Evangelicals and the Elections: Where Do We Go From Here?
The relationship between Donald Trump and evangelicals has been unique. On the one hand, he has been the least “Christian” candidate to gain widespread evangelical support, and in that sense, our support for him has been a paradox. How can we stand with a man like this? On the other hand, he has kept his promises and turned his words into action more than his “Christian” predecessors. Who cares about his vile behavior when he is enacting critically important policies?
Either way, these years with Trump have been a learning experience, and if we will seize this teachable moment, we’ll be able build on our positive actions and learn from our mistakes. Here are seven points for consideration.
1) We must rise about the political fray. According to the Word of God, as followers of Jesus, we are citizens of another kingdom, seated in heavenly places, with ultimate allegiance to another Lord. And while we live in this world, we are not like this world. That means we cannot get caught up in a partisan political spirit. We must step higher.
Every four years (and less so, every two years), our nation gets worked up into an emotional frenzy as we choose our next president (and other elected officials). Billions of dollars are spent on campaigns, trillions of words are spilled, and emotions beyond counting are poured out. How emotional and worked up and divided we become! For the last ten years, have any two names elicited more spirited responses than the names of Obama and Trump?
We cannot get caught up in this volatile, political fray. It cannot dominate our lives. It must be made subject to the everyday priorities that matter more, namely, how we relate to God; how we live our lives; how we raise our families; how we love our neighbors. Those things transcend the world of politics, and rather than getting caught up in that frenzied arena, we must bring balance and perspective to it.
Let’s be the ones who keep our cool. Let’s stay in the Spirit. Let’s set a good example for others to follow rather than be caught up in their bad example.
2) Regardless of party affiliation, we must remain independent. Some of my friends are registered Republicans; others (far less in number) are registered Democrats; still others Libertarian or simply Independent. What matters, though, is that we identify more with God’s cause than with a political party, since: 1) every party is mixed, and: 2) no party, in itself, can bring about national transformation. In that sense, we stand as God’s holy, alternative party, offering our votes and support to those who stand for what is right.
I wrote on January 30, 2017, “Let’s put our faith before our politics, lest we make the mistake the religious right made in generations before and become an appendage of the Republican Party.” To the extent we become an appendage to a party, to that extent we sell ourselves short, and to that extent we lose our ability to bring about change. Let the political parties come to us rather than us going to them. No one should be able to bribe us or gain our votes by offering us a seat at the table.
3) We must stay involved. It’s easy to get discouraged when we look at some of our options. What if no candidate meets our ideals? What if no party consistently stands for our values? But it is disastrous to drop out. Part of our calling is to continue to shine the light in dark places, and if our light goes out, darkness prevails. That must not happen on our watch.
I’m glad that evangelical leaders stayed with Donald Trump, and I’m glad they continue to be involved in his life and presidency. These men and women have made a difference in his life, and it has been a difference for the good. And while it’s true that he is far from being “Saint Donald,” it’s also true that he appears to be taking many steps in the right direction, at least in terms of pro-Christian policies, for the good of the nation. (Again, I’m not saying this about all his policies and, obviously, about all his actions.)
Looking back to my warnings about Trump during the primaries (coupled with my expressed hope that I’d be proven wrong and would have to eat my words), I truly believe that prayer on his behalf, along with godly leaders speaking into his life, has made a positive impact. By all means, we should keep praying and speaking.
As for voting, what if evangelical voters stayed home and let Hillary Clinton win? I believe the results would have been terrible on many fronts, in particular those of deep Christian concern.
So, stay involved. Just do so with the right perspective, remembering that involvement does not mean absolute trust. Nor does it mean total allegiance.
4) God uses unlikely vessels, but character still matters. During the presidential campaigns, I grew very tired of hearing people saying, “We’re electing a president, not a pastor,” but there is some truth to this statement. More importantly, the Lord sees things differently than we do, and His purposes far transcend ours.
When it comes to President Trump, during the primaries, I had a hard time seeing what some others saw because of his many, evident flaws. This was only highlighted by what seemed to be better Republican alternatives. I was also aware that a bull in a china shop can do a lot of damage. Yet it’s clear to me (and millions of others) that there was a specific divine purpose in raising up a rough and tumble leader like Trump, and it often takes a bullish personality to get things done in Washington.
