IT’S NOT ABOUT DEFEATING HILLARY—IT’S ABOUT THE TESTIMONY OF THE CHURCH

I continue to feel ill at ease when I speak forthrightly in this space about contemporary politics.  I began this blog some four years ago because I wanted to be in conversation with other Christians about the intersection of the love of God, the life of the mind, and the study of the past.  Put differently, I felt a growing burden to speak to the Church about how to remember the past faithfully.  Many of you have been drawn to Faith and American History because of a similar concern.  I value your time and your trust, and I do not want to abuse either.

And yet I feel compelled to take a public stand.  Every year in my senior seminar for graduating history majors, I require the class to read a 1940 essay by Archibald MacLeish, American poet, playwright, and Librarian of Congress.  Written at the outbreak of WWII, MacLeish’s essay, “The Irresponsibles,” was a passionate jeremiad directed at the American Academy.  Germany, France, and Japan had succumbed to totalitarian dictatorship and the world was erupting in flames, but western scholars, MacLeish lamented, were doing nothing to impede the progress of trends that were systematically, inexorably destroying freedom of thought and expression in far-flung reaches of the globe.  Condemning “the organization of the intellectual life of our time,” MacLeish condemned the “scholar” who “digs in his ivory cellar in the ruins of the past and lets the present sicken as it will.”

The crisis confronting the American people in 2016 is not equivalent to the threat posed by European fascism in 1940, but it is ominous in its own way.  Through his repeated claims that the electoral process is “rigged” or “fixed,” Donald Trump is doing his best to undermine the very foundation of American democracy, namely popular confidence in the democratic process.  This is cynical nihilism incarnate, an utterly reckless willingness to destroy if he cannot rule.

But as dire as this threat to our political system may be, as a Christian scholar I am far more concerned by the threat posed to Christ’s Church.  It is a threat inseparable from the Trump campaign, but ultimately posed not by Trump himself but by evangelicals who continue to defend him.  Evangelical support continues to be robust, even after the release of the 2005 “Access Hollywood” video so damaging that even Trump himself was temporarily—very temporarily—contrite.  A poll of the nonprofit Public Religion Research Institute completed after the release of the video still found that two-thirds of likely evangelical voters intended to support the Republican nominee.  And apart from the Sean Hannitys and Rush Limbaughs of the more “fair and balanced” media, Trump’s most outspoken defenders in recent days have been evangelical leaders such as James Dobson, Tony Perkins, and Jerry Falwell Jr.

If there is a silver lining to be found, it is the indication that large numbers of evangelicals are still undecided.  A poll released by the Barna Group last week suggests that nearly three out of ten aren’t sure how they will vote.  If you fall into that category, won’t you please take note of the arguments below?

Rather than make the case myself, I can happily refer you to a growing number of prominent, theologically conservative evangelical voices who make the case against Trump better than I can.  In the last ten days, these were some of the most eloquent evangelical arguments against the Republican nominee to appear:

* Andy Crouch, executive editor of Christianity Today, “Speak Truth to Trump”

* Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, “If Donald Trump Has Done Anything Right, He Has Snuffed Out the Religious Right”

* Julie Roys, journalist, blogger, and radio host on Moody Radio Network, “Evangelical Trump Defenders are Destroying the Church’s Witness”

* Collin Hansen, editorial director for the Gospel Coalition, “This is the Last Spastic Breath from the Religious Right before its Overdue Death”

* R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, “Donald Trump has Created an Excruciating Moment for Evangelicals”

I encourage you to read each of these carefully and prayerfully and decide for yourself, but here is my executive summary of the five pieces linked above, taken as a group:

First, all agree that Trump is morally disqualified to hold our nation’s highest office.  For example, Andy Crouch writes of Trump,

He has given no evidence of humility or dependence on others, let alone on God his Maker and Judge. He wantonly celebrates strongmen and takes every opportunity to humiliate and demean the vulnerable. He shows no curiosity or capacity to learn. He is, in short, the very embodiment of what the Bible calls a fool.

Al Mohler agrees, observing that “the Republican nominee is, in terms of character, the personification of what evangelicals have preached (and voted) against.”

