Do you consider yourself to be a great American who’s willing to fight for their country, loves their God, and supports their president? How do you show your devotion for the things you believe are worthy of your time, talents, and allegiance? Surely loving your country means something different than loving your God; and it would be blasphemy to worship your president as your god. But how should your devotion be distinguishable from the things you support? What is appropriate and what isn’t?
In this series we’re exploring why you shouldn’t support president Trump—whether or not you approve of his policies or even his demeanor and tweets. In Part 1 I attempted to show how support for the president may have further implications than first meets the eyes, and in Part 2 I reflected on whether or not a NeverTrumper (such as myself) can finally get around to admitting I should have voted for Trump in 2016.
But today I want to shed some light on how we might lend our support towards our country, faith, and political leaders, in a further effort to unravel why the word support is problematic. As a conservative American Christian myself, I can say that I support my country, my Christian faith, and certain political candidates; but it’s easy enough to see that I mean very different things in each case. Even where the definition of support may be similar, its application is quite different.
What does it mean to support my Country?
Supporting my country may mean I hold allegiance to our national heritage, shared history, or cultural values and perform my civic duties. It may even mean that I would willingly die for my country if necessary. While those who hold anti-American or pacifist sentiments think otherwise, most of us would find it honorable to die fighting for one’s country. We celebrate the lives of those brave men and women who’ve fought to defend the liberties we enjoy and encourage future generations of Americans to be equally self-sacrificing.
The call to defend the United States is couched in terms of defending liberty or equality or justice. The presumption is that a good citizen will zealously defend their nation because they are defending not only their homeland, but the values of the homeland. But surely we can understand that such support is not limitless. If the army were deployed for the ethnic cleansing of the Jewish race, or if the national guard were ordered to reinstate Jim Crow in the American South, many would understandably reject such a call to this warped patriotism.
Yet a good solider doesn’t calculate the sins of his country before charging into battle. The patriotic vigor that a soldier holds in his heart doesn’t mean he thinks his country incapable of doing wrong. He doesn’t have to justify the slave trade, the Japanese internment camps, or Keeping Up with the Kardashians. The question isn’t a matter of does the good outweigh the bad but a matter of patriotism, pride, and love of country. The soldier loves his country in spite of the evils or even atrocities his country may have committed. He dies willingly not for the goodness of his country, but for the love of his country.
We fight because we are hard-wired to defend our sense of home and because we are taught to believe the values that embody our national character are worthy of being defended. This support—this patriotism—is powerful but limited. It is limited to the degree to which we believe the homeland to be engaged in warfare that is both justifiable and necessary for the common welfare or national security. In fact, a strong part of the American mythos is that we have defeated the enemies of justice and liberty everywhere from tyrannical monarchies to fascism to Nazism to communism. We’re the good guys—or so we’d like to believe.
What does it mean to support my faith?
But for the religiously pious, faith demands an even higher calling. A soldier may be called to sacrifice their life while fighting; a religious convert may be called to a life of piety that ends in martyrdom. And, what’s more, the faithful are called to place their faith in the notion that what they believe to be religiously true is, in fact, the essence of what is morally right.
Here the word support comes off a bit clunky and inadequate. For who among us would worship a deity who is so feeble as to need our support? It is not uncommon for certain churches or religious faiths to encourage their converts to vote for certain political candidates or support certain political movements as a sort of support for the global mission of their faith. Some of my Christian brothers and sisters forewarned me that—should Hillary Clinton become president—it would likely usher in an age of persecution against the church and, therefore, the best way to support the church was to vote for Donald Trump.
But support in this sense for one’s faith is hardly worth defending. For what faith demands that certain actions be taken solely on the basis they may lead to the avoidance of pain and suffering? Our faith commands our love and our submission, not our allegiance. We owe our allegiance to our country. But if we are asked to fight for our country we may rightly consider whether the fight is just. If our faith informs us that the war is not just—that our country is engaged in the killing of innocent lives for the sake of conquest or the extermination of some hated foreign race—then our faith demands that we abstain from fighting. When the allegiance we owe our country conflicts with the submission we owe our faith, our faith must win out or it was no faith at all. Our faith is the measuring stick by which we understand right from wrong.
What is 100% support?
As a young man I remember the events of 9/11 being all the more sobering as someone who was of the right age to be called to service. Volunteer or not, the possibility of me going to war seemed eerily plausible and—in the first few days that followed the attack—likely. I had—as they say—my whole life ahead of me and I was plagued by the thought I might literally die for my country having accomplished little else than earn a high school diploma. Whether or not I should die for my country wasn’t the question; the question was whether or not I had the courage to do so if duty called; for who could know if they’re capable of such a thing unless the awful opportunity actually presents itself?
