To social conservatives, particularly evangelicals, the Stormy Daniels saga presents an ethical quandary: The president they’ve tasked with defending Christianity against the “secular left” allegedly cheated on his third wife, just months after she gave birth, with an adult film star.
Of course, Trump’s spiritual shortcomings (from accusations of rampant marital infidelity to alleged sexual assault to almost daily public insults of perceived enemies on Twitter) have been long known — and largely set aside by the conservative Christians who voted for him because they saw him as a more workable alternative than Hillary Clinton.
To ignore or excuse the Daniels saga, some evangelical Christians are even using a biblical comparison to explain their continued support for Donald Trump: the story of King David. As one conservative talk show host put it, Trump and King David were both men “after God’s own heart.”
The story of King David, a sinner who remained beloved by God and favored by his people, has been a favorite of evangelical Christians who support Donald Trump, even during the Republican primaries. Their reasoning is that like King David, Donald Trump has committed adultery, and like King David (or President Franklin Roosevelt, as one columnist wrote), Trump can be a great (and moral) leader even after having committed adultery.
This isn’t new. GOP donor Foster Friess compared Trump to King David in January 2016, saying, “[A]ll throughout history, God has harnessed imperfect people to fulfill his perfect will.”
After the Access Hollywood tape and Trump’s “grab ’em by the pussy” comments broke during the campaign, Fox News host Sean Hannity compared Trump to King David on air:
Dennis Prager, a conservative columnist and Trump supporter, wrote in October 2016, “If God shouldn’t be ashamed for supporting King David, Christians shouldn’t be ashamed for supporting Donald Trump, given the far more corrupt and destructive alternative.”
And in August 2017, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry said to a television interviewer, “I tell people from time to time … you know the good lord used King David the best I can tell, King David wasn’t perfect either. But he was the chosen man of God. Let’s go make America great again.”
The David of the Christian Bible and the Jewish Tanakh is perhaps best known for the story of David and Goliath, in which David, a young shepherd, defeats the Philistine Goliath with only his sling. David eventually becomes king of Israel, winning back the city of Jerusalem and becoming the subject of prophecies stating that his family lineage and throne will last for all time.
As told in 2 Samuel 11, King David is on the rooftop of his palace when he sees a woman bathing. Her name is Bathsheba, he is told by his servants, and she is married to a man known as Uriah the Hittite. David is immediately infatuated with Bathsheba, sends for her, has sex with her, and gets her pregnant.
In an effort to cover his tracks, David then sends for Bathsheba’s husband Uriah, bringing him back from battle in the belief that if Uriah has sex with his wife, he will believe that Bathsheba’s child is his and no one will ever have to know about David’s affair. But Uriah refuses to go to his home (and have sex with his wife) because his fellow troops are on the front lines, and enjoying himself while they fight for their lives would be unthinkable. David even tries to get Uriah drunk in the hopes that he will go home and have sex with Bathsheba — but Uriah sleeps on a mat alongside David’s servants.
So King David makes a terrible decision — he has Uriah sent back to the front lines and tells Joab, captain of the army, to ensure that Uriah is killed in battle. And following David’s orders, Joab does so, and Uriah dies. Bathsheba, pregnant with David’s son, is brought into David’s home and made one of David’s wives.
Evangelical Trump supporters argue that like King David, Trump’s sins will not hinder his abilities to act wisely on behalf of his people. If King David can be favored by God even after committing adultery (and murder), so can Trump.
But to make a comparison between Donald Trump’s handling of Stormy Daniels (or his previous incidents of alleged infidelity) and the story of King David ignores the second — and most important — half of the story, as detailed in 2 Samuel 12, in which the prophet Nathan admonishes David, telling him that he has been given everything by God and yet wanted more, and took another man’s wife and committed murder to have her. Then David is punished. Because he has shown “utter contempt” for God, the son that Bathsheba gave birth to, the product of David’s affair, dies.
And David’s response? To beg for forgiveness. In Psalm 51, David says that he now has “a broken and contrite heart,” and tells God that he knows his sin “is always before me.” In short, King David humbles himself before God, asks for mercy, and tells God that he will live out his commandments in the future but knows that he will never forget his transgressions.
Which is certainly not the path Trump has followed. In repeated interviews, Trump has detailed that he prefers not to ask for forgiveness for his actions, saying in 2015, “Why do I have to repent or ask for forgiveness, if I am not making mistakes?” Some conservative Christian writers have pushed back on comparisons between Trump and King David, noting that only one of the two has asked for forgiveness.
But many of Trump’s evangelical supporters aren’t demanding Trump repent for his sins. While some have argued that Trump is a “baby Christian,” others have focused on his willingness to work largely within the confines of political Christianity during his Administration. As conservative writer Michael Brown wrote for TownHall.com in July 2017, “Plenty of Christians and non-Christians had a hard time understanding how so many of us evangelicals could vote for a candidate who seemed to be so thoroughly un-evangelical. But when we explained that we were voting against Hillary, that Supreme Court appointees were important to us, and that Trump seemed to care about religious liberties, many of them understood our vote.”
And polling shows that white mainline and evangelical Protestants continue to support Trump even with the Stormy Daniels news, and do so at higher levels than other religious groups.
Politics, it seems, plays a bigger role with evangelical Christian voters than piety.