Faith Opinion Politics Race & Ethnicity Tobin Grant: Corner of Church and State

Trump isn’t Hitler: It’s OK for a person of faith to vote for Trump

The Garrison Church in Potsdam, Germany is notorious in modern German history as the place where Reich president Paul von Hindenburg, a former general resplendent in full uniform, medals and spiked helmet, symbolically handed over power to the new Chancellor Adolf Hitler on March 21, 1933.

I despise nearly every statement and policy position of Donald Trump. But even as I oppose his candidacy, I can’t join the chorus of those who equate voting for Trump as support for injustice.

A recent statement by Christian religious leaders says that we are now in “a moral and theological crisis.” Normally, Christians cannot agree to disagree about political choices. Not so this year. Now is a time when “political realities…threaten the fundamental integrity of Christian faith and the well-being of society itself.”

Religion News Service columnist David Gushee helped draft the letter. Gushee wrote that the signers felt that “the Trump phenomenon challenges Christians at a core moral level, such that faithfulness to Jesus Christ is at stake in how American Christians respond to him.”

Gushee says that the letter draws upon the tradition of confessional resistance that occurred during Nazi Germany and Apartheid South Africa. The letter does not compare Trump to these two crises. It does, however, present the Trump candidacy as a crisis in which Christians should oppose Trump; to do less than to resist Trump is to support evil and injustice.

Personally, I find Trump’s positions antithetical to the Christian faith (as well as to Judaism, Islam, and every other major faith tradition). Outside of First Baptist Church in Dallas, few religious leaders see Trump as the moral choice.

But is this a moral and theological crisis? Is the Trump candidacy something so repugnant that Christians must oppose it, just as they were morally obligated to oppose the Nazis or apartheid?

Trump isn’t Hitler. As the Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt persuasively argues, comparisons of anyone to Hitler falls short. While the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) decries Trump’s statements, they recognize the order of magnitude difference between a bigoted candidate and a genocidal dictator.

As in years past, religious leaders should oppose positions and candidates while recognizing the complexity of a political decision. There is a difference between voting for a candidate who holds unjust positions and voting for a candidate because of those positions.

It’s true that Trump is popular among those with racist views including white supremacist hate groups. But this doesn’t mean people will vote for Trump to support his bigotry.

I’m not an ethicist like Gushee. Nor am I a religious leader (thank God). I’m a political scientist who has spent way too much time thinking about why people vote.

People don’t vote based on reasoned arguments or theological positions. For most people, a vote is a decision based on their partisanship and the national economy. They care about how the candidate will help or hurt groups to which they belong: race, gender, ethnicity, and religion. And then throw in candidate characteristics and idiosyncratic reasons.

I know good people who object to Trump’s bigotry who may still vote for him. Unlike most of the signers, I live in one of the poorest parts of the country.

We’ve lost manufacturing jobs that have moved Mexico and China. We’ve lost even more jobs as coal mines have starting closing in response to new regulations. Many see NAFTA as a trade agreement that did far more harm than good.

Our families have taken the heaviest cost in recent wars. We all know men and women who have been deployed to Iraq (my university even had to create a special withdrawal grade for students who were deployed during the semester).

And, being in a rural area with few police, the gun issue is truly seen as a right to protect oneself.

Would it be wrong that one of my neighbors, decides that despite Trump’s bigotry that he is the candidate who is the better choice as president?

These religious leaders should recognize that politics, even this year, is a mix of good and evil, justice and injustice, civility and vulgarity.

It could be worse. We could have a candidate who calls for the destruction of synagogues and the banishment of Jews from Christian neighborhoods. We could have a candidate who prints vulgar attacks on opponents, calling them “shitters” who need to “eat shit.” And don’t even ask about his views of the Pope.

I’m not talking Hitler. This is good old Martin Luther—Republicans should be happy that Luther is not their candidate this year.