I was raised in a church that believed quite literally we were living in the End Times—that persecution was likely to occur in our lifetimes, including the possibility of imprisonment, torture, and even death. Joel Olsteen’s message of feel-goodery would have been baffling to the congregation. There again I contemplated death in my youth. I believed in God, in the Bible, in Jesus—at least as best as understood those things. But did I have what it takes to die for my beliefs?
To me, that’s what 100% support ultimately means: could I die for my country? could I die for my faith? Those aren’t questions every young man contemplates, but they are at least in the realm of reasonable questions to ponder. But this isn’t so for our leaders—we don’t worry ourselves over whether or not we’d ever be asked to give our lives up for the president or the governor or the district attorney.
I suppose in some outlandish series of unfortunate events—if we and the president were held captive by terrorists who oddly gave us the choice—your life, or the president’s life?!—then it might be fitting to say that it would be honorable and right to die for our leader for the sake of national stability. But entertaining such thoughts makes about as much sense as exploring the moral dilemmas involved in what to do if you suddenly became irresistible to supermodels.
What then does it mean to support my political leaders?
If our nation deserves our support in the form of allegiance and respect, and our God deserves our support in the form of obedience and worship, what support is due our leaders? We might divide our duty into two categories: support for those whom we did not choose as our leaders and support for those we did.
One of the more disturbing trends over the past couple of presidential administrations is the degree to which so many Americans willingly participate in a mass delusion that somehow the president is not your president if you didn’t vote for them. After the tumultuous and ludicrously close election of 2000, the far Left began referring to president Bush as the Commander and Thief, implying the election was stolen from Al Gore. Not to be outdone, far too many Republicans made it known that Obama was not their president. Some took it so far as to insist quite literally that he was an illegitimate president—that he either wasn’t a natural born citizen or that he was only elected through some dubious chicanery likely involving illegal immigrants and, therefore, we shouldn’t behave as if he were actually the president.
The lunacy continues even today as legions of Democrats ostentatiously express that Trump is not their president. Either Trump is somehow so terrible that they won’t recognize his authority, or they have readily bought into a narrative—with no conclusive evidence at hand—that the 2016 elections were rigged in some grand conspiratorial fashion by the Trump team and a cohort of Russian agents.
Whether or not you love, like, voted for, or approve of an elected official, they are still your elected official. And what’s true for the president is true on down to the town dogcatcher: we should respect both the office and the authority of our elected officials and we afford them the benefit of the doubt when social media crackpots claim some election was illegitimate. We may speak out and work towards removing from power those who we feel do not deserve to enjoy the power that’s been entrusted to them, but when we treat the opposition as if they’re only capable of winning elections when some measure of fraud is involved, we’re as delusional as the Hugh Mungus Lady.
And what of those leaders we chose? I actually think our support here is fairly simple and has only been complicated in recent years by the goofy and profane way in which we are being asked for support. Support for our leaders means simply that we vote for them on election day and express approval of the policies they are pursuing—providing we actually approve of their policies. Of course, voting for a candidate can expand into contributing to their campaign, encouraging friends and family to do the same, making phone calls, walking neighborhoods, etc. And expressing approval of the policies they are pursuing may lead to writing letters to the editor, posting your views on social media, defending their position in a group conversation, or numerous other public engagements. But notice here that support does not mean that you pledge your life to someone, that you are willing to lie for someone, that you allow truth itself to be shaped by someone. That is far above and beyond what it means to support the leaders you vote for, and it even runs contrary to your allegiance due your country and your submission due your faith.
Faith demands that we order our loves
Now let us turn back to the president. What do we mean—what do we really mean—when we say we support the president? Do we mean we support what he is doing because they are the sort of things we’d hope any president would do? Or do we mean we support what he is doing regardless of whether or not they are the sorts of things we would want any president to do? Do we mean we support his policies but abhor his immoral behavior? Or does it mean that we willingly redefine what it means to be moral to accommodate his antics?
Faith demands that we order our loves. We may owe a duty to our God, our marriage, our children, our country, our employer, ourselves, our political leaders, and even our pets. But we must have some hierarchy for discerning who wins out when there’s a conflict between them. Some conflicts emerge when our duty for one thing conflicts with another. Some conflicts emerge when we give undue subordination to someone or something that is prohibited by some higher calling.
The conservative worldview holds that in the competition between ideas and individuals, the former must win out when there is a conflict. Ronald Reagan may rightly be called a conservative president. But that does not mean he perfectly embodied conservatism, but that he followed conservative principles more faithfully then other presidents of the modern era. Had he strayed from those principles, it would not make it right to continue to call it conservatism.
Adhering to real conservatism—or any political worldview, for that matter—requires first that you support the values and ideas of the political worldview, not some brash messiah. This level of fealty and submission is reserved for God alone and has no place in a democratic republic such as ours. Ignoring the hierarchy of loves that the Christian faith and the conservative worldview demands leads to catastrophe. How so? That is where we’ll turn in the 4th and final post in this series.