Last week, during an event called the Q 2020 Virtual Summit, evangelical writers David French and Eric Metaxas had a conversation with host Gabe Lyons about evangelical support for Donald Trump.
I let this transcript sit for a few days now. It is now time for commentary. See my remarks in bold.
GABE LYONS: “Well as we continue forward with our conversations this morning they don’t get any less intense than talking about Trump, and talking about our current American presidency, our current political system, the way in which the media plays a role in this, the way in which Evangelicals have been in conflict, many have blamed Evangelicals for Trump being in office who disdain Trump. Many Evangelicals have celebrated that Trump’s in office because of all that he’s done with judges, with the Supreme Court, so there’s lots to debate about this and I know even as you’re watching there’s many of you sitting there who are like, ‘I’m not gonna be convinced of anything different,’ and we know that’s one of the challenges right now in American politics and in this landscape that we don’t wanna move…any closer to one another because we feel like if we give up any ground we’ve completely compromised.
I hope today in this conversation we actually get to learn from two people who have been walking this out. They’ve been living this out for many years. They’ve been talking about two sides to this discussion around President Trump. They also early on have been trusted by the Christian community. Eric Metaxas, he’s a New York Times bestselling author, has written incredible historical biographies on people like Martin Luther and on Bonhoeffer. His most recent book is Seven More Men, New York Times bestseller. He’s the host of the Eric Metaxas Radio Show, a Senior Fellow and Lecturer at Large for King’s College. David French is with us and David French is a Senior Editor for The Dispatch and columnist for Time Magazine, formerly a senior writer for National Review and a New York Times bestselling author as well. He has a book coming out called Divided We Fall that releases later this year. He’s also been very much associated with the ‘Never Trump’ movement. And so both of these gentlemen are with us today, we’re gonna sit down together and have a longer conversation than we typically have at Q because we believe this year’s so important, we believe the subject matter is so important.
And I just want to start off with everybody kind of getting to hear the basic case that each of you would make for your point of view here so that we just get that on the table and then we can talk about it. So Eric, I want to start with you. Um, what is your reasoning, how would you describe to people listening in and maybe to the other side, people who really don’t support President Trump, how would you describe your support for him, why you felt like that’s been important during this last election cycle and even moving into a re-election cycle?” (There is a kind of moral equivalence in Lyons’s introduction that bothers me. I know that there are many white evangelicals who voted for Trump, probably far more than did not, but I have yet to be convinced that this is a debate between two thoughtful Christian positions. In other words, I am not sure this is a time for civility as much as it is a time for the church to speak with a prophetic voice. A time for civility and the healing of wounds will come again, but now is not that time).
ERIC METAXAS: “Well first of all I want to say thanks for, for having me here and for encouraging a civil conversation on what has to be one of the most important things we could ever discuss at this juncture in history.”
GABE LYONS: “Yeah, and Eric I’m gonna interrupt for a second and make sure we have your mic we don’t have audio so let’s make sure you pull that mic oh okay, we’re gonna, hey hang on hey we’re gonna start the clock over, we’re gonna go back to 27 minutes, we’re gonna give all our time to this, and I wanna begin again with you just responding to making your case for this point of view.”
ERIC METAXAS: “Well, thank you. There’s so much to say and it’s so complicated. I wanna make really clear that during the primaries and before the primaries I hated Donald Trump. I despised him, for many of the reasons that people despise him today. And when I thought of my hero William Wilberforce fighting the second great object, the reformation of culture in his time and how the Prince of Wales, the leader, the man who would be King George the Fourth was a dissolute, I would think of somebody like Donald Trump. I felt like he’s just bad news culturally speaking, he sets a bad example. During the primaries, something happened. I was writing a piece basically mocking Trump’s illiteracy with regard to the Bible that was published in the New Yorker magazine and was called ‘More Trump Bible Verses,’ and it was verses from the Bible as mis-stated by Donald Trump. And it was kind-of like writing a comedy piece for somebody.”
HOST: “Well, cuz that’s part of your persona,”
ERIC METAXAS: “Right.”
HOST: “It’s comedy, you’ve satired, you enjoy having fun with this stuff.”
ERIC METAXAS: “So my piece lightly mocking trump in the New Yorker, in the course of writing that something happened to me, where I began to see him differently. I was born in Queens, my family is working-class. Something connected me with him, as though I was listening to a Jackie Mason or to some comedian who communicates in a different way. And I’m not surprised that people who don’t get that language, their heads explode when he talks. But because I was raised in a working-class environment, in a way that’s who he talks to he communicates very differently. So I began to shift and began actually to be open to the idea that maybe he could, you know, represent Americans. (Metaxas likes to pride himself as a Christian thinker who brings his “worldview” to bear on public life. But this explanation for why he was attracted to Trump has nothing to do with Christianity. It is one thing to say that Trump’s style appealed to working-class voters, but quite another thing to say that because Trump appeals to the working class he deserves the support of Christians. Moreover, as someone who was also raised in the working-class New York metropolitan area [and is only a few years younger than Metaxas], I was taught to spot an immoral huckster like Trump from a mile away. But I digress.