I don’t expect any of the letter signers to reject Luther as antithetical to the Christian faith. They know that it’s one can praise Luther despite his anti-semitism and vulgarity. They certainly appreciate the good from Luther’s life and work while disavowing his bigotry.

Religious leaders are right to denounce the many, many policies advocated by Trump that they find unjust. It’s too far, however, to treat this year’s vote as a test of one’s faith. I’ll be standing against Trump, but I expect I’ll be spending my Sundays with some Trump supporters with stronger faiths than mine.

Don’t miss any more posts from the Corner of Church & State. Click the red subscribe button in the right-hand column. Follow @TobinGrant on Twitter and on the Corner of Church & State Facebook page.

About the author

Tobin Grant

@TobinGrant blogs for Religion News Service at Corner of Church and State, a data-driven conversation on religion and politics. He is a political science professor at Southern Illinois University and associate editor of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.


Click here to post a comment

  • Are you fucking kidding me? Show me one poll, just one, that suggests people support Trump despite his bigotry and not because of it. Then go read Jamelle Bouie if David Gushee can’t persuade you.

  • Grant, you are right, the Great and Powerful Trump isn’t Hitler. But very,very few politicians are and if that is the standard you set for judging those politicians’ character you might as well not have a standard at all. Your conscience is your own when it comes to voting, but I will never vote for a candidate as manifestly unfit for the office as Trump. And I’ll have real difficulty voting for any candidate for the Senate or House that doesn’t unequivocally disavow him.

  • Luther is praise-worthy?

    Trump is support-worthy?

    I will likely find myself voting against Hillary and her ardent support for the abortion industry. And her negligent ignorance of Mexicans and people of faith are on par with Mr. Trump — as the Secretary of State embarrassingly demonstrated during her state visit to Mexico City.

    But making a prudential choice when caught between a rock and a hard place does not constitute “support” for the rock.

  • I’d say that Tobin Grant is more giving the benefit of the doubt, and considering that some Trump voters are voting for him due to fear of these uncertain economic times (voting behavior that seems bad to me considering what a charlatan Trump is). I’m personally seeing that some Trump voters have benign reasons as Grant describes, but they are in the minority of Trump’s base; more of them are the kind who are overtly prejudiced and hateful.

  • Stats Math disagrees:

    Taking most recent Trump V Clinton poll, Trump has support of 40.8%.

    Finding a poll on racism is actually proving to be hard, but it seems like the biggest amount of racism I can find in a recent study is this:

    Which reports 13% of people in 2013 holding racist views. I have not found a good survey showing higher levels of racism.

    So mathematically, generously assuming that all racists a Trump supporters, this means that 68.14% of Trump supporters ((.408-.13)/.408) are not racist themselves.

    Statistically, it looks like you’re wrong.

  • So now begins the justification by faith. It didn’t take long for a “Conservative Christian” to start to justify his vote. The author is such a conservative he can see himself vote for any other party but Republican. WOW! Face it your brand of Conservative Christianity isn’t about helping the less fortunate, it is about keep the rules that dehumanize people

  • This is a sleazy change of mind from the “Resist Trump” demand for christians, which is STILL ON THE SAME PAGE!

  • Of course, we can. We each must choose between the Democrat, the Republican, some third party, or abstain from voting.

    We may complain that we do not like any of these choices, but we must choose.

    I am saying that making an unpleasant choice does not mean that we support the candidate.

    We have until November to make our choices. The latest news on Mr. Trump offers a window to hope:

  • I was going to post a longer response to your “stats math,” but then I realized that if you think that only 13% of the US population hold racist views, you don’t quite understand racism, much less how to measure it. Especially in Trump’s case. To wit:

    “Tesler’s findings are illustrated in the accompanying chart. There was a dose effect: The higher you scored on racial resentment, the more likely you were to support Trump; the more you resented immigrants or professed your white ethnocentrism, the likelier you were to plan to vote for Trump.”

    Like Grant, you also seem to be missing a more important point: people who vote for Trump despite his racism are still complicit with his racism.

