THE BLOG
03/31/2016 12:57 pm ET Updated Apr 01, 2017

A Letter to My Evangelical Friends About Donald Trump

The Washington Post via Getty Images

You identify as an evangelical Christian, and you support Donald Trump to be our next president. A recent Pew survey published in Christianity Today shows that you are not alone, that about half of white Americans who identify as evangelicals believe Donald Trump would make a "good" or "great" president. And while many white evangelicals disagree with you--nearly one-third state that he would make a "poor" or "terrible" president--he would not be leading in the Republican primaries without the support of many people like you.

I also am white, identify as an evangelical Christian, but do not share your support for Mr. Trump. And the purpose of my writing this is to try to persuade you that, even in your disillusionment with the status quo, even in a world troubled with terrorism and economic turmoil that may have affected you personally , you must not support a man like this to lead our country.

I understand you may be frustrated with the economic climate. Many economic opportunities that were laid to waste in the great recession have not re-emerged. You are attracted by Mr. Trump's call to Make America Great Again, and when he calls for a 45% tariff on all Chinese imports, that sounds just fine. It feels good to hear a candidate who senses your anger and wants to stick it to the Chinese. You feel that foreigners have taken away our jobs, maybe even your job; you see Chinese imports everywhere and you are convinced that the global economy is your enemy, a threat to your ability to provide for your family. It has infringed on your dignity, and in the next president you are looking for a serious butt-kicker to restore what you have unrightfully lost.

However, I want to you understand, and I speak now as an economist with 20 years of experience in research and teaching, that what is being proposed by Mr. Trump will not help you. And I am not alone, because there is no serious economist today, left, right, or middle, who believes that it would. In fact, it will greatly harm you, likely to cause you significant economic hardship.

This kind of tariff would not only raise the cost of domestic goods dramatically and stoke inflation, making it harder for everyone including you to make ends meet, but also because a 45% tariff such as the one advocated by Mr. Trump would almost certainly initiate a tariff war. And it was a tariff war that a few generations ago turned an economic downturn into the Great Depression in which 1 of 4 Americans became jobless, not just the "mere" 1 in 10 in what we recently called the Great Recession. If our country were to enact Mr. Trump's economic ideas, it would make the Great Recession look like a tiny downward blip on the economic radar screen.

Economic experts understand the implications of misguided economic policies like this, but Donald Trump apparently does not. In fact, for a businessman, what you should understand is that Mr. Trump is stunningly ignorant about basic economics. Making billions turning real estate deals does not imply that one knows how the economy works; indeed Mr. Trump has proven this very fact. His superficially appealing economic policies would have dire consequences for people like you and your family. If he is able to win your vote, somehow capture a majority, and enact his outlandish ideas, your economic insecurity will be magnified greatly. You should not vote for Donald Trump because he will improve your economic situation because his policies are virtually guaranteed to make your situation far worse than it may be already.

But perhaps you are attracted to his approach to international terrorism. As a Christian, you favor a strong hand against terrorism and radical Islam. The more nuanced and careful approach taken by President Obama seems weak to you, and you are a patriot, tired of seeing your country and its allies being kicked around by terrorists. You instinctively gravitate to Mr. Trump's proposal to bar all Muslims from entering the country. And you like his idea of building a wall on our border with Mexico . You see American jobs being taken away by Mexican immigrants and favor a law-and-order approach that would deport all illegals out of the country.

This may sound like the strong approach of a firm hand. But pause to reflect that a mass deportation of this order would constitute an economic and social disaster. Illegal immigration is a thorny problem, and we need to be able to control our borders, especially in an era of terrorism. But thinking about this as a Christian for a moment, are you really willing to support tearing millions of parents from their children to send them back to Mexico and Central America? Government INS agents showing up one morning and handcuffing Mom in the middle of pouring breakfast cereal for the kids, throwing her into a white van to send her back to Mexico. Really? And would this really help the economic situation of your community? Most of these 11 million undocumented people in our country are integrated into our economy, either filling low-paying positions that are unappealing to others. The vast majority of these people came here to work hard and lead a better life, and that is what they are doing. From the perspective of U.S. businesses, almost nothing would be so disruptive and costly to enterprise as this kind of mass deportation of domestic workers. A misunderstanding of the impact of mass deportation on American businesses is just one more piece of evidence of Mr. Trumps flawed understanding of economics. Moreover, we can't justify a brutal decree that causes economic and social upheaval to correct the errors in our lax immigration system of the past.

