We really do have plans to turn our attention toward other issues beyond electoral politics next week. (I’ve got submitted pitches I’m currently reviewing on immigration, a general consideration of the cultural norms that create something like the Trump phenomenon, a book review of a new work on the white working class, and an excellent long essay on podcasting. Plus I’m hoping to do some more personal/reflective work in the next month and to review Katelyn Beaty’s important new work A Woman’s Place.) But as I’ve thought about this issue more, I wanted to draw together a few final notes on the question of evangelicals endorsing Donald Trump.

There are three different points I want to make and I’ll go through them in order from the least to most important.

First, supporting Trump completely destroys our power as a political movement.

On a purely practical level, supporting Trump is a disaster for two different reasons:

First, it tells the GOP that evangelicals are so desperate for a place at the table that we will endorse a candidate whose only possible appeal to us is that he has promised (with relatively little credibility given his other comments on the subject and his personal history) to give us conservative justices on the Supreme Court.

Endorsing Trump tells the GOP we’re cheap. They don’t have to actually protect religious liberty or the family in any substantive way. They don’t need to advance an educational agenda that protects our ability to educate our children. They don’t need to support pro-life legislation. All they have to do is elect a guy who might nominate conservative justices and they have us. This is horrifyingly short-term thinking that torpedoes our long-term position within the GOP.

Second, Trump in particular is a black pit of cynicism and dominance politics. But there’s good news: The only way he can rob you of your dignity and credibility is if you let him. Two prominent GOP pols are going to wake up on November 9 in position to become the new face of the GOP: Ted Cruz and Ben Sasse. (You should support Sasse.) And the reason they are going to be in that position is that they did what no other prominent GOP pols were willing to do—refused to endorse Trump. Cruz has less credibility here since he spent months cozying up to Trump when he thought Trump could be useful to him before pivoting away when he recognized Trump as a genuine threat.

But both Cruz and Sasse will have their dignity on November 9. Chris Christie won’t. Paul Ryan won’t. Mike Pence won’t. Mike Huckabee won’t. Rick Santorum won’t. And as Trump has made clear with his handling of Ryan, he won’t let anyone get away with playing the awkward, dishonest, and cowardly game Ryan tried to play of not condemning but also not endorsing. Trump will call that out and use to this own advantage, even if that means tearing down the GOP. (He doesn’t care about the GOP, if you haven’t noticed.) He’s like a dog trying to dominate a rival. If you won’t submit and you won’t fight, he’ll force the issue.

Second, calls to moderate our tone when condemning cravenness on the right demonstrates the very weaknesses that got us into this position in the first place.

Douthat has said a lot of smart things over the past six months, but near the top of the list is the closing line in a column he wrote from the RNC:

In other words, the coup scenario required leading Republican politicians to show sustained courage and creativity for the sake of their party and their country, and other leading politicians to respond to Trump’s abnormal rise by abandoning party business as usual and leaping into the unknown.

And a Republican Party that had such leaders would not have found itself in this position in the first place.

I want to take that basic principle and apply it to evangelicalism. Many of the evangelical leaders who have endorsed Trump have done so due to fears about what the American church’s future will be in a post-Obergefell America. Will religious liberty for Christian business owners be protected? Will state-level abortion restrictions be done away with? Will Christian universities and seminaries continue to exist? Will Christian parents have the freedom to give their children a Christian education?

All of these concerns are completely valid. Both Matt and myself have been abundantly clear on that point for some time now. We really are facing something of a doomsday scenario in American Christianity. The fact that some readers in response to my essay suggested that we are downplaying these issues or that we never criticize the left made me laugh, if for no other reason than the fact that Rod Dreher himself has said our site is one of the most essential resources for Christians interested in the Benedict Option.

So far, so good then. Here’s where things go haywire though: Because of these concerns we are told by men like Metaxas and Grudem and Dobson that we must endorse a man who, I repeat, has given us no credible reason to think we should trust him to handle any of these questions with Christian wisdom. (Grudem’s endorsement of Trump’s character is particularly galling and is why I took the especially aggressive stance I did toward him in Wednesday’s essay.)

Trump’s disregard for the family is plain to anyone with eyes to see. His apathy about life issues and marriage are equally apparent. And yet, on the basis of a single list of justices he provided under duress (a list, I note, that doesn’t include his extremely pro-choice sister who he has previously said would be a good SCOTUS justice) we are told to support him. And we haven’t even addressed the fact that Trump clearly lacks the sort of attention span or patience necessary to understand the complexities of foreign policy, a fact which could lead to him sparking a nuclear war that would do far more damage to millions of families than any number of policies Hillary Clinton is likely to support.

