Following the dramatic rise of Donald Trump this year, various arguments have been offered for why Christians, specifically Evangelicals, should support him. At best, Evangelicals overall were characterized as being less than enthusiastic about Trump, but saw it necessary to vote for him nonetheless, often describing him as “the lesser of two evils.” Despite ostensible division over Trump among Evangelical leaders, exit polls suggested that over 80% of Evangelicals voted for Trump.
Now the election is over. President-elect Donald Trump will be taking office in less than a couple months, and hardly any concern, grief, or lamenting over Trump by the “Donald is bad, but not as bad as Hillary” Christians has been heard thus far, even if such grief was mixed with the joy of Clinton’s agenda being rejected. Instead, these much-relaxed Evangelicals appear to regard America as mostly being “back on track,” and while they may have been corporately praying and fasting before the election, now they seem in no rush to do so now.
But there will be a cost for Evangelicals in their support for Trump.
There are several issues that Christians will need to address in the months and years ahead as a result of this election. Evangelicals should seriously heed the following three concerns, held by those who share in the historic Christian faith, yet hold to a different take on recent events.
The reputation of the church
First, the substantial evangelical endorsement of Trump will severely discredit the church’s long-held claim that character, holiness, and biblical morality are not to be tossed aside lightly. Pro-Trump Christians have demonstrably given up any moral high ground when it comes to politics. The number of prominent Evangelicals who said that we should vote for Trump’s policies and not so much for Trump himself is directly contradictory to what Evangelicals were saying during Bill Clinton’s impeachment, and appears to many that political power, not a resurgence of Christian values, was the real desire of the Religious Right. For example, very few Pro-Trump Christians seemed shocked by Ben Carson’s suggestion on “Morning Joe” that they should “put [their] Christian values on pause to get the job done” in the election. Likewise, the ‘cheap grace’ offered for Trump’s divisive words and attitude has muddied up the waters for those who preach the life-transforming grace of the gospel.
Even the change in mocking of Christians is a signal. Evangelicals have been mocked for decades, but with Trump’s rise, the mocking has a new flavor to it. The slandering of Christians as prudes, Bible-thumpers, and so on, was and still is common, but these were mostly based on things that the Bible encouraged Christians to do. Now Christians are being slandered for endorsing a mascot of marital unfaithfulness, questionable industries (gambling), business associations (Playboy), and recasting accounts of sexual harassment as “locker room talk.” To what degree these accusations are accurate is irrelevant: what matters is that Evangelicals were primarily mocked for doing good, and now are mocked for doing evil.
Even if Trump-supporters felt this vanishing credibility was an acceptable loss “given the alternative,” they should should be mourning and lamenting this loss far more than what we’re seeing now. If Christians were repenting and praying together before the election, they should be praying and repenting all the more now. Why? Because when the world thinks of American Christianity, Donald Trump will likely come to mind before Jesus Christ.
Grief within the churches
Second, many faithful Christians are deeply disturbed by Donald Trump and his election to presidency, especially Evangelical minorities. For example, many African-Americans who love the gospel are nonetheless very nervous about what life will be like with Trump as President, on grounds such as Trump’s consistent unwillingness to distance himself from the KKK and their support during the election. Many Christians are simply unaware of the grieving that is taking place within churches right now among ethnic minorities.
To illustrate this point, I’ll share a couple of examples representing many who hold these concerns and aren’t just caught up in race-baiting or some liberal ideology, but have thoughtful concerns that they have held up to the standard of the Bible. Of course, these examples are by all means anecdotal, in that, for every account shared here, someone could share another story that the grieving of minorities is overstated or ignorantly motivated. But my point isn’t to say that anyone who grieves Trump’s win always does so on fully legitimate grounds, but to show that there are some people who have thoughtful, genuine concerns for the attitudes that Trump has made more mainstream, and whether agreement with those concerns is reached or not, they still deserve a charitable and careful hearing.
