Wayne Grudem’s got some ‘splainin to do.
The author of Systematic Theology provoked a strong reaction from many fellow Christians recently when he published a 5,000-word article that stated voting for Donald Trump was “morally good” and voting for Hillary Clinton was sinful. Conservative Christian leaders have long claimed that presidents should be people of strong moral character, and Trump is a thrice-married, foul-mouthed, casino-owning womanizer who once appeared on the cover of Playboy magazine and operated a Atlantic City strip club under his name. Not exactly a bastion of evangelical ethics.
But Grudem’s recent comments are even stranger in light of Grudem’s past comments. In 2007, Grudem penned a column titled, “Why Evangelicals Should Support Mitt Romney.” The majority of the article was unremarkable, but the final paragraph is worth considering in light of his Trump endorsement (emphasis mine):
So it seems to me that if evangelicals don’t support Romney in a significant way, Giuliani will be the Republican candidate. So then we will have a pro-abortion, pro-gay rights candidate who is on his third marriage and had a messy affair prior to his divorce from his second wife. Then we will lose any high moral ground and the enthusiasm of the evangelical vote (many of whom will just sit it out), and the difference between Giuliani and Clinton will be only one of degrees as he shifts leftward in the general election to appeal to the “middle.” So then if we lose, we lose, and even if we win, we lose on the crucial moral issues of abortion and protection of marriage. Romney is a much better choice. But he needs evangelical support now if he is going to win.
If you have enough sense to pack an umbrella on a rainy day, you already see the contradiction. To oppose Giuliani, Grudem argued that character mattered. To support Trump, Grudem argues that “flawed” character isn’t disqualifying. In 2007, Grudem argued that voting for a thrice-married and adulterous Giuliani meant forfeiting the “high moral ground.” In 2016, Grudem contends that voting for a thrice-married and adulterous Trump is “morally good.”
In fact, Grudem barely mentions Trump’s marital history in his 5,000-word endorsement: “[Trump] has been married three times and claims to have been unfaithful in his marriages. These are certainly flaws, but I don’t think they are disqualifying flaws in this election.”
Wayne Grudem did not respond to requests for comment, so we can only speculate how he might explain this apparent double standard. Then again, a shifting standard is consistent with Grudem’s approach to politics stretching back to at least 1998. On November 13th of that year, he joined more than 150 scholars in affirming a statement that lambasted President Clinton’s character flaws. The letter stated, in part (emphasis mine):
We are aware that certain moral qualities are central to the survival of our political system, among which are truthfulness, integrity, respect for the law, respect for the dignity of others, adherence to the constitutional process, and a willingness to avoid the abuse of power. We reject the premise that violations of these ethical standards should be excused so long as a leader remains loyal to a particular political agenda and the nation is blessed by a strong economy….We are particularly troubled about the debasing of the language of public discourse with the aim of avoiding responsibility for one’s actions.
The sentence in bold here is the exact argument that Grudem made in his Trump endorsement.
He admits that Trump is “egotistical, bombastic, and brash…. Sometimes he blurts out mistaken ideas (such as bombing the families of terrorists) that he later must abandon. He insults people. He can be vindictive when people attack him.” In case you were wondering, murdering terrorists’ families is a violation of international law and the dignity of innocent human life. But Grudem overlooks the standard he once upheld because Trump “remains loyal to a particular political agenda” when it comes to Supreme Court justices, abortion, Israel, terrorism, “executive orders and bathrooms,” and other matters.
When it suits his goals, he attacks a candidate’s personal failures. When it doesn’t, he overlooks the very same shortcomings. Wayne Grudem may be a capable theologian, but he has turned out to be a poor political scientist. On second thought, maybe he should stop ‘splainin when it comes to politics.