And then I think you have to put it in context. I mean when I wrote my book on Martin Luther, most people would think Luther’s a pretty good guy. Luther was a maniac. The way that he communicated, ah communicated, he makes Trump look like Mike Pence. He was a, a just crazy way that he communicated but he connected with the working class, he connected with the people who felt disenfranchised in a way that had never happened before and it caused a revolution, I refer to it as the Protestant Reformation. But, I think when you see Trump in that context things change. The question is, can we see him in that context? (Metaxas turns Martin Luther into a populist and suggests that Donald Trump is following in his stead. Yes, Luther did reach many Germans by translating the Bible into the vernacular. And yes, this gave him a popular appeal. Trump also reached many people, but he did so through a message of fear and hate and lies–hardly Christian ideals. But there are also some similarities between Trump and Luther. Trump demonizes his enemies and disparages people who he believes do not belong in the United States. Luther demonized his enemies and turned his wrath against Jews and Anabaptists. Metaxas’s history is sloppy, but he knows that many of Trump’s evangelical followers will not think too deeply about this comparison).
I also think that the viciousness on the left toward him pushed me toward him. I have never in my life seen anything. When you take a hot mic moment from 15 years ago, and you keep it you’re a network supposedly you’re a news network and you keep it until the last second in October and you air it as though he just said it, I think who among us has not said horrifying things? That if they were suddenly presented as though that’s our point of view, when it was something we never meant for anybody to hear except who were with him even then maybe we regretted it. So that level of viciousness blew my mind and made me think, perhaps I am missing something here. (So let me get this straight–a prominent evangelical leader says that it was the Access Hollywood tape that actually convinced him that Trump was God’s man. While other evangelical leaders (including Mike Pence) wondered if they could still support Trump after this tape was revealed, Metaxas claims that this was the moment that crystallized his support for Trump. Candidate Trump deserved the “viciousness” he received from the Access Hollywood tape. If this were a Democratic candidate, Metaxas would be quoting Galatians 6:7.
And perhaps, God chose Trump to shame the Church. The Church had not been living out its faith in a way that was changing the world, that was sacrificial as Keller put it, and that God as he often does reaches outside the camp to someone that will make our heads explode, and chooses him to shame us, to fight, because we decline to fight. Bonhoeffer went through this same thing, the church in Germany, they would not fight against Hitler they were not willing to fight. They said, ‘We just want to preach the Gospel, we want to have a clean witness for the Gospel.’ And because of that, because of they didn’t want to get their hands dirty, because they were obsessed with their own piety and justifying themselves before God, they refused to get down and dirty and fight the enemy, who is Satan, in the form of Hitler and the Nazis. And Bonhoeffer was saying, ‘You don’t understand. You must see this differently. It’s not about your holiness your witness has failed, the Church’s witness has failed, we now need to stand up and be counted.’ So, you know that’s the beginning of all of what I would say.” (On the surface, there are a few sentences I agree with in this paragraph, but I don’t think I ascribe the same meaning to them as Metaxas. I am open to the idea that God chose Trump to shame the church. But if this is true, how does it all work? Metaxas’s logic, which is quite twisted, goes something like this: evangelicals should support Trump with our votes because they want God to shame them, and if they are shamed they might repent and trigger a religious revival. But if God were indeed using Trump to shame the church, then shouldn’t the church by this point have seen the error of its ways? After living under Trump during the past four years, shouldn’t the church have seen their sins and reject this president in 2020? When will God’s chastisement end? Do we need to endure it for another four years? All of this, of course, shows the utter absurdity of trying to think about Trump in some kind of providential fashion. As French notes later in the debate, we see through a glass darkly.
I also agree with Metaxas’s belief that the Church’s witness has failed. Dietrich Bonhoeffer would be appalled watching today’s church sitting on its hands and supporting the stupidity (Bonhoeffer’s word–follow the link) emanating from the White House. The Church does need to “stand up and be counted.” Amen and amen.
It is also worth noting that the reason the church was so weak in its response to Hitler is because it was too wed to a Lutheran two-kingdom view of politics. This view, as understood at the time, taught that the church should be cautious about bringing faith into political life. [Yes, this view was first introduced by the same Martin Luther who Metaxas extolled above]. Swiss theologian Karl Barth famously said, “The doctrine of the two kingdoms lies like a cloud over the ecclesiastical thinking and action of more or less every course taken by the German Church.” ).
