After Trump, Should Evangelical Christians Part Ways?

The 2016 election has revealed afresh a deep fissure — and a great opportunity

From hallway conversations to Facebook and Twitter exchanges, we look at one another and ask, “How could you, as an evangelical, possibly support your candidate?” In times like these, we tend to imagine the worst in one another.

 

Donald Trump is now the president-elect. This fact is deeply discouraging for some evangelical Christians. Many fear that Trump’s ascendency will only encourage racism and misogyny. Others see his election as a blow to immigration reform. Those concerned about religious liberty for all worry about the future of Muslims in our land. But Clinton’s loss, and by extension, Trump’s win, brings deep relief to other evangelical Christians. Many feared an acceleration of President Obama’s progressive policies, including the use of their tax dollars to make abortion even more accessible. They are weary of being labeled bigots for their views on human sexuality, and being increasingly subject to social and legal penalties for such views.

Initial reports suggest that four out of five white evangelical Christians voted for Trump, continuing their pattern of support for the Republican candidate in US presidential elections since the 1980s. Not all did so with enthusiasm, and for that matter, Trump received a higher percentage of black and Hispanic votes than did his predecessors, Republican candidates Mitt Romney and John McCain. Still, what makes this election different is how many prominent evangelical leaders—from the Southern Baptist Convention’s Russell Moore to World magazine to Christianity Today, among others—made clear our serious reservations about the Republican candidate. White evangelical Christians voted for him anyway.

This points to a significant divide among evangelical Christians of all colors and stripes. From hallway conversations to Facebook and Twitter exchanges, we look at one another and ask, “How could you, as an evangelical, possibly support your candidate?”

In times like these, we tend to imagine the worst in one another. The left imagines that Trump supporters, since they seemed to give a pass to his racist and misogynistic comments, must not care about Hispanics or women. The right assumes the left has simply gone soft on abortion and religious freedom, not to mention human sexuality. Each think the other is blind to how their candidate had little respect for the rule of law. (And of course, third-party advocates placed a pox on both houses!)

Part of what’s going on here is our understandable desire to be a good witness for Jesus in the public square: We want the unbelieving world to think well of the church. Unfortunately, we are tempted to let the culture decide what constitutes a good witness. So those on the left are anxious that the culture sees us as championing political causes on the left, and the right is similarly anxious about championing social conservatism. We want the unbelieving world—at least that part of it we care most about—to see that evangelicals really are on the righteous side, so that they just may entertain Christian faith themselves.

But one wonders if the truly impressive witness would be a movement that, despite its serious political differences (as well as racial and ethnic divides), still worships and prays together, and warmly calls each other brothers and sisters in Christ.

To justify ourselves and our difference from the other, we tend to frame our opponents’ concerns in abstract terms and ours in the most personal ones. So those who voted for Clinton say, “You care more about the balance on the Supreme Court than black men getting shot by police.” And those who voted for Trump say, “The left gets more upset about careless rhetoric than the thousands of babies murdered every day.” And we walk away, satisfied that we are not like those other evangelicals.

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