Even if you don’t know Dr. Wayne Grudem’s name, you’ve almost certainly encountered his influence. Few modern theologians have had more influence on American evangelicalism than Grudem, whose Systematic Theology is considered definitive for a lot of evangelical training. He’s also written more than twenty books, like Christian Ethics, Politics—According to the Bible, and was the general editor for the ESV Study Bible. And in a new interview with WORLD Magazine, he makes the case for President Donald Trump, who he has supported in the past.
“[Trump] has character flaws. But they do not seem to us to be disqualifying,” Grudem told WORLD’s editor-in-chief Marvin Olasky. “Character matters, but policy also matters.”
When asked about Trump’s divisive rhetoric, Grudem pushed back. “It’s bearing false witness against President Trump to say he seeks to divide us,” he said, and then referenced “the burning of cars, the blocking of public roads and sidewalks that began on day one of his presidency,” as being the true source of divisiveness.
Grudem also dismissed the idea that Trump is dishonest. “President Trump is often not careful in some of the things he says,” he admitted. “He is given to exaggeration. Sometimes he’s made a statement after being given inaccurate information. I’m not sure he’s ever intentionally affirmed something he knows to be false, which is how I define a lie.”
“He’s a good president with some flaws,” Grudem summed.
It’s a pretty different tune than Grudem was whistling in 1998, when he joined his fellow evangelical leaders in signing a statement condemning President Bill Clinton for sexual misconduct, abuse of power and dishonesty. Historian John Fea dug up the statement over at his website.
We are aware that certain moral qualities are central to the survival of our political system, among which are truthfulness, integrity, respect for the law, respect for the dignity of others, adherence to the constitutional process and a willingness to avoid the abuse of power. We reject the premise that violations of these ethical standards should be excused so long as a leader remains loyal to a particular political agenda and the nation is blessed by a strong economy. Elected leaders are accountable to the Constitution and to the people who elected them. By his own admission the President has departed from ethical standards by abusing his presidential office, by his ill use of women and by his knowing manipulation of truth for indefensible ends. We are particularly troubled about the debasing of the language of public discourse with the aim of avoiding responsibility for one’s actions.
The statement continued.
We are concerned about the impact of this crisis on our children and on our students. Some of them feel betrayed by a President in whom they set their hopes while others are troubled by his misuse of others, by which many in the administration, the political system and the media were implicated in patterns of deceit and abuse. Neither our students nor we demand perfection. Many of us believe that extreme dangers sometimes require a political leader to engage in morally problematic actions. But we maintain that in general there is a reasonable threshold of behavior beneath which our public leaders should not fall, because the moral character of a people is more important than the tenure of a particular politician or the protection of a particular political agenda. Political and religious history indicate that violations and misunderstandings of such moral issues may have grave consequences. The widespread desire to “get this behind us” does not take seriously enough the nature of transgressions and their social effects.
Now, Grudem may feel that Trump is worth supporting despite his “flaws,” and it’s his right to do so. But put side by side with his 1998 thoughts about Clinton, it’s hard not to notice a double standard. It’s possible Grudem’s mind has changed in the twenty-plus years since he signed the Clinton statement. It’s possible he feels Clinton’s dishonesty and abuses of power were disqualifying in a way that Trump’s are not. But without any explanation at all, the two attitudes can’t help but feel pretty off.
Tyler Huckabee is RELEVANT's executive editor. He lives in Nashville with his wife, dog and Twitter account.