GABE LYONS: “Yeah, and we’ll come back because I want you to describe more about your views on this and how God might be at work in why President Trump’s here. It seems, though, a little more of a culture war perspective where he’s a figure that God could be using to fight back against a culture that’s gone in a direction that you think does not lead to flourishing. I want to go to David, and we wanna get your perspective in here. David, it must make you squirm to hear Eric describe President Trump as Martin Luther possibly, or characters like that I don’t know but you, you’ve you know you were really at the beginning of this as a person who said look, as you early on thought you would support him, if he became the nominee but then you changed and became a quote-unquote now ‘Never-Trumper’ that said, ‘Look, as a Christian I can’t do this.’ Describe your point of view.”
DAVID FRENCH: “Well, it’s hard to say ‘Never-Trump’ when he’s the president, so I guess you say I’m anti-Trump.” “Yeah, that doesn’t make me squirm, I’ve heard the arguments, I’ve heard Eric’s arguments, I’ve heard arguments like that for several years now. (I understand French’s point, but in an election year can’t we start saying “Never-Trump” again?).
Ah, look, to begin my argument we have to back up a little bit. We have to place things in context. One is, my position is that Christians in all areas of life, in all areas of life should be salt and light. Whether you’re a, you know an insurance agent for State Farm, whether you’re flipping burgers at McDonalds, whether you’re an officer in the military, whether you’re engaging in politics, there is no area in which you’re not called to be salt and light. And there’s no area in which you are not called to be an ambassador and a witness for Jesus Christ. There’s no area that you wall off from Christian ethics, none, no area. And also that is not a, a unusual view in Christianity that’s basic ‘small-o orthodoxy,’ it’s been basic ‘small-o orthodoxy’ in dealing with Christians and politics for a very long time. (I am not sure this argument would ever change an evangelical Trump supporter’s mind. Most believe that by supporting anti-abortion Supreme Court justices and defending religious liberty they ARE being “salt and light” and applying Christian ethics to every area of life).
For a very long time Evangelicals were the sub-set of Americans who are most likely to say that character mattered in politicians, for a very long time. I remember in 1998 when Bill Clinton was caught in his affair with Monica Lewinsky and lying under oath about it. For a lot of us this had confirmed a lot of problems we had with Bill Clinton’s character from day one, from day one. But we had a problem in reaching out to the culture to say that character mattered and in politics and what was the problem? The problem was, in 1998 the nation was very prosperous, much higher rates of job creation, much higher rates of economic growth, than we saw even at the height of the Trump boom. We have no Trump boom anymore obviously but even at the height of the Trump boom Clinton was by many measures much more moderate than the average Democrat now. He had signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, he had signed the Defense of Marriage Act when he talked about abortion he said ‘safe, legal, and rare,’ which is not something you hear so much from the Democrats. And we said, ‘This is a problem, that the man in the highest office in the land had an affair with an intern and lied about it under oath.’ Even in the atmosphere of peace and prosperity. In 1998 the Southern Baptist Convention gathered and issued a ringing declaration, I believe it was in Salt Lake City, a ringing declaration of the importance of character in politics. And it said, it acknowledged peace and prosperity, but it said ‘tolerance of serious wrong by leaders sears the conscience of the culture, spawns unrestrained immorality, and also surely results in God’s judgement.’ And then it said, very clearly, in its resolved clauses that Christians should endeavor to elect people of the highest integrity. And the reason for this is just not moral posturing. At the time I thought it wasn’t just partisan politics, but because character matters in leaders. Competence is an aspect of character, by the way. So character matters in leaders, that’s one of the most conventional arguments you could ever make. (We have covered the hypocrisy of older Trump supporters (Franklin Graham, James Dobson, Gary Bauer, Wayne Grudem, and others) extensively here at the blog and in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump. See our blog posts here and here and here and here and here and here).
And so, in about 2014 I had this weird thought and it’s sort of like, ‘Be careful what you ask for.’ And I remember feeling so, for a long time feeling kind-of self-righteous as a, Evangelical and Republican that, look how the Democrats had been hypocrites after taking on Clarence Thomas they defend Bill Clinton. But then, it was like the Holy Spirit pricked my conscience and said, ‘We Republicans have never had to pay a political price in my life, in my adult lifetime, Nixon is an exception but in my adult lifetime we’ve generally had men of high integrity. What if you had to pay a political price? Would you still uphold the power and the necessity of character in leadership?’ Be careful what you wonder about. Be careful about that, because Evangelicals quickly went from the group of people most likely to say that character mattered to in 2016 the group that said the least likely that character mattered. Now did the truth, the theological truths articulated in the Southern Baptist Convention statement change? No they did not. What changed was the partisan imperative. What changed was the atmosphere of fear. (On evangelical’s declining belief in character, French is referring to this PRRI/Brookings poll. NPR has a story on it here. I am also glad to see the fear thesis of Believe Me affirmed here).
