Christians, Don’t Repeat the Lies About Trump’s Conviction | Sojourners

Christians, Don’t Repeat the Lies About Trump’s Conviction

Demonstrators hold placards and flags outside the Manhattan criminal court following the announcement of Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump's verdict in his criminal trial over charges that he falsified business records to conceal money paid to silence porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016, in New York City, U.S. May 30, 2024. REUTERS/Cheney Orr

I felt a sense of somber relief when I learned former President Donald J. Trump had been found guilty of 34 felony charges. Somber: It’s a sad moment when a former president is convicted of falsifying business records to cover up an alleged sexual encounter that could have hurt his presidential campaign in 2016 — a verdict that will inflame the deep divisions in our nation. Relief: This is a victory for the United States’ constitutional commitment that no one, not even a former president, is above the law.

Unsurprisingly, Trump left the courtroom railing against the verdict, falsely saying that the entire trial was “a disgrace” and “rigged.” He continued to promote the lie that the case was a political witch hunt led by President Joe Biden; just minutes after the verdict was read, a Trump fundraising appeal declared him a “political prisoner.”

I hope that voters see through this obfuscation tactic. Authoritarian leaders constantly try to turn any effort to hold them accountable for their misdeeds as being politically motivated and corrupt.

Yet many, including some Christian leaders, continue to parrot Trump’s lies. Evangelical author Eric Metaxas tweeted: “This verdict stands as the lowest point in our republic’s history. But God is not finished with this nation.” Chad Connelly, CEO of the conservative Christian organization Faith Wins, told Christianity Today that “people think this is kind of the end of America. I don’t talk to anybody that thinks this is anything other than a sham case.”

Albert Mohler Jr. an editor at WORLD magazine and president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote in an editorial that “Americans face a dangerous political moment, with constitutional dangers and legal complexities tossed about as weapons of political warfare.” While I appreciate that Mohler’s editorial at least acknowledges the moral issues of Trump’s payment of hush money to a porn star, I disagree with his premise that this trial was purely “political warfare.”

This premise — that the charges brought against Trump in the hush money case were politically motivated — ignores the central concern: whether Trump committed criminal activity to withhold damaging information from U.S. voters in order to win an election. Accusations that someone committed a crime to influence an election should be a concern to all people in the U.S., regardless of our political or partisan leanings. When someone has been accused of such a crime, we should want to see those charges taken seriously, which means the charges are brought to a court of law and the evidence weighed by a jury. Which is exactly what happened: After charges were brought against Trump, he was given what he was entitled to under the U.S. Constitution: “a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed.”

As I’ve written before, the U.S. Justice system is far from perfect, especially in its entanglement with systemic racism; and as with any outcome, people can disagree about the merits of this case or even its ultimate verdict. Those who feel they have not had a fair trial, or have been unfairly convicted, have legal avenues to appeal, as Trump has vowed to do. But to call this case a “sham” or dismiss the entire process as “politics” rationalizes the dangerous belief that some people shouldn’t be held accountable for their actions.

Dismissing the charges as “political warfare” also ignores how Trump has steadily worked to delegitimize the outcome of his trial long before the outcome was known, which mirrors many of the ways he has worked to delegitimize the outcome of the 2020 election and — if he doesn’t win — the 2024 election. He has made racist attacks on Judge Juan Merchan and District Attorney Alvin Bragg, and repeated the false claim that Biden is behind the charges. From the start, Trump, like other authoritarian leaders, does whatever most benefits himself, even if it means delegitimizing his followers’ trust in key democratic institutions, including our elections and judicial systems. Such tactics contradict the biblical call for justice and righteousness that upholds the common good.

It is also important to emphasize all the ways that Trump and his lawyers have used legal maneuvers to delay all the cases brought against him, including the federal case related to Trump’s alleged plot to knowingly overturn the outcome of the 2020 election. All these efforts are a direct attempt to prevent them from going to trial before this year’s voting begins.

I take no pleasure in seeing a former president convicted, despite his complete lack of truthfulness and contrition. Now it is truly up to voters to determine the degree to which character and integrity matters. I hope more Christians, in particular, will consult their conscience as they make this pivotal choice.