Evangelicals, Our Problem Is Spiritual, Not Political

(Dreamstime image: Duncanandison)
2016 has been a disaster and the future looks bleak. The first thing we must do is repent for our part in getting the country here.

It’s time for compassion, but it’s also time for hard truth. While there are a number of influential Evangelicals who have tied themselves so closely to Trump that they now feel obliged to publicly excuse the inexcusable, there are millions more who look at the present political situation with abject despair in their hearts. The true limits of Evangelical political power have been revealed, Christians seem to lose another critical political or cultural battle every week, and there is simply no clear political path forward.

Even worse, we have no one to truly blame but ourselves.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. This was going to be the year of the Christian candidate. This was going to be the year when a conservative combined the faith of George W. Bush with the political orthodoxy of a movement conservative. Sure, there were differences between Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, and even, say, John Kasich, but they were differences of degree, not of kind. Each man is Christian. Each man is committed to life and religious liberty. Each man is unafraid to champion those ideals in the public square. And each man would have had an excellent chance against Hillary Clinton, the most disliked Democratic politician in the land.

Never mind. It turns out that the conservative base is not quite as conservative as we thought, and the Evangelical base isn’t as evangelical as we hoped. Rather than Rubio, Cruz, Bush, or Kasich, Republicans are stuck with Donald Trump, who presents Evangelical voters a nightmare electoral choice and a bleak political future.

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Here’s the emerging reality: While the GOP can’t win without Evangelicals, it’s increasingly clear that it can’t win with them either. If current polling trends hold, the GOP nominee is now set to lose the electoral vote for the fifth time in seven presidential elections, and the popular vote for sixth time in seven.

These losses mean that Democrats have exactly zero incentive to court Evangelical voters. They can win without theologically conservative Christians, and they’ve built their own white progressive base in part by counterprogramming against such Christians. The Democratic party elite is populated by people who’d rather be waterboarded than make any accommodation for life or religious liberty. They’d rather protect abortion-on-demand than give even parents a voice in a child’s “choice.”

Our best minds, our brightest stars, and our most fervent activists have all in their own ways failed.

As the Trump Train derails, it’s not too early to start thinking about what will come next. And for Evangelicals, there is no clear answer. Those who’ve strongly advocated for Trump have largely lost their public moral witness, corrupting their message and destroying their reputations in a vain quest to justify the unjustifiable. They occupy the same moral terrain as Bill Clinton’s most stalwart defenders in the 1990s, revealing themselves as more concerned with power and access than with character and principle.

But, truth be told, Trump apologists constitute a small minority of Evangelical leadership, much less of the Evangelical rank-and-file. The much greater percentage are living in various states of anguish as the awful truth of the election truly sinks in. This weekend, prominent Evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem pulled his previous endorsement of Trump. Hugh Hewitt, a beloved and influential Christian voice who has reluctantly supported Trump, called for him to step down. Even members of Trump’s Evangelical advisory board are stepping back.

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What must the Evangelical majority do now? The first and most important response to the disaster of 2016 has to be spiritual. There has to be repentance not just for playing any part in yoking followers of Christ to such a depraved man, but also for the critical failures of education and moral instruction that prepared so many Christians to be seduced by Trump. Our pastors and teachers failed. The lay leaders in our congregations failed. We all failed.

It’s the habit of pundits to ascribe political causes to what may truly be spiritual failures with promised spiritual consequences. In the book of Revelation, John issues the famous admonition against the church of Laodicea: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm — neither hot nor cold — I am about to spit you out of your mouth.” Christians, this is what rejection looks like.

#related#To repent means to turn, to change course. In the most basic sense, we repent by correcting known wrongs, rediscovering a commitment to character, and doing our best to live the values we seek to advance. But in a more profound sense, we also repent by confessing the truth. In this case, that truth is clear: Our best minds, our brightest stars, and our most fervent activists have all in their own ways failed.

There is no five-step plan that will lead us back to political prominence, if political prominence is even Christ’s goal for His church. There is only a one-step plan that will lead us back to obedience, and that one step is true repentance. We don’t know what’s next, but we do know that only God can save his people. 2016 is a year of rejection; there is no reason why it can’t also be a year of redemption. Let that redemption begin today.


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