And what Eric said about viciousness on the left, I’ll end with this: I have never seen in my life such viciousness on the right. Such incredible viciousness, and including overt, horrific racism, the rise of the Alt-right, the rise of the Alt-right, directed at my family in the most vicious ways. My youngest daughter is African-American and when I began opposing Trump I would see images of her photo-shopped into a gas chamber with Donald Trump photo-shopped in an S.S. uniform pressing the button to kill her. I’d see images of her photo-shopped into the slave fields, and it was not exceptional to me to see this and so what ended up happening, many people who were against Trump faced this viciousness. And it was stunning to me that his campaign C.E.O Steve Bannon, who was the editor-in-chief of Breitbart, had openly said that he wanted Breitbart, then the second-most viewed website in conservative, conservatism to be the platform of the Alt-right, and this man became Donald Trump’s chief strategist. And we haven’t even gotten into Trump’s own maliciousness and his cruelty and his sexual assaults and his paid-off porn stars and, the list goes on.” (To add to French’s point here, Liberty University, which enrolls thousands of evangelical college students, is now running pro-Trump op-eds in Breitbart News).
GABE LYONS: “Yeah, so, so yeah your point is character matters, it matters more than policy in some cases and of course in the 2016,”
DAVID FRENCH: “It often means, it often dictates policy.”
GABE LYONS: “But I know a lot of people listening are saying, hey in the 2016 election we had two choices: we had Trump and we had Hilary Clinton. And many would cite major character issues on both sides so then we’re in this dilemma right, what does a Christian do, do they abstain, do they pick somebody? Eric I wanna go to you and I wanna come back around, I want you to be able to respond to what you hear David say but also I want you to give this bigger view on the policy front as well, that he’s made a character case for why we shouldn’t support Trump, and I know you, you believe a lot of the policies he’s pursuing are helpful…”
ERIC METAXAS: “How can you even divorce policy from character? In 1860, slavery was on the ticket, okay? You could elect, if there was somebody really close to Jesus who was pro-slavery, you would simply say that slavery–no pun intended–completely trumps the man’s moral character. There are issues. The life of the unborn is an issue, it’s the equivalent of slavery in our time. It is gigantically important. And, I just think that if you don’t take the life of the most innocent as dispositive in your vote, maybe not the only thing but I would say almost. It strikes me as incredibly shameful that we have had wonderful people like George W. Bush, and others who have never dared to be as vocal for the unborn as this guy, the thrice-married philanderer from Manhattan. It’s an amazing thing to me. (OK–Let’s set the record straight on the Election of 1860. Was slavery on the ticket? Yes and no. The southern Democrat John Breckinridge supported slavery and he had strong backing from Southern evangelicals. Stephen Douglas, the northern Democrat candidate, championed democracy on the question of slavery. In other words, he wanted the states to decide whether or not they would allow slavery. (He called this “popular sovereignty.”). This is the same federalist approach that today’s pro-lifers employ when they call for the overturning of Roe v. Wade–let the states decides whether to allow abortion. The candidate of the Constitutional Union Party, John Bell, essentially refused to address the slavery issue because he and his party feared it would divide the Union.
The Republicans opposed the spread of slavery into the Western territories. Its candidate, Abraham Lincoln, was not interested in ending slavery where it already existed. As he told future Confederate vice-president Alexander Stephens in December 1860 (after Lincoln’s election, but before his inauguration): “Do the people of the South really entertain fears that a Republican administration would, directly, or indirectly, interfere with their slaves, or with them, about their slaves. If they do, I wish to assure you, as once a friend, and still, I hope, not an enemy, that there is no cause for such fears.” Of course slavery would be the cause of a Civil War in which 750,00 people would die. War, it seems, might also be considered a a “life” issue. By the way, there was one abolitionist running. Perhaps Metaxas, if he were living in 1860, would have voted for Gerrit Smith of the Liberty Party. It looks he got 170 votes in Ohio and Illinois. The abortion-slavery comparison, at least in the case of the 1860 election, does not hold-up to historical scrutiny.
It is also worth noting that George W. Bush signed a federal law banning partial-birth abortions. He also signed a law which recognizes an embryo or fetus in utero as a “victim.” And this was just the start of Bush’s defense of a “culture of life.” (Click here to see more). It is also worth noting that he appointed two pro-life Supreme Court justices–John Roberts and Samuel Alito. Metaxas, the self-proclaimed historian, has a very short memory. Or perhaps his memory has been corrupted by his love of Donald Trump. Or maybe he likes to cherry-pick the things he likes about the past and ignore the rest. By the way, so far Trump has not managed to get any pro-life legislation through Congress. His executive orders on abortion can be easily overturned by the next president.
