There’s no point in denying it: evangelical Christians are supporting Donald Trump. While there are certainly pockets of the evangelical community firmly entrenched in the #NeverTrump camp, recent polls indicate that the reality TV star and real estate developer is having no trouble attracting conservative Christians to his campaign.1 In fact, evangelicals seem more enthusiastic about Trump then they were four years ago for Mitt Romney. As strange as the “Evangelical Moment” Trump is enjoying may seem, it only takes a cursory glance at the history of entanglement between the GOP and conservative Christianity to understand how we came to the strange place where an evangelical leader is comparing a thrice-married casino magnate with Jesus of Nazareth.2
As difficult as it may be to imagine, there was a time not so long ago when American evangelicals did not represent a homogenous voting bloc. However, in response to the whirlwind of societal changes in 60’s and early 70’s (civil rights and abortion chief among them), Jerry Falwell and other evangelical leaders saw an opportunity to organize theologically conservative Christians into a politically powerful group. Dissatisfied with the policies of Jimmy Carter, the newly minted “Moral Majority” threw its considerable support behind Ronald Reagan and other Republicans in the 1980 elections and married conservative theology with conservative political ideology.
Through the use of powerful (yet selective) biblical rhetoric, Falwell and others connected laissez faire economic policies with biblical literalism and, in response, the Republican party tightened their stances on social issues to align more closely with conservative Christian values. Over the next decades, the distinction between conservative political ideology and theology became blurred to the point that pulpits were filled with politicians and government offices with clergy. Nearly forty years later, it shouldn’t be surprising to see evangelicals supporting Donald Trump. When conservative theology and ideology become synonymous, voting Republican becomes a matter of conscience.
As a pastor, what grieves me about this situation is it demonstrates a distinct lack of an alternative political imagination among evangelicals. From childhood, we are taught that patriotism is a virtue, that God has specifically blessed America, and that we have a responsibility as citizens of the greatest country in the world to participate in the electoral system. But are these particularly Christian ideas? Is there Biblical evidence that points to this reality, or are we accepting our culture’s imagination for who we—as followers of Jesus—should be?
Recently, Wayne Grudem, a respected evangelical theologian, wrote a blog titled “Why Voting for Trump is a Morally Good Choice.” Throughout the piece, Grudem highlights issues typically associated with the Republican party—a conservative SCOTUS, border security, lower taxes, etc—and points out how he believes Trump would approach those issues. Unsurprisingly, Grudem believes that voting for Trump is morally good because ultimately he believes that Trump will uphold conservative political ideology. What is surprising, however, is that Grudem fails to offer up any scriptural support that the issues he has highlighted should be of importance to believers. There is an unspoken assumption that conservative policies are morally good, but biblically, where does that assumption come from?
I fear that Grudem and the majority of evangelicals have willingly accepted the narrative of the world—that we have to make strong political allies, that it is by controlling power that we can change the world, that we have a duty to bend the political system to our will—at the expense of the story of God. We have fallen prey to the siren song of candidates who promise to elevate our status without giving proper thought to the importance of status in the first place.3 As evangelicals fall in line behind Trump, it tells the world that Christ-likeness is secondary to a place at the table; that we will throw our lot in with anyone for the promise of influence.
That is not the message of scripture. We’re never called to attain power, but rather to sacrifice it in service to others.4 Jesus didn’t cozy up to power—he actively spoke truth against it.5 Time and time again, God worked in the small things, on the margins, as opposed to the places of power. Our story as Christians runs counter the prevailing story of our culture. We’re not called to become rulers over those around us, but rather to be servants of all.6
So, what does that look like? What if it meant that, as Christians, we were more worried about loving our enemies than we were national security? More concerned with the needs of our neighbor than our own religious liberty? More interested in practicing hospitality than having a strong national border? And what if commitment to being pro-life meant more of us opening our homes to adoption, or foster care, or women with unexpected pregnancies and expanding our love for the unborn to also include welcoming and loving the already-born Syrian refugee, and undocumented worker, and those on death row? What if we worried less about what national law was going to be passed, and focused all of our political energies on God’s law to love our neighbors as ourselves? To feed the hungry and clothe the naked? To care for widows and single moms and orphans and the fatherless among us? If all the time, energy, and resources evangelicals pour into elections were poured into our communities, the impact would be incredible.
That’s a bold political imagination. One that can’t be legislated or executive ordered. One that can’t be found in the platform of Trump or Hillary. One that might even be a little bit un-American. Do we have the capacity to imagine that future for the evangelical church? To imagine what might be if we take all the hope we have wrapped up in the political system and place it in King Jesus? I pray that we do, and I see little expressions of it already growing up through the cracks in the 40-year-old concrete that has covered the evangelical church. And I pray that in another 40 years those little cracks in the pavement will grow into a mustard tree farm.
www.pewforum.org, “Evangelicals Rally to Trump, Religious ‘Nones’ Back Clinton” ↩
www.christianpost.com: “Donald Trump Promises Evangelicals ‘Great Power,’ Higher Church Attendance” ↩