The desperate attempt to maintain power and position evinced by this move is precisely what got us into this dire position in the first place. The sort of evangelicalism capable of resisting Trump is the sort of evangelicalism that wouldn’t already be in the bleak place we find ourselves in. Trump endorsing evangelicals think they are taking action to protect the church in America when really they are simply demonstrating the very sorts of behaviors that got us into this mess.

I know, I know, I quote Wendell Berry obnoxiously often here, but once again I think he is helpful: In Jayber Crow he talks about the awareness Jayber has as he grows into an appreciation of his own sinfulness and the many ways he is just like his hated rival Troy Chatham. And the turning point in the novel is when Jayber realizes that in order to be saved he would have to become a man unimaginable not only to Chatham, but to himself. Something like that seems about right for where we are right now as evangelicals. If the church in America is to have a future, we must not only become a thing unimaginable (and therefore compelling) to our neighbors; we must become a thing unimaginable to our power- and image-obsessed leaders.

Third, when God calls us to himself he calls us to die.

This is the thing that disturbs my thinking about this issue more than anything else right now. We believe as Christians that we will be resurrected on the last day and in that resurrection resides our hope. What we seem to have forgotten is that only things that have died can be resurrected. I strongly suspect that what we are facing now is a call to die in ways that (white) American Christians haven’t been asked to do at any point in our nation’s history.

We are facing the likely shuttering of many evangelical colleges and universities in the very near future. Christian business owners are already under attack. I fully expect the broader question of Christian education to be broached in the USA in the near future, as it already has been in the UK and Canada. (This would mean that parochial schools and homeschoolers could be subject to government inspections of their classroom or curriculum to insure that it complies with national standards of inclusiveness.) We are facing difficult times.

Those who would have us support Trump would have us suppress concerns about conscience and character to preserve the possibility of a conservative court that would provide some cover from the storm that is to come. If we were talking about endorsing someone like pre-emasculation Chris Christie, Scott Walker, or Ted Cruz in order to obtain that goal, I could tilt my head a bit and understand it, even if I would still ultimately oppose it. But to sacrifice those concerns as completely as we must to endorse Trump suggests a desperation that betrays a lack of faith in Christ’s ability to preserve his church in America. And the question I have, as I observe that, is whether or not we are failing to hear our Lord’s call when he says “come and die with me.”

I am not sanguine about the church’s future in America, as I trust is quite apparent at this point. But I am confident that the same power which resurrected Jesus is at work in the American church, even in our current state of decay and disrepair. And so I harbor great hope for our future. But my hope is not based on the Supreme Court or the Republican party (LOL). It is based on the sure foundation of Christ’s promises to us in Scripture. And so I ultimately cannot endorse Trump, not only because it is tactically disastrous (which it is) but because it seems to me like a spiritually disastrous move which betrays an impoverished understanding in my own heart of the stern call of the Gospel. Our God calls us to die. If we are his followers, we must follow.

Enjoy the article? Pay the writer.

$
Personal Info

Donation Total: $0

Posted by Jake Meador

Jake Meador is a 2010 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he studied English and History. He lives in Lincoln, NE with his wife Joie, their daughter Davy, and son Wendell. Jake's writing has appeared in Christianity Today, Fare Forward, the University Bookman, Books & Culture, First Things, Front Porch Republic, and The Run of Play.

  • The above has two flaws. First, it ties religiously conservative Christians to tightly to the GOP. All the above article says is that occasionally, there will be a GOP candidate that evangelicals will not support. Trump, according to this article, is possibly portrayed as the minimum standard of evil for which Christians should not support.

    The second flaw is that while listing the possible consequences Christians are facing in business, education, and elsewhere, no mention is being made on how the group Christians are targeting the most, has for centuries endured much tougher sanctions than American Christians face. Perhaps this is a reason for some degree of ominous future for evangelicals.

  • Matthew Miller

    ????

    Well put Jake.

  • Physiocrat

    Between Hilary and Trump the later is far less likely to involve himself in foreign wars, even less than Ted Cruz. He attacked the Iraq war with loads of Republican donors there, was against Libya and has made conciliatory noises to the Russians which in contrast to the current antagonise them as much as possible. He is no Ron Paul but he certainly isn’t going to go nuclear any time soon- that line was frankly ridiculous.

