I’ve started to notice a pattern. Every time I see a new question come through for this project, the first two words that usually pop into my mind are “oh boy.” Oh boy, that’s a great question. Oh boy, where do I start? Oh boy, I’ve got some work to do.
Today’s question revolves around another “oh boy” moment. The one that many of us shared on the morning of November 8, 2016. Oh boy, how did we get here? Oh boy, how can I vote for either of them? Oh boy, we’ve got some work to do.
Here’s today’s question...
Many Christian leaders are embracing a president who is surrounded by scandal. How do you as a Christian reconcile your beliefs, the Christian church and the current state of American politics?
So the implication of this question is that it simply doesn’t make sense for Christians—who worship a pure God and proclaim a desire to live like Jesus—to also endorse a scandalous leader. There’s a tension. A fundamental inconsistency that’s hard to deny.
Sarah Schwartz, a Master of Theology who was featured in an earlier post, said something during her interview that I believe also applies to this question. “In this political moment in our country,” she explained, “there's a lot of confusion about what is partisan and what is actually the Gospel.” And I couldn’t agree more.
Ever since Trump came into office, many Christian friends of mine have talked about having somewhat of a crisis of faith. People like Jerry Falwell Jr., who claim “evangelicals have found their dream president” have left us with some big fat question marks (Falwell Jr., 2017).
“American politics have always been volatile,” says Dr. Jamie Campbell, founder of Living & Leading. “So that part for me is not new or necessarily alarming. I think there's just an element of tension, particularly for those of us who are younger, in navigating the way that that platform has been utilized to articulate a version of Christianity that we’re finding ourselves less and less in alignment with.”
This misalignment has created somewhat of a refining fire—a crucible moment—for many young American Christians who are looking intently at both their deeply-rooted faith and their president’s Twitter feed and trying to make sense of it all.
The dilemma that got us here
I’ve heard many people say that Christians who voted for Trump are hypocrites. I’ve also heard many people say that that Christians who voted for Hilary are hypocrites. I’m not here to cast stones or to side with one group over the other. In fact, the whole point of my last post was that not all Christians make the same political decisions and that that’s okay. But let’s take a step back from the finger pointing and remember the dilemma that many of us were faced with this time two years ago—almost to the day.
The months leading up to the 2016 presidential election were marked by confusion, discord and tension within the Christian community. With a God-fearing, servant-hearted candidate nowhere in sight and a civic duty to exercise our right to vote, many felt as though they were caught in a catch-22—that there was really no winning. Even long-standing conservative Christian leaders like Wayne Grudem and John Macarthur struggled publicly with this decision.
But if we’re defining hypocrisy as claiming to have beliefs that don’t match your behavior, then this election really left Christians in a position to be accused of hypocrisy regardless of how they voted. Vote for Trump and you’re a hypocrite for backing a candidate whose behavior is in direct opposition to the faith you profess. Vote for Hillary and you’re a hypocrite for backing a candidate whose behavior is in direct opposition to the faith you profess. Vote for a third party candidate and you’re “throwing away your vote.” Don’t vote at all and you’re squandering a right that people before you died for.
So there it is. The decision that we were all faced with. The decision that we each made based on the influences, circumstances and information that surrounded us. I remember sitting in the frustration and anxiety of choosing how to act in light of such unappealing options. I remember praying for wisdom, doing my research, watching interviews and talking to friends. We could make light of the tension by joking about moving to Canada or saying our heads hurt from thinking about it too much. At the end of the day, we all made this impossible decision the best way we knew how.
If it’s rooted in hatred, it’s not from God
“Eight-in-ten self-identified white, born-again/evangelical Christians say they voted for Trump” (Pew Research Center, 2016). Ever since this stat first came out, the media has been using it in some interesting—and dare-I-say, sneaky—ways.
“You can always use data to say the thing that you're trying to emphasize,” explains Campbell. “I found myself being less worried about whether 80% of evangelicals actually voted for Trump, and more worried about what that label of evangelical means from a social perspective.”