I argue here as an economist, but the argument against immigrant-bashing is even stronger from a biblical standpoint. As an evangelical, you are committed to the authority of the scriptures. Have you examined what the Bible says about how we should treat immigrants? It is actually very clear. It says "When the alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God." (Leviticus 19:33-24, 24:22) Aren't we as European Americans rather like the Hebrews? Weren't (almost) all of our families at one point aliens in this land we live in now too? So it is clear from scripture that we are forced to choose. We cannot identify as evangelicals who take scripture authoritatively and then support political leaders who violate scripture by encouraging violence and injustice toward the immigrants from other countries living among us. Taking out our problems on immigrants is both un-patriotic and un-biblical. It is neither the American way, nor God's way.

Finally, we as evangelicals believe in the importance of personal character in public life. This is why you were so upset when President Clinton did the inappropriate things he did in the Oval Office. In a pluralistic society, we don't expect every elected politician to conform to the theological fine-tuning of a seminarian, but we can demand a respect among public officials for what we understand as broadly biblical values, as they relate to both policy and personal character. You are attracted to Mr. Trump because he "tells it like it is" and because "he's not politically correct." But one can "tell it like it is" without promulgating vulgarity and disrespect. From this standpoint, it is stunning to see supposed evangelical leaders such as Jerry Falwell Jr. and Pat Robertson lavish praise on a candidate whose life's work, speech, and demeanor violate virtually every facet of Christian character.

The Bible urges us not to judge, but an exception lies in the act of voting because this is exactly what we are called upon to do with political candidates. We are called upon to judge their fitness for office. And Mr. Trump, when compared with virtually any presidential candidate in recent U.S. history, is supremely unfit for the presidency. Regardless of how you stand within the political spectrum, a range of former presidents from Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama have upheld a general dignity to the office, expressed some degree of wisdom and a humility to learn, and employed a general respect and charitableness toward others.

Christians are to judge character by the "fruits of the Spirit": love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22, 23). While being highly imperfect people like the rest of us, most of our U.S. presidents have reflected these qualities to varying degrees. In general, we have been blessed with respectable leaders by this standard.

However, an honest assessment of Mr. Trump unearths not one of these qualities. The language of Mr. Trump is often vulgar. His narcissism breaks new ground in the U.S. political world. His ignorance about important world issues is exceeded only by his rudeness toward those who question his weak command of them. His relationship toward women has failed to graduate past that of a disturbed teenage boy. After months of observation in speeches and debates on the campaign trail, an even-handed observer can unfortunately derive little other conclusion other than this is a man, who at least at this point in his life, is a self-centered, ignorant, misogynistic, bullying, immigrant-bashing windbag.

Mr. Trump stands little chance of becoming the next President of the United States without support from evangelicals. But with this support, he may have a chance. A group of angry Germans, humiliated by World War I, ravaged by hyperinflation, frustrated with their loss of national dignity, made their own choice in 1934. Millions of Germans who thought of themselves as Christians supported the election of a strongman who would Make Germany Great Again. Sadly, their faith was not in God, but in a twisted convolution of religion and German nationalism. We shouldn't be so proud to believe that as Americans we aren't capable of making a similar mistake. Great men like Dietrich Bonhoeffer realized that one could not cast his lot with the angry mob and remain Christian. Like the choice faced by Bonhoeffer, it is not going out on a limb to say that if one identifies as a follower of Christ, one has to choose. In this case your choice is simple: It's Trump or Jesus. At the point in history that we live today, we cannot choose one and follow the other. Evangelical friends, brothers, sisters--please reflect and pray. And vote with both wisdom and love for your country.

Bruce Wydick is Professor of Economics at the University of San Francisco and Research Affiliate at the Kellogg Institute of International Studies at the University of Notre Dame. Follow on Twitter @BruceWydick.