    Further, it is true Trump has made few noises on freedom of association, abortion etc however the traditional evangelical groups have a far too narrow focus with electoral politics. Any issue which impacts on society’s well-being should come under their purview. Immigration is such as an issue and is huge especially over time when you look at birth rates. And if you’re someone who doesn’t like to pay for someone to live in your garden despite you not wanting them there, immigration is a huge issue.

  • Mark

    Hi Jake. Interesting. But I have to disagree with what you think is assumed. What you think is uncontroversial. It shouldn’t be.

    “… among the most misleading of such parallels are those which have been drawn between our own age in Europe and North America and the epoch in which the Roman empire declined into the Dark Ages. Nonetheless certain parallels there are.” … “So far, so good then. Here’s where things go haywire though.”

    So “certain parallels” are there, at which point things are well I guess. But it’s after that that things go wrong, right? After that is the point where things go haywire? No. No, no. You’re describing a supposed shared value, that you suppose is uncontroversial, but the description of the means by which it *went* haywire is to have reached this point uncritically. What we all know, or so the story you’ve accepted goes. Accepting the Benedict Option? Do we not understand romantic philhellenism now? How did that work out for Nietzsche? Or any number of others? Was that really a live option”. Or the hopes and dreams of the disillusioned? Or are we merely overawed by McIntyre’s supposed brilliance and accepting whatever he says because we think we’re supposed to?

  • Bruce Atkinson

    Why does the author (Jake) not mention Hillary Clinton at all in this article? Not once. It is like we have only one candidate and our vote is thumbs up or thumbs down. Doesn’t he know that if we vote against Trump (or not vote at all) that we are supporting Hillary? He feels it is OK to vet and critique Trump and Republicans but what about the liberals (some of whom are evangelicals)? Talk about being disingenuously partisan! He should be open and honest … and say that he is supporting Clinton. Or that he is moving to Australia.

    • Perhaps because she is not germane to the discussion? White Evangelicalism does contain within it substantive support for Hillary Clinton.

      • Bruce Atkinson

        Your second sentence is no doubt true. This reality certainly makes her germane to the discussion– at least a mention of how she is different for evangelicals than Trump. Nowadays there are a lot of liberals who call themselves ‘evangelicals.’
        But how do orthodox evangelicals (those who put the authority of the scriptures first and Christian tradition second over all other authorities) regard Hillary?

  • PixlProphet

    Short term thinking? Several justices will likely need to be replaced in the next four years due to health issues and age. These justices will decide on all of the issues you claimed we are forfeiting. It’s just the opposite, this line of reasoning is incredibly long term thinking and is the only silver lining and primary reason for voting for the lesser of two evils.

    • Bruce Atkinson

      Well said.

  • Sattler’s Tongue

    > that what we are facing now is a call to die in ways that (white) American Christians haven’t been asked to do at any point in our nation’s history.

    I grew up up on tales of Hutterite conscientious objectors who died in federal stockades during WWI, on stories of German Baptist elder John Kline who lead the denomination to a united anti-slavery and anti-war stand before the Civil War and who was assassinated during it… Anabaptists in the US may be on the fringes of Christianity but have a history worth knowing about.

    I also want to clarify – I’m not looking for anybody to take it easy on the right or to endorse Trump. What I object to is the tale coming from the elites that Trump represents an evil of a different magnitude. I see no difference between Hillary and Trump – grasping politicians seeking power and infinitely willing to justify any conduct they must resort to in order to attain it. Vote for one or the other – or don’t! But don’t pretend that somehow this is finally the moment when Evangelicalism’s involvement in politics imperils its soul.

    You said:

    >If the church in America is to have a future, we must not only become a thing unimaginable (and therefore compelling) to our neighbors; we must become a thing unimaginable to our power- and image-obsessed leaders.

    Perhaps that starts with abandoning the thought that tactically worrying about “our power as a political movement” should be a primary concern for Christians!

    • Bruce Atkinson

      Worth repeating: ” I see no difference between Hillary and Trump – grasping politicians seeking power and infinitely willing to justify any conduct they must resort to in order to attain it. Vote for one or the other – or don’t! But don’t pretend that somehow this is finally the moment when Evangelicalism’s involvement in politics imperils its soul.” Exactly.

      The only reason why I might hold my nose and vote for Trump will be the reason mentioned below by PixProphet.

