(Why) Supporting Donald Trump Is a Violation of I John 2:15

by John Ellis

(Included in this article are links to several other articles I’ve written. If what I write below seems poorly fleshed out or even confusing, I urge you to click on the links provided. As I explain below, for the sake of time, I’m (probably unfairly) assuming a certain level of acquaintance with my use of terms/concepts and my beliefs/writings about certain terms/concepts. The included links provide me with the ability to take these shortcuts. Also, please keep in my mind that while in the main I am in agreement with my past articles, hence their inclusion, my thinking has evolved/grown over the last few years and some of the articles are not fully reflective of my more mature-still maturing thoughts.)

A few weeks ago, an old friend reached out and asked if I wouldn’t mind explaining my perspective on Donald Trump, Joe Biden, and the upcoming presidential election of 2024. In the message, my friend confessed that while he has serious concerns about Trump, the balance of things like Trump’s defense of religious liberty and pro-life position in contrast with the policies of Joe Biden leads him to support Trump. In response, I agreed to provide an explanation for why I did not and will not vote for Donald Trump. I’ve been putting off writing it because of the complexities involved in the discussion. Even now, as I “put pen to paper,” I blanch as I face the seemingly impossible task of articulating my thoughts and beliefs. In brief, my answer is found in controlling (meta)narratives and definitions of human flourishing. Owing to how we are shaped by secular narratives as well as our commitments to idolatrous definitions of human flourishing, I believe that support for Donald Trump reflects a violation of the command found in I John 2:15 to “Love not the world, neither the things of the world.”

That’s a big statement, I know.

Here are three more big statements in support of the first big statement (my thesis): (1) What we believe is not our own. (2) No matter how popular it is to claim otherwise, we are not – our society is not – having an epistemological crisis. (3) Narratives define who we are/give us meaning.

In confession, at their core, all three statements are the same; see I John 2:15.

Now, what follows is my attempt to help make sense of my thesis and supporting statements.

Here at the top, I’m going to share an anecdote that I’m a little wary of including. I’m afraid that some readers will become too hung up on certain specifics causing them to fail to see my larger point (which, in doing so, ironically, they’ll demonstrate my point). However, the anecdote illustrates as well as any that I can think of my overall argument for my thesis.

A few weeks ago, a family member shared with me that a scientist he met told him that wearing face masks to protect against COVID is like a screen door on a submarine. This unnamed scientist’s work/expertise is focused on something to do with stem cell research. The application was made explicit: This chance encounter with a stranger fulfilled the necessary and sufficient conditions needed to justify absolutely the position that face masks are useless at providing protection against the airborne virus that causes COVID.

I’m ashamed to say that my response was not very articulate nor convincing, owing, in large part, to existential concerns that are neither here nor there. What I should’ve said in reply, though, what I wish I’d said, is this: What is it about this single scientist that you briefly interacted with that causes you to attribute far more epistemic weight to his belief claim than the belief claims of the overwhelming majority of infectious disease experts? In other words, why do you blindly accept the word of a scientist whose field is not infectious diseases over that of the infectious disease community?

In certain circles (my circle, in general), received wisdom is that this family member is a product of our society’s epistemological crisis. In fact, I have written many articles over the last couple of years arguing in support of this received wisdom. Over the last few months, though, my understanding has changed. The problem isn’t epistemological; the problem is ontological and ultimately ethical. (Note: I’m using some terms in generic, broad-brush ways that I would not countenance in an academic work – which this is not, to be clear. However, I believe that generous readers will understand what I’m attempting if they’re willing to exercise some patience.) I now realize that our post-Enlightenment fascination with epistemology is a large part of the problem. We’ve surrendered questions of meaning and actions to questions of anthropocentric knowing. Another way of putting it is that our meaning is a product of our knowing. In fact, meaning is redundant; knowing is meaning (we’re controlled by a narrative). Hence, when faced with questions of meaning and actions – specifically expressive individualism – we’re ill-equipped to provide answers that don’t continue to steer people into an idolatrous anthropocentrism.   

In September, I published an article about my shift. Titled “Facebook Fact Checkers, Foucault, and the Far Right” it’s my attempt to explain what I’d been learning. I urge you to read it (click on the article’s title above), because for the sake of time/word-count, I’m going to assume some prior knowledge in this article. In summation, a twin understanding of Foucault’s “power is knowledge” and Lyotard’s “incredulity of metanarratives” is important in understanding my thesis. To help see that, I’m going to return to my anecdote from above.