Married three times, flaunting Christian sexual mores, building his fortune and his persona on the Playboy lifestyle, under any normal circumstances Trump would be the realization of evangelical nightmares, not the carrier of evangelical hopes.

In sum, Mohler concludes, “Donald Trump is not just disqualified from being a Sunday school teacher. Honest evangelicals would not want him as a next-door neighbor.”

Second, these writers make clear that the most important thing at stake in the current campaign is not a Democratic or Republican victory but the testimony of a Church that claims to believe that Jesus Christ is Lord.  Crouch describes the danger this way:

Enthusiasm for a candidate like Trump gives our neighbors ample reason to doubt that we believe Jesus is Lord. They see that some of us are so self-interested, and so self-protective, that we will ally ourselves with someone who violates all that is sacred to us—in hope, almost certainly a vain hope given his mendacity and record of betrayal, that his rule will save us.

Russell Moore offers a similar warning:

What’s at stake here is far more than an election. In the 1980s, many evangelicals quietly cringed when they saw the endless stream of hucksters called “television evangelists” on the airwaves around them. . . . When one after another fell into open scandal, it wasn’t just their prosperity gospel voodoo that was disgraced before the world, but the reputation of the entire church. And yet the damage done to gospel witness this year will take longer to recover from than those 1980s televangelist scandals.

Julie Roys perhaps puts it best.  “How on earth can evangelicals maintain any moral platform from which to speak out against abortion and gay marriage if we’re going to dismiss and normalize adultery and sexual assault?” she asks.

Donald Trump may do less damage to the country than Hillary, but he’s done far worse damage to the evangelical church than anyone in recent history. And let’s remember, the church — not politics — is the only real hope of reforming the character of this nation and saving it from destruction. That’s why the witness of the church is simply not worth trading for a political victory.

Al Mohler sums it up this way: “The stakes could not be higher. Jesus famously asked, ‘What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?’ (Matthew 16:26)  Those are the questions now faced by America’s evangelicals.”

19 responses to “IT’S NOT ABOUT DEFEATING HILLARY—IT’S ABOUT THE TESTIMONY OF THE CHURCH

  1. It’s frustrating that Crouch et al. tout the notion that voting against the known enemy of unborn children, sanctity of marriage, etc. (Hillary Clinton) is somehow an “enthusiasm” for Trump. Almost exclusively, the public endorsements of Trump by evangelical leaders have been delivered with heavy caveats about Trump’s character issues. This isn’t enthusiasm. It’s pragmatism.

    • Mike, I think your final sentence is true for most prominent evangelical supporters of Trump, excepting certain outliers like Jerry Falwell, Jr. and James Dobson. From a Christian perspective, however, I am not certain that to pronounce one’s position as “pragmatic” is a very satisfying defense. Is that the witness that we’re called to? I’m not certain of the answer, but I think the burden of proof is on those who would say “yes.” TM

  2. I, I believe like most Christians, do not condone what Trump said many years ago or even how he speaks today. However, it seems to me that Christians, many national leaders especially, have forgotten Jesus’ words to those wanting Him to condemn the woman caught in adultery, “Let He who is without sin, cast the first stone.” It seems they forget that they have a sinful nature from which they needed salvation and that they need continuing leadership and protection from the Holy Spirit so they do not fall into sin as so many church leaders have done. This understanding of Total Depravity would be especially true of Al Mohler and other strict Calvinists. Perhaps they believe that Trump is not one of the elect. I didn’t know any man could know who is elected for salvation. I thought we trusted God to make that determination.

    I agree with a previous poster that this is an opportunity to surround Trump with evangelical leaders who can help him grow as a Christian. Trump has stated that he has accepted Christ as his Savior and many leaders have attested to this. We have to trust him on this just as we have to trust every individual that makes a statement of belief that Christ is his or her Savior. Only God Himself knows what is true. However, we can do irreparable harm if we distrust the person and do not embrace them into the faith and come alongside them to help them grow into the image of Christ. Something all of us Christians are or should be doing.

