The second post in the Evangelicalism After Trump series comes from my friend Steven Wedgeworth.

When I awoke Wednesday morning in Central Florida the sky was still dark and intermittent explosions of electricity filled the sky. Thunder boomed, as the palm trees bent and the rain poured. As I began to scroll through my social media feed, I quickly learned the cause of this cosmic disturbance: Donald Trump had won the Indiana primary, and Ted Cruz had dropped out of the race for Republican presidential nominee. The fate of our Republic was now sure, and thus the heavens were declaring the verdict. “Either there is a civil strife in heaven, or else the world, too saucy with the gods, incenses them to send destruction” (Julius Caesar Act 1, Scene 3). Now we poor Evangelicals are left to ponder our fate.

Perhaps things are not quite this melodramatic. Donald Trump, who is unlikely to defeat Hillary Clinton, is even more unlikely to be a worse all-around president than our previous ones, particularly the last two. It is also not clear that he would be significantly worse than Hillary, and so there is reason to adopt a more measured response. Yes, everything will be embarrassing and terrible, but it probably won’t be too different than it already is. Life will go on.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that politically-engaged Christians should take it all in stride. No, there are good reasons for them, especially those conservative Christians, to take a stand of opposition against Donald Trump (though I wouldn’t agree with quite all of those arguments), and this now means that they will also have to take a stand against the Republican Party. For some this is a little depressing. For others it is intimidating. But I would suggest that it should also be liberating. Finally, after all of these years, we have our chance to escape the GOP.

For those of us under forty, we have never actually been able to enthusiastically support any Republican presidential candidate. We could tolerate some, but really, we have strongly disliked most of them. We held our nose and voted for the lesser of two evils, usually to no avail. The GOP never was ours. Its elites were happy to simply use Evangelicals as pawns. And we all knew that, but we held out hope that we really did have the numbers on our side and that it was just a matter of time before we could cash in on that.

But now Trump has taught us that that “silent majority” were also not our true allies. They were always something else entirely. Let’s admit it. We voted Republican because of the issue of abortion and a desire to protect our religious values against government coercion. Sometimes we went in for the various economic arguments, but we never really dug in deeply to understand them, and they didn’t actually come from any kind of long-standing conservative root system. For a variety of reasons, not all of them honorable, the GOP was not our home. We were just a passin’ through. And so now we have our opportunity to begin leaving it for good. We do not need to do this all at once, but we need to begin preparing ourselves to do so, and the Donald gives us our best opportunity to get started.

We shouldn’t kid ourselves. This will be hard. It is unlikely that a new third-party candidate could even get on all of the ballots, much less win the presidency for this cycle. At the same time, we shouldn’t miss the fact that more people feel alienated by the Republican party than perhaps ever before. Molly Ball tells us that the GOP is dead, as she surveys many of its more prominent eulogies. The #NeverTrump list is growing, and it includes an impressively wide variety of personalities.

Political pundits like William Kristol, David French, Glenn Beck, and Erick Erickson are well known, but there are also culture warriors like Douglas Wilson and George Grant, leaders of religious and family-policy think tanks like the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and the Institute for Family Studies, and more traditionally “insider” fundraisers and networkers. This isn’t limited to the “true conservatives” either. A recent CNN poll shows that 12% of presumably moderate Republican voters plan to vote for Hilary Clinton. At least for this election cycle, a large and diverse body of otherwise GOP voters will not be voting for the Republican candidate for president. If there were ever a time where voting for some sort of independent or third party candidate were justified, surely this is it.

Having said all of this, we should resist the full-blown alt-right tendency to hope for a disruption that opens up space for reactionary orders which really have no chance of being established. Whenever the “now’s our chance” moment occurs, there is a temptation to grasp for too much. If conservative Christians use the #NeverTrump moment to call for some sort of distributivist theocracy (which holds some personal appeal to me, I should add), then we’re just wasting everyone’s time and being bad stewards to boot. Utopia through cataclysm is a fool’s errand that would result in much pain and an even-greater loss of standing in the American public arena, all of which would still be dependent upon the right combination of highly unlikely events.