At the same time, character does count, and character flaws can make things much messier than they need to be. In the case of Trump, while he stands to get a lot of good done, it may come at a high cost. So, as stated throughout this book, if the presidential elections were today, I would vote for him once more against Hillary Clinton (or another like-minded opponent). But I will not downplay the importance of personal integrity for a leader, and I will continue to look for future candidates whose character matches their convictions.
5) We must stand for the issues near and dear to the Lord’s heart. My friend Prof. Darrell Bock wrote a book titled, How Would Jesus Vote?: Do Your Political Views Really Align With The Bible? In this book, Darrell covers a wide range of subjects, including health care, immigration, the size of the government, gun control, education, and more. How, indeed, would Jesus vote? Or, more to the point for each of us, how would He have us vote?
All too often, we vote out of political habit, often carrying on family or ethnic or racial traditions for generations. But are we carrying God’s heart? Are we standing for the most vulnerable in our society? Are we being responsible with our vote when it comes to what really matters in our society?
Sadly, many of us vote in selfish ways, primarily asking, “What will be best for my personal income?” Or, “How will this tax plan affect me?” Instead, we should look at the things that Scripture prioritizes – the sanctity of life; justice for all; the stability of the family; right sexual order – and vote accordingly. In a country like ours, there’s no reason to sit on the sidelines.
6) Sometimes, we must function as the president’s loyal opposition. In my aforementioned January 30, 2017 article, I referenced a Jewish scholar named Yochanan Muffs who wrote a profound article in 1980 titled, “His Majesty's Loyal Opposition: A Study in Prophetic Intercession.” Prof. Muffs argued that, “Prophecy is a dialectical tension between passive transmission of divine anger and active intercession in the name of prophetic love.” He added, “The life of Moses is a vivid illustration of the prophet as intercessor. The stories of the Exodus are marked by periodic eruptions of divine anger which are soothed by the wise intercession of Moses.”
Muffs’ point is that God relied on the prophets to intercede, to plead the case of their people, to appeal for mercy, to ask for a respite, to oppose the divine decree of judgment. And, Muffs notes, “when the dialogue between mercy and anger is silent, there arises an imbalance of divine emotion.”
You ask, “But what does that have to do with evangelicals and President Trump (or, for that matter, believing Christians and any president)?”
Simply this: At times, our calling is to oppose the president, with respect and honor and love. At times, being loyal means disagreeing. At times, being a true friend involves conflict, since no one needs a bunch of yes men – in particular, the President of the United States.
7) Our calling goes beyond patriotism. America is an amazing country, one that many other nations seek to emulate. We really have been richly blessed with freedoms and resources and opportunities. And in many ways, we are blessed to be Americans.
But America is far from perfect, and even though we have done so much good worldwide, we have also done evil. We export pornography around the globe. We model carnality and narcissism. We have birthed false religions. Not all of our military ventures are for the good. And as much as America has some amazing Christian roots, we cannot equate America with the kingdom of God.
That’s why, rather than pray, “God bless America,” I prefer to pray, “Your kingdom come to America.” The former can sometimes be taken to mean, “God, make us bigger and stronger and richer!” The latter really means, “Father, bring us to repentance for our sins and turn our hearts to righteousness that we may be truly blessed!”
If we remember this, we will keep political involvement in the right perspective, namely, something important, but something subservient to a higher cause. And we will never look to the government or to a political leader to do what only Jesus and the gospel can do.
When it comes to President Trump, I do believe he has been raised up as a significant, 21st century leader, but as a divine wrecking ball, accomplishing much good (with the potential of even more good in the coming years) but with many unneeded casualties. We do well as evangelical followers of Jesus (and others of like mind) to respect his office, to encourage him to do right, to support him however we can, but not to identify ourselves primarily as followers of (or defenders of) Trump. As I wrote on June 30, 2017, “I will not sacrifice my ethics and demean my faith to defend his wrongful words. To do that is to lose all credibility before a watching world.”
As the title of this book says, Donald Trump is not our Savior. But he is our president, and as such, one of the most powerful men in the world. Let’s not scorn him; let’s not glorify him; and by all means, let’s not give up on him.