Stephanie Phillips A former New Yorker by way of Alabama who now lives in Atlanta with her husband and their two young sons. She is a pediatric dentist by trade and contributing writer to The Wheelhouse Review and Mockingbird in addition to her own blog, Plans in Pencil. When not writing, fixing teeth, or raising the next generation of men, she enjoys running, cooking, reading, and watching way too much TV and Netflix.
No one has ever accused politicians of being the ultimate truth-tellers. But this election cycle, one candidate—who prides himself on not being a politician—claims to have the corner on the truth market, inasmuch as “truth” means saying the things no one else will say, or that everyone else is afraid to say. Or so he says.
I’ve watched along with all of you (often through my fingers, covering my face with my hand) as Donald Trump has verbally waylaid anyone in his path, from Megyn Kelly to the global Muslim community. Just last week I read that, in response to Kelly’s comments about him in a Vanity Fair article, Trump called her “so average in every way.” These comments don’t sound to me like someone interested in speaking the truth as much as ridiculing his naysayers, much like the schoolyard bully who alternates between insults and punches on his quest to gain playground authority. But something about it worked: Trump’s poll numbers continued to rise to the bafflement of some voters and the delight of others. The juggernaut he’s helming can’t be dismissed. Which leads me, in a mixture of head-scratching and frustration, to ask: What’s going on here?
Over at The Atlantic, Jonathan Merritt dissects the question “Why Do Evangelicals Support Donald Trump?” It’s a fair one, given Trump’s scattered and oft-changing social views. To me, though, the matter goes deeper than political viewpoint. It’s a matter of the heart, and Merritt hits on it at the end of his article, when he cites Evangelicals’ growing disenchantment with “the establishment” and the media, born of politically and socially conservative Christians’ feeling of being abandoned by the former and unheard by the latter. Still, though, the question remains: Why do they care?
To a perennially picked-on kid, an alliance with the schoolyard bully is just the ticket: It ensures protection and an osmotic power that feeds both ego and sense of security. A voter who feels misunderstood by the media and political establishment wants a leader who will speak loudly and carry a big stick—and stand up for his rights. But this exposes where the victim believes his power truly lies. Consider a passage from one of the Donald’s favorite books of the Bible, Two Corinthians:
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed,but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
Paul and company were writing letters from prison, their hands shackled, as they headed toward imminent execution. Believers were never meant to be the segment of society more focused on wielding power than love; our security was never and never will be found in the halls of government; we live in an upside-down Kingdom where the last is first and the first is last and death really leads to life. In light of that, what is the believer’s response to politically-driven ridicule costumed as truth?
That word, truth, is a funny thing: It’s easily misidentified when the person speaking it has a voice that carries, or incites shock, or goes against the tacitly agreed-upon flow of argument. Stomping onto a stage and yelling your opinion more loudly than everyone else doesn’t mean you’re telling the truth, though; it might just mean you’re grandstanding. What makes words truthful is their ultimate source, not the mouth from which they’re erupting. I don’t expect any of the candidates to blow us away with their honesty—there’s too much poll-figuring and word-weighing going on with lawyers and publicists for that—and in that sense, there is an ironic whiff of refreshing wind that comes along the tails of one who appears to speak without fear of reprisal. But let’s not call this truth.
Christians need only consult what Donald claims is his favorite book to find their place in this whole unfolding drama: As the beloved, whose future is secure, no matter who’s ahead in the polls. It is from the Word that they—that I—can know how to respond to politics both correct and incorrect. It’s when the gospel is alive and working in my heart that I can speak what is winsome, wise, loving, honest—and true.