No, reactionaryism is not the solution. This means that Christians have to be both boldly ambitious and realistic, depending on the specific political locales. Christians should still support those various politicians on the local and state level who are defending Christian ideals, and many of these are, in fact, Republicans and will continue to be even after Trump. We should not gleefully tear down the scaffolding of our political apparatus in the pursuit of newfound liberation. We shouldn’t have any sort of gleam in our eye at the possibility of defying older expectations. We should work hard to keep as much of what is currently good about the status quo.

So why take the chance with the presidential ticket then? Make no mistake about it, not voting for Trump will most likely result in the election of Hilary Clinton and the continuation and acceleration of recent progressive policies. It will hurt. However, voting for Trump will definitively confirm that suspicion that conservative Christians are owned and exploited by the Republican Party, no matter how contrary its goals are from their own. Worse, voting for Trump will ensure that this trend continues to hold, perhaps more strongly than ever before. It will be a total abdication of Christian moral witness, and it will ensure our longstanding loss of credibility to cynical party leaders as well as more moderate and left-leaning onlookers. If not voting for Trump will encourage a sort of political murder, then voting for Trump will actually be a political suicide.

This is a challenge, no doubt. We want to shore up and defend the smaller and more local political institutions that currently exist. This probably means voting for Republican senators, congressmen, and governors. There’s no virtue in throwing them away. But we should prepare ourselves to gladly sound a defiant note on the national executive level. We should vote for a third party candidate, and we should do so joyfully and boldly. This will require planning and resource-gathering. This won’t be a job for the faint of heart. We will encounter fierce opposition, even from people who were previously friends. So be it. We have tried their way again and again. The lesser evil keeps getting less “less evil.” If a conservative can’t break with the GOP over Trump, what possible future candidate could they ever break with it for?

There’s no magic bullet at the present, particularly if that means being able to elect someone into the office of the president. Instead politically-engaged conservative Evangelicals need to start a different project altogether. They need to carefully consider and clearly demonstrate their political principles, identify and support those politicians currently in office who can enable and protect those principles, and plan to make a very loud dissent on the presidential level in this upcoming general election.

They need to pick a dynamic personality, presumably with some branding power, who can run as an outsider candidate and effectively articulate truly Christian political principles which are different enough from the generic Republicanism of the last twenty-five years to make a meaningful impact. And this person must absolutely have a command of contemporary media tools. If we have to go out, then we should at least go out with a bang, and we should leave a mark on the political landscape for future constructive efforts.

Supporting this person doesn’t require a politically uniform coalition. For this reason, that person should stake out a few key political commitments, namely the rule of law, the role of faith, the integrity and necessity of the family for civic functions, and the chief end of governments, and they should repeat those points loudly and consistently.

The creation of more-lasting institutions will have to be taken care of on a different level than presidential politics. Churches, school, and other community and civic groups need to continue these projects with a new intensity. They need to also see this current crisis as an opportunity to chart a third way between the two dead-ends that our political landscape has presented us for the last quarter-century. Pastors and teachers should prepare their people to withstand the social temptation to fall in line with one of the two undesirable options forced upon them and instead to be satisfied with searching for a truth not yet fully embodied. Instead of a rear-guard action which incrementally slows the inevitable, we have to consider a dramatic change of course which opens up new possibilities in the distant future.

This means that thoughtful Christians should begin seriously thinking about and constructing an alternative to the Republican Party, and this alternative should be really different. It may even break with what most people consider pure “conservatism” in many ways—and that purity strategy has already been rejected this cycle, by the way. Instead, we need to introduce people to historical Christian principles of ethics and jurisprudence, more recent historical political movements like Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum and Abraham Kuyper’s Christian Democracy, as well as contemporary suggestions like Ross Douthat’s “Reform Conservatism.”