  • hoosier_bob

    I can well understand why a Christian would object to supporting Trump. Even so, I keep wondering why the authors here are surprised at evangelical support for Trump. From where I sat within evangelicalism, the trajectory of the movement seemed to be pointing directly toward Trump. When I joined the movement in the 1990s, it was clear that racism, sexism (and heterosexism), and authoritarianism were problems. But I assumed that these would lessen over time. They didn’t. With each passing year, these ills seemed to be on the rise.

    Go into any PCA church and poll the members under the age of 40. In a denomination as old as the PCA, you’d expect to find a fair number of kids who grew up in the denomination. But you don’t. Instead, you’ll find a lot of folks who grew up in fundamentalist churches, many of whom have an overly rosy view of the evangelical movement. Meanwhile, the children of evangelicalism have jettisoned the movement for something more progressive or for no church affiliation at all.

    I say this not be annoying. I say it because I love Protestant orthodoxy, and hate to see it marred by a myriad of socio-cultural fetishes. Sure, they’re a different set of fetishes than those that marred the mainline churches, but they’re fetishes no less.

    Noah Millman recently pointed out why the SCOTUS argument for supporting Trump is illogical. In fact, that argument is so clearly illogical that it’s impossible that anyone could actually believe it. The evangelicals who are endorsing Trump are doing so because Trump reflects their deepest core beliefs. They may not want to admit that, so they lie to themselves and convince themselves that they’re kissing Trump’s feet because they care about SCOTUS appointments. Don’t believe it. They’re endorsing Trump because Trump is a fairly accurate reflection of their Gospel, as sad as that may be.

    Evangelicals guard their left-facing border with immense vigilance. Anything that even smells of liberalism is shot down before it can even rear its head. See, for example, the ousting of Larycia Hawkins by the Wheaton administration. But the right-facing border is very porous. Thus, evangelical churches are chock full of adherents of various alt-right ideologies. When hating liberals is viewed as the chief index for assessing one’s profession of faith, that’s what happens. Consider Rod Dreher, for example. He talks all day long about small-o orthodox Christianity, but rarely ever expresses anything that suggests even a passing commitment to the central affirmations of the ecumenical Christian creeds. For Dreher, small-o orthodox Christiansity seems to consist of little more than people who oppose civil same-sex marriage and who credit that opposition to some vaguely Christian reason. Whoop-dee-doo.

