I struck up a conversation with someone the other day. I mentioned that I was a pastor, taking some time off to do some writing. “Oh what kind of pastor?” they asked. In my reply, I used the word ‘evangelical’. And at once, the person frowned a bit, and said, “Oh, a Trump supporter.” At which point I had to back pedal and offer a fuller explanation of what I meant by that.
But the damage was done. And as I’ve been thinking about that exchange, it occurred to me that we’re seeing right before our eyes, the death of a rich and beautiful word. It wasn’t too long ago, that the word “evangelical” was a powerful descriptor of a Christian who believed in the supremacy of Jesus Christ, and the authority of God’s Word – the Bible, and the offer of a great salvation from God received by faith, through grace alone.
But in recent years, evangelicals have been identified more and more as nothing but a voting bloc, linked increasingly to right-wing politicians and platforms.
We forget that the Old Testament prophets, such as Isaiah and Jeremiah, walked the royal halls of Israel, and had regular access to her kings and leaders. They were politically involved. But they never lost their ability to stand outside of politics, as representatives of God, to call the king to account if ever the ways of God were perverted or abandoned.
The media gets all up in arms about how a values-voter like a Christian could possibly vote for someone like a Trump. But this is a canard the media uses to coverup its own hypocrisy.
In recent years, evangelicals have been identified more and more as nothing but a voting bloc, linked increasingly to right-wing politicians and platforms.
In the political system we are given, two candidates are put forward, and a citizen must then weigh in the balances who would be preferable to the other. That a large percentage of evangelicals would favor Trump is not difficult at all to explain, when you look at how a massive cultural assault on religious values and religious liberty has been relentlessly waged by progressive voices on the Left. Trump promised to reverse that, and as Marc Thiessen elegantly explains, he has largely kept those promises so far.
But having said that, it would be hypocritical for an evangelical voter to look the other way whenever a politician they voted for acts in an offensive manner. For a Christian to casually shrug their shoulders whenever Trump shreds the truth, or acts narcissistically, or the ugliness of his past sexual misadventures is brought to light is to soil what it means to be an evangelical.
Like the prophets of old, Christians must not lose their ability to stand outside of politics, for we serve a King who is presumably above all kings. And Scripture tells us the “righteousness and justice are the foundation of [our King of king’s] throne” (Ps.89:14).
No political platform has ever stood fully for the promotion of God’s righteousness and justice, and therefore to immerse ourselves in one party or another, or to stand up and blindly be an apologist for everything “our guy” says and does, is – by necessity – to compromise who we are meant to be as evangelicals.
Like the prophets of old, Christians must not lose their ability to stand outside of politics, for we serve a King who is presumably above all kings.
Take guns as one more example. Is there one Christian point-of-view on this? We can’t have a civil conversation about how many guns are good for a free society to have in circulation? And maybe these high schoolers have a point, and it might be a good idea to bring that number down. And maybe it might be a good idea to revisit every now and then the restrictions we place on them. We act as though the AR-15 has always been in people’s possessions. George Washington had one.
Evangelicals of all people should be able to demonstrate before our fractious world, splitting at the seams with so much hatred, how to at least have the conversation, and to do so without heaving hymnals or candlesticks at each other.
It may be too late to salvage this precious word. But it’s not too late for Jesus-loving, Bible-believing Christians to do some real self-examination – especially in this week leading up to Easter, which we call “Holy Week”. Let’s look inside our hearts, and ask God in prayer (some fasting thrown in wouldn’t hurt) that he would expose in us anything we are saying or doing in the eyes of the wider world that might be causing injury to his kingdom or bringing dishonor to him.