    Christ followers in the years following Christ rejected Paul’s conversion. They were suspicious of him and refused to give him voice for good reason. Yet today most Christians respect him as the greatest apostle. A few embraced Paul, gave him love, nurtured him in Christ’s teachings, and helped him to rise to the occasion.

    The testimony for the church available here is that the Christian community is willing to take in a reprobate who has accepted Christ and lovingly, and with grace, come alongside him or her. Many Christian leaders will preach this acceptance from the pulpit for drug users, prostitutes, and a host of other sinners but they reject Donald Trump. Isn’t this evidence of the judgement that so many non-Christians feel from the church? We preach that God loves them and has a wonderful plan for their lives but well, not you, you bragged about groping women.

    I fear too many of our Christian leaders have “drunk the liberal Kool-Aid”. In their denial of Donald Trump, who has shown an openness to religious freedom and a rejection of Radical Islam. They, effectively, embrace the brash Mrs. Clinton who has a long list of undeniable sins and has shown no repentance for any of them, in fact, as one example, she flaunts her rebellion of Christian standards by her stand on late-term, and partial birth abortion.

    Donald Trump has had his behavior exposed. I don’t say this is a conspiracy, it is politics. He has apologized for his actions and testified that he has made a change in his life by accepting Christ. I’ve watched the debates. I’ve not heard Mrs. Clinton apologize for any of her actions.

    Is Donald Trump what we want in a President? No, we want better but for one reason or another we don’t have a better choice. We have two effective candidates and we mist choose between them. Rejecting one is a vote for the other. Unfortunately, third party candidates will not garner enough support, especially in the last three weeks of the campaign, to win.

    One point that gives me hope in the Trump presidency is the group he has surrounding him. This includes people like Mike Pence, Newt Gingrich, and Ben Carson just to name a few. I believe he will surround himself with capable leaders that will guide him in his leadership as President. I further believe that he would accept input from Christian leaders. Conversely, in addition to Mrs. Clinton, I fear those she will have in her cabinet, who she will nominate for the Supreme Court, and who will fill other positions in government.

    Christians can vote for Donald Trump because he is transparent, whether he wants to be or not, because he has made an initial change in his direction, and because he has expressed regret with apology for his behavior.

    Forgiveness and support from Christians would be in order from a Biblical perspective.

  3. Thank you for this post. I really appreciate your faithful witness and that of those you quoted. How would you respond to those who take the position that it is all about abortion. They will vote for Trump to save the babies. I personally believe that any president will have little impact on abortion, but Hillary Clinton’s desire to repeal the Hyde amendment makes people very leery of a vote that would inadvertently put her in office. Also, what about religious freedom? If things continue down the path we are currently on, as Hillary would promote, how do you picture the Church continuing to have a witness? These are the questions that linger in my mind, but I plan to vote for a third party candidate.

  4. Thanks Professor,
    Sorting this election out is a major thinking feat for those of us who are intellectually challenged. History and politics are complicated, it is good to have help sorting it out in some measure.😐
    MM

  5. Who should we vote for?

  6. Tracy, i am so looking forward to meeting you this week at the CFH conference at Regent. I really respect what you’re trying to do through this blog. I expect to reference this blog in my paper. –Paul Thompson

    • Dear Paul: Sadly, I am not going to be able to attend the CFH due to family circumstances. It will be the first I will have missed in a long time, and I hate it. I hope you enjoy the conference, and I will look forward to some other opportunity for our paths to cross in the future.

  7. Any readers who want to read an evangelical pastor’s statement about why he refused to join with other evangelicals in endorsing Trump should check out Dr. Erwin Lutzer’s blog at The Moody Church (on line). He cites the very real possibility of damage to the Church as well as his fear that after his endorsement information might come out that would make him look like a fool. We cannot forget about God’s sovereignty. Check out the example of Daniel and his friends in Babylon and how God provided for them as they remained faithful to Him. Also check out the prophet Jeremiah’s letter to this beleaguered group of Jews in Babylon (Jeremiah 29). Jeremiah’s emphasis was to pray for the city and its prosperity – pray for the very people that had led them into exile! No matter who is elected, Christians need to start praying for their welfare and for Godly wisdom in the days and years ahead.

