In in my short, happy life I have never written on modern political issues. Professionally I am an expert on the history of politics, so I am a bit numb to contemporary fights. Maybe I just have young kids, and I’m always tired.
But I do feel the need today to write two quick points about Trump and the dumpster fire of modern political discourse.
In short, there are two things Trump (or any politician) can never do:
1: Ruin our Witness
It has become fashionable to claim that Trump is endangering the Christian witness. Some of these comments attempt to shame evangelicals into backing away from Trump. Others are sincere that we should end this charade that Trump is on the side of angels.
These type of comments may be well-intentioned, but they are seriously flawed.
The witness of the Christian faith is that Christ broke into this world and announced the coming of the kingdom. He then took up the cross, died for the sins of the world, and then got up out of the grave. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the Father’s right hand. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.
Trump has no influence over this King or his reign. Trump is but a breath, while Jesus is the Lord of Lords.
The faith will always be foolish to the world, though the reasons they find it foolish may be a revolving door. But let’s not make it sound as if Jesus cannot save until we get our voting record squared away. Doing so only continues the problem of uniting our faith to our politics. It also endangers more than our witness, as it draws our eye to every passing fad or cultural phenomenon as the final verdict of Christian presence in the world.
Certainly there are cases where Christian scandal or foolishness provoke the worst stereotypes of Christians. The case of Trump may very well be one of these. Maybe the issue, then, is not that Trump has finally made us sound foolish. Maybe he’s the reward we get for prostrating ourselves before political messiahs. Maybe all of this is the fruit of our inability to think biblically about our engagement in the world beyond each election cycle.
2: Destroy the Church
We have not been good at waging peace.
In my lifetime there was first the Moral Majority, now in its death spasm and soon to be a fossilized example of a failed culture war. The pressure was not always overt, though it was always real: voting choices signaled your faithfulness to biblical principles. Vote the wrong party and find yourself on the defensive.
The record is worse, though, when you look throughout history. Christians have hailed Caesars, bowed to autocrats, and embraced tyrants. They are not always wise in public or political life. But this has done nothing to the foundation of the church. It still stands, though most of us could not name the political rulers who frightened our brothers and sisters centuries ago.
Yet the problem with so much talk of politics is that it makes our claim to eternal security appear thin. We cannot follow the King of Kings and set our hair on fire over every political machination. The sky is not falling, though the entire system does appear polluted. But if American politics is polluted and irredeemable, it should not enter our minds that the church itself is on the same rocky ground. Let this nation blow away, the church will still stand.
If we want any of this cultural acceptance back, then, the best place to start would be to stop fighting about politics among ourselves. We should stop saying “Raca” (Matthew 5:22) to each other over the choices we make. Let the world see in the church a people who, in their world, should never get along. Then let them see us sitting peacefully together worshiping the risen Christ, loving each other and truly enjoying each other’s company. As the world around us breaks up into increasingly narrow tribes of identity, the church should lay down these identities when they enter worship.
Practically, this means the shame culture in either direction should cease. This means brothers and sisters committed to the Republican agenda should not be scorned for their choices. This also means, though, that both those who have not abandoned the Republican identity and those who never embraced it should stop pretending to have the moral high ground.
The gospel tells us that none of us occupies the moral high ground.