The answer(s) to the questions I should’ve asked my family member are along the lines of this: You see, it’s not really a question of authority or expertise. Within your worldview, you submit to experts insofar as they submit to the narrative (“framework,” to use Charle’s Taylor’s word) that controls you. Furthermore, it’s a question of flourishing. What makes life good/well-lived? You’ve already decided that, and any ethics that contradict it are anathema. Therefore, the more important question is who/what provides the narrative that controls your ethics?

This is where Foucault’s “power is knowledge” comes in. The controlling narrative determines truth. I realize this sounds like an epistemological crisis, but bear with me.

Knowing is meaning. Or, better, meaning is knowing.

In rebellion of the contemporary philosophy of his day, Camus astutely wrote, “Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. … I therefore conclude that the meaning of life is the most urgent of questions.” [1]

Since Camus lived and wrote, philosophy has reclaimed some of its footing (value) from logical positivism. Mercifully, the Vienna Circle was short-lived and its (Ayer, Popper, Moritz Schlick, et al.) influence waned. That should be noted. However, by and large, the prevailing spirit of our age still staggers under the influence of logical positivism. Meta meaning of life questions are still often viewed as verboten. Ontological concerns are seen as metaphysical inventions. And this is partly owing to logical positivism’s continued tyranny and partly owing to a contradictory set of conditions we live/think under.

In his book Sources of the Self, Charles Taylor argues that there is an irreconcilable difference between the existential concerns of those living prior to our “secular age” and those of us living within the “secular age.” We live with the fear of meaningless while our forebears lived with the fear of condemnation. That condition – our condition of living with the fear of meaninglessness – may be inescapable. I don’t know; give me a few years to work out the problem. For now, what’s important is that we (all of us) are willing to confront ourselves with how controlled we are by the fear of meaninglessness.

Taylor contends that the meaning we find isn’t just shaped by but is actually controlled by the framework (I prefer the word narrative) we submit to (often unknowingly). One of the tensions that arises in our age (and selves) is because “[w]hat is common to them all is the sense that no framework is shared by everyone, can be taken for granted as the framework tout court, can sink to the phenomenological status of unquestioned fact [emphasis kept].” [2]

But what does all this have to do with Donald Trump, Joe Biden, and the impending presidential election? I’ll try and weave it all together.

Firstly, I need to attempt to distill Charles Taylor (and Camus) into less lofty terms and theories. There are several thousand more words, punctuated by many quotes from Taylor and others, that I’d love to write. But that would probably undermine my objective with this article. So, to that end, what Charles Taylor is saying is that we are all products of the secular age. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Charles Taylor does not write about others; he writes about you (and me). This means that what we believe is no longer universal; there is no longer a controlling meta-narrative that we submit to as a society (or as individuals). In turn, this means, by definition, that how we define a life well-lived is going to exist in tension with how others define a life well-lived. Later, he argues that expressive individualism is a product of this a la carte approach to meaning. However, because we are all made in the image of God, it’s impossible to fully live as if an imminent framework is all there is. At our core, as image Bearers, this means that we run the high risk of elevating anthropocentric narratives to a position of transcendence. We believe that our approved expressions of individualism are authoritative [3]. It’s hardwired into our essence, which explains why Lyotard was able to take logical positivists to task by exposing their self-deluded hypocrisy. Whether they accept it or not, the Richard Dawkins of the world submit to a narrative; their beliefs and truth claims are not neutral. Scaring some of you, neither are yours and neither are mine (what we believe is not our own). The question should be: Is the narrative that controls me God’s Narrative or a rebellious narrative crafted by fallen humans seeking autonomy from their Creator? But I’m getting ahead of myself.  

Piggybacking on that, Foucault and Lyotard come into (further) view. We believe the lie that we are in control of our worldview, specifically our ethics. We believe that what we choose (how we define meaning and value and how we live our life) is within our epistemological reach. However, and plagiarizing myself from a Facebook comment I just posted, we are not the master of our intellectual/epistemological domain. Truly, and sadly, in our “secular age” power is knowledge (we are not having an epistemological crisis, believing otherwise is the proverbial putting the cart before the horse).

Now, and backing up a bit, I was interested this week to read Roger Olson’s article “The Sorry Condition of Christian Ethics.” In it, he explains “why I gave up on writing a critical survey of the history of Christian ethics.” Selfishly, I wish he find a way to write it since I’m currently enthralled in a study of moral philosophy; I’d eagerly buy and read his book as part of that study. In his article, though, Olson confesses that after countless hours of research and writing hundreds of pages, “I became depressed – about the project.” A few paragraphs later, he distills the reason for his depression, and what I believe is relevant to my point at hand – why I did not and will not vote for Donald Trump – into a long sentence. I quote Olson in full below:

For me, anyway, Constantinianism (entanglements of church and state) and Augustinianism (justifications of violence against heretics) took true, Jesus-centered, New Testament ethics off the rails and far away from the pre-Constantinian emphases on humilitypeacelove of enemiesrejection of entanglements with political power and luxurious wealth, etc. [emphasis kept].