This will allow us to question certain common talking points of American politics, particularly its simple binaries and reductionism, and we might even pick up some moderate and left-wing sympathizers along the way (though this must be done by way of shared principles). We need to reclaim political recognition of and protection for the institution of the family, and we need to recognize that we can really only acheive these sorts of things on the local level. We should begin withdrawing from large federal programs and networks (including schools), all the while calling on government, even federal-government, protection of local programs and networks (including schools). This isn’t exactly the Benedict Option, since it can’t exist without some sympathetic government agreeing to not harass it (and perhaps even incentivize it through mechanisms like friendlier tax policies, zoning laws, and liability protections), but it is a call for the rejection of the managerial state in favor of a more open political landscape that allows a variety of civil-society institutions to cultivate the people.

So the plan is three-fold.

  • First, recruit and support a meaningful opposition candidate for this presidential cycle. Make a loud noise and let the defiance be felt.
  • Second, support those candidates who are currently in place and defending our interests. Vote for them, even perhaps in spite of their party affiliation, and let them know that you still have their backs.
  • And then third, get serious about the meaningful non-political institutions which you participate in. They are the only things that can catechize our people in a truly distinctive Christian way of thinking about society and politics.

Is this a desperation move, banking on a hope and a prayer? Certainly. But so is voting for Trump. After all, he might nominate a Supreme Court Justice “in the mold of Antonin Scalia.” But he might also nominate his sister. He might even find a way to do something worse. Another point of desperation is considering what it would it take for Trump to even beat Hillary Clinton, as current polls have him trailing by a historic margin. If we are counting on black swans to elect Trump in the first place, why not count on them to do something we won’t be permanently embarrassed over?

The call to #NeverTrump isn’t about purity. It’s about strategy. It’s just that it’s about the long-term strategy. 2016 may or may not be “the most-important election in our lifetime,” as the cliche always goes, but the one thing that is certain is that it won’t be the last “most-important” election in our lifetime. It doesn’t have to be—and it shouldn’t be—our last move. If we can put up with even Trump, then no one should ever again believe that “character makes a difference.” In fact, people would be justified in wondering if we were ever believable on that point.

You see, Trump is not simply the death of the Republican Party. He is the death of ethos, the ultimate act of self-incrimination for all who support him. If conservative-minded Christians want to ever have a prophetic voice and compelling moral testimony, if we ever want those who disagree with us to seriously consider our arguments, and if we want to ever be able to claim that we are not simply a rival brand of identity politics, then now is the time to take a stand.  If we ever want to begin creating an actual solution in American politics, then this is our chance.

Pastor Steven Wedgeworth (M.Div., Reformed Theological Seminary) is from South Mississippi and has been an ordained minister in the Communion of Reformed and Evangelical Churches since 2008. He is currently the pastor of Christ Church Lakeland in Lakeland, FL. Pastor Wedgeworth has also taught in classical and Christian schools for several years and has recently served on the founding school board for St. Augustine School in Jackson, MS. He is also the co-founder and editor of The Calvinist International, as well as a directing board member for The Davenant Trust, a foundation for Christian scholarship. Steven is married to Anna, and they have a two-year-old son and a new baby daughter. Together they enjoy good food, friends, and music, but Anna leaves the gardening and SEC football-watching to Steven.

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  • UnreconstructedRebel

    Trump represents probably the last chance to save America from a certain death as a balkanized patchwork of warring Third World alien ethnic groups and a middle class economically depleted by globalist trade deals. The current trajectory of the US is arcing towards that of Mexico or Brazil, if not Yugoslavia, and it will not end well. The fact that this pastor not only rejects the only candidate in modern times who proposes to reverse the trend, but actually disdains the man, shows that most younger Americans are proof that we have simply become too stupid to survive as a nation.

    • Joe Stocker

      Perhaps The Hunger Games is a remarkably prescient fable. What sector are conservative-minded Christians going to end up in?

      Trump should start wearing a mockingjay pin! He almost does the three-finger salute – but he can’t touch his pinkie with his thumb because his fingers are too short.

      • UnreconstructedRebel

        I have no idea for any of that means.

    • Bill kennedy

      URebel, yes Yugoslavia and seemingly at breathtaking speed. The fact that the “younger Americans” you reference have no idea what they are watching or seem to approve underlines the bleakness.

