Update | A friend of mine shared this essay with Eric Metaxas on Twitter, and Eric read and responded:
— Eric Metaxas (@ericmetaxas) June 24, 2016
Some years ago, a mentor and friend of mine turned me on to a little event called Socrates in the City hosted by a man named Eric Metaxas. I was a bit younger when I first heard about these forays into discussions on “life, God, and other small topics.” Whether it was my youthful lack of an attention span or the bombardment of intellectual assignments that came with higher education (and therefore cultivated a desire to be brain dead during my free time), I never took the dive into the rich diversity of intelligent, Christian thinkers, speakers, and writers. That is, I never took that dive until recently.
A little over a year ago, I got hooked on podcasts and thoroughly enjoyed the bevy of different scientists, philosophers, theologians, and other various scholars who were producing and sharing excellent content through the Internet. As I sought out new content, I remembered Socrates in the City and would go on to enjoy a handful of those interviews.
As I did so, I could not help but be impressed by Eric Metaxas. His sense of humor fit my tastes. Not only did I find him to be entertaining, but I found him to be insightful. As I started to learn more about Eric, I came to discover that he would be hosting a daily radio broadcast billed as a show about “everything.” Needless to say, I was excited; my expectations were high.
When the day rolled around for his first show, I was listening live through the webcast. When the live broadcast time ceased to fit my schedule, I would diligently follow along with the show via podcast. Through his show, Metaxas introduced me to numerous thinkers and authors about whom I had never heard, and his dry wit made each episode at least stimulating, though he usually produced more than mere entertainment. I often found the show to be genuinely thought provoking, challenging, and even at times inspiring.
Yet, in the last couple of weeks, he has turned a corner that seems truly perplexing given his knowledge of social history.
Eric Metaxas, the man who has written biographies on William Wilberforce and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, appears to be missing his own chance to shine in this difficult cultural moment. Bonhoeffer and Wilberforce each took radical stands in the face of extraordinarily immoral, corrupt governing structures and poured out their lives as a sacrifice to their God, fully trusting Him by giving their all in order to undermine tyranny.
Theirs was a self-sacrificial battle against all odds. In recent days, Metaxas’s example and apparent plea for Christians in America seems to be that we should play the odds.
In an interview with Mike Gallagher, Metaxas responds to a question from Mike about his losing the goodwill of some evangelical Christians, according to an unnamed writer citied during the exchange, by advocating for Donald Trump in the upcoming presidential election.* In response to this criticism, Metaxas first calls some evangelicals who refuse to vote for Trump “liberals,” which without further context makes little sense. Then, he goes into further detail on those who, from a standpoint of principle, say that they could never vote for Donald Trump, basically chastising them as being practical supporters of Hillary Clinton who are ushering in the end of America.
Now, given the terrible option afforded to us with this year’s nominees, I would not begrudge anyone for saying that Trump would be the better choice over Clinton. I find this to be the worst of all possible worlds in terms of the choice that the American people have given themselves. Even so, Metaxas has essentially called Christians who refuse to attach their consciences to the Trump train either liberals or dunces who need to get with the program.
I’m sure that Metaxas realizes that, when he makes such statements, he is painting up the likes of Dr. Russell Moore and Al Mohler as clowns, not just insignificant blog voices like my own. For several reasons, even tacitly endorsing Donald Trump entails that the Christian is going to have to carefully tiptoe around some land mines. In Trump, we have a serial philanderer who makes (at best) reckless (at worst racist) comments about minorities. What does it look like for a Christian to support such a man after denouncing others who have behaved as he has in the past?
From a standpoint of grace and charity, we could emphasize that those selfish, narcissistic, indulgent attitudes were in the past, but Trump has repeatedly stated that he sees little reason to seek forgiveness. Christians don’t have that card to play.
If the argument coming from the evangelical community was different, if the voices were saying, “This is the best we’ve got; let’s hold our noses, vote for the man, and hope to see a brighter day in the future,” then I would be more understanding, perhaps even sympathetic. But several leaders have actually defended Trump’s character. Jerry Falwell, Jr. emphatically suggested that we should know him by his fruits and believes Trump is a Christian. Franklin Graham cited Abraham, Moses, and David as imperfect leaders who made mistakes. Such statements are beyond ludicrous. They have blatantly twisted the Bible to serve their political ends.
Granted, Eric Metaxas has not gone so far as to whitewash Trump’s past (or his present). But he has taken steps in a direction where his light will eventually become hidden (cf. Lk. 8:16).
Interestingly enough, I have been reading Eric’s book, If You Can Keep It, as this mess with evangelicals and Trump has taken a turn for the worse. Aside from moments where he practically idolizes America as the world’s last, best hope (what about Christ and His Church? cf. Jn 8:12), the book was wonderfully written. Though Metaxas often trumpets his book whenever he proclaims his support for Trump, I feel as though he actually undermines the book’s core message every time he does so. That message? The people of the United States will maintain this republic if and only if her citizens remain a people of virtue.
Ironically, he dedicates an entire chapter to our need for moral leaders to help us become and/or continue to be a virtuous people. Here’s a significant quotation from that chapter:
And this is the main point to be made here, that the character of our leaders is important because it affects everyone–their peers and those they lead. And if a virtuous people is vital to self-government, as we have established, their virtue cannot help but be affected, in one direction or the other, by the behavior of their leaders. So it follows that leaders–whether political or cultural–may encourage or discourage a wider culture of virtue. And in a nation where virtue is crucial to the entire system of self-government, character in our leaders is no small thing. We may again recall John Adams’s statement that the Constitution cannot contain our untoward passions–that they will break through the Constitution as easily “as a whale goes through a net.” So we need a culture of virtue, and our leaders have a vital role to play in that regard.
Honest question: how can the man who wrote so beautifully on our need for virtue and virtuous leaders openly endorse Donald Trump?