Dear Mr. President,
I am writing an open letter to you because you understand social media and because I have at least a chance you might read this. As I write, we are less than a year away from the election that will either give you a second term or send you into the less distinguished ranks of defeated presidents. But why do I write to you in the first place? I want to straighten things out between you and the evangelicals the press ties to you like a gun in a holster on your hip.
When you ran for the Republican nomination in 2015 and 2016, I thought you were completely out of your league. I didn’t think you had the knowledge, the network, or the support to become a president. On the other hand, I always gave you credit that others denied. I know it takes an impressive person to figure out how to build skyscrapers in the great cities of the world. But I’ll be straight with you. I opposed you all the way to the bitter end of the nominating process. I voted for Marco Rubio, but Ted Cruz was right next to him in my mind. And then I would have voted for every single one of your opponents before you. I remember begging people not to vote for you during the primary season.
When you carried the Republican flag against Hillary Clinton, I sometimes believed the whole thing was an elaborate conspiracy designed to elect her. I doubted you on judges. I doubted you on pro-life. I doubted you had any idea of what to do with the government once you had it. But you had something going for you. I knew exactly what to expect from the Democrats. You, at least, were a wild card. I didn’t go to early voting because I wasn’t settled. On the morning of election day, I stood in the booth still not sure what I would do. But then I remembered that the best human being I have ever known was voting for you (I won’t name the person here). I held my breath and pulled the lever for Donald Trump.
I’ll never forget election night. I was stunned when you prevailed. (I think you were, too.) But the thing I felt most of all was relief that Secretary Clinton did not win. I know that many of my neverTrumper friends felt the same way. At the time, I think even Bill Kristol would have said so.
According to polls, 81% of white evangelicals voted for you. That has led to a lot of high and mighty judgment (sometimes from the other 19%) castigating us for the decision we made. In terms of your policies, I think we did the right thing. The economy is humming (and benefitting the least of these) thanks to your realistic view of the competitive international tax situation and your insistence on reducing red tape. You have redressed trade imbalances, especially with China. You’ve avoided getting us into another Middle Eastern morass, while simultaneously dealing favorably with Israel (quite a feat). Most important, you have kept your promise on judges. Both the sanctity of life and religious liberty are stronger than you found them.
But there is another side to all of this. And I think this is an area where we have served you poorly. Some of us have cultivated your friendship without speaking faithfully to you about your words and behavior. (Some call these “court evangelicals,” I suppose.) Others have attacked you with the most unattractive self-righteousness that would appall us if applied to almost anyone else. We spend a lot of time talking about loving sinners and hating sin, but I have seen too many who feel free to hate your sin and to hate you AND to congratulate themselves about doing it.
I want to do the thing that I think should be done, which is to appeal to you in a way that is friendly and direct. Let’s talk honestly. It has been important to some to characterize you as a Christian. I think you’ve passively allowed that, more or less. But it seems to me you aren’t really comfortable with that designation. You haven’t experienced a conversion that brings with it a drive toward continuing repentance and personal holiness. For me, the kingship of Jesus Christ is the most significant fact there is. (Way bigger than the presidency of Donald Trump, which is YUGE, I know.) For you, that’s an interesting (and probably weird) claim, I suspect. What you are is an American (like many Americans) for whom Christianity is an accessory and not an engine. If you want to correct me on that, you do it and I will take you at your word. Most conservative churchgoers understand what I’m saying here just as I think you do.
But let me ask you for something. I am part of the coalition that has voted for you and will likely do so again. You believe in deals. So maybe you can make a deal for us. Please don’t shame us by attending events like the National Prayer Breakfast and turning a meeting based on faith into another avenue for political combat and vindication of your grievances. I don’t think it is too much to ask you to navigate those waters with more care as part of earning our support. Just attend and be respectful. We all enter situations where we don’t necessarily speak the language or feel the feelings. Those are good times for humility and care.
And here’s another related thought. When you went to the National Prayer Breakfast, you’d survived impeachment and given probably the best speech of your presidency for the State of the Union. My hopes rose when you gave that speech without talking about impeachment. I thought maybe you’d learned to rise above the fray and maybe even just to be thankful things turned out well for you. Instead, you jumped right back into the mud the next morning. People say that a person of a certain age can’t learn anything new, but I have to tell you, I keep expecting you to shock all of us just like you did on election night. I think you can learn something new. Here’s a Bible verse that might appeal to you and help with that. It’s Romans 12:20, which reads, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Maybe you should try that.
I might also add that you probably underestimate what you could do if you learn that you don’t have to go full New Yorker every time you fight a battle. My conservative estimate is that greater personal grace and statesmanship would be worth at least five more points at the ballot box. Anybody with your numbers should be sailing to re-election instead of anticipating a hard-fought battle.