When we’re talking about character I also have to say this: what do we mean by character? In other words, if I’m morally upstanding ah, you know we look at Obama okay he’s morally upstanding and he’s a good family man and so on and so forth and yet he did everything in his power to make it possible to murder the unborn in their mother’s wombs. He did everything he could to undermine Biblical marriage. How do you give that a pass? (It was only a matter of time before Metaxas invoked Obama. This is what conservative evangelicals do. But whatever one thinks about Obama’s record, this is a debate about Trump. I also doubt he would get any argument on these points from French. This is just a fear-mongering pitch to his radio audience and Trump’s base. Thus far in the debate Metaxas is fighting desperately to maintain his brand).
And then you have to ask yourself when you’re talking about character, does it mean personal character or does it mean, I mean in my book If You Can Keep It, which I wrote before Trump, before I even liked Trump, I talk about character as being, what the founders meant: Will you put yourself before the people that elected you? Do you really love the country and will you sacrifice for the country because you love the country or will you line your own pockets? I don’t think there’s been a politician in our time, outside of Hilary Clinton, or except for Hilary Clinton that, excuse me. I don’t think there’s been a politician in our time who, like Hilary Clinton has represented the antithesis of that. A level of corruption, a level of character that is so self-focused, that genuinely doesn’t care about the vote or about the working class, who certainly doesn’t care about African Americans giving it all this lip-service. (There are some serious historical problems with Metaxas’s book If You Can Keep It. I chronicled them in this multi-part series. But what Metaxas chooses to draw from his book is interesting. He asks, “Will you put yourself before the people that elected you? Do you really love the country and will you sacrifice for the country because you love the country or will you line your own pockets? It seems like Trump fails both of these tests for republican citizens. As a narcissist, he always puts himself first. He and his family are clearly benefiting financially from the Trump presidency. The examples are endless. Metaxas sees a man of character in Trump. I do not. Sadly, most white evangelicals are on Metaxas’s side, not mine).
People on the left, when you wanna talk about character let me say this: I would never use the word here but socialism F’s the poor. And when you lean in that direction God is gonna hold you responsible for the poor. He’s going to say, did your policies talk about the poor or did you vote for somebody who actually cared for the poor? Socialism screws the poor horribly and if we don’t tell young people that, that this is a fact, this is not I’m just saying this, it is incredibly destructive. So when you have a President or a candidate who actually believes in a good kind of capitalism and in the free market and in freedom you have to take that seriously. There is no way you can not take that seriously, if you actually care about the poor, not if you just want to give lip-service to the poor. Big difference.” (We could have a debate about whether socialism helps the poor, but this is not the point of Metaxas’s meltdown here. His point is to scare people into thinking that all Democrats are socialists. Hillary Clinton was not a socialist. Joe Biden was not a socialist. Real socialists laugh at Bernie Sanders. (Just listen to my interview with one here). Metaxas is using the word “socialist” as political dog whistle).
GABE LYONS: “David, you hear Eric’s plea that these policies, especially for the unborn are so important, and rise above possibly what you would deem as you know, what he’s done in his past history or, these character flaws. But I wanna go back to the question I know everybody’s wondering, what is your perspective then, in an election where you only have these two candidates and we’re gonna be in that same position in the coming months where it, it seems like it’ll be Joe Biden and Trump, but whoever it is against Trump you’re gonna have two candidates and you’re going into the ballot box, a lot of Americans and especially Christians say I have to choose the best of two options that aren’t perfect.”
DAVID FRENCH: “So, I believe support for life is necessary but not sufficient. So in other words, for me for a candidate to earn my vote they have to be pro-life but just being pro-life by itself does not earn my vote. (I assume French means “pro-life” in terms of overturning Roe v. Wade. Here is where I part ways with French. While he is against Trump, he is still operating under a Christian Right political playbook. Evangelicals have tried to reduce abortions through political power for nearly half a century. They have failed. It is time for a new approach. Instead of giving all our money to politicians who give lip service to abortion, why not give it to agencies that promote adoption, crisis pregnancy centers, and other social service organizations. Why not support candidates with plans to reduce the poverty rate, especially in urban areas. This, it would seem, could also be a pro-life approach to politics. As French knows, the abortion rate dropped considerably under Barack Obama (although I think it is too early to tell if Democratic social policies had anything to do with it).
