) Military power: How strong should our military power be? Should we be committed to using it if necessary to defend a smaller ally (Taiwan, South Korea, Israel) against a powerful aggressor or to keep the world’s sea lanes free from modern-day pirates and attacks by rogue nations? (Deuteronomy 7:1-3; 10:1; Joshua 1:6-9; Romans 13:3-4)
(9) Other topics (where both parties agree): I have not included in this list some topics on which Republican and Democratic leaders agree, such as:
— racism is evil
— we must continually defend against terrorist attacks, and
— we must continue to pursue effective therapies and vaccines against the COVID-19 virus.
(10) Still other topics (where evangelical Christians might not agree): I have also not included in this list several other topics on which Republicans and Democrats generally differ, and about which there may be more differences among evangelical Christians. I myself have clear convictions on these issues (see my books Christian Ethics, Politics According to the Bible, and The Poverty of Nations), but I recognize that pastors might decide not to discuss these, or might want to address them in some other forum than the Sunday morning sermon:
– tax rates
– economic growth
– the best way to help the poor and find effective solutions to poverty
– government regulation of businesses – more or less?
– school choice
– firearms and self-defense
– foreign policy
(11) What about a write-in vote for president?
The ability to vote is a stewardship given to us by God, and essential to that stewardship is a responsibility to affect the outcome of an election. By placing us in a country that has a democratic form of government and not a dictatorship or monarchy, we each have a small role as part of the “governing authority” that God has placed over our nation. “We the people” are in fact the human rulers of our nation. By voting, we play a role in governing. By voting, we are acting as “God’s servant” for the “good” of the people as a whole (see Romans 13:4).
But voting for a write-in candidate or third-party candidate will not fulfill that stewardship because it will have no effect whatsoever on the outcome of this election. It has the same impact on the outcome as staying home and not voting. Therefore I consider it to be a misuse of our stewardship. It seems to me like putting an empty envelope in the offering plate when it passes you in church – it is going through the motions but accomplishing nothing. Another illustration that comes to mind is hiding your talent in the ground (Matthew 25:25).
The only choice available to us is a choice between two complete packages:
Package 1. Donald Trump and his policies
Package 2. Joe Biden and his policies
Both choices come as whole packages, and they are the only choices we have at the present time. Consider this teaching from Proverbs: “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it” (Proverbs 3:27).
If you believe that God is calling you to teach about some political issues, you also have an opportunity to model how Christians can respect each other even when we have political differences. You can model a respectful and thoughtful tone. You might even consider giving opportunity for a responsible spokesman to express views different from yours. And it’s up to you whether you mention the Democratic and Republican parties by name, or whether you speak in general about “Party A” and “Party B,” or whether you just speak purely about issues without mentioning any political party.
How many issues should you speak about? I cannot decide that for you. But I don’t think the answer is zero.
Wayne Grudem is distinguished research professor of theology and Biblical studies at Phoenix Seminary in Arizona and the author of Christian Ethics and Politics According to the Bible. The opinions expressed here are his own and do not represent the viewpoint of Phoenix Seminary.
Wayne Grudem at the Watchmen on the Wall Conference in Washington DC, a conference for pastors and church leaders sponsored by the Family Research Council (June 21, 2015)
BRIEF OF AMICI CURIAE EVANGELICAL SCHOLARS (OFFICERS AND 24 FORMER PRESIDENTS OF THE EVANGELICAL THEOLOGICAL SOCIETY), EVANGELICALS FOR SOCIAL ACTION, AND NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF EVANGELICALS, IN SUPPORT OF PETITIONER (Wayne Grudem was the primary author of the drafts which were reviewed and corrected by several lawyers and which then resulted in this brief.)