The strangest thing to come out of Trump’s campaign rally for evangelical leaders last Tuesday is James Dobson’s statement that Donald Trump has “accept[ed] a relationship with Christ.” Dobson said he knows “the person who led him to Christ” but does not know when this took place other than that it was “fairly recent.” He said he believed Trump “really made a commitment” and is “a baby Christian.”
What are we to make of this? Certainly those of us who are Christians would very much like to believe that Trump has recently been born again. If true, it would be an answer to prayer. But is it true?
A number of questions immediately suggest themselves. If Trump has been converted, why do we hear about it from Dobson instead of Trump himself? Why didn’t he mention it at the campaign rally for evangelical leaders? Those who have genuinely been born again usually can’t keep quiet about it. Why should the identity of the person who led Trump to Christ be a matter of secrecy? Why didn’t Dobson’s informant tell him when the event occurred? That would seem a natural part of such a report.
It certainly is convenient for Trump’s presidential aspirations to have a story like this circulating among Christians at this time. Notice it’s not a public announcement by Trump or his campaign. Instead it’s merely a rumor among Christians.
I don’t believe James Dobson is trying to deceive anyone, but I do suspect he is the victim of someone else’s (ultimately Trump’s) effort to deceive. Trump has a history of telling people what they want to hear, regardless of truth, and it’s a well known fact that a narcissist can be extremely charming and deceptive. Trump is probably getting desperate these days. His poll numbers are in free-fall. His campaign is almost out of money, and he no longer has any Republican opponents to smear in order to distract the media spotlight from his own manifest unfitness for the presidency. He can say bad things about Hillary, of course, most of which are probably true, but everyone knows those things already, so there’s little payoff for him. Trump has recently been complaining that he’s not getting enough support from Republicans. Could the present strange story be a ploy to win Christians’ support?
There are some things we can look for if the story of Trump’s conversion is true. If Trump truly has repented of his sin and exercised saving faith in Christ, then we will begin to see some confession and some change of life. His sin was public, or was publicly boasted of, and the confession should be equally public. One essential indication of his sincerity would be his publicly apologizing for lying about Ted Cruz and his family. Further, if Trump were sincere in his repentance, he would withdraw from the presidential race rather than try to keep a nomination that he has to know he gained by dishonest and dishonorable means.
Some would say that as a “baby Christian” Trump wouldn’t know he ought to do these things. Michael Anthony, who interviewed Dobson about Trump’s alleged conversion, suggested that Saul of Tarsus, even after his Damascus Road experience, would not have known how a Christian should act or talk. However, even as a brand-new convert, Saul/Paul immediately ceased persecuting the church, and he testified publicly to salvation through Jesus Christ (Acts 9:20-22). As for Trump, even atheists in modern American society think lying and cheating are wrong and expect Christians to abstain from such practices. If Trump is genuinely a Christian now, we should expect to see confession, repentance, and restitution. The last of those would mean giving back what he had gained by deceit or dirty dealing, just as Zaccheus, moments after his conversion, promised to restore four-fold anything he had taken by fraud (Luke 19:8). In Trump’s case, this would mean giving up the status of presumptive Republican nominee by withdrawing from the race.
Certainly we hope and pray that Donald Trump has indeed come to repentance and saving faith in Jesus Christ, but we need to be careful that our wish, and perhaps our fear of a possible Clinton presidency, does not lead us into being deceived. We should certainly pray for Donald Trump and for Hillary Clinton.
Of course, nothing about this new report, even if true, would change the fact that Trump ought not to be president. Aside from his lack of the necessary knowledge and experience, as a new Christian he would need time to grow in grace before being placed in the maelstrom of Washington politics. The rest of us need time to see if he is producing “fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8). The worst thing we could do to a genuine baby Christian would be to elect him president.