A person who is malicious, cruel, corrupt, incompetent. And let’s, let’s talk about the poor for a minute. Competence matters. You know, we cannot ignore the fact that right now we just had, in the last thirty days almost 50,000 Americans have died of coronavirus. The current unemployment numbers we’ve wiped out all the job gains since the Great Recession. There’s a four, an additional four million people filed for unemployment, on top of the 22 million before that. What happened? What happened? Now look, it’s going to be hard to deal with the pandemic, it’s going to be hard. But this president, Eric talks about his personal sacrifice for the country. This president misled America for week after week after week about the threat of the coronavirus. He misled, he exerted pressure inside his administration to minimize the threat of the coronavirus because he had his eye on the stock market. You want to talk about poverty, 26 million people– we have 50,000 dead. You know, when you talk about ‘Make America Great Again,’ I wasn’t thinking, ‘Well, better than Italy not as good as Taiwan.’ Ah, I wasn’t thinking, ‘Better than Spain, not as good as Germany.’ And our response to this, this is a pandemic that not only was foreseeable, it was foreseen. And he misled America. (Amen. I am glad to hear a conservative evangelical Christian acknowledge this).
You’re talking about sacrificing the country, this man is a draft-dodger. This man’s campaign tried to solicit aid from a geopolitical rival, tried to and was too inept to succeed. Tried to solicit aid from a geopolitical rival. Talking about putting his own personal success above the country, he tried to extort from a vulnerable ally locked in a military conflict with Russia, an investigation of a political rival and an investigation of a frankly insane conspiracy theory. You know so, we’re sitting here looking at this and I’m saying it’s necessary to be pro-life it’s hardly sufficient, and then the inflammation of racial tensions that goes right back to Tim Keller’s conversation we had earlier is inexcusable. (Again, I say Amen. This is French carrying out his responsibility to speak truth to power as a citizen in the Kingdom of God).
And so, we have all of these things and here’s what I have to say my view is: Are you salt and light when you inflict that maliciousness and cruelty on the United States of America, are you being salt and light? And I would say this: I don’t have just two choices. I can exercise a veto like Alabama Republicans did when they vetoed Roy Moore in 2017 in the race between Roy Moore and Doug Jones. Is America better off without Roy Moore in the Senate? I say yeah, I say yeah. You pick up the flag with a better candidate next time. But there’s all of this fear talk, America’s about to end, Evangelicals are on the, we’re isolated, we’re alone. What on Earth? We’re the most powerful religious movement in the world. We have a veto power over the political fortunes of one of the two great political parties of the most powerful nation in the history of the world. And we act as if we are some kind of persecuted minority on the edge of extinction, and that’s, I think grotesque. (French says Evangelicals “have a veto power over the political fortunes of one of the two great political parties of the most powerful nation in the history of the world. And we act as if we are some kind of persecuted minority on the edge of extinction.” Well said. Instead of exercising that veto power, evangelicals are held captive by a political party that they control).
GABE LYONS: “So David, your point, your point would be stay home, and if you’re only going to vote for Trump stay home, don’t get him elected, write in somebody else”
DAVID FRENCH: “Write in somebody else,”
ERIC METAXAS: “Right, write in somebody else-”
GABE :LYONS: “somebody else, somebody else so that for four years there maybe is a reset,”
DAVID FRENCH: “Exercise your veto.”
GABE LYONS: “So Eric, speak to this, because I think he’s right I think there’s–”
ERIC METAXAS: “Right, so so right, so so that–”
GABE LYONS: “Let me finish, ”
ERIC METAXAS: “Right”
GABE LYONS: “I think, I think there is this point that David’s making on fear, that we are sinking into the abyss, you’ve kinda used those words,”
ERIC METAXAS: “Right”
GABE LYONS: “About where our country is going,”
ERIC METAXAS: “Right”
GABE LYONS: “and with that point of view there is a fear that maybe that’s where we’re going and Trump’s God’s man to stop that, is that correct?”
ERIC METAXAS: “I think almost everything David said is utterly preposterous. Almost every single thing he just said. We don’t have time to go into it. If I believed what David said I would, I would be with him on this. If I thought that voting for Trump is based on fear, it’s nonsense. (When Metaxas faces a legitimate criticism and he does not have an answer, he tends to use the word “preposterous.” He did the same thing when Peter Wehner pointed out the flaws of his Christian Trumpism in a piece at The Atlantic. He also used this word to describe Mark Galli’s December 2019 anti-Trump editorial at Christianity Today).
First of all, we have to put things in context. If you allow someone like Biden to get in, or whoever, you are pulling the lever okay you can say, ‘Oh I’m not voting, I’m not really voting,’ If you allow someone like Hilary Clinton or Biden to get in office okay, socialism will effectively be enacted, you will screw the poor if you care about the poor, if you care about the unborn you’ve gotta do the dirty thing and vote for the guy you don’t like, vote for the guy that ah, did things that you disapprove of. (More fear-mongering. If Clinton or Biden gets elected, Metaxas says, “socialism will effectively be enacted, you will “screw the poor,” and you will “kill the unborn.” Just to clarify: Clinton and Biden are not socialists, the abortion rate is dropping, and I am not sure any of Trump’s court appointments or executive orders have saved the life of one unborn baby).