This statistic could be used to tell many different stories about American Evangelicals, but the most popular one seems to be that we’re all just a bunch of hypocrites. That 80% figure is frequently leveraged in articles about extremists who identify themselves as Evangelicals or who worship Trump as “White Jesus.” When these two isolated pieces of data are communicated in the same context, they tell the deeply flawed story that all Christians in America are violent extremists who believe that Trump is God’s gift to our nation.
As I step back from that narrative—the one that seems to be gaining traction at every corner—I’m forced to return to what I know is true about the God I worship. “If we hold Christ as the center of our faith commitment,” says Campbell, “then becoming students of the Gospels again is actually really important. We have to go back to how we saw Christ operate within what's presented to us in the Gospel.”
And what’s presented to us in the Gospel is the God of love, sacrifice, Truth, compassion, mercy, humility, miracles and hope. 1 John 2:9 tells me that, “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness.” Any act of hatred that’s committed in the name of God is inconsistent with the very character of God and therefore cannot be of Him.
When I see news articles about Christians beating up LGBTQ people or making racist comments, it doesn’t make me doubt my God. I know that those things are not from Him. It honestly just makes me sad that He is being so wildly misrepresented as the God of hate rather than of love.
At the end of 2 Timothy, Paul warns Timothy of this: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (4:3-4).
This passage comes to mind when I hear about hate rallies and violence against minorities committed under the guise of the Christian faith. They point to a fundamental misunderstanding of who God is and who He calls us to be. They point to itching ears that suit their own passions. In the verse that follows, Paul reminds Timothy to be “sober-minded” when faced with these myths. To keep his eyes fixed on who God is and on the work He has called him to. If we are doing that, our faith won’t be shaken.
A shifting generation of faith
I truly hope we can all agree that the current relationship between American politics and the Christian church isn’t a particularly healthy one. That neither side of the coin is looking particularly shiny these days. But alas, there is a way forward.
“We have been handed a version of Christianity,” says Campbell, “and we can either choose to accept it and accept the inconsistencies that we're seeing and pass that down, or we can generationally decide to turn to God and to ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate us and to help us move forward well.”
As a faith community that’s dedicated to honoring God, it’s important for us to maintain a posture of humility that allows us to put our beliefs under the microscope and identify the dark spots. We need to open our eyes to see the ways that we, as people who are actively seeking to know and understand Him better, can realign ourselves with His Word. “We actually have the opportunity to become more unified as this generation of leaders really wrestles with understanding the core beliefs of Christianity and passing them down to the next generation,” says Campbell.
In his book The Knowledge of the Holy, A.W. Tozer writes, “We do the greatest service to the next generation of Christians by passing on to them undimmed and undiminished that noble concept of God that we received from our Hebrew and Christian fathers of generations past” (Tozer 4). As we strip away the distractions that currently face the Christian church in America, we will see God’s Truth more clearly—and then we’ll pass it on to the generations to come.
God is the same yesterday, today and forever
This response took me a few months to formulate. I kept on stepping away from it and coming back to it. Discovering new information and hearing new perspectives. Ultimately, this is where I landed. This is why my faith does not feel threatened by the current state of American politics. Because the core beliefs that keep me rooted in my faith have not been touched by our political climate.
Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:11). His sacrifice atones for the sins of anybody who believes in Him (John 3:16). We’re fully justified before God by faith, not works (Philippians 3:9). And His grace-filled forgiveness is the source of every truly good thing in life (Romans 8:28). These things are true no matter who is president.
So now what?
I came across the below passage in C.S. Lewis’ book Mere Christianity. As I was thinking about this question and remembering the acts of cruelty that have been committed by both Christians and non-Christians in our country these past few years, I was humbled by this challenge to seek mercy for others like we would seek it for ourselves:
Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery. We ought to hate them. Not one word of what we have said about them needs to be unsaid. But it does want us to hate them in the same way in which we hate things in ourselves: being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping, if it is anyway possible, that somehow, sometime, somewhere he can be cured and made human again (Lewis, pg. 117).
Perhaps we can embrace this challenge in our own lives. In doing so, we just might create the climate of humility that is so absent in our country right now.
Lewis, C. S. (1952). Mere Christianity