Politics and What It Means to Be an ‘Evangelical’

White evangelicals are too often represented in the political arena by the likes of Franklin Graham, Robert Jeffress, and Jerry Falwell Jr., who have decided to go “all in” with Trump

“If politics is not and never has been the center of my life in church, why would I leave my church (for what else can “leaving evangelicalism” typically mean?) because lots of self-identifying evangelicals, including some at my church, voted for Trump?”

 

The election of Donald Trump has elicited a great deal of frustration and dismay among non-Trumpian evangelicals. Some have suggested that the “court evangelicals” who unapologetically support Trump will drive many anti-Trump evangelicals into the fold of the mainline churches or other traditions. Trump’s election, in this line of thinking, has created in some “a desire to leave their evangelical churches in search of a more authentic form of Christianity.”

I have long been on record as being opposed to Donald Trump (though Hillary Clinton was not an acceptable alternative). But this idea of people leaving their evangelical church because the majority of self-identified white “evangelicals” support Trump seems out of whack to me.

What did you start going to your evangelical church for in the first place? For me, and I suspect for most churchgoing evangelicals (in the age of Trump, we have to contend with the fanciful category of “non-churchgoing” evangelicals), the reasons to choose a church had nothing to do with electoral politics. My church choices have to do with a belief that

  • the church and its pastor adhered to the Bible as the Word of God; and proclaimed that Jesus Christ is our only hope for salvation
  • the church was dynamic, growing, outreach- and missions-oriented
  • the church had a polity and a view of baptism that accorded with my convictions
  • the church afforded opportunities for my family to get to know, and live life with, like-minded believers
  • the church was effective at helping me raise my kids in the faith

Sure, there were occasional “voter guides” around at election time in my church a number of years ago, and we pray for the nation and for our elections, but not by assuming the political commitments of our attendees. Electoral politics is hardly the center of my evangelical church life; it is rarely even on the periphery.

If politics is not and never has been the center of my life in church, why would I leave my church (for what else can “leaving evangelicalism” typically mean?) because lots of self-identifying evangelicals, including some at my church, voted for Trump? I find the political support for Trump among white evangelicals dismaying, but it doesn’t undermine my identity as an evangelical.

I understand, by the way, that the question of staying in or leaving your denomination, especially for African-American and Hispanic church leaders in the age of Trump, may raise more difficult challenges. But for most rank-and-file evangelicals, their weekly identity as evangelicals is tied to their local church far more than a denomination (if they are part of a denomination at all).

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