Should U.S. Christians succumb to temptations Jesus clearly rejected?
Put another way: Should American Christians desire to be “protected”?
That’s what presidential candidate Donald Trump promised during a speech at Liberty University Jan. 18. “We’re going to protect Christianity,” he told his audience. He described Christians as maintaining a 70 percent to 75 percent majority in America, adding, “some people say even more, the power we have.” And he called for Americans to ban together around Christianity, just as his host school has done.
To begin with, Trump’s premise—Christians in this nation need to be protected—is suspect.
Although some Christians claim recent government mandates impose upon their conscience, the courts have been siding with free conscience and giving Christians a break. Also, even though white Christians’ societal dominance has eroded (and race seems to be part of this equation), every presidential candidate up to and including Bernie Sanders, a secular Jew, is courting them. Just because Christianity—particularly the Protestant/evangelical branch—has lost some of its cultural caché doesn’t mean Christians need to be protected.
But even if Trump were correct, should Christians bargain for protection?
This was a central issue in two of the three temptations Jesus faced when he began his ministry. He had to answer: What kind of Messiah would he be? If he patterned himself after centuries of expectation and contemporary wisdom, he would be a military victor and a political titan. Of course, he rejected those notions.
In one temptation, the devil led Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem and told him to jump (Luke 4:9-12). Satan quoted Psalm 91:1-2, reminding Jesus that God the Father had promised to send angels to protect him from all harm. Jesus countered with Deuteronomy 6:16, spurning the temptation to seek security.
Of course, Jesus is divine, and Christians are not. But if we seek to follow him closely and accept the name that means “little Christs,” then we should pattern our lives after his and make decisions as he would make them. So, trading our loyalty for “protection,” should be outside the bounds of acceptable Christian behavior.
When you think about it, however, Trump’s promise of protection even more closely mirrors another temptation Jesus faced (Luke 4:5-8). The devil took Jesus to a high place and “showed him all the kingdoms of the world.” Satan told him: “I will give you all this domain and its glory, for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore, if you worship before me, it shall be yours.” Jesus repudiated that temptation, quoting Deuteronomy 6:13 and 10:20, a command that echoes from Moses to this day: “You shall worship the Lord your God and serve him only.”
This temptation represents Trump’s deeper pitch: You want a place at the table? You want a seat of power? Support me, and I will give it to you.
Trump, as is his style, said it most bluntly. But others have and will suggest it more subtly. “Vote for me, and all your wildest dreams will come true.” “Vote for me, and I’ll make sure you stay on top of all the ‘others.’”
If we hold fast to our faith, we will respond as Jesus, who rejected a deal with the devil.
Editor’s Note: This editorial was modified Jan. 21 to correct a quote in the third paragraph. That quote was changed from “I’m going to protect Christians” to “We’re going to protect Christianity” and to add the context of his call for the majority of Americans to ban together around Christianity.