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Is Donald Trump Truly Repentant and Does It Even Matter?

October 11, 2016

2 Chronicles 7:14 “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

I am not a politician or a pundit. I am a preacher and a pastor, so I am praying for revival in America—and God can do it through any economic policy, any configuration of the Supreme Court, and any person in the White house, if they and we all repent. That is my faith counsel for Mr. Trump and for myself, for my congregation and constituency, and for our nation.

Integrity of the Faith Council
I wrote here to describe the way the Faith Council formed and how the dedicated Trump campaign staffers seemed, at times, caught between two agendas.

It’s sinful to assert we know motives—but we can form conclusions based upon words and actions.

I did not mean to suggest or infer that the Council members themselves were ‘brokering influence’; rather, that the campaign staff seemed to struggle to stay on seeking our counsel to help Mr. Trump, which we agreed to do, and away from rallying our influence to elect Mr. Trump, which we did not agree to do. Frankly, that is why I was bothered this summer by the frequent online assertions that members of Donald Trump’s Faith Council were enamored with the association and proximity to power. The actual conversations have been prayerful and truthful, without any apparent concern beyond faithfulness to the task of giving ‘faith counsel’ to Mr. Trump as requested. It is always sinful to assert we know the motives of others. What we can do is form conclusions based upon words and actions, for “out of the heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).

Something Changed
My only point of divergence from the Faith Council due to conscience came following last Friday’s revelation of Mr. Trump’s reprehensible 11-year-old recording, which is now familiar to all but cave dwellers. Over the weekend, I wrote to various members of the Faith Council and Trump campaign staff, expressing my view that Mr. Trump’s Friday night video “confession” was quite far from genuine repentance. My use of terms like ‘worthless’ (1 Samuel 2:12) and ‘lecherous’ (which is similar to the biblical term licentious) was in reference to the content of the recording we were all hearing—not descriptive of Mr. Trump today, if in fact he has changed in a way the words of his confession did not convey. Further, it seemed possible that those Mr. Trump did consult might have muddied his intent, or that he simply failed to convey what was in his heart, something I know I have done under great pressure on several occasions. The strong consensus from members of the Faith Council, able to get on Sunday’s quick call, was that Mr. Trump’s words fell short, needing to come further in expressing why and how he has actually changed. Even CNN’s Anderson Cooper during Sunday’s debate, clearly no fan of Mr. Trump, drilled deeper on the actual content of the recording. Sadly that effort deteriorated into debate over what Mr. Trump had or hadn’t actually said/meant and the opportunity for clearer ownership of his failure and its implications was lost.

My Expertise is Clearly Not Politics
I don’t know much about the economy, and I certainly don’t claim the wisdom to govern or assist whomever wins this election. But I have studied, and learned through great travail, the nature of true repentance and the evidence that always accompanies this condition of heart and mind. Jesus exhorted those who heard him to bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8), and late in life Paul, before King Agrippa, summarized the message of his missionary efforts with the words “repent and turn to God performing deeds in keeping with repentance” (Acts 26:20). But what are these fruits, or deeds that accompany repentance? Answering that question has been the subject of my doctoral thesis, the central theme of my own spiritual journey, and a focal point of my preaching and writing both locally and around the world.

Isn’t Donald Repentant Enough?
The reason evidence of full repentance matters so much is that if Mr. Trump is not entirely repentant for the content of that recording, he cannot have changed. And if Mr. Trump has not truly changed (because that is what repentance actually is: change), then we do not have a rational reason to anticipate different behavior in the future. And we have lost the ‘better of the two’ argument that brought so much evangelical support to Mr. Trump in the first place. Of course, it is possible that in his confession he merely misspoke or failed to get his true heart across, as we have all done. But if Mr. Trump is satisfied with what he offered in terms of regret, it is unlikely he has changed and, sadly, we can only expect similar behavior in the future. Drawing his attention to this is not an abandonment of my role as a faith counselor but an effort to fulfill it, regardless of how it is viewed.