No one that I know of also, to refer to the most preposterous thing I think that David said the idea that Evangelicals are powerful, I mean you have people who live perfect lives like Tim Tebow or Mike Pence, they are mocked for living virtuously and for propounding a Christian view. So the idea that living those kinds of lives is going to be respected and is gonna give us some kind of witness, I don’t agree with that, in fact I think what gives us a witness with people who are on the fence people like my parents, who are not Evangelicals, who are certainly not racist and even the implication that people who voted for Trump is racist offends me deeply. Um, but I wanna say that, people like my parents, your average American, a working-class person says, ‘You know what would impress me about your Christianity? If you got off your butt and actually, like did some of the stuff that you talk about. Like if you would do that, if you would fight by the way for the unborn, like really fight, if you would really fight for the poor and you would dismiss, ah the woke critics if you would really do that and be a champion and fight, that would really impress me.’ (There are Christians dying all over the world from religious persecution and the best Metaxas can do is to bring up Tim Tebow and Mike Pence. Perhaps he is the one who needs to get off his butt and see what is going on in the world. But I will let French expound more fully in his answer below).
And I think this is, again, the irony that God chooses someone like Trump to shame the Church, to shame the people who are unwilling to get their hands dirty because they’re more obsessed with their own piety. I mean it’s no different to me than when Bonhoeffer was told, you know ‘You can’t get involved in a plot to kill the head of state, you’re gonna dirty your hands.’ Ah, if the gestapo comes to your door and says, ‘Are you hiding a Jew?’ as a Christian you can’t lie you have to say ‘Yes, I’m hiding a Jew come in and kill and torture the Jew, and then I’m justified before God isn’t that wonderful?’ That’s not Christianity, that’s not Biblical, it’s despicable and I think our enemies, the ones who are really looking to see whether we’re Christians or not, that’s the kind of thing that impresses them. If we’re willing to get our hands dirty and risk, you know looking like oh, suddenly we’re pro-adultery as if David or I could ever be suddenly pro-porn star or pro-adultery, I don’t think so.”
DAVID FRENCH: “So wait a minute, your example of oppressed Christians is the sitting Vice President of the United States of America and one of the wealthier and more influential sports casters and athletes in the United States? That’s not oppression.”
ERIC METAXAS: “I didn’t call them oppressed.”
DAVID FRENCH: “Getting mocked, getting mocked—”
ERIC METAXAS: “I said that they were mocked.”
DAVID FRENCH: “That’s, so what? Christians have been mocked our entire existence on this earth, look and we talk about—”
ERIC METAXAS: “But your thesis is that if we’d live well, if we’re not immoral we’re going to be praised and we’re going to have important witness.”
DAVID FRENCH: “No, I never said that I never said those words, never said those words, never said those words. Now listen, if you want to talk about getting your hands dirty. At one point I had sued more universities on behalf of Christians who are being actually excluded from campus on behalf of, you know professors Christian professors who are being denied job opportunities than any other lawyer. I formed the first pro-life, dedicated pro-life club at Harvard Law School, 20, ah gosh man a long time ago, 28 years ago. Um, I was a keynote speaker at Students for Life of America and I said to those students when I was at ADF, ‘If you’re pro-life and you have a problem on campus we’re gonna represent you for free I don’t care where you are in the country.’ And we kept that promise, and ADF keeps that promise still today, amazing organization.
So to say that I have not or in any way imply that somebody like me has not gotten their hands dirty I have gotten my hands dirty my entire life. And one of the things that I have seen is that this catastrophe flight-93 emergency rhetoric has been a disservice to the Christian community. You know, when I started litigating on college campuses 75% of college campuses had a clearly unconstitutional speech code. That’s down to 25%.
Do you want to talk about the primacy of protecting unborn lives? The abortion rate peaked with Ronald Reagan in around 80/81. It has gone down, it went down during Reagan’s two terms, George H. W. Bush, it went down during Clinton’s it went down during George W. Bush it went down during Barack Obama’s to the point where the abortion rate in the United States right now is substantially below what it was when Roe was decided and abortion was actually illegal in some states. That’s the product of patient, faithful, getting your hands dirty Christian witness. And I’m sorry, Donald Trump a malicious, cruel, incompetent, abuser of women is not my champion, and no Christian needs him. No Christian needs him as their champion.”
