Editorial

Dwelling in Unity

Our Views on the President Are Not Crucial by S. M. Hutchens

A friend of this journal frequently complains to me that Touchstone is ethically compromised, having failed in its prophetic duty to denounce the moral depravity of the President. For a number of reasons, I don't see the point of doing that, but this friend has provoked me to submit this explanatory editorial.

The question of whether Donald Trump has any business being the President of the United States is one upon which serious, intelligent, and knowledgeable Christians disagree. Let me attempt to define this disagreement as objectively as possible:

Non-Trump Touchstonians—whether they decide on election day to vote for him, vote for a third-party candidate (but not a Democrat, for Touchstone remains on record as opposing the "Godless Party"), or not vote at all—believe personal character matters in such a way as to justify opposition to Trump's presidency on moral grounds, so that it is no fault, and more than possibly a virtue, to refuse to support his candidacy and to view his election as evidence of a tragic national devolution.

It is important to emphasize that the "pro-Trumpers" among us are far from being pure and enthusiastic partisans who overlook the President's faults and hypocritically excuse him where they would not excuse others—as so often the accusation goes. The difference in outlook between these schools of thought actually turns on a rather fine point. Both sides deplore sin, ours and his, to the same degree. The difference turns upon the weight assigned to the moral imperatives connected with the presidential office on the one hand, and, on the other, the practical imperatives of a dilemma presented to Christians by a particular situation, unencountered with this level of intensity to this point in the history of the United States. That dilemma is whether decisions about the moral failings of Mr. Trump, which would in another era disqualify him among the ethically concerned, are, at this time and place, overweighed by the dangers of not supporting him.

Biblical Thinking on Both Sides

There is nothing essentially sub-Christian about the thinking on either side, and for that reason the Trump question—to which one believer can view another as applying the wrong maxim—cannot be answered dispositively in a journal of mere Christianity. Our editorial board is, however, united in taking thankful notice of the accomplishments of this President in his appointments to the federal judiciary and the strong support he has given to the pro-life movement, despite our united opposition on merely Christian grounds to some of his policy decisions, such as proposing to put economic and diplomatic pressure on nations that decline to repeal laws prohibiting sodomy.

Christian anti-Trump ground-reasoning would appear to involve an application of cuius regio, eius religio: the undeniably biblical observations about the influence of the king upon his people, and that of the head upon the body, for good or ill. This is met and opposed by equally biblical examples of rulers, even pagan rulers, not as moral exemplars but as men anointed by God to preserve the life of his people. Donald Trump here joins David and Cyrus as frequently adduced examples.

Preserving the Fellowship

In respect of these diverging paradigms Mr. Trump appears in very different lights, with predictably different political results among thoughtful Christian voters. Since the psychospiritual root from which arises the dominance of weighting factors is hidden from those who cannot see the heart, and since this is not simply a matter of sound reasoning or fidelity to the Creed—which is as much as we have allowed ourselves to attempt at Touchstone—it is at this point where we will make an end, in prudent avoidance of fallings-out on matters that we do not consider of vital concern to our bond in reasoned discourse about the common faith. Touchstone is a creature of its times, which only has the Spirit by measure. The need for guarded meeting places such as this journal will expire with the perfection of our unity, and we must not in the meanwhile presume beyond our stated mission.

Although we haven't polled each other, I believe most of the senior editors (including this one) are pro-Trumpers of the weak variety I have described above. Some of us are conservative non-Trumpers who have made it clear in public statements that they do not approve of Donald Trump's presidency. The editorial board is divided not by, but across, confessional lines on this question, and acknowledgement of this division may be expected to weaken some of our commentary about the upcoming presidential contest, in which we will be sensitive to the limitations of the consensus out of which we operate.

We have decided not to let this political disagreement threaten our fellowship, reckoning our continued unity in the service of Christ more important than our disunity on this question of American politics. This unity has been sustained, after all, in spite of the far more important controversies between our respective churches, and it would truly seem a failure to weigh and balance well if we fell apart over mere trumpery.

S. M. Hutchens is a senior editor.

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more on politics from the online archives

32.2—March/April 2019

What Gives?

on Properly Rendering Things to Caesar & to God by Peter J. Leithart

29.5—Sept/Oct 2016

Dying of Despair

on the Loss of True Community & Rising Political Desperation by Karl D. Stephan

33.4—July/August 2020

Dwelling in Unity

Our Views on the President Are Not Crucial by S. M. Hutchens

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