Trump’s race baiting is reprehensible and his incompetence in a variety of policy areas is startling, yet I don’t think he is the real problem. Every society is populated by at least a few people with such views and every government includes people similarly lacking in the know-how of good governance. This is frustrating but not surprising or uniquely problematic. The real problem is the fact that there is enough support for him to continue seeking public office with the remote chance of winning the nomination of a major political party. More than that, from my perspective, the problem is that his views find support among Christians. What (in God’s name) are churches doing if they aren’t cultivating lives with more Christian character than that?
That fact that Trump’s politics gets traction in Christian communities, the fact that he supposedly esteems the Bible more than any other book (his own being a close second) reminds me of something Augustine wrote about reading the Bible. Augustine gives us a way of testing our understating of Scripture: “So anyone who thinks that he has understood the divine scriptures or any part of them, but cannot by his understanding build up this double love of God and neighbor, has not yet succeeded in understanding them.” Augustine emphasizes his point later when he says that if we interpret Scripture to mean something other than what the author intended we are misled. However, and here’s the key part: “If he is misled by an idea of the kind that builds up love . . . he is misled in the same way as a walker who leaves his path by mistake but reaches the destination to which the path leads by going through a field” (On Christian Teaching, 27).
The case of ideas like those espoused by Trump finding support among Christians isn’t new. But it does run against the grain of biblical interpretation. That isn’t to say that the Bible gives us a clear description of how modern democracy should function, but it is to say that Christians (pacifist or not) should support policies that maintain the humanity of enemies and promote peaceful flourishing rather than division and scapegoating. What else could it mean to love one’s neighbors and the God who created them?