Will somebody please give me a mulligan?
I know my life hasn’t been everything it ought to be. I have procrastinated, drank to excess, used illegal drugs and jaywalked. I have used foul language, lost my temper and indulged in gluttony.
Once, I even shoplifted a Bob Dylan record. I didn’t do it on purpose, but I also didn’t return it to the store when I realized I had walked out with it. I didn’t even feel bad about it; it felt kind of good. What’s worse, it was an album from Dylan’s Christian period.
So I need a mulligan. Not forgiveness, because that would require repentance. I want to continue my wicked ways. I just want the sort of mulligan that was offered to Donald Trump by Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. Perkins said he was giving Trump, an avid golfer, a mulligan for all his infidelities, sharp dealings and foul deeds prior to his election as president.
For Perkins, Trump’s deficiencies are outweighed by his positions on immigration, taxes, abortion, gay and transgender rights and, perhaps most importantly, his promise to nominate judges who support evangelical positions.
The mulligan extends to reports that Trump paid off a porn star just before the election to keep her from talking about an affair they once had. The payoff came before the inauguration, so it doesn’t count.
Perhaps that’s a good thing. Marital infidelity, even among presidents, was hardly invented by Trump. Presidents, and reporters, were just once more discreet.
We have always expected too much from our presidents. The first president, George Washington, spoiled us with all of his honor and integrity. Nobody could keep up that standard, not even Washington.
Let’s just hope that evangelicals like Perkins keep this same lax standard when someone less to their political liking gets elected. If there are no ethical standards for office holders of our own political persuasion, then there should be no standards for anyone. We all get mulligans.
It’s not as if the evangelicals’ positions are all unambiguous goods. They oppose abortion because it takes human lives, which is understandable. But Trump also opposes action on climate change, which peer-reviewed reports suggest already is causing 150,000 deaths a year, and that number is expected to double by 2030.
Abortions are much more common, but abortion totals keep going down, at least in this country (I blame Smartphones), and climate deaths are likely to keep rising. When those two lines cross, what’s the moral position?
Evangelicals also stand firm for the right not to bake wedding cakes for homosexual couples. But the Bible says very little about homosexuality while it mentions adultery repeatedly. If baking wedding cakes for same-sex couples is a sin, then how about baking a wedding cake for the thrice-married and admitted philanderer Trump?
Then there’s lying. Perkins didn’t mention whether the mulligan covered lying, which Trump does with great abandon. Even his State of the Union speech, when presidents ought to be on their best behavior, contained a litany of exaggerations, misstatements and outright fabrications. The New York Times counted, and found that Trump told five times as many lies in the first 10 months of his presidency as Barack Obama told in eight years.
As it turns out, the Bible has nearly as much to say about lying as it does about adultery. Revelation 22:15 tells us that barred from the city of God are “dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.”
I’m not sure how dogs got on that list; probably it was drawn up by cats. But the rest of the passage makes it pretty clear that, when it comes to eternal salvation, liars are no better off than abortionists.
In John 8:44, Jesus tells us that the devil is not only a murderer but the father of lies. Trump’s fabrications have a long lineage.
President Trump’s lies are especially consequential. As the New International Version translates Proverbs 17:7, “Eloquent lips are unsuited to a godless fool— how much worse lying lips to a ruler!” Trump has such a casual relationship with the truth that his lawyers are afraid to have him speak to special counsel Robert Mueller for fear that Trump will perjure himself.
By his 355th day in his office, according to the Washington Post, Trump had told his 2,000th lie in office. With that many mulligans, he should be able hit a hole in one from every tee.
And lies are only part of the problem. Just this week, Trump suggested that Democrats who refused to stand for applause lines in his State of the Union address didn’t love their country and might even be traitors. Dan McLaughlin at the National Review offered this odd defense: Trump wasn’t seriously seeking treason charges, McLaughlin said, “he’s basically openly mocking the idea that words in politics mean anything at all.” It’s a tactic, McLaughlin concedes, that “makes it harder to rebuild the broken norms he inherited and has treated with such contempt.”
Those norms are all but shattered, and evangelicals must bear their share of blame for that. At some point, they must ask themselves: Are a few judicial appointments worth it?