I believe in the euangelion (the good news of the Kingdom of God) and I call myself an evangelical. Yet, for all my adult life I have felt more than a little embarrassed by the term. This is especially true in January 2021 when I see many evangelicals in the US still unswervingly supporting Donald Trump, a man of whom traits such as mysoginism, race-baiting and persistent lying come to mind.
Notwithstanding, Trump claims to have done more for evangelical Christians than any other President. Supposing that was true (I think history may well show otherwise), is it ever right that as Christians we should seek to put our own interests first? Is that really the heart of the gospel?
Surely the euangelion has, at heart, a call to sacrifice, to live for others and to live present day lives that point forward to the reality of the final day. Seeking to be a people of integrity, humility, mercy, peace and justice (Matthew 5:7-10).
In the Old Testament we repeatedly see the children of Israel relying upon political leaders rather than God. Israel was warned again and again not to seek a King as the solution to their troubles yet the people trusted more in a fallible human leader to defend their rights and faith than in the God who had promised his eternal protection. Familiar?
The Republican party has been so shaped by the will of Donald Trump that his son, Donald Trump Jr. claimed on the 6th January that ‘this isn’t their Republican party anymore, this is Donald Trump’s Republican party…’
Have Republicans and their evangelical base ‘sold their soul’ in a Faustian bargain that is both debilitating for the US and for the future of evangelicalism? Is this perhaps as much a commentary on the state of North American politics and the US brand of evangelical Christianity as it is on Trump himself? Could it be that rather than seeing politics from a national perspective, many have instead viewed it from a tribal/identity politics viewpoint – seeking to promote their interests and rights with a powerful leader for protection? If so, would that not be more about fear than faith?
Many have stayed silent too long, but at last some evangelical leaders are speaking out and denouncing the words and actions of the 45th President. It is critical that many more do so urgently. If evangelicals do not oppose Trump’s disturbing attitudes and behaviours then there is a danger that they will themselves come to own those attributes and their witness will be sorely tarnished.
Trump speaks of the healing of the nation but healing, when there is still such sharp division, cannot simply mean ‘moving on’. It requires people across the political spectrum to prioritise truth-seeking over sound bites and facts above blind faith.
I’d like to think that the Church could help lead the way but does she have the courage to do so? Will those who have remained silent dare speak out? Could those who have found themselves complicit have the grace to respond in the same manner as King David when confronted by the prophet Nathan? A response of self-abnegation, humility and repentance is certainly necessary. Bonhoeffer notably said ‘if you board the wrong train, it’s no use running along the corridor in the opposite direction.’
My heart-felt desire is that the church in the US will have the courage to reject an ‘America first’ agenda and instead advocate for policies that promote human flourishing across the breadth of humanity. What, I wonder would it take to come together across the political spectrum and seek common ground? Whilst it is right that defending the sanctity of human life and religious freedom are of great importance, surely an opposition to economic injustice, racism (including white supremacy) and misogyny together with a welcome for the stranger and care for God’s creation are of equally significant biblical value?
The Presidential historian Jon Meacham concludes his 2018 book ‘The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels’ with these words
‘How then, in an hour of anxiety about the future of the country at a time when a president of the United States appears determined to undermine the rule of law, a free press and the sense of hope essential to American life, can those with deep concerns about the nation’s future enlist on the side of the angels?’
Meacham responds to his own question with five key recommendations:
1) Become engaged; 2) avoid tribalism; 3) rely on reason and facts; 4: find a balance between overly critical and overly loyal; and 5) history tends to repeat itself and that’s what’s happening at the moment.
I wonder whether with the addition of Scriptural reflection and prayer these recommendations could be helpful to the US church as it discerns its response to recent events? Perhaps they might to some extent also apply to those like myself here in the UK? After all, we too are a divided country and are increasingly seeing a divided church.
When the ‘stakes are high’ the issues are almost always immeasurably complex, but our knowledge is finite. Yet, matters are becoming increasingly polarised with battle-lines drawn before the hard work of careful consideration is given to the often-complex arguments. Is there not a danger that decisions will be made according to which political or cultural tribe a person identifies with and which algorithms social media has determined for him or her? I know that I myself am becoming increasingly frustrated by being presented with a series of binary choices and being made to feel that nuance is a dirty word.
My prayer is that as followers of Christ we will model something different – listening carefully to each other and praying for guidance whilst engaging more truthfully, lovingly, graciously, firmly yet gently, humbly, justly and mercifully.
Will we co-labour to that end patterning ourselves after the self-giving love and hope offered by the one at the heart of the Gospel? Surely such love and hope can overcome division and fear! By his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5, NIV)
‘Remember who you are and whom you serve.’
 1 Samuel 8:5-22
 2 Samuel 12
 Simmons, Edward G, Three Prophetic Voices against Silence, an essay published in Sider, R.J, The Spiritual danger of Donald Trump, Cascade Books, Eugene, Oregon, 2020, P197
 Galli, Mark. Christianity Today 2019 quoting Oswald Chambers. https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2019/december-web-only/trump-should-be-removed-from-office.html