  • The reason why you Republican conservative Christians are in the pickle that you are is because you’ve been short-sighted in terms of voting. For as long as the Republicans have nominated candidates you disaproved of, instead of holding your nose while voting, you could have been supporting third party candidates. Realize that the emergence of a viable third party on either the conservative or nonconservative side helps moderate the direction of 2 main political parties. Those 2 parties rely on voters’ lack of independence. But those parties don’t emerge overnight. For them to play a significant role in American politics, they have to grow incrementally and consistently. In short, now is not the time to escape from the GOP, yesteryear was.

    As for HIllary, you will be happy to know that the May Day celebration I was at saw no support or respect for her. However, those of us at the May Day celerbrations are the true Left who are way too insignificant in numbers to matter.

    Finally, we religiously conservative Christians need to rethink how we will share society with others. If we insist on Christianity having a preeminent and privileged position in controlling American society and politics, we will be losing the younger people as well as laying stumbling blocks for unbelievers who might otherwise listen to us preach the Gospel. If, however, we promote the sharing of society with others as equals, we will have avoided both political hubris as well as providing offenses that cause people to scorn us.

    • Leo Toydog

      But if you share the public space with other people you will have to stop trying to marginalize gay people and accept same sex marriage. Are you prepared to do this?

    • CPT

      There can’t be a viable third party, at least at the national level, under current ballot access rules and even more fundamentally, under a district-based electoral model. Sorry, it’s just not possible.

      • CPT,
        It’s not viable says you. We can make it viable simply by boycotting the 2 major parties while voting for 3rd party candidates. Where I live, the dems blocked Nader for one election only to find themselves in court and now they 3rd party cndidates are on the ballot. But it takes time to make 3rd party candidate electable on the national level. If we wait until we think a 3rd party candidate is viable, we are waiting for Godot. So it really depends on us.

        • CPT

          Or you can work to change an existing party. Eight years ago, both candidates for the Democratic nomination said they were against same-sex marriage. Now, Obama’s Justice Department is threatening to sue school districts that don’t allow self-identified transgenders to sue whatever bathroom they want. What’s the takeaway? The LGBT movement has been extremely effective at transforming the Democratic Party in just eight years. Traditionalist Christians could learn a thing or two about advocating for specific policies, instead of stupidly get snookered time after time by the Chamber of Commerce Republicans who couldn’t care less about our issues.

          • CPT,
            You can work to change the party, but remember that both parties are bought and paid for. And your example of what the LGBT movement did to Obama is really no such example change. The real change that must take place is structural change. All other changes are there to pacify8 people. Only structural changes can change the power dynamics. Why do you think Hillary has so much support from the oil industry and Wall Street?

  • Glaivester

    but there are also… leaders of religious and family-policy think tanks like the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission,

    By which you mean Russell Moore, a staunch open-borders advocate who has financial ties to hedge fund manager Paul Singer (“The Vulture of Argentina”).

    Maybe Southern Baptists like myself ought to take this as an opportunity to leave the Southern Baptist Convention rather than the GOP – if the SBC is promoting the destruction of our country because its leaders want to please selfish plutocrats, perhaps they’re the ones not representing our interests.

    • UnreconstructedRebel

      Perhaps, but it would be better if traditional Southern Baptists like us banded together to drive Russell Moore into outer darkness.

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  • Glaivester

    How come all of the Christian conservatives were fine with the GOP up until the day they nominated someone who took pro-American stances on trade and immigration? Why is Trump suddenly a bridge too far, and not globalist warmonger John McCain?

    • Oooooh…..dunno! Never thought of that!

      Maybe, just maybe, it’s because that person is a shameless liar who–among other things–has been a yuuuuge donor to Planned Parenthood and has raised the specter, publicly, of committing incest? I would go on, but then….you’ve probably read that essay.

      But yes, the opposition to Trump is purely because we’re–let’s just use the term, since you and I both know where you are headed on this–“cuckservatives.” Uh-huh. Nevermind that Romney staked out a similarly hard-line, reflexively nativist approach toward China (no one today remembers his rhetoric) and defended “self-deportation” on immigration….which, while not as extreme as Trump, was still criticized by the Left for its callousness. He was unmitigatedly pro-America, and most evangelicals got behind him.