  • I wonder whether you examine your surgeon or fireman or police officer with as much detail as you examine Donald Trump. The reality is that there are times in life when a competent specialist is required to fix a specific problem at a specific time, and their adherence to one’s preferred social niceties is a secondary issue.
    The incontrovertible reality is that America is currently facing such massive, existence-endangering problems that we actually do need Donald Trump to add some sanity to Washington politics.
    As I have suggested in TrumpFocus.com, Donald Trump might reasonably be compared to America’s Winston Churchill. Not perfect, but necessary. Winston Churchill was despised by the political elite of 1930’s England, but in 1939 he became the man whose leadership was necessary to save England and much of the Western world.
    The reality is that there are six intractable problems facing America today, and the next President must adequately resolve each one of them if America is to survive in relative freedom. Donald Trump is the only presidential candidate who has a high chance of resolving any of them.
    First, America’s national debt problem will collapse all of our futures if it is not dealt with. We already owe $20,000,000,000,000 or approximately $58,000 for every man, woman and child alive in America today. That represents almost a quarter of a million dollars of debt for every family of four in America. These are real dollars and real debts. Our way of life cannot be sustained if the rest of the world begins to believe that we will not or cannot repay our debts. It will become increasingly difficult to renew that debt as portions of it come due for repayment. That will result in massive inflation, if not hyper-inflation. Currently, our national debt is like the oil in your engine, and when the oil runs out, your car’s engine will grind to a halt. Donald Trump is a businessman who understands the need to manage debt. Hillary Clinton’s experience in life has always required other people to pay her debts.
    Second, corporate globalism is weakening America by supporting international trade pacts which blur the borders between nations for the purposes of trade and immigration. Both political parties have colluded with each other towards this goal. Globalist trade agreements benefit the corporate elite, but injure American workers by reducing the number of manufacturing jobs and increasing the supply of lower paid immigrants to fill them. Such trade pacts have had disastrous consequences on America’s trade deficits and are a significant component of our unsustainable debt problem. Donald Trump values free trade, but wants FAIR free trade. Trade which will allow American workers to use their skills to compete successfully on a level playing field.
    Donald Trump believes that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which both political parties supported, has been a disaster for many Americans, and that the upcoming Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is NAFTA on steroids, even before China gets secretly allowed into the agreement. Donald Trump is also opposed to the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America (SPP), which is designed to expand NAFTA to facilitate the free movement of goods and workers between Canada, America and Mexico. The security portion of that agreement aims to provide a single security boundary around Canada, America and Mexico collectively. The Prosperity portion of the plan is currently focused on the free flow of energy and capital between the three counties, but the ultimate goal appears to be a North American Union similar to the European Union, with all of the loss of American freedoms which that goal entails. In contrast, Donald Trump has indicated that he would place America’s interests first in all negotiations with other countries.
    Third, America has a security problem, with a weak southern border which allows migrants, drugs and terrorists into the country unchecked. Donald Trump wants to solve that problem by building a secure border fence which allows legal immigrants in, after appropriate checking, but keeps illegal immigrants, drugs and terrorists out. Who would have raised this issue if Donald Trump had not been willing to step up to this third rail of political correctness? No other presidential candidate is committed to building such a fence and offering America real security, as opposed to an imaginary counterfeit.
    Fourth, Hillary Clinton and President Obama is leaving America with such a mess in the Middle East, that it will take a great negotiator to come even close to resolving the issue. A Donald Trump Presidency is the only viable solution against Islamic militarism. He is a consensus builder that will unite the world’s forces against the ISIS menace, and do it in a way that does not saddle Americans with a giant share of the costs, in terms of both lives and dollars. The unfortunate reality is that there are only two political systems that historically have demonstrated a capacity to accomplish their long-term goals. One is freedom, but the other is tyranny. Donald Trump stands for freedom, and he has the strength of conviction and persuasion to focus the free world’s resources against Islamic tyranny.
    Fifth, Russian militarism is on the rise. President Putin is systematically gearing up the Russian war machine, and also provoking his people to see America as the source of their problems. That combination is reminiscent of Nazi Germany, and is very dangerous. We cannot ignore Russian militarism and Hillary Clinton’s “Reset” button will continue to prove useless. We need a strong, accomplished negotiator like Donald Trump. He has the best chance of convincing Putin that he has more to gain from peace than territorial expansion.
    Sixth, in 1956, the Chinese communists developed a 100 year plan to overtake world leadership. Their recent military actions in the South China Sea, and their development of hypersonic nuclear weapons, that we have no viable defense against, clearly indicate that they are well ahead of schedule. That immediate situation is probably already beyond repair, but a strong consensus builder like Donald Trump may still be able to keep the lid on China’s long-term expansionist policies. Hillary Clinton is already so indebted to the Chinese government for their “donations” that little of value can be expected from her quarter.
    Like him or not, Donald Trump is the only presidential candidate with the ability and the will to deal with all of the above problems. Donald Trump communicates with Americans, young and old, who are tired of Washington politics. He is also a builder who understands what America needs to do to become great again.
    The idea that there is no discernible difference between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is both dangerous and ludicrous.

    • Justin Vest

      I don’t agree with point five, in that I see Russia displaying defensive posturing against NATO aggression and not the other way around. Either way, Trump is far more likely to strengthen relations with Russia than Clinton, since everything she touches withers and dies. I hope Jake got a chance to read your comment.

  • Boris Feigin

    Excellent article.
    I have to admit, as an Australian Christian, I find some the US takes on the church’s place in society a bit weird. People talk as though even a slight withdrawal of state support for Christianity will cause it to die. Actually, I think you will find that, at the moment, the church enjoys a great deal of advantages in the public square in the US. That’s just not the case in Europe or Australia. But guess what? Christians are going as strong as ever. As the last paragraph says, it’s Jesus who is at work and His purposes cannot be stopped.
    Maybe if society as a whole becomes a bit less “Christian” (what does that even mean?) you might find a drop off in church attendance. But the thing is, most likely people who drop off have only been going to church for cultural reasons rather than because they believe in Jesus for their salvation. Whether they go to church or not, they need to be reached and taught His Words.
    I would argue that a lot of the issues being discussed in the US are non-issues. The most important factor by far for harmonious and just society (that’s what we are aiming for as Christians, right?) is the economic factor. The existence of ghettoes and the divide between rich and poor should trouble Christians a LOT more than abortion, gay marriage, toilets or the political positions of Supreme Court Justices.