Editor’s Note: Stay tuned for full event coverage in our upcoming issue on September 17.
As the presidential election approaches, Christian voters face an important decision. To encourage discussion in this season, the Center for Faith and Flourishing hosted Eric Metaxas and David French in an event titled, “Should Christians Vote for Trump?” on Tuesday, September 8.
Political commentator and author French and New York Times best-selling author Metaxas engaged in a live, socially-distanced debate in the Berry Performing Arts Center, which was live-streamed via Zoom with watch parties around the John Brown University campus. James Bruce, professor of philosophy and director for the Center for Faith and Flourishing, and Daniel Bennett, associate professor of political science and assistant director of the Center for Faith and Flourishing, moderated the debate.
Opening the event, Bruce shared how a person questioned him on the agenda of the debate. “I responded by saying I have no partisan agenda, but I do have an agenda: the truth. I want to know the truth—should Christians vote for Trump?” Bruce said. “I hope I am open-minded enough that if I hear a compelling and persuasive argument for Trump from Eric Metaxas, a New York Times bestselling author and radio host, that I’ll vote for Trump. I hope that I’m open-minded enough that if I hear a compelling argument against Trump from David French, a columnist and lawyer, that I won’t.”
Bruce also stated the mission of the Center for Faith and Flourishing in hosting the event. “This kind of open debate about contentious issues is what a university is for. You wouldn’t know that by looking at many of the universities across the country. You couldn’t host an event like this one at Eric Metaxas’ alma mater, Yale University, nor at Harvard, where David French studied law. But JBU has a professor crazy enough to host an event like this one and—more importantly—JBU has an administration that is committed to free speech.”
In his opening statement, French described the changing dynamics of conservative evangelicals in the Republican party up until now, stating that in 1998, many were disdained by the behavior and actions of then-President Bill Clinton. “Currently American evangelicals are now recording the most recent polls the community of people least likely to say that character matters in government,” French said. “It turned out that the commitment to character in leadership, which is grounded in truth in 1998, was grounded in something else that was even more powerful than truth to an awful lot of Christians, and that was partisanship.”
French also described how President Donald Trump has said “things that are racist and … things that are full of hate.” “We have hired a man to be cruel for us. And I’ll tell you what, the rest of the world looks at that, and what do they see? They see hypocrisy. And they experience pain,” French said.
Responding to French’s statements, Metaxas described how his upbringing as a child of immigrants helped form his beliefs. “[My parents] raised me to love this country not because it was perfect, but because it gave the greatest opportunity to the most people,” Metaxas said. “So, when we’re talking about somebody like Donald Trump, even if everything David said were true—and I wouldn’t say that it is … I would say what you have to deal with the issue that we saw a few years ago. You had to either go for Trump, or you had to go for Hillary Clinton. This time you have to go for Trump or whoever is going to be president on the other side.”
In response to recent criticism regarding some of his tweets and to retort the statements from French, Metaxas said, “I’m on the record okay as believing that your Christian faith would lead you not to be racist and to fight racism. I wrote a 600-page book in which the central point of it is that Jesus was not a white Aryan but a Jew. These things are complicated, but where we are right now is we have a choice between Donald Trump—whatever you think of him—and a Democratic party that has drifted so far from where it was.”
In light of the increase of racial tensions across the country this summer, Metaxas shared his concerns for the Black Lives Matter Movement. “I know people should run from the organization called Black Lives Matter because they’re cynically using that term to forward a culturally Marxist agenda, and I don’t think they give a damn about Black lives,” Metaxas said. “I think they give a damn about power, and they will use whatever issue they can use to forward further their agenda … I would argue you must not vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris because they will usher in policies that will devastate Black communities.”
In response, French argued that former vice president, Joe Biden, was not a Marxist and that he was against socialism. French also pushed back against the Democrats’ influence over the Black American votes. “This is, in essence, an argument akin to saying, well, 85 to 90% of Black Americans, depending on the presidential race, are voting against their interests,” French said. “What an extraordinarily condescending thing to say to a sophisticated community of American adults, who are often … quite aware of the policies that the competing parties advance.”
Metaxas also addressed Biden’s career as a politician, saying, “Joe Biden will do anything and say anything to get elected. So, you want to talk about character? He has 50 years as a career politician. He has changed his mind on almost everything.”
Towards the end of the event, both the hosts and the audience gave questions for each guest. Bennett asked Metaxas, “Do you think Christians should embrace hitting back in politics in order to achieve an important goal like you discussed, or should our Christian witness be about different posture or political engagement?”
Metaxas responded, “You have to be specific. I mean, if somebody is physically threatening my wife, I might throw a punch at him … If somebody is coming at us with a battleship, should we fight them with weapons? Yes, of course, we should. The context is everything.”
Graphic from the Center for Faith and Flourishing