It’s been a hailstorm of an election cycle thus far. Not a small amount of disagreement has taken place surrounding the current political climate, and it seems that more people than ever are paying close attention to the future of our nation. Obviously, much of the media coverage and societal upheaval has centered around the Republican Party’s candidate, Donald Trump, and his particular brand of “outsider” politics. Although still wildly popular with a large swath of Americans, Mr. Trump has been accused of many things these past several months, from racism and xenophobia to rape and sexual assault. These are serious claims, and I’m not sure they’re all entirely false. I have watched, sometimes in horror, as Mr. Trump has said things that range from outright nonsense to blatant hatefulness. In truth, I’ve come to almost despise him, or at least everything he stands for — his ideals, his lifestyle, his arrogance. My gut ties itself in a knot every time I imagine him placing his hand on the Bible that fateful January day. Thus, I too have joined in the social chorus of evangelical condemnation of Mr. Trump’s words and actions.
However, with the recent release of the so-called “Trump Tapes”, I’ve found myself in a surprising, but unwelcome, inner-struggle. The recording, originally from 2005, shows Donald Trump flippantly discussing obscene behavior and his power to sexually assault women and face no consequences because he is a “star.” The tape is damning. It depicts a man who has little-to-no regard for the dignity of women and is morally deficient, perhaps altogether perverse, in the area of human sexuality. But the reason for my inner-struggle is just as damning — I am Donald Trump.
Or at least I was. I’m not proud of it, but what Mr. Trump calls “locker room talk” was the normative pattern of thinking for most of my adolescent and young-adult life. When I saw what I wanted, I told myself I deserved it, and I pursued it. Women were a commodity to me, something I could buy with enough smooth talk or pampering. Perhaps if I had the resources Mr. Trump has, I would have gone to even greater lengths to impress (read: pressure) women to sleep with me. Objectifying women wasn’t something that was done by sickos, rapists, and evil men; it was done by me. Everyday. I was Donald Trump.
Scripture makes it abundantly clear why this is the case, not just for myself, but for everyone (although the forms often vary). The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Ephesian Church, writes this as a sober reminder to every Christian living there:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2:1-3, ESV, emphasis added)
So it seems that what Donald Trump is doing is merely what dead men do — whatever their flesh entices them to do. The spirit of Donald Trump is not unique to himself, but is shared by every one of us, sons (and daughters) of disobedience. As much as we’d like to distance ourselves from Mr. Trump, the truth is that our natures will not allow us such convenience. He is our brother, in the worst way. We are all sinners, controlled by sinful desires, of which Mr. Trump’s latest revelation is simply proof.
But by reducing the issue to human nature, I’m not letting Donald Trump of the hook. This particular perversion of sinfulness is hardly dismissible, let alone electable. The sins of my past, which bear a striking similarity to the “locker room talk” of Mr. Trump, stand over me in condemnation. I must recognize and accept that those sins are mine, and no one else’s. And not only must I own those sins, I must answer for them as well. At least, I would, if it was not for the death of Christ and his propitiation for my sins. You see, Paul’s reminder doesn’t stop there. He goes on:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 3:4-8, ESV, emphasis added)
While I share a common carnality with Donald Trump, that carnality has been dealt a decisive blow, freeing me from my mindless pursuit of every lustful appetite. Having once been dead, I was made alive — the Living God suffering death to give me life. And it’s not just a new ability to forsake the trappings of my carnal flesh, but a new pursuit altogether. My old passions were supplanted by a greater passion — the glory of Christ alone. I now have good works to walk in, not evil works, and I owe my salvation to the kindness and grace of God to look at a rebellious, evil-hearted man, embodying the same sort of moral depravity as Mr. Trump espouses on that recording, and completely and radically change the dispositions of my heart. By grace, indeed.
Although we should rightly recoil and condemn such behavior as wrong, even detestable, we must also remind ourselves, just as Paul reminded the Ephesians, that for those of us who claim the moniker “Christian”, we too were once like Donald Trump. If we have any hope of turning people’s attention to the love and grace of God in Christ, we must first acknowledge that we shared in the deplorable sinfulness that necessitated such grace. Only then can we fully communicate the need for a righteousness that is not our own. Seeing the Donald Trump (and the Hillary Clinton) in our own lives will enable us to think humbly and rightly about our engagement with the world. Admit, like me, that you are Donald Trump, then remind yourself that you don’t have to be — and neither does he.