Olson then proceeds to give some concrete examples of the messiness and sinfulness of Christian ethics throughout the life of the Church since AD 313. No doubt, if he had chosen, he could turn his article into a book detailing the ethical failures of the Church since Constantine married Her to political/cultural power.[4] And therein lies the rub.

For the last few years, I have been trumpeting to anyone who would listen that possibly the greatest mistake in Church history was allowing Constantine to bring together that unholy alliance. And the second greatest mistake is like the first; the failure of the Reformers to initiate the divorce. In Olson’s words, words that I love and wish I’d written, “The [Church’s] center fell apart – after Constantine.”

Because of this, as Western society transitioned into our post-Enlightenment “secular age” professing Christians, especially evangelicals [5], are unwittingly prone to being controlled by contra-biblical narratives/frameworks. I say unwittingly because many of us believe that we have a “Christian worldview.” We don’t – or likely we don’t … probably don’t (I wrote about that, too, if you’re interested – click here). The problem is that our supposed Christian worldview is a post-Enlightenment narrative centered on power and definitions of human flourishing that are focused on the here and now. And that worldview is in competition with sister worldviews that also prioritize power and definitions of human flourishing in the here and now that contradict how “we” define human flourishing. Case in point, the evangelical support of a man like Donald Trump.

King Jesus wasn’t unclear on Kingdom ethics as we wait for his return. And those ethics match neither the ethics of the Republicans nor the Democrats. For sure, cherry-picking certain policies while ignoring the supporting (narrative) platforms results in finding parallels with Kingdom ethics. I’m going to avoid diving too deeply into specifics (that would ultimately require a book), but, as way of one example, the elevation of religious liberty as a right in the here and now causes professing Christians to ignore glaring ethical deficiencies, not to mention direct violations of Kingdom ethics, in supposed defenders of religious liberty (read my article about voting and religious liberty by clicking here).[6] Doing a political pro and con list to help determine the better candidate (if not the “lesser of two evils” candidate) reflects an anthropocentric embrace of Alinsky-styled pragmatism designed to promote specific definitions of flourishing in the here and now. Unfortunately, the price of that pragmatism demands a jettisoning of Kingdom ethics in other areas. See Roger Olson’s quote from above. Going a step further, pragmatism is a violation of Kingdom ethics. Our King’s victory has already been accomplished. God’s will is being done, on earth as in heaven. It doesn’t matter if we don’t fully understand nor see the big picture; faith has (should have) purview in our ethics. King Jesus doesn’t need (nor want) us to make compromises for the sake of the “bigger picture.” Doing so takes my mind back to when King Saul took matters into his own hands.

About our current “matters,” and repeating myself, I’m going to avoid specifics for a couple of reasons. One, delving into specifics (like immigration, abortion, sexuality, economics, etc.) comes with the high risk of taking our eyes off the prize, so to speak. Two, and basically a fleshed-out version of one, doing so would steer me/us into the secular notion of expressive individualism and the belief that I/we have epistemological autonomy. Unless we’re willing to do our best to put ourselves in a position of outsideness (to use Bakhtin’s term), a position where we seek to evaluate our worldview holistically with the goal of determining, as best we can, how much we’re controlled by the age we live in, I cynically believe that these conversations are mostly, if not totally, useless. Like the conversation about masks with my family member from above.

If the problem was epistemological, that family member would be willing to reconsider giving more epistemic weight to a random, non-infectious disease expert scientist than to the overwhelming consensus of the infectious disease experts. But, as stated, the problem isn’t epistemological. It’s ontological/ethical. This family member has definitions of flourishing that preclude the wearing of masks. His desired flourishing controls what he believes/accepts as what’s true; Foucault’s statement that power is knowledge. Same with those who vote for Donald Trump (or Joe Biden, to be fair). My actual complaints with Trump (or Biden) can’t be found within a policy pro/con list. Just because it appears that I agree with Trump about abortion that doesn’t mean that I really agree with Trump about abortion (and you can plug and play pretty much any contemporary issue you’d like).

In conclusion, and with all that precedes it in this article kept in mind, I’m going to simply state why I believe that the narrative/framework that leads to the support of Donald Trump is contra-biblical. I’m not going to make an argument for the veracity of my claim; that would require a much longer article, if not a book. I realize that this will likely leave many unsatisfied, if not angry, but I hope that some of you will take the time to think through what I’ve written above as well as what I’m about to write.