ERIC METAXAS: “I agree with that, no Christian needs him we need God. But the point is, to put things in context, Bill Clinton while he was in the White House, while he was President of the United States, did sexual acts in the Oval Office with someone the age of my daughter in the Green Room, okay? JFK routinely, the guy on our fifty cent piece, routinely brought prostitutes into the White House. So, to talk about what Trump did sexually ten years ago, fifteen years ago, the very idea that if somebody like that did what JFK or Clinton did now, I would be at the head of the line wanting their heads on a pike. We are not talking about that, we are talking about a man that a lot of people don’t like, and he expresses himself in ways that often I don’t like, but when the poor are on the line, when when real human beings in the womb are on the line, I simply don’t see how anything that has been said here or has been said would get me to allow someone like Joe Biden or a Hilary Clinton to genuinely destroy America forever and we haven’t even touched on Cavanaugh.”
DAVID FRENCH: “Wait wait a minute, you say it’s not fear based, and yet you just said that Joe Biden will destroy America forever.”
ERIC METAXAS: “Correct, correct.”
DAVID FRENCH: “Fear based, fear.”
GABE LYON: “Okay, so our time is coming to a close, and I think as people have listened to this they’ve probably come away as I’m listening to the two of you that look, these are two just different views of the same facts, right? There’s, there’s facts that you’re looking at and you’re drawing conclusions. Eric’s looking at certain facts and drawing conclusions. And there’s a lot of disagreement. I think a perfectly represents a lot of the conversations families are having around their own tables, kids are having with parents, Christians are having with one another and this isn’t gonna slow down so here’s what I want to ask from each one of you: What would you say to one another, as we go into the next six months? I don’t want you to talk to me I want you to talk to each other. Thirty seconds, but just, what is your hope for how the other side of this viewpoint could go through these next six months in a way that doesn’t promote more incivility but as Christians there could be some recognition, I mean can you recognize that there’s good-will in Eric’s point of view and Eric can you recognize the good-will in David’s point of view, that he holds, both of you hold it with such conviction. I think anybody listening to this goes, ‘These are two, incredibly convicted men who are Christians, who love God, who love the unborn, and they both just have a different view on how to handle this current moment.’ So I’m gonna let you guys do that, thirty seconds.
Eric, what would you say to David about how you hope these next several months, how you, how the Never-Trumper world could try to reach someone like you who is holding to a convicted view and then we’ll have David–”
ERIC METAXAS: “Yeah, well first of all I would just say, ah you know David, I love you, you are my brother in Christ and when I hear what you have done, um, you were just talking about what you did you know, with regard to litigation I mean I cannot tell you how grateful I am to you for that. We have a significant disagreement, I think the key is to not demonize the people on the other side and I have tried hard not, not to do that. It, it is tough but I think that part of the ugliness of this time is we’ve given ourselves permission to hate, to hate each other. I know many people who despise Never-Trumpers, or I know people that despise Trump and I think as Christians, we have to pray for our enemies, we have to love our enemies we have to do what we can. That will be the witness and it’s difficult, but I ask God’s grace that I would be able to be better at that than I’ve been.”
DAVID FRENCH: “Well you know I think we can’t let politics become idolatry. And we can’t allow that, a person’s differing view on politics to be seen as the definition of the person. Um, I’ve had lots of disagreements with fellow Evangelicals over the last several years and I get these people who say, who share my view on Trump, ‘How can you respect somebody…’ and then they refer in, the entire indictment, the entire indictment is the view of Trump, as if that’s the totality of a human being. You know, I hope and pray that I am right in the things that I said. I also recognize that I know in part, I see through a glass darkly. And I pray that if I’m wrong, at well I’m confident that if I’m wrong you know it’s under the blood of Jesus. And, at the end of the day, Lord willing who knows, we’ll have long life after this and we will be working side-by-side to protect the unborn, to protect religious liberty. And more important than that, in service and worship of Jesus Christ. And so I hope and I pray that this is but a passing dispute.”
GABE LYONS: “Yeah, well I really appreciate you taking that point of view. And you both just taking time, I mean I think everybody watching appreciates the humility in a moment like this where we do get pretty confident about our facts or about how we’re gonna pursue it and maybe want to persuade others towards that but, to David’s last point we’re gonna be brothers and sisters for a long time as the church. And let’s, let’s consider where there are these places where we can find common ground let’s walk through this season in a way that honors Christ but also is deeply convicted. I love hearing the conviction from each of these men and I think it should inspire us to know what we think, to know what we believe and to not shy away from that. To be bold, courageous, and to share those views because there’s a watching world who’s curious and interested and wants to be informed. So I want to thank both of you for spending this time with us. I really, really greatly appreciate it.”
I stopped commenting because I had nothing new to say on the issues raised in the rest of the debate. While I appreciate that Metaxas and French found common ground in the end, we cannot let this happy ending let us forget that the differences between these two men are important. They have implications for the state of the nation, the witness of the church in the world, and human lives.