For over four decades, evangelical voters have played a very public role in election coverage. Progressive analysts, both from the secular media and from inside church circles, often treat this category of Christians as a monolith, as in, “Evangelical Voters Support…” This year that custom has continued. How many times have you heard pundits describe how “the evangelical vote” constitutes a significant part of Donald Trump’s support base?
One part of House United’s role in our culture is to break down stereotypes that divide us unnecessarily. During this election season, progressive commentators have consistently characterized evangelicals as uncomfortable with supporting Trump because of character issues, but ultimately willing to do so in order to secure conservative Supreme Court appointments. Generalizations like this cloud the issue. Progressives would do well to listen to actual living, breathing evangelicals — and not just the fundamentalists who are thrown on to Facebook pages and Twitter feeds to inflame.
Christianity Today has been the central publication of evangelical Christianity for over half a century. It began in the late 1950s as the brainchild of none other than Billy Graham, its founder, and it remains to this day, according to the Washington Post, “evangelicalism’s flagship magazine.” If you are unfamiliar and want to know what mainstream evangelicals believe, it’s a good idea to get a subscription.
In the latest issue of Christianity Today, Andy Crouch, its Executive Editor, reflects on Mr. Trump’s candidacy as follows: “Indeed, there is hardly any public person in America today who has more exemplified the “earthly nature” (“flesh” in the King James and the literal Greek) that Paul urges the Colossians to shed: “sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed, which is idolatry” (3:5). This is an incredibly apt summary of Trump’s life to date. Idolatry, greed, and sexual immorality are intertwined in individual lives and whole societies. Sexuality is designed to be properly ordered within marriage, a relationship marked by covenant faithfulness and profound self-giving and sacrifice. To indulge in sexual immorality is to make oneself and one’s desires an idol. That Trump has been, his whole adult life, an idolater of this sort, and a singularly unrepentant one, should have been clear to everyone…”
Mr. Crouch continues with a reflection on perceptions. “[Evangelicals’] 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…” Christianity Today‘s concern about Mr. Trump is no eleventh-hour reaction to last week’s notorious recording, which featured Trump’s lewd description of his own freedom as a celebrity to force himself on women sexually. Christianity Today has expressed concerns about the candidate’s character throughout the summer, but this latest revelation seemed to Mr. Crouch to require an urgent and direct response. Hence his candid opposition, under the provocative title, “Speaking Truth to Trump.”
St. Francis of Assissi famously prayed, “Oh divine master, grant that I might seek, not so much…to be understood as to understand.” That prayer raises question number one: When will progressive Christians live into this prayer and take pains to learn the variety behind their use of the term evangelical?
The Christianity Today piece has raised for me a second question: Where are the progressive Christians who apply the same prophetic Christian scrutiny to Mrs. Clinton? Most of this election season, the Christian left have excused themselves from this task because they believeTrump is a monster who must be defeated at all costs. That conviction has prompted a primarily defensive posture on behalf of Mrs. Clinton, in spite of the candidate’s relatively clear track record of deception. Where is the “Speaking Truth to Clinton” piece? Who will bring Bible to bear on Mrs. Clinton’s cozy relationship to the banks? An example: “My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, ‘Have a seat here, please,’ while to the one who is poor you say, ‘Stand there,’ or, ‘Sit at my feet,’ have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2.1-4)
Notice the biblical character of Crouch’s critique of Trump. Paul’s description of vice in Colossians becomes the grid on which Mr. Trump is assessed. While progressive Christians have critiqued President Obama, for example, throughout his presidency, that challenge has largely been issued in political and not biblical categories. Why?
Selective critique is idolatry, so I’m advocating two things: First, Christians on both ends of the spectrum owe our brothers and sisters in faith the loving service of understanding one another beyond the headlines, in our robust variety. Evangelical and progressive Christianity represent a much more robust range than we allow in our categories. And second, progressive Christians owe the political left the favor of moral scrutiny that their evangelical brothers and sisters have been managing this election season.
These two steps both lead to humility, which is the necessary beginning if the church intends actually to be the body of Christ; and the crucial foundation for a republic intent on building a House United.
Allen Hilton, the author of this blog, is the Founder and Leader of House United. Quotations are from “Speak Truth to Trump” with the sub-title, “Evangelicals, of all people, should not be silent about Donald Trump’s blatant immorality.” Andy Crouch, Christianity Today OCTOBER 10, 2016 (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/october-web-only/speak-truth-to-trump.html?start=2)