Trillia Newbell, an African-American Christian author, journalist, and currently the Director of Community Outreach for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission for the Southern Baptist Convention, shared her grief, saying she was “actually in tears after seeing someone I love post that they are voting for Trump. I can take the Christian celebrities, but friends are hard.”
Again, she expressed both her concerns and her hopes for the church after the election was called: “My heart is heavy for the marginalized. There’s such an opportunity for the church. This includes immigrants, the unborn, poor, women…” That same day, she wrote an article suggesting five ways to pray for Donald Trump’s safety, wisdom, and courage.
One African-American Christian artist, Shai Linne, whose album “The Attributes of God” is a combination of faithful theology and well-crafted soundscapes, also shared his deep dismay of Trump’s election (and the Evangelical contribution to it), although he also noted on Twitter: “I think either candidate being elected president is lamentable, albeit for different reasons.”
Why do these believers and others like them mourn Trump’s election, or at least the Evangelical support of it? In some sense, a large number of non-white Christians feel that white Evangelicals gave into Trump’s vision of a pre-1960’s America in exchange for religious security. In voting for Trump, believers among minority groups saw Pro-Trump Christians essentially saying, “I’m not racist myself, but I’m also not entirely opposed to racism flourishing if we can control the Supreme Court.” The same applies for Trump: the concern isn’t entirely whether or not Trump is himself bigoted, but that he’s shown no opposition to racial bigotry, and by electing him, Evangelicals have largely implied the same opinion.
As a result, any work toward a multi-ethnic church that declares the praises of God in “every tribe, tongue, and nation” has undergone a serious chilling effect. Many Christians who didn’t vote for Trump now feel more pressured to keep their concerns from the larger Evangelical community, including their own churches. Some liberal university campuses have received criticism for their “safe spaces” in which politically-traumatized students can retreat from hearing a differing opinion, but Evangelical churches are increasingly acting as the original “safe spaces” for whites, where differing voices and opinions are are at least implicitly dismissed as invalid, including the opinion that Trump’s presidency has greatly normalized white extremist groups.
Indeed, the pain that many non-white Christians are feeling has often been met with dismissal, scorn, and apathy by many Pro-Trump Christians. The problem isn’t foremost a disagreement on the issues at hand, but that Pro-Trump Christians have made little effort to sympathize with the concerns of these believers. Even if Trump supporters think such fears of moving back towards a Jim Crow era are largely unfounded, responding with a deaf ear to the concerns of these Christians only confirms that the voice of African-American believers is being muted once again.
The outreach of the church
Finally, the post-election attitudes and responses from those who voted for Trump have largely failed to take a different tactic than those who gloated after the ‘08 and ‘12 elections. With few exceptions, conservatives have followed many liberals in the practice of denouncing, shaming, marginalizing, and mocking those whose candidate didn’t win the election.
With Republicans coming into power, there is (once again) little effort to dialogue across the aisle, especially at a local level, despite the fact that usually neither party has enjoyed a landslide win in the last few decades. After years of being increasingly treated as political outcasts, one would think that many Christians now would say they wouldn’t wish such treatment upon anyone. Instead, there’s talk that “America has decided,” a way of silencing and suppressing the other side which is disingenuous at best when only about 25% of those eligible voted for Trump. When both parties continue to demonize the other rather than listen, dialogue, and patiently engage, each new political victor will end up just undoing the efforts of the previous administration. We need a solution deeper than political effort, and that solution begins with understanding, not denouncing, those who disagree with us.
We see from the life of Jesus that he had no problem calling out the evil, hypocrisy, and sin in his opponents, but what Christians can miss is that he is often did so while eating and conversing with them in their homes (see Luke 7:36): “Simon, your take on this issue is wrong. Pass the bread and let me tell you a story about a couple of guys who got into some debt, then tell me what you think.” Christians need to take this “dinner table” approach far more seriously, and let go of the impersonal and cheap “share a post on Facebook” methodology.
Regardless of who won the bid for President, Christians had much to mourn, and those who supported Trump need to take a sober look at the ramifications of that outcome.