While obviously more complex than this, I believe that the issue can be helpfully explained by reducing it to the definition of liberty/freedom. Over the last few years (really, since 2016), defending liberty has become one of the loudest, if not the loudest, rallying cries for conservative evangelicals. Unfortunately, and revealing hearts, the Bible does not have a parallel concept for liberty/freedom (autonomy) found in Lockian/Burkean classical liberalism. This can be summed up in the rallying cry “Give me liberty or give me death.” That statement elevates a man-made definition above a God-given good. Kingdom ethics do not allow me to sacrifice my life because the earthly government the Holy Spirit has placed me under wants to take away my guns, for example. Or tax me at a higher rate than I believe justified. Or provide free health care to those living in poverty. Or tell me to wear a face mask while indoors. Or because our preferred economic theory is being replaced by another economic theory. Examples abound. My life belongs to God, and His definition of flourishing is eschatological. The down payment of that eschatological flourishing is His Spirit’s continued sanctification – the process by which I am being conformed to the image of the Son. God’s flourishing does not depend, not even a little, on the Bill of Rights. God’s flourishing does not depend, not even a little, on the Republican Party’s platform. God’s flourishing does not depend, not even a little/never, on the existence of the United States of America. Brothers and sisters in Christ facing martyrdom in Afghanistan are no less blessed than those of us living in McMansions, driving BMWs, and enjoying our so-called religious liberty in this country. In fact, an argument can be made that they are more blessed, but that argument is best saved for another article. Compromising our Kingdom ethics, even a little, by supporting Donald Trump is our Tower of Babel. It reveals that we believe that it’s our right to define what makes for our best life now. It reveals that we do not believe that we are God’s, but that we believe that we are equals with God.

I believe that this country was founded, in large part, on definitions that contradict and violate the greatest and the second greatest commandments. In doing so, the Founders of this country placed anthropocentric demands on what flourishing in the here and now is supposed to be. We believe, because it’s in the air we breathe, that God wants the American Dream for us. And when that “right” is threatened, our voting ethics bow to that demand and not to King Jesus. We love this world at the expense of fealty to the Kingdom in which we claim citizenship. Repeating my thesis, I believe that support for Donald Trump reflects a violation of the command found in I John 2:15 to “Love not the world, neither the things of the world.”

My mission (ethics) as a subject of King Jesus is to love God and love my neighbors. While not an exhaustive list, that looks like making disciples, pursuing holiness, feeding the hungry and healing the sick, serving others at the expense of temporal definitions of my flourishing, and taking up my cross and following Jesus no matter what. And that “no matter what” does not include giving my support to a man who openly and proudly lives in ways that are often in direct violation of my King’s ethics.

Soli Deo Gloria

(Addendum: Rereading this one final time before hitting “Publish,” I am struck by how much I didn’t say – by how much I should’ve said but didn’t. Two things of great importance that I didn’t touch on are: 1. Our view of time is almost solely Chronos at the expense of Kairos. 2. Our definitions of nation and patriotism are vastly different from those who lived prior to our “secular age.” Both of those things, and others, are vital to a robust defense of my position. Sadly, I do not have the time nor possibly the ability to fully articulate why I believe it is wrong for Believers to support/vote for Donald Trump. My prayer is this article will cause people to reflect on how much more complex this issue is than the talking heads, including so-called spiritual leaders, make it seem. Likewise, I pray that readers will be encouraged to do the hard work of evaluating their worldview in light of Scripture.)

[1] Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus trans. Justin O’Brien (New York: Vintage Books, 2018) 3-4.

[2] Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989), 17.

[3] Cancel culture isn’t new. We just have a name for it now. What’s changed is who gets to decide which “expressions” of individualism are allowed on the expressive individual buffet. The tension isn’t ideological because both sides (left and right) believe the same thing. How that belief can be worked out/expressed is what’s at stake in our supposed cultural wars.

[4] I recently read Bullies and Saints: An Honest Look at the Good and Evil of Christian History by John Dickson. While there are parts that I commend, and while I appreciate Dickson’s objective, in the main I believe that he’s guilty of conflating the exceptions with the rule when defending the good of Christian history.

[5] For further explanation, see my probably abandoned “White Evangelicalism: Witnesses to the Wrong Resurrection” blog series.

[6] Religious persecution is coming. Ironically, I believe that it will first come at the hands (and legislation) of a Trump controlled Republican power that will regain legislative power during the mid-terms and then executive power in 2024. This doesn’t mean that I don’t realize that the Democrat’s platform is detrimental to my religious liberty. I’m just not blind to how unwanted my beliefs are to Trumpian Republicans.  

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