    • Amen, Jack. This is also how Andy Crouch ends his essay–with a call to prayer: “In these closing weeks before the election, all American Christians should repent, fast, and pray—no matter how we vote. And we should hold on to hope—not in a candidate, but in our Lord Jesus. We do not serve idols. We serve the living God. Even now he is ready to have mercy, on us and on all who are afraid. May his name be hallowed, his kingdom come, and his will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”

  8. Dr. McKenzie, it dawned on me not long ago that evangelicals are missing a great opportunity, which is to call upon Trump to repent and repudiate his past actions. Instead they are afraid to take that step, and justify him in his sinful behavior.

  9. Greetings in Christ,
    Some good points however I continue to place all of my concern in future of our country under the Democratic Party who has become more & more iextreme if not truly radical, particularly as it pertains to the First Amendment.
    My hope and prayer is that God – as one can see through out our scriptures – in his sovereignty will use Trump to advancement of his kingdom here on earth.
    Trump certainly is carrying serious baggage. But in so many accounts from first and New Testament’s, God choses to use quite imperfect (if not debased, in some cases) individuals, e.g., David, Solomon, Rahab & Hosea’s harlot wife, Noah, Mary M., Paul, Peter (prone to speak before thinking easily angered, not trustworthy/loyal, perhaps abrasive)….
    I have serious doubts that the church of the Western world has the ability any longer to demonstrate true Christianity to the rest of the world.
    –dave w
    PSI think we share friendship with the Knutzens in WA

    • Dear Dave: Thank you for your reasoned response. You are of course correct that God’s instruments are always imperfect, and sometimes He uses even those who hate Him to effect His purposes. On that point, I would recommend that you at least consider Andy Crouch’s argument. Crouch argues that the analogue to King David, to cite one example, doesn’t really fit with Trump. I would be interested in your response. Regarding the Knutzens, yes, I absolutely think the world of them. Ken was a light in a dark place and a great encourager to me, and many other Christian faculty, during my time at UW.

    • Well said. These that are preaching against Trump, should get rid of their Television due the filth, sex, vulgarities, that are polluting their mind and others. How many spend endless hours watching and screaming at sports events when they could be witnessing to a fallen world. If each individual would take inventory of their personal life they and I would fall so short of what God expects of Christians. We are all facing eternity and the judgement and how will we answer then? It’s easy to condem, but let’s “sweep around our own steps” first.

  10. “Through his repeated claims that the electoral process is “rigged” or “fixed,” Donald Trump is doing his best to undermine the very foundation of American democracy, namely popular confidence in the democratic process.”

    This misses cause and effect. Clinton is at best a felon, and the powers that be, from DOJ to FBI to White House to MSM all have the fix in and are doing whatever they can to make her win despite her criminality. That lawlessness, not Trump calling them out for it, is what is undermining the foundations of the American political process.

    • Adam, do you have evidence directly from the White House, Department of Justice, and FBI? If so, I suggest that you post it. This is a vast conspiracy that you are describing, and such charges demand corroboration.

      • Adam Petersen

        If you’ve been reading WSJ and National Review, the evidence has been covered extensively for months now. Congress is all over Comey right now. It stinks to high heaven. But of course, MSM will squash it as much as they can. Nothing to see here.

        But there is.

      • Adam Petersen

        “If average voters turned on the TV for five minutes this week, chances are they know that Donald Trump made lewd remarks a decade ago and now stands accused of groping women.

        But even if average voters had the TV on 24/7, they still probably haven’t heard the news about Hillary Clinton: That the nation now has proof of pretty much everything she has been accused of.

        It comes from hacked emails dumped by WikiLeaks, documents released under the Freedom of Information Act, and accounts from FBI insiders. The media has almost uniformly ignored the flurry of bombshells, preferring to devote its front pages to the Trump story. So let’s review what amounts to a devastating case against a Clinton presidency…”

        Read the rest at:

        http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-press-buries-hillary-clintons-sins-1476401308

  11. Loving, thoughtful, and devoted. Thanks again for modeling what it is to be a Christian scholar of history.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s