14 October 2016
Evangelicals, Trump, power and freedom
Danny Webster is advocacy and media manager for the Evangelical Alliance.
For evangelicals, freedom is part of the core of their belief. It is what enables them to choose to follow Christ, and reach out to others with the good news of their salvation. It is that belief and pursuit of freedom that Christians in the United States are exercising as they decide how they will vote in the coming general election.
"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free," Paul writes in his letter to the Galatians, "Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." At this election in the United States, the yoke of political power has outweighed the way of freedom for many, with some evangelical leaders appearing to offer their consciences in a strategic exchange for political power.
In the unlikely case that you've missed it, this week Donald Trump, Republican nominee for the presidency of the United States has been accused of sexual assault, alongside his previous litany of insults directed at minorities, the LGBTI community, immigrants, and the disabled. It's not news that he is an utterly inappropriate candidate for such a significant role.
But evangelical leaders stand accused of being Trump's most resilient supporters, even in the wake of last week's revelations. This has had an effect on the Evangelical Alliance here in the UK with our Twitter account flooded with commentary about Trump and Clinton. The Alliance takes a meticulously neutral line on party politics – in the run-up to UK elections we are particularly careful – but this is not matched by some of our evangelical counterparts across the Atlantic who have thrown their support behind Trump as the Republican Party candidate. A large number of Trumps' backers say he is the least worst option and don't attempt to defend his words and actions.
Many evangelical leaders have become louder in their opposition to Trump in the last week or so, with theologian Wayne Grudem recanting his endorsement of Trump and evangelist Beth Moore speaking out against the language of sexual assault and those who would dismiss it. Alongside noisy evangelical opposition to Trump is the solid conviction of many evangelical Christians that a vote for Hillary Clinton is equally abhorrent, seeing the Democratic Party nominee as corrupt, anti-faith and a danger to legal frameworks of religious freedoms.
In this context, you would think that evangelicals would be leading the 'Abstain America' movement that advocates voting for 'none of the above'. But the evangelical leaders who insist Trump is the person they trust have shown that their trading of votes for promises requires no assurance, no strength of character, no moral depth, no conscientiousness, just the promise of power.
Andy Crouch, editorial director for Christianity Today, has pinpointed the error of the strategic approach to power: "Strategy becomes idolatry, for ancient Israel and for us today, when we make alliances with those who seem to offer strength — the chariots of Egypt, the vassal kings of Rome — at the expense of our dependence on God who judges all nations, and in defiance of God's manifest concern for the stranger, the widow, the orphan, and the oppressed. Strategy becomes idolatry when we betray our deepest values in pursuit of earthly influence. And because such strategy requires capitulating to idols and princes and denying the true God, it ultimately always fails."
Political engagement is crucial to anyone with a vision of what our corporate life as nations should look like. However, political engagement can't be about just getting someone in power who supports us, it has to be about working towards a vision of what life should be like, how a nation should be governed, how society should function.
This is the twin challenge for evangelicals in both the US and the UK: to encourage political engagement that goes beyond elections, and to develop a vision for the good of the whole country that can drive that engagement, a vision that is rooted in the good news of Jesus, but is ultimately for the good of all in society.
Until we get better at political engagement it's time for evangelical leaders to think long and hard before endorsing candidates. Especially Trump.
You can watch our Northern Ireland director talk about these issues for Think Friday here.