The 2016 election is decided and Evangelical Christians bear great responsibility to stand with those who feel afraid and left out.
By Carl Nelson
Christians who voted for Trump on the basis of religious freedom and the sanctity of life, knew they were doing so at great risk. Countless evangelical leaders denounced Trump’s immoral behavior towards women, his racism and assaults on the vulnerable, yet many white evangelicals chose to risk voting for him over Hillary Clinton.
While we may not immediately acknowledge it, evangelicals’ decisive role in influencing this election for a candidate whose character contradicts so much of what Jesus stands for, creates a barrier to our witness of the Gospel, which we must now overcome.
The sanctity of life matters. Religious freedom matters. Those causes made huge advances last night. But racial justice matters too. So does care for the poor and vulnerable. And the plight of the refugee. And the treatment of women. The spread of the Gospel may depend upon how well we advocate for those causes too.
The Burden of Responsibility
As Ed Stetzer wrote “Evangelicals made Trump’s candidacy; now they owe it to the world to help remake his presidency.”
Throughout the campaign there has been concern about how people of color, urban poor, refugee groups and other vulnerable populations would fare under a Trump Presidency. These are the very people Jesus commands us to love.
Because white evangelical voters were so prominent in the coalition that elected Trump, they bear a great responsibility to stand with these groups, which includes many evangelical brothers and sisters, against callous indifference, racism and nativism, which surrounded so much of Trump’s candidacy.
America is deeply divided.
The 2016 election was defined by angst rather than ambition.This campaign revealed how many and deep are the chasms that divide Americans – divisions that many had never before acknowledged, and that few fully understand. Voting patterns in this election revealed stark divisions in America: between urban and rural; whites and people of color; male and female; skilled professionals and working class laborers; college educated and high school graduates. Our race, place, class and religion divide us more than we’d like to admit.
The 2016 election was defined by angst rather than ambition. Whether it be the despair about shrinking economies and changing social norms in blue collar, rural communities; or the frustration with powerful corporate interests that control American politics that led to a socialist resurgence. This election revealed a fear and a frustration that no elected official can resolve.
The Body of Christ is divided by political ideologyAnd for Christians, the 2016 election underscored that the Body of Christ is divided by political ideology, threatening our shared identity. This discord matters especially to Christian leaders, because our brothers and sisters in Christ are spread across each group. The Body of Christ in America is divided by many demographic factors, and unless we magnify our shared identity in the Kingdom of God, the witness of Jesus Christ will be dangerously threatened.
We need intervention.
Our conduct is unbecoming of a Christian.America needs a behavioral intervention moving forward. We, Christians especially, cannot continue to participate in character assassination, unprincipled obstructionism and rumor mongering that defined this campaign and much of the past two decades, without seriously undermining our witness of Jesus Christ, or threatening our democracy.
It is expected that we will have deep ideological disagreements, but it is unacceptable to demonize leaders with whom we disagree. Unless we make a conscious decision to lay down our verbal weapons – which are always uncalled for – our behavior will seriously undermine our witness to the Gospel of Jesus.
For the past two decades, and maybe even longer, too many evangelicals contributed to partisan obstructionism that derailed effective governing; keeping Congress from making progress on family strengthening, improvements in race relations, immigration reform, reducing poverty, or fueling economic growth.
We have treated our Presidents – whether Republican or Democrat – with contempt and dishonor. As cable talk shows and internet sites spewed out disparaging rumors with careless disregard for truth , we were reckless in circulating and reposting them on social media.
Our conduct is unbecoming of a Christian. American evangelicals must be one of the groups willing to make a radical change in our behavior and conduct in the public sphere.
Call to Action
My call to evangelicals is to set ourselves a new standard of conduct, for the good of our nation, and most importantly for the honor of Jesus Christ.
I’ve been eager for this election to be over so that as Christians, we could begin turning our allegiance back to the Kingdom of God and our efforts to the Gospel of Jesus rather than seeking to control the levers of government and getting caught up in the trappings of power.
Now that it is over we must:
- Emphasize our identity as brothers and sisters in the Kingdom of God, strengthening familial bonds that bridge class, race, ideology and location.
- Stand up for those who fear the most during a Trump Presidency: people of color, refugees, the urban poor and others.
- Pray for our new President. He has inherited a divided nation.
- Honor our new President-elect Donald Trump. Both candidates were flawed – and so many wanted another choice – but let us hold in high esteem the person who holds this hallowed office; and hold him accountable to honor it with his own conduct.
- Understand that the 21st century has created new groups of Americans who feel left behind in a high-tech global economy, and others are uncomfortable in an unfamiliar society where different cultures intersect and once widely-held social values are no longer revered.
Offer Real Hope
As I wrote in a recent article, Bible Should Influence Vote More than Party, the government cannot change hearts and transform lives. Both liberal and conservative Christians have fallen into the trap of placing too much hope in government to transform people’s lives.
Evangelical Christians know that behavior change, renewed hope, and vision come from within. The Gospel of Jesus Christ offers hope, one that government can never achieve. We should advocate, we should vote, and we should work for better government, but throughout history we find our hope in the Gospel of Jesus supersedes any particular form of government or ruling party.
The Church must rise to the occasion and offer real hope to the portion of the electorate who feels abandoned and left behind in the winds of change – grasping to find their place in this new world. We cannot restore hope for one group in our nation while suppressing or tearing others down. We must seek to understand the profound difference between brothers and sisters, and uphold the unifying role of the Church.
The Church can offer real hope to a lot of people who feel that their world and culture is crumbling around them. In response to the division in America, evangelical Christians must rise to the challenge and become a force for unity in our country. I believe there is a role for the Church to play; to be an agent of hope and unity.
Carl Nelson has served as President/CEO of Transform Minnesota since 2005. He serves on the executive committee of the National Association of Evangelicals, and the boards of Maranatha Christian Academy, Arrive Ministries, New Life Family Services and Damascus Way Reentry Center. Carl, his wife Kari and three children live in North Minneapolis and worship at Elim Church.