  • fortunately your absurd opinions were posted to a website that will be seen by a very small audience. this is a despicable, disgusting point of view and you should be ashamed. You don’t know one single thing about jesus christ – literally not one – if your position is that a vote Trump is not antithetical to being a christian or a person of faith in general. Absolutely despicable.

  • Trump is not Hitler, of course. If he were, he should have some “greatness” in his madness, and being less mad about possessions and absolute power, unlike Adolph, the failed painter and the unmarried ditactor without sons. Being not as “so bad as” can mean “to be worse”. Without an end in sight or supervison, a windmill is just that, and will end in shambles.

    Nothing worse than a ship adrift, with no one commanding. What will be next? Random rebellions, murders at will, canibalism, bombing friends and sparing ennemies? Adolph was even greater in his lies: Donald is a Disney’s Pinocchio’s apprentice. At the end, with Trump and Company, you can have also millions dead and no one to try at Nuremberg. Much better!

    Meanwhile, Hitler did not command the only world’s superpower. This was only his ambition. Fortunately, frustrated.

    If the author wants, he can try also the comparison with Genghis Kahn, the “christian warrior”.

  • Also, let’s put this data point into the conversation, shall we?

    “Again, the outliers here are evangelicals and Republicans (especially compared to Democrats), both of which are significantly less likely than the general population to support the [Black Lives] movement (13% of evangelicals and 7% of Republicans compared to 27% of all adults).”

    Let that sink in: 87% of evangelicals, one of Trump’s key voting blocs, can’t bring themselves to say that black lives matter.

  • Did you read the article? The author is standing AGAINST Trump. He just noted that to equate a vote for Trump as equivalent to voting for Hitler is simply not applicable.
    Personally I am against Trump as well, but to say that friends or family who support him are either in line with all his views & lifestyle is simply naïve.
    Additionally conservative Christianity always helps the unfortunate more than their liberal counterparts. Their giving to charity exceeds those who prefer the government meet the needs of the less fortunate. This in spite of the abject failure of government to effectively ever do so.

  • Tobin Grant. My moral concerns re: Trump are about the trajectory the nation is on, with Trump at the head. No, he is not a Hitler, and he probably won’t be. Because citizens apply common beliefs about race, religion, point-of-view. That can change.

  • What “rules” that dehumanize people? Do you mean not bearing false witness? Is anyone becoming more human when they falsely claim Trump ever made a racist remark? Or maybe you’re referring to the “rule” that declares that the human trafficking that occurs across the border is an objective evil. Or maybe you mean the “rule” that views drug gangs as being involved in objective evil. Perhaps it’s more “human” to not allow them to feel too guilty about destroying lives.

  • Completely disagree. A vote for Trump IS a vote for Hitler and his Nazis. Trump’s campaign didn’t just take a page out of the Mein Kampf handbook, he is following it like a some sort of instruction manual.
    But you know what? that isn’t the problem. Hitler, just like Trump, couldn’t do it himself…he needed his masses of like-minded people to support him.
    People look at Hitler like he was some sort of monster…but truthfully, he wasn’t the one experimenting on humans, making human skin lampshades, raping, torturing, or murdering the Jewish, Gypsies, Gays. He wasn’t the one who received perverse pleasure by doing these acts….it was carried out by those who hated these groups….In other words, his followers.
    There has been some scholarly articles that even question whether Hitler even disliked Jews, but rather, knowing the antisemitism prevalent during that time, grabbed on to it to feed peoples hatred.
    No, when he was around giving his impassioned speeches, I doubt many saw him as the true terror that he was or what would happen in the coming years.
    Hindsight is 20/20.
    History should teach us exactly the danger that Trump is. The signs and indicators are all there, glaring us in the face.
    If you support Trump, you support the Hitler mindset. You are a Nazi. (not the political movement – worse – those that would want dehumanize and torture people) If your Christianity doesn’t have a problem with that….then please, don’t darken the door of my church. Our morals are set higher than that.