I love Donald Trump. I love him with my whole heart, mind, and soul.
Ok, that’s a lie. The truth is that I find both Trump and Hillary Clinton difficult to love.
All of the presidential elections in my lifetime have been laced with pitfalls for Christians. This one, however, seems even more fraught than usual. As a priest, it is not my job to endorse or denounce candidates for office. I will not tell you who you should or should not vote for. However, as a priest I am also called upon to proclaim the truth of the Gospel, and both the Trump campaign and the Clinton campaign have staked out positions that are antithetical to that Gospel in one way or another.
Trump’s plan to ban Muslims from entering the country, along with his attacks on people of Latino heritage both at home and abroad, do not square with the call of Scripture to treat aliens in our midst as equals (Ezek. 47:21-23) and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Lev. 19:18, Mark 12:30-31, Rom. 13:9, etc.).
Likewise, Clinton’s plan to expand abortion, and even to make taxpayers pay for it, would make Christians complicit in an evil act that the Church has recognized as the destruction of innocent life at least since the writing of the Didache in the late first century or early second century.
And these are just two examples of how both campaigns imperil Christian moral teaching. I haven’t even touched on issues of personal character, or valid social and economic questions about which Christians might legitimately disagree.
So how is it possible to love people like this? How can I say that I love people who so consistently thwart the moral imperatives of my faith?
Because I must. Because if I don’t love them, I’m failing to live up to the very same standards that I am decrying them for not meeting.
When the Bible tells us that we should love our neighbors, it is not a suggestion. God wants us to do more than just love people in a generic sense, loving the category of “neighbors” but not necessarily the individuals who fall within it. Scripture and the historic teaching of the Church are clear. We are to love each person as ourselves.
That includes our “enemies.” It includes people we dislike or find difficult. It certainly includes our political opponents. We are to love them, which means that we are to will their well-being above our own. We are to recognize that they are children of God just as we are, people whom Jesus died for just like we are, and that this makes them holy. Every human being reflects God’s own life. Each person, no matter how marred by sin, is a miracle of God’s own rendering.
I must confess that I am quite bad at this. I have trouble loving the person who cuts me off in traffic, let alone politicians whose policies I believe will be profoundly harmful to the future of our nation.
I find this particularly hard in the case of Donald Trump, not because I am more politically fond of Hillary Clinton (I am not), but because Trump pushes all my buttons. Almost daily, Trump reminds me of the bullies I knew as a kid. He treats people with blatant disrespect, attacking those whom he deems weaker than himself, like women and the disabled, and then he refuses to offer any apologies for this behavior when he is called on it. When I turn on the radio in the morning or open the newspaper, I am constantly confronted with things about Trump that make my blood boil.
But what I have come to realize more and more lately is that I actually like the anger. I enjoy the outrage. If a news story has Trump’s name in it, I am far more likely to read it in the hopes of feeling some sort of self-righteous response. I get a hit of dopamine off of my growing disgust. And that is a sin of which I need to repent.
A tremendous portion of media coverage is designed to bring about just such a response. This is not new. For the last few decades, the rise of 24-hour news and the invention of social media have contributed to a widening gap of empathy in our nation. We consume our news now largely based on which side of the aisle we want to identify with, feeding on our outrage about each new infraction from the other side. We are “red” or “blue” now. We watch politics the way that we watch sports, rooting for our team to win and wishing all manner of devastation upon the other team.
It stimulates the pleasure centers in our brains. It sells ads. It gets clicks.
I am not saying that we should not care deeply about politics and public policy. These things matter a great deal. As Christians, we should be disturbed by how little moral good finds its way into either of the platforms of the major parties, and how drastically we have been asked to compromise our values in this and in every election cycle, in order to bring Candidate X in so that we can keep Candidate Y out.
But in the midst of our legitimate passion for the issues that matter to us, have we lost sight of the most basic Christian imperative? If we have come to the point where we fail to see Christ in our political opponents, then we have got to take a step back.
I will not be able to see Christ in myself unless and until I can see Christ in Donald Trump. This is true even if Trump cannot or will not see Christ in me or others like me.
For those of you who find it more challenging to love Clinton, go ahead and insert her name for Trump’s in the preceding paragraph. The point remains the same.
I urge American Christians to commit for the remainder of this political season to take five minutes each day to pray for both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. I recommend that you do it first thing in the morning, before you turn on the television or the radio or open your iPad to learn about the latest slight.
Don’t just pray for them quickly. Take the time to really think about them as human beings, about their families, about their feelings, about what it is like to live in their shoes. Pray for their well-being. Pray that God would bless them. Pray that God would help you to see his image emblazoned on them.
It may not change your vote, but it just might change your heart. And in the end, that may turn out to be the most valuable change that our country needs.