This past summer in our Berean Servants class we used David Platt’s book, A Compassionate Call to Counter Culture, to discuss from a Christian perspective some of the hot button issues of the day. While the election was not part of Platt’s book, my co-leader and I did not feel we could have such a series without discussing what was dominating the airwaves (ad nauseum). I took it on myself to speak to that issue, and I wrestled for the better part of the summer trying to think of what I was going to say. This was especially challenging since I did not think it appropriate as a Christian teacher to endorse one or the other candidate–and, truth be told, I did not think that either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump was worthy to be endorsed for the office of President even if I had been so inclined. The basis for what I shared with the Bereans is spelled out in an essay entitled “Into Exile” that I have now uploaded to the Essays page on this blog site. Let me just summarize the argument of the essay briefly, and then, because the essay was written before the election, provide some additional thoughts in wake of Trump’s electoral victory this past Tuesday.
One of the things that I have seen among conservative Christians in the past year is a deep quandary: on the one hand, both Clinton and Trump were seriously deficient ethically and in terms of demonstrating good judgment (especially with regard to Trump); on the other hand, people had real concerns about where either of the candidates would take the country if elected (especially with regard to Clinton). Both candidates and their proponents were also pushing the rhetoric that a win by the other side would be nothing short of the Apocalypse. I’m skeptical of such overheated rhetoric, but I do think that this election would be–and now is–a watershed moment for us as a country. From a Christian perspective, the election codifies a couple of ominous trends: First, there is the invigoration of the LGBT movement, which in turn presents challenges to Christians holding to a traditional view of sexual morality. In essence, we have a conflict between notions of equality and religious liberty. Second, there is an accelerating decline in religious affiliation within the United States. That decline is contributing to both greater popular acceptance of sexual libertinism (of whatever form) and greater antipathy to the Christian community. Given both Clinton’s and Trump’s views on those issues, in my view no matter who won election, the Christian community would still face those challenges.
In the situation we are in, we need to ask ourselves, what is God doing? We may not understand it altogether or even necessarily correctly, but I do think we need to reflect upon that question. It is not enough to just say that God is sovereign in the situation; He is sovereign, but He is also not passive. So what is He doing, especially if neither future was going to be a good one for us? In the studies we have done in the Old Testament in Bereans these past few years, one of the things that has come out clearly is that God will chasten His people for their sins. In some cases, he will do this by bringing direct judgment on His people; in other cases, He gives people over to their desires and lets them suffer the consequences of their actions (per Romans ch. 1). I believe that the Christian community is undergoing a divine chastening right now, with God sifting those who are His from those merely professing to believe in Him. In this regard, we as a Christian community need to be thinking of ourselves as in exile. Biblically speaking, God used the Babylonian Exile of the Jews as punishment for their sins, as chastening, and as a means whereby they could once again refocus on Him. This being the case, we a modern Christians need to accept this chastening, refocus ourselves on the Lord, and work for the good of the place of our exile. Fundamental to this would be to repent of our sins before the Lord–not merely sins of omission (which is what evangelical Christians typically like to focus on), but on specific sins of commission. With the latter, I used the Ten Commandments to examine and highlight the sins of the Christian community which it needs to repent of.
I think this overall assessment still holds in wake of Tuesday’s Presidential election. When I initially wrote the essay, the conventional wisdom was that Clinton would win the election (not that I include any predictions of who would win). Under that scenario, it would have been easier for conservative Christians to buy into the idea of an exile. While I think the truth of the matter is that still we are going into exile, Trump’s victory is giving many conservative Christians the sense that the progressive agenda will be completely rolled back and we will have a Christian flourishing.
Part of this is the inherent difficulty in governing and the challenges facing the new Administration. When the Obama Administration came in in 2008, they too had control of the three branches of government and a sense that they had the power to push through their agenda. We’ve seen how effective that “Hope and Change” has been. The incoming Republicans would be well-advised to avoid similar hubris.
In addition, there is the question of whether Trump will govern according to his campaign style and rhetoric (as his opponents fear) or whether he will moderate his views and approaches (as his supporters hope). The jury is still out on this, but one needs to remember that throughout the campaign, Trump vehemently resisted efforts by the RNC to be “domesticated.” For Trump to govern successfully, he will need now to become domesticated.
My skepticism is also based on the fact that the sins we have done before the Lord are not connected to specific policy issues per se. They are more fundamental than that, and conservative Christians are even less inclined to repent now that Trump has won. Several prominent evangelicals are seeing the election as “divine providence” in turning back the progressive agenda. Maybe, but there is also the biblical admonition, “Pride goeth before destruction and an haughty spirit before a fall.” (Prov. 16:18 KJV).
The degree to which conservative Christians have backed and are backing Trump despite his prejudicial views and his brazen indifference to the truth deeply concerns me at the moment. Little thought is being given to how that support will impact evangelical relations with other communities (for example, African Americans). Neither are conservative Christians giving much thought to the possibility that given how intertwined evangelical leaders are with Trump, if he fails or continues to act boorishly, then the cause of Christ will become discredited to the greater public. Non-Christians are already pointing out the fundamental hypocrisy between what evangelical leaders say they believe in terms of values and the fact that these leaders are quick to dismiss criticism of Trump for violating these same values. Christians are increasingly demonstrating an “ends justifies the means” mentality. I cannot think that that is pleasing to our Lord, and I fear for the Christian community because of that.
In any event, unless the Electoral College throws another curve ball into the long 2016 Presidential campaign, Donald Trump is the President-elect. He and his advisers need our prayers (per 1 Tim. 2:2), as does the country. Christians need to repent of their sins, but they also have an opportunity in this environment to be a force for healing the deep divides within the United States. May God enable us to do all this.