      • CPT

        Come on Matthew, “incest”? That’s a shameless twisting of Trump’s (admittedly weird) statement that if he weren’t related to his daughter he would want to “date” her. He did not say he would want to have sex with her. Have some honesty about what he really said.

        • Nathanael

          In common usage outside of (some) Evangelical circles, “dating” implies “sleeping with”.

        • Show me a single dating relationship that doesn’t have *some* sexual interest, either during it or in the marriage the dating relationship leads to. You admit the statement is “weird.” But’s worse than that: it’s vile and degrading.

          • CPT

            Ok, so if he HAD BEEN dating her, we could say that he had sexual interest.
            But he wasn’t dating her. He was speaking hypothetically. The very worst interpretation of what he said is “If we weren’t related, I would find you attractive.” You don’t have to like Trump, but reading him *so* uncharitably tends to discredit your criticism.

        • Joe Stocker

          Yeah it is twisting of his words. Or Matthew is unfamiliar with the kind of cultures that wouldn’t be distrustful of Trump’s “crass” phrasing..

          • Yeah, that’s *surely* it. It’s good to know you think all manners of vice can be justified under the rubric of “class.” Trumpism is nothing if not an *excellent* clarifier….

            (Notice, again, how your reduction of my words to your fictional perspective on my class and standpoint allows you to avoid the burden of explaining how exactly I am “twisting” his words. Good work!)

          • Joe Stocker

            Assuming the reference is to an old TV interview where he says “Although she does have a very nice figure. I’ve said that if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps, I would be dating her.” then yeah that doesn’t mean he would date his daughter. Joking about what he said is the appropriate response (which is why the TV interviewer then quipped “Who are you, Woody Allen?”)

            And if you watch one of those YouTube compilations of Trump’s cussing, it’s all emphasis/performance swearing – the kind of thing working class people say all the time. When it’s done well, it’s funny!.

          • “Joking about what he said is the appropriate response…”

            Yes, that’s right. That’s precisely what Paul was getting at in Ephesians 5:12.

            Trump is nothing if not a revelation.

          • Joe Stocker

            I’m not sure what you mean by that exact verse but…

            I change my way of talking when I post here – as I do in church. I do it partly because of Ephesians 5 and partly because evangelicals readily misread the aggressive/sarcastic, profanity rich nature of my ‘native’ dialect. I grew up in an unchurched, highly dysfunctional, welfare class family – so the cross-cultural tensions are probably more pronounced in my case than they would be for low income person who was raised in a Christian home. When evangelicals ask someone to surrender all “obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking”, they usually take ‘offensive’ words and phrases that they wouldn’t say anyway at face value.

    • Ben C

      Um, Trump does not have pro-American stances on trade and immigration. If you think he does, then you don’t understand trade and immigration, and you don’t know America well.

  • C. Quinn-Jones

    My respect for US social conservations who cannot in good conscience support Trump or Hillary. I live in the UK and I’m struggling to understand the intricacies of US politics – hence the brevity of this comment.

    • Leo Toydog

      Your politics are pretty complicated too. The Tories won? So why is everyone so upset about it?

      • Joe Stocker

        And Labour lost a big chunk of their base to the UK Independence Party (UKIP) – who the media/ruling class would have you believe are all knuckle-dragging racists. Not to mention the rise of the so-called “far right” in Germany, Sweden, France, Denmark, Poland….

      • C. Quinn-Jones

        If ‘everyone’ were upset about the Tories winning, the Tories wouldn’t have won! Either that or some people didn’t bother to vote and then wished they had. As I see it, one of the main differences between the US and UK voting systems is that in the US you vote for presidential candidates whereas we vote for local MPs. In the run-up to the 2016 Election I met all local candidates at the local hustings and I also had long door-step chats with two candidates who were canvassing on local streets. What I thought about party leaders didn’t come into it much.

