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Pastors Debate What To Say About Trump From Pulpit

A majority of evangelical Christians threw their support to President Donald Trump in the 2016 election, as did a large number of conservative Catholics and mainline Protestants who agreed with candidate Trump's positions on abortion and the economy.

Nearly a year into the Trump presidency, persistent questions about the president's ethics, his truthfulness and behavior are raising concerns in the minds of many voters. Are pastors speaking out about this? How much is appropriate to say from the pulpit?

GLT invited two ministers from different ends of the theological spectrum—Pastor Scott Boerkel of the White Oak Bible Church in Carlock, and Rev. Elyse Nelson Winger, a Lutheran Church of America minister—to share their thoughts.

“I think most evangelical Christians held their nose and voted for Trump,” Boerkel said on GLT’s Sound Ideas.

Boerkel said he finds many of the president’s actions and comments disturbing, even though he agrees with most Trump administration policies.

“I am a conservative political evangelical Christian. What I am afraid of is that my worldview being represented by such a rotten example has the effect of making that worldview diminished in people’s eyes,” Boerkel added.

Nelson Winger, who is also chaplain of Illinois Wesleyan University, said she is concerned about the number of times fact checkers have been able to debunk statements put forth as fact by the president and members of his administration.

“I think we are in a period of time where we need to rebuke the ways of some leaders who are willfully distorting and misrepresenting the truth. You cannot have a conversation with civility when you are dealing with people who are not being honest,” Nelson Winger said.

She said pastors need to demand truthfulness from the nation’s leaders, even if it might offend some members of their congregation who support those leaders.

“One of the things I love about being a part of the church as a member and pastor is that I get to work with and be in community with people with whom I sometimes deeply disagree with on a political level, but we find places of common purpose and common ground,” Nelson Winger said.

Boerkel said he has preached about some of the president’s comments in his Sunday sermons, but only within the context of a broader spiritual message.

In one sermon, he said he connected one of the president’s tweets to the “hubris” of Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar in the Old Testament who once said, “Is this not great Babylon I built by my mighty own hand.”

“The example I gave as an illustration was a tweet from Donald Trump where he said, ‘Sorry losers and haters, but my IQ is one of the highest, and you all know it. Please don’t feel stupid or insecure. It’s not your fault.’ I made the connection that kind of hubris exists in world leaders, it lives on today,” Boerkel said.

Nelson Winger said she was particularly concerned about distortions of the truth. The New York Times cited over 700 examples of what it called misrepresentations of the truth by President Trump in the early months of the administration.

Boerkel, however, said misinformation cuts across the political spectrum.

“There isn’t one group that has a corner on hubris or exaggeration,” he said. “ I love what (the late) Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York said once. He said, ‘Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but no one is entitled to their own facts.’”

Both Nelson Winger and Boerkel said they were disappointed Trump did not speak out more forcefully in condemning the deadly white supremacist demonstration that took place this summer in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Pastors need to address the tensions Charlottesville aroused, Nelson Winger said.

“It is time for us to speak, to stand up and find new ways to really address the sin of racism, and to speak very clearly that white supremacy and neo-Nazism and membership in the KKK is absolutely antithetical to our understanding of humanity and of God,” she said..

Boerkel also said he preached about Charlottesville.

“I think it identified a key thing: that there is such a thing as absolute right and absolute wrong. This was not a moment to try to talk about, ‘Well, there are both sides to the issue.’ There is one thing that you’ve got to say no to, and that is racism and anti-Semitism. This was another moment to remind people of that,” Boerkel said.

Preaching About Policy?

Preaching about policy is another matter, Boerkel. He said he hasn’t preached about immigration, for example, or what to do about health care reform.

“I didn’t preach about this at all,” he said.

“I take a positive view of rights, rather than a negative view," he added. "I would say rights are things God has given and government is there to protect, rather than rights are things government is there to provide."

Boerkel said he doesn’t view health care as a right, but rather a necessity.

“One of the things our church does is we have a very interesting ministry in west Bloomington where we support the Immanuel Health Care Center. Our desire is to deal with grass roots on a personal level, rather than say government is going to solve our problems.," he said.

Nelson Winger said while Christian Scripture cannot provide prescriptions to 21st century social problems, it does offer guidance.   

“It gives us the questions and values to be able to point toward those (solutions),” she said.

“The preachers I know want to be about engaging that. My church has always believed that we are called into society and to be a partner with government, and that government is no less broken that any other institution," she said.

“Government is also people and we are the people," she added.

Both agree it is a critical time for churches and that pastors have a role to play in the public arena.

“I think it is an opportunity to come together ecumenically to speak about core values and commitments and find ways that are in deep contrast to much of the political dialogue,” Nelson Winger said.

"I think this is an important time when the gospel gets out," Boerkel said.

"I’ve seen the political pendulum swing back and forth several times and I really want to be a person who is true to the text of Scripture and prophetically speaks to the culture, but with the hope of the good news of the gospel,” he added.

A recent Pew Research Center poll found that 78 percent of white evangelicals support the job Trump is doing, compared to 39 percent of the general public.

One evangelical pastor told an interviewer he isn’t disturbed by the some of the president’s more controversial comments and actions. Throughout history and in the Bible, the pastor said, “God uses rulers who aren’t themselves godly.”

Judith Valente's full interview with Rev. Scott Boerkel and Rev. Elyse Nelson Winger

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