Tuesday, July 5, 2016
To Stand and Vote on Principle
Within America's vast evangelical industrial complex, Donald Trump has become a pivotal figure.
Especially among evangelical celebrities, many of whom have fallen all over themselves trying to justify an enthusiasm for the brash billionaire that others of us simply don't buy.
In today's New York Times, conservative writer Peter Wehner adds his voice to those decrying the religious right's fixation on Trump.
"Evangelical Christians who are enthusiastically supporting Donald Trump are signaling... that their past moral proclamations were all for show and that power is the name of the game."
Political power, to be exact. Power over the evil Clinton. Power over evil Democrats. Power over the weak, even if that means insulting the handicapped, prisoners of war, women, minorities, and people of other faiths.
Power may be an attractive commodity, but have we evangelicals confused authority with power? God's people have His authority to speak in His name, but He doesn't guarantee us political power. Yet we enjoy ridiculing those government officials, such as Barak Obama, whom God has placed in authority over us.
Then there are the powerful authority figures within our evangelical industrial complex, many of whom are fawning over Trump. Wehner calls them out specifically - those celebrity evangelicals such as James Dobson, Jerry Falwell Jr., and Robert Jeffress - who have shamelessly endorsed Trump to the exclusion of blatant instructions from the Bible regarding the leadership qualities Christ's people should value.
And although he doesn't spend much time drawing the conclusion, Wehner makes a connection between our evangelical subculture's support of Trump and our own gullibility in allowing our misguided celebrities to harbor such misguided theology in the first place. After all, especially in ostensibly democratic and capitalistic countries such as ours, leaders exist at the consent of the governed.
Taken further, it's easy to see how the evangelical church in America, stagnant and spoiled as it is, has lost its salty savor in favor of civic power: We strive to legislate morality, for example, and preserve the sanctity of guns (which represent power, btw).
For too long, we Christ-followers have wanted to be validated by the society around us. Yet we haven't realized that truth, in which legitimate authority is based, does not depend on popular validation.
It's at this point where church folk either tune out the pessimists like me (even though calling out the truth isn't exactly the definition of pessimism), or protest that if we don't support Trump, savage abortionists will gain control of the White House for at least the next four years. Which do I want: To stand and die on principle, or thwart the Clinton machine at the apex of its villainy?
Meanwhile, please note that I'm not saying it's inherently sinful to vote either for Trump or Hillary. It's why you're voting that counts with God, even if somebody else is counting the literal votes. God looks at the heart, remember? Sure, there are piles and piles of dirty laundry on both sides of the political aisle, perhaps moreso now than in any other election. Surely that alone should suggest that principle means more now than ever. But whose principles? God's? Yours? Or theirs?
Are you more willing to vote - and thereby endorse - a man who boastfully claims no need to confess his sins to God? Or a woman who has never made a public pretense of not needing God? Or somebody else from a third party, even if that means one of the two major party candidates likely will win?
Are you and I responsible for who wins, or how we exercise the vote God has allowed us to have?
I have a friend who is voting for Trump, but she's supporting him mostly because she's known him for years from their social circles in New York City and Palm Beach. I get that, and it doesn't bother me. But if you support Trump, why? Is it because you like his commanding posture, even if what he says most experts (on both sides of the political aisle) say is unworkable? Is it because you respect his wealth, even if you'd ordinarily say that the ends don't justify the means? Is it because all of these famous Christians say Trump has been ordained of God to lead our nation? Even though God let Israel have a king, in direct contrast to His will for His people?
The real problem with Trump's presidential run isn't really Trump himself, but the people who support him. People with unrealistic expectations about what a president can do. People who are acting out of anger at the way the political party they've supported for years has been complicit in sending their jobs overseas. People who are freaking out over the profound social changes in our marriage laws, and our society's attempts at re-engineering the family structure. People who think America holds some special place in God's heart, even though God has told us Himself that He is no respecter of persons.
In a country that used to be fluent in religiosity (although not necessarily Biblical theology), it's been pretty easy for white, middle-class church-goers to "live life to the fullest" and let our professional celebrity Christians advocate on our behalf in our statehouses and on television. We've assumed that our standards of morality have remained fairly consistent with the moral standards supported by the unchurched, especially as far as marriage and family are concerned. We've become infatuated with heroes and larger-than-life personalities. We've constructed for ourselves this vast evangelical industrial complex that now carries us along, visiting happy websites and watching happy movies, and voting every few years for the people who genuflect the deepest towards us.
The more comfortable many have gotten within this evangelical industrial complex, the more strongly people like me seem like sour pessimists or jealous curmudgeons. Yet in reality, I'm just as anxious about the state of our nation as you are.
Hey: Liberals listen to their own celebrities - people like former president Jimmy Carter, who was recently quoted by the Washington Post as telling human rights activists that our world needs leaders who foster confidence in humanity's "inherent goodness." As believers in Christ, we know that humanity has goodness only in the fact that God creates individuals, and each human life has value. Otherwise, humanity's goodness is a notion that flies in the face of God's need to provide us with a Savior.
It's such fallacies that, just as conservatives can justify their vote for somebody like Trump, liberals use to justify their vote for somebody like Hillary. Especially after today, as the FBI admitted that she's lied about almost everything regarding her "extremely careless" private e-mail scandal, yet won't be charged with a crime. Like a friend of mine is fond of saying, she's "too big to jail."
We've truly gotten ourselves into a hellacious mess.
All the more reason why we can't let our Christian celebrities put words in God's holy mouth. God may - and certainly can - use Trump to accomplish His purposes for us and our country. But He can - and certainly may - use Hillary to accomplish those purposes as well. And at this point, Hillary is the candidate who has yet to deny God His salvific role, whereas Trump has, through his refusal to confess his sins.
We have God's authority to speak His truth, but the truth is that we don't have the power to win elections. Our vast evangelical industrial complex has lavished upon the American church the most resources any society in the history of our world has ever had, but how have all those resources benefited us if Trump is perceived as the best choice in this election?
Don't take your cue from Christian celebrities.
O God, we have heard with our ears, our fathers have told us,
what deeds you performed in their days, in the days of old:
you with your own hand drove out the nations, but them you planted;
you afflicted the peoples, but them you set free;
for not by their own sword did they win the land,
nor did their own arm save them, but your right hand and your arm,
and the light of your face,
for you delighted in them. Psalm 44:1-3