(All blog posts are the work and opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Felch Mountain Bible Chapel or its affiliations)
I have been thinking a good deal about the evangelical vote and the election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States. During the primaries I was opinionated and busy researching the best potential candidate. In the general election I sat back and bemoaned my choices wondering how I could fulfill my civic duty without assaulting my conscience. Now Mr. Trump is the Commander and Chief of the United States and God has instructed me to pray for my leaders and submit to their leadership where it does not contradict Scripture (1 Tim 2.2; Rom 13.1, see Acts 4.18-20). I trust God to accomplish his purposes in the world through many different avenues and know that this season of human history is no different.
While trying to make sense of the recent evangelical support for President Trump I came across an article in the Washington Post. The Post ran an article by Michael Gerson on the 23rd of January entitled “Under Trump, Christians may have it easier. They’ll also be in grave spiritual danger.” In the article Gerson is gracious to the approximately 81 percent of Evangelicals who voted for Donald Trump noting that many voted because of social policy concerns and judicial appointments. Gerson goes on to warn Christians with a three point “sermon”:
- Trump is associated with nativism (see definition 2). In this case Trump’s nativism is expressed in an America first mantra that goes beyond policy and trade considerations to include a revival of classic American culture. Because of this association there is a danger that Christians will hyper focus on the preservation of classic American values, and spend their energy and resources on restoring an idealized America over the ongoing progress of the Gospel through the ebb and flow of history. Christians need to be vocal about the trans-cultural nature of Christianity. Despite the missionary zeal of our past where well-meaning men and women propagated the gospel within the package of western culture, the gospel of Jesus Christ has transcended the four corners of the compass. In doing so it has embraced the beauty of indigenous cultures while confronting cultural sins. (This is true of Western culture as well, and preachers would do well to once again expose our Western way of life to the litmus test of the teaching of Christ). The caution I believe Gerson is laying before us is that we are at risk of nativising the gospel with American overtones at the cost of its core message that every tribe and tongue is invited to the Cross of Jesus Christ and must not become “civilized”, or “westernized”, or “conservitized” to find forgiveness and new life through faith in Jesus Christ.
- First Amendment rights apply to all religions. In the passage cited above (1 Tim 2.2) we are to pray for our leaders so that we would live a peaceful life. This peaceful life was envisioned within the context of a multi-cultural and pluralistic society called the Roman Empire. Christians of the First Century did not enjoy a monopoly on religion and had to learn to live peacefully next door to those who worshiped the Emperor, the Greek gods, or one of the many other deities of the time. Living in peace with these views does not mean acceptance, or even a lack of dialogue about the one true religion. The Apostles’ evangelistic efforts are evidence of this. Christians need to be wary that we do not become the persecutor under this presidential reign, lending support to dangerous policy that restricts religious freedom for those we disagree with. We will not fulfill the Great Commission through legislation. Gerson’s warning is well founded: “A government with the ability to target or monitor someone just because he or she is a Muslim might eventually be used, with a change in leadership, to target and monitor conservative Christians.”
- The union of religion with a political order or politician is a marriage whose offspring wreak havoc upon a society and make a mockery of the Gospel. When this union occurs it is easy for the religious authority to bend scripture to fit the political enterprise. Truth is suppressed for the expedience of social reform and religion becomes a cruel school-master whipping the students for all manner of light offense. One real danger here is that Christians forget we were not called to establish a more perfect union but to invite all men and women to come to faith in Jesus Christ. The Gospel is not for America but it is for Americans. In other words God did not send his son to give birth to the American political system but to redeem those who would be born within that system and, I might add, all over the globe. If we are not careful our wishful thinking and hope for reform will lead us to uncritically accept whatever a Trump Administration will bring. We are not sycophants uncritically supporting the president for evangelical advantage. We are representatives of Christ working for his purpose (the Great Commission) and laboring for the good of humanity through the truth of Scripture. If we are not careful our “take it to the liberal” attitude will shift our focus from building God’s kingdom through the unashamed proclamation of the Gospel, to securing a lasting future for America through the election and support of political leaders.
I close this post with an email [slightly edited] I sent to a good friend in response to comments made by President Trump during the election. The email chain began with a quote from President Trump’s speech:
“And whether a child is born in the urban sprawl of Detroit or the windswept plains of Nebraska, they look up at the same night sky, they fill their heart with the same dreams, and they are infused with the breath of life by the same almighty Creator” – Donald Trump
I considered his words for a bit and finally responded. I believe it captures what I hope Christians will critically think about over the next four years: