This will be the note I sign out on this year. I’ll be off the next seven weeks but we’ll continue to publish other authors during that time.
In the build-up to the 2016 election, American evangelicals were a pessimistic bunch. We racked up an impressive (and depressing) run of unfavorable court rulings and legal battles, featuring photographers, bakers, and florists. These defeats all ran parallel to our biggest cultural defeat, the Obergefell decision. In addition to this, we saw our standing in the Republican party fall sharply as the party nominated a candidate who by every traditional standard held by the religious right was an abysmal failure. (The fact that we supported him anyway will almost certainly teach the GOP that evangelical voters will go with them no matter what. This realization, of course, robs evangelicals of all their political capital that they might use to influence the GOP.)
Add to that the ever-growing number of “nones” that Pew and Gallup found in their religion surveys, the remarkably hostile response to the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act, this summer’s Supreme Court ruling against many state-level abortion regulations, and the alarming court case in Massachusetts that would result in the policing of religious speech from Christian ministers and, well, things looked grim.
This is all backdrop to Rod Dreher’s idea of the Benedict Option as well as Russell Moore’s emphasis on evangelicalism as a “moral minority.” It also explains why so many evangelicals decided that aligning themselves with a self-described sexual predator who has a history of mistreating racial minorities was suddenly OK. It was seen as a last chance at saving ourselves from a dark and dangerous fate.
Well, mission accomplished.
Trump and the Christian Magistrate
Unfortunately, such an analysis of the election, while perhaps factually correct, still fails even basic questions posed by the classical tradition of Christian political theology. In the first place, Christianity has long taught that the character of public officials is important. There is a correlation between the character of the magistrate and the health of the commonwealth. Until recently, leaders of the religious right understood this. The bizarre notion amongst that movement’s leaders that a politician’s character is a matter of indifference was literally invented to excuse support for a sexual predator.
But the failings do not end here. The church’s greatest theologians have long said that a properly Christian commonwealth will be concerned not with the greater good—the most good for the most people—or with the private good of Christians alone, but with the common good. By this test, Donald Trump fails abysmally.
To be sure, both candidates failed this test. The election of 2016 was a radically zero-sum affair with religious conservatives, rural white people, and the old white working class behind one candidate and minorities, urbanites, and the cultural elites behind the other. In both cases, the candidate’s platform is practically intended to promote the good of their base and significant harm to their opponent’s base. This, incidentally, is the greatest tragedy of the 2016 election and the most ominous aspect of it as it concerns the future of our commonwealth: Can you maintain any kind of nation when it has two factions so sharply divided, let alone a republic? I fear the answer is no.
What comes next for evangelicals?
That question, however, is the one that tells us what our work is as Christians in the next four years. It consists of three parts:
First, and most obvious from Scripture, we must pray for our leaders, President Trump included. We should pray that God would give him wisdom and that he would act prudently for the good of our nation. We must also pray that God would draw him to repentance for his part in fanning the flames of racial tension in our country as well as for the host of other grave sins he has committed, most notably his pattern of sexually assaulting women.
Even so, he is, or will soon be, our president, whether we voted for him or not. If Paul can command his readers to pray for the murderous tyrant Nero, then we should pray for Trump. Indeed, we should hope that Donald Trump the president will be a better man than Donald Trump the candidate and that his presidency will serve our republic well and promote the good of all her people.
Second, we must love our home places and labor to make them better. It has become a commonplace on both the right and left to joke about moving to another country if political happening x occurs. That attitude is precisely why our republic has become so diseased. Beautiful places are made such by the loyal love of their members. Love withheld or love given only on condition that the place conform to our standards is not love at all and it will certainly not make anything beautiful that wasn’t already.
Chesterton makes the point well:
“Let us suppose we are confronted with a desperate thing, say Pimlico… It is not enough for a man to disapprove of Pimlico: In that case he will merely cut his throat or move to Chelsea. Nor, certainly, is it enough for a man to approve of Pimlico: For then it will remain Pimlico, which would be awful. The only way out of it seems to be for somebody to love Pimlico: to love it with a transcendental tie and without any earthly reason.”
Third, we must recognize that the call to work for the common good may well require civil disobedience under Trump in ways similar to what might have been required under a Clinton administration, even if we ourselves are no longer the ones in the president’s crosshairs.
When William Wilberforce opposed the unjust British government in its support of slavery, he was condemning his government even though he was not the target of that government’s injustice. The same goes for evangelical pro-life advocacy in more recent years.
White evangelical Christians, who are likely to live in a relatively safe, secure position under President Trump, will need to pay special attention to the president’s treatment of immigrants, toward his Justice Department’s handling of reports of police brutality toward African-Americans, and toward the safety of women in a country that just decided being a self-described sexual predator does not disqualify one from holding the most powerful political position in the world. Should he fail to uphold justice in these domains particularly, it is essential that we call him to repentance on this point and do what we can to support and protect those who are being targeted by his administration. Failing to do this is a failure to love neighbor, but it will also (less importantly, I should add) have a damaging affect on our own witness to a post-Christian world and will teach that we really are as amoral and selective in our Christian practice as they already think we are.
Simply put, our responsibility to the common good would have almost certainly compelled us to opposing the Clinton administration at multiple points. It will likely require no less as we consider the possible actions of a Trump administration. Certainly, we should pray that no such action is needed. We should hope that President Trump rules wisely. But given the president-elect’s record so far, we should be prepared for anything.
No, many who voted for Trump did not decide sexual predators belong in the White House; what they decided was that in this flaming wreck of an election, voting for Trump, though nauseous, was the most good that could be done. Interestingly, I find your writing at this point very similar to one Trump supporter who refused to appreciate the position of another Christian who believed the most good they could do would be to vote Third Party. The substance is different, but both You and the ardent Trump supporter are failing to appreciate the complexity of the situation, and the certainty that even sincere Christians will not agree on what to do. Perhaps you are attacking those who supported Trump from the beginning? In that case, I agree with you. But your post makes no distinction, and so you are wrong to simplify the situation and condemn quite a number of Christians who didn’t know what was best, but had to make some decision, and decided for Trump.
Thanks for this article, Jake. As one of the Mere Orthodoxy readers who’s not in the target demographic (well to the political left of the authors), I’ve been continually interested in the writings on this site regarding the now President-elect. I still maintain that anyone, Christian or not, who will find fault with the Trump administration is someone I am willing to band together with to stop the bad policies and (I dread to consider it, but I have to) abuses of power that may come about.
Dave Wagner is on point. Which evil should I have voted for? If you say neither, then who is good enough? We are all sinners. Does matter the degree of sin one committed the test?
I am most concerned with is your constant bad mouthing other Christians. You sound like Mrs. Clinton.
We, Christians, who don’t think like you: are we the “deplorables” of the evangelicals?
What does scripture say about other Christians?
I speak not for God. His speech is the Holy Scripture.
A. GOD IS NOT GLORIFIED WHEN CHRISTIAN TREAT EACH OTHER IN THIS MANNER
First, look at what God has said about the Christian vs. Christian judging and condemning each other.
Romans 14:1-23 (ESV) states a principle which should guide the way we talk among and about other Christians.
“1 As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master[a] that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
5 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11 for it is written,
“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.”
12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.”
B. GOD CHOSE OUR LEADER, IT WAS NOT OUR VOTE WHICH DECIDED WHO OUR PRESIDENT IS.
The Scripture she instucts us in Romans 13:1-2 “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.”
As recorded by John, in the 4th gospel, chapter 19:10-11: “Then Pilate said to Him, “Are You not speaking to me? Do You not know that I have power to crucify You, and power to release You?” 11 Jesus answered,“You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above…””
In this passage Jesus affirms that Pilate does have authority given by God.
C. GOD’S PROVIDENCE IS BEING IGNORED
Last are two important points which must be remembered. (1) From Romans 8-28 “And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose,…” (2) Genesis 50:19b-21 tells us “But Joseph answered them, “Donʼt be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant to harm me, but God intended it for a good purpose, so he could preserve the lives of many people, as you can see this day. 21 So now, donʼt be afraid. I will provide for you and your little children.”Then he consoled them and spoke kindly to them.”
1. God’s command to love one another has not been part of the conversation. Who has talked kindly?
2. God is not glorified or honored when we take pride in our wisdom as to should our leader.
3. God is not trusted sufficiently to provide, care and protect us. Nor, is He great enough to be fully in control.
4. Thank God he does not treat us as we deserve, but gave his son as the only atoning sacrifice for my sins and for yours, so we may be saved from all unrighteousness, including other Christians.
Be content in all trials and tribulations as the only true God is our God.
“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel (and of all other people), from everlasting to everlasting! Amen and Amen.” (Psalms 41:13) (and of all other people) is my addition, but it is true. (See Romans 3:29)
Odd, isn’t it, that “evangelicals” didn’t have such conviction in the merits of God’s choice in 2008 and 2012.
I don’t say that as someone who was in the Never Trump camp. I can see the pragmatic reasons why many people voted for him. But the “evangelical” efforts to proclaim Trump as a Jehu-like figure and to cloak his election in the garb of divine aegis is a bit too rich…if not outright ungodly. Moreover, it misunderstands the doctrine of providence.
In many ways, I suspect that Trump’s election will be a boon to Christianity. But I suspect that we’ll see four distinct camps emerge from evangelicalism that will increasingly have little to do with each other.
1. Trump Christians — mainly “big box” evangelicals, like Southern Baptists, who will trend toward a form of civic Christianity that re-imagines alt-right political ideologies in Christian terms. Leaders will be Robert Jeffress, Franklin Graham, etc.
2. Neo-fundamentalists — mainly the Gospel Coalition and Southern Seminary crowd, who will trend toward an increasingly narrow view of Christian orthodoxy. Examples of this include the recent tendency to make “biblical masculinity and femininity” a litmus test of orthodoxy and the recent move to re-embrace Creationism. Leaders of this movement be Mark Dever, Al Mohler, Russell Moore, Denny Burk, Phil Ryken, Carl Trueman, the TRs within the PCA, etc. I suspect that many writers on this blog are headed that way. This crowd will become increasingly ambivalent about secular politics, but will gravitate to increasingly rigid embodiments of the Christian faith. (One thinks of President Ryken’s recently announced effort to purge the Wheaton College faculty of non-Creationists.)
3. Evangelical Leftists — mainly Christians who are committed to left-wing politics and see the Gospel as a means of enforcing political correctness. It will have no leaders because there won’t be any followers. It’ll just be a few folks on Patheos, who’ll eventually just disappear into the political movements within mainline Christianity.
4. Re-traditionalizing evangelicals — mainly second-generation (or later) evangelicals under 50 who will reach back to recover a sociologically thicker form of Christianity, probably within Anglicanism or Lutheranism (or Reformed variants of the two), who take a more “mere Christianity” approach to doctrine and who see the church as its own polis and not as a cheerleader for either the secular left or the right. They will also maintain a much closer dialogue with Roman Catholics and Orthodox believers. Leaders of this movement are still emerging, although it will be shaped significantly by Peter Leithart, the Radical Orthodoxy movement, Barth, Hauerwas, Miroslav Volf, etc.
I would put myself in Category #4. You and other members of the ALLCAPS crowd are likely in Category #1. I see many benefits to Trump’s win over Clinton. But my brand of Christianity didn’t depend on it happening. I pray that Trump will govern well. But, in my view, he bears no more of a mark of divine blessing than Vladimir Putin or the ayatollahs of Iran.
I know of only a few evangelicals who thought Trump was any thing other then the best chance to preserve the SCOTUS from a generation of far left decisions. And, I work with and friends with evangelicals who voted for Mrs Clinton. Yet we continue to be good friends, knowing we are Christians who had reasons to vote the way we did. We purposely attempted to be examples to others in our office by disagreeing nicely.
As to prior administration, those Christians I live and go to church with, were taught and have tried to apply the principles I discussed above to Mr. Clinton to The fearmongers of Y2K to the evil in the world to this election and to everything else in life. I had to learn this lesion in a difficult way. I have early onset of Parkinson’s Disease. I had to understand, then apply all things work to the good of those who love God. Who became president was of minor importance in the overall scheme of things.
You mentioned the “all caps” group. The all caps I used were headings to a new topic. It was not yelling.
On Facebook I was telling my “friends” life was not over if Mrs. Clinton won. I believe this because I believe in Providence.
I could see benefits to the church and Individual Christians if Hilary won. History show when persecuted ( we Christians in this country don’t know real persecution) Christians and the church grow more dependent on God.
Providence is God using bad for His good. So I expected who ever won, God would use to glorify Himself, not to please man.