        • C. Quinn-Jones

          Correction – …’ in the run-up to the 2015 Election…’. What with the US elections and the EU referendum, I seem to have got 2016 on the brain!

  • Barry_D

    “For those of us under forty, we have never actually been able to enthusiastically support any Republican presidential candidate. We could tolerate some, but really, we have strongly disliked most of them. We held our nose and voted for the lesser of two evils, usually to no avail. The GOP never was ours. Its elites were happy to simply use Evangelicals as pawns. And we all knew that, but we held out hope that we really did have the numbers on our side and that it was just a matter of time before we could cash in on that.”

    IIRC, 75% of self-identified white evangelical/fundamentalists stated that they had voted for Dubya in the ’04 exit polls. You did like Bush II, you just didn’t like the results of his policies – after you had suffered.

    You loved war. You loved making the rich richer and the poor poorer. You loved oppressive government.

    ‘culture warriors like Douglas Wilson’ The man who supports slavery and lies about it? How is the child rape going in his congregation? (see http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/doug-wilson-reluctant-response/).

    As for the Southern Baptist Conference, their oh-so-moral Leader of the Purge Al Mohler recently backed a child-moestation-friendly preacher.

    • UnreconstructedRebel

      I’m not a Wilson apologist, but to be fair, he doesn’t “support slavery”, what he does support is telling the truth about history. His pamphlet “Southern Slavery As It Was”, co-authored with Steve Wilkins, was an attempt to set the record straight on a issue that was distorted beyond recognition by abolitionists agit-prop and yet is kept alive and under our noses by race-mongers today.

  • CPT

    Even assuming that we’re unhappy with Trump and Hillary, it’s still unclear to me why evangelicals have to make a big deal out of the presidential election by nominating some pointless protest candidate. In the long run, it would be better to expend our energy promoting congressional and state officials we can get excited about, and who will actually have a chance of winning an office. Of course, it would be EVEN better to spend less money and time on candidates, and more on cultural renewal efforts. As Andrew Breitbart put it: “Politics is downstream from culture.”

  • Nat Alee

    So long as democrats support abortion on demand, I don’t see how a Christian can support them in good conscience. You have two choices, and one of them of unacceptable. The other is just disappointing.

  • hoosier_bob

    I’m fairly skeptical of the averment that socially conservative Christians should expect harassment from the government or from so-called cultural elites and the institutions they control.

    Truth be told, very few elites are liberals. Most are pragmatists, and tend to practice many of virtues extolled by social conservatives. The two beliefs that characterize elites more than any other are: (1) a strong belief in giving people the freedom to make personal choices; (2) a strong belief in the right to be left alone by authoritarian institutions that seek to constrain personal choice unnecessarily; and (3) a strong belief that “harm” is the touchstone of public ethical reasoning.

    The current animosity elites feel toward socially conservative Christians relates directly to the fact that they view socially conservative Christians as violating the tenets above, especially when it comes to LGBTQ people. That animosity would likely dissipate substantially if socially conservative Christians would dial back their efforts on ham-fisted “religious liberty” legislation, various “bathroom bills,” and other legislation that takes away public rights of LGBTQ people.

    I doubt that there would be much objection at all concerning private discrimination. After all, elite culture isn’t exactly welcoming to transgendered people and to those in same-sex relationships. Elites are probably a bit more likely than the general public to identify as bisexual or queer, but they nearly always settle into opposite-sex relationships. I don’t foresee that changing.

    Which brings us to the question of persuasion. Elites feel no burden to persuade anyone of the merits of elite culture. It’s largely left up to the entrant to figure out the secret handshakes. I see no reason why conservative Christian circles need be any different. The view of evangelistic responsibility that pervades evangelicalism is hardly biblical. And I see nothing to suggest that the church needs to serve in some kind of prophetic role to the broader culture.

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  • momofthecastle

    “that person should stake out a few key political commitments, namely the rule of law, the role of faith, the integrity and necessity of the family for civic functions, and the chief end of governments, and they should repeat those points loudly and consistently.”
    Does this mean that Ted Cruz would run as a third party candidate? Because these were his political commitments, and we lost him.

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