Paul and Trump don’t share a lot in common on the surface. Paul was a Mediterranean Jew; Trump is a New York Presbyterian. Paul was an itinerate preacher; Trump a real estate magnate. But for all their differences, they do share this: they have both been labeled “misogynist.” And “chauvinist.” And “racist.” And a threat to civilized society. Both the Apostle Paul and our President-Elect have been accused of telling the crowds whatever they wanted to hear, of being a hypocrite and a threat to the nation’s morality. Both Paul and Trump have been accused of misbehaving. We just published a book on Paul Behaving Badly.
In spite of numerous stories of misbehavior, Trump was elected president. Like this poster from a Trump rally, some American Christians may be celebrating the arrival of the Kingdom of God on earth. But other American Christians are grieving the end of civilization. We need a bit of perspective. As Scot McKnight noted in his blog, I can’t imagine early Christians campaigning for either Nero or Brittannicus to be the emperor to succeed Claudius. While one or the other may have been better for Christians, they would not have put their hopes for the future on either one. Their hopes were elsewhere.
There may or may not have ever been a time when America was a “Christian nation,” but most would agree that it certainly isn’t now. Christian values are no longer part and parcel of American culture. So, where do we go from here?
Paul didn’t have this problem. Rome wasn’t friendly to Christians (or to Jews, for that matter). There were no general elections, no voice of the everyman. And the sort of sign-carrying, slogan-shouting demonstrations Americans love to be involved in would get you killed in Paul’s Rome. Indeed Paul was killed for less than that.
Although Paul never had our problem, he still plots a map for us. Paul encouraged Christians to pray for those in authority (1 Tim. 2:2), recognizing that at the time this meant the pagan, Nero. But Paul goes further and tells us to be obedient to these authorities (Tit. 3:1). I am confident Paul would encourage American Christians are to work at being good at both–being good Americans and being good Christians.
“But what if it’s a bad government?” we might protest. The one Paul was talking about wasn’t good Christian government. Trump on his worst day will still be friendlier to Christianity than Nero was on his best day. The rules don’t change when government changes. For Paul, we were unquestionably to be loyal members of the empire—pay our taxes and keep the laws.
But most importantly, we need to remember where our highest loyalty lies: “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20). This past election, one group of Christians sold their soul to the Republican Party, while another group sold their soul to the Democratic Party. The real problem was that Christians had sold their souls. If we put our hopes for a future on any American President, then we have our hopes on the wrong King.