Your last statement is contrary to scripture. The Scripture instucts us in Romans 13:1-2 and John 19 and in other places God chooses our leaders. As far as I know Putin and the leader of other groups or countries are not my leader. But through Providence God is in control of all things. I once heard Providence is the way God allows man free will but at the same time controls all things. I am not a theologian, but that has the ring of truth. But, I may wrong about it.
I do not know what your definition of traditional Christianity is. Nor do I understand your definition of reshaping. Simple mentioning names is inadequate. But, if it move the church towards God and not the thinking of man, I am all for a reshaping of the church to its historic foundation.
The primary points I want to make, and it seems as if I did not do it well, is disputs between Christians should not, for the glory of God, be aired publicly, and especially in attitude of “beat the hell” out of those whom see things differently then those whom “understand.”
It makes me think there is no place for questioning in your legalistic and fundamentalist like world view of Christianity. Not to appealing to me. There is room for disagreement in my Reformed Theology. How about yours?
It all comes back to loving your neighbors and not thinking of your needs only but thinking of needs of others.
In the end, let it be our goal to glorify God in all we think, do and say.
I think that my last sentence is correct, unless you’re suggesting that God has some special covenant with the United States. I’m simply pointing to the hypocrisy of your suggestion that God has made his choice in the person of Trump and that it’s now time for al Christians to cease in their criticism of Trump and kiss his feet. Trump is not the fourth member of the Trinity, as much as you may wish that were the case.
Also, I have no issue with Christians discussing differences publicly. The sort of “political correctness” that currently prevails in the neo-fundamentalist camp is unhealthy. In many ways, the tactics of guys like Dever and Mohler are rather reminiscent of the most odious aspects of the political Left. Noble lies have their place, but we can’t lose sight of the fact that they’re noble lies. Evangelicals have to learn how to disagree peaceably on secondary and tertiary issues, and accept that godly people are just going to arrive at different views. Sometimes such differences may require pragmatic separations. But, in making such pragmatic separations on Sunday morning, we need to find ways to affirm our vast agreement in many other areas. The die-on-every-hill mentality that pervades evangelicalism has to stop. So, we need to learn how to disagree well.
I have very strong views about antitrust enforcement. The guy I eat lunch with every day has very strong views on antitrust law that differ substantially from my own. We live together peaceably in our professional context. I hope that evangelicals can begin to do the same.
Evangelicals are supposed to derive theology from the Bible, but the Bible supports slavery and gender inequality. As a Christian, I accept this and have embraced the Alt-Right. When will you people finally give up on reconciling Christianity with philosophical liberalism?
Stop struggling inside your minds to reconcile the irreconcilable. God did not create equality, he did not intend nations to accept religious pluralism (have you read the prophets?), and he does not expect Christians to destroy themselves with mass Third World immigration invasion. Join the narrow way, become an Alt Right Christian: http://www.christianityandrace.org/
How does the conservative opposition to equality for the LGBT community qualify as being for the common good?
I’m curious what a “self-described sexual predator” is. If Jake is a careful writer, he would have to mean someone who describes himself as a sexual predator, no? So, Jake, I don’t ever remember Donald Trump describing himself that way. I’m sure Jake wouldn’t throw around epithets carelessly, right? Unfortunately, that’s the only conclusion one can come to. If anyone could accurately be described as a “sexual predator,” that would be Bill Clinton, but even he, with the things he actually did to women, wouldn’t describe himself that way. So if we want to be accurate here, and as Christians I think it is incumbent upon us to do so, Jake would have to say he’s accusing Donald Trump of being a sexual predator for some things that Trump SAID on tape in 2005, and allegations against him by some women from 30 years ago, things that were mostly SAID.
Jake also says that Trump, “has a history of mistreating racial minorities.” Really? Where is the evidence? This is slander, pure and simple. And in what appears to be a case of self-righteousness, Jake also slanders millions of Evangelicals who support Trump because we fundamentally disagree with his assessment of the man.
It never seems to occur to Jake, and far too many other Christians and NeverTrumpers, that people of good will could come to different conclusions than they did about the character of the man. Those that think Trump is a monster, like Jake, interpret everything Mr. Trump said or did in the absolute worst possible light. I have a different interpretation in light of his family, and what those who know him best say about the man. I’ve argued this on the evidence in many blog comments, and don’t care to reiterate those here to people who have already made up their mind. It’s just disappointing to see such shoddy thinking among people who should otherwise know better.
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