Repentance is Learned by Doing
Economists are familiar with matters related to the Federal Reserve. Issues of constitutional law are obvious to those who sit on the nation’s highest courts. What is easily discernible to a forgiven sinner and lifetime minister to others needing the same, is the difference between a contrived admission under pressure and a genuine expression of contrition that alters that person’s future. What Mr. Trump appears to have given, at least so far, is the former and I cannot not see the latter simply because I wish it to be so. To be more specific, the deficiency in Mr. Trump’s confession thus far centers around:

  • Calling the recording of his words and reported actions “locker room talk,” versus actual immoral, deplorable, and in one case, criminal behavior.
  • Attempting to avoid responsibility for his failure by shifting our focus to the sin of others, i.e. Bill Clinton, the media, etc.
  • Failing to specifically name and seek forgiveness from the people directly injured by his actions, i.e. women he groped, pressured to have sex, or otherwise objectified.

First Things First
I have served in public ministry for more than 30 years, and I would have to deny my Lord and my calling to certify Mr. Trump as repentant, based on what he has told us. I am too personally acquainted with the need for repentance (due to relational and other leadership failures in my life) to withhold from Mr. Trump the grace he could experience if he did some deeper and less defensive reflection.

What if Mr. Trump’s former view of women isn’t former?

I do not condemn Mr. Trump and I repudiate those who twist my words into ammunition to harm him. Foolish assertions by well meaning people that I want to ‘stone him,’ or that I am failing to offer forgiveness is simply nonsense. I have nothing to forgive Mr. Trump for, as he has not wronged me. I am not judging his motives or unseen heart, I am exposing his deficient confession as evidence that his former deviant view of women might not be former. I am saying so with the same sadness a medical doctor feels as he reports terminal test results. I am not seeking a platform or to be known beyond those I am blessed to minister to already. I do not think my opinions matter more than others, even turning down kind interview requests from folks at Fox, CNN, and MSNBC, because I don’t want to take advantage of a role given to me by the Trump campaign. I do not believe Mr. Trump is worse than Hillary Clinton (who is less than believable as some modern Joan of Arc). I am not abandoning my role on the Faith Council; with these words I am seeking to fulfill it. If Faith Council members find my insistence unhelpful or uncharitable, I will gladly resign this little bit of influence to their greater combined wisdom.

The True “High Road”
Imagine the result if Mr. Trump actually had a ‘change of mind’—the literal meaning of repentance. Imagine if tomorrow or in the next debate he owned his behavior by saying, “I was wrong, I have no one to blame but myself, anything that anyone did does not justify my own failure, I have no excuse, I am sorry.” Imagine if that line of thinking extended to every regrettable pettiness he has pursued at the expense of his own electability. Just think for a moment, if Mr. Trump showed true humility and contrition, converting once and for all to the high road of what only God can make great.

What if instead of calling for Donald or Hillary to repent, we repented?

Imagine if Mr. Trump abandoned all the finger pointing and blame shifting and truth twisting that has flowed like a river from all directions in this election cycle. Imagine if all of us descended from our various perches of imagined superiority and self righteousness and joined Mr. Trump in that repentance, as a people who have spoken and acted impulsively and foolishly both in the wrong we have done and in the good we have selfishly left undone. Imagine if a true majority stepped forward in repentance as the fallen people we are and embraced collectively the many failures and follies that have brought us to the sad state we saw as Sunday night’s debate began . . .  That would be a true repentance that God Himself could bless. That would be a real and sustainable path to making America great again. Only God made America great in the first place and only God can make America great again. Even now the windows of heaven are bursting with the grace and mercy God would shower upon America if we would stand without fear for life and liberty as a repentant people under God. I am praying for revival in America, and God can do it through any economic policy, any configuration of the Supreme Court, and any person in the White house, if they and we all repent. That is my faith counsel for Mr. Trump and for myself, for my congregation and constituency, and for our nation. Lord, send a revival, and start with me.    

2 Chronicles 7:14 “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”


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