As we now stand about a year and a half into the presidency of Donald Trump, I think it is valuable to think of his presidency not only from a perspective of civics, but from a perspective of how the American church is being impacted. The reason I think this is valuable is that evangelical Christians have become largely associated with the Republican Party.
In 2016 Donald Trump received a huge percentage of the evangelical vote and he also received a number of endorsements from public figures who have sway in evangelical circles. In this sense, Christians appear to be much more on-the-hook for Trump’s presidency than they would if Clinton would have won. This leads many in our country to conclude, “I guess for Christians, President Trump is their guy.”
While I know many Christians who criticized Donald Trump’s character and conduct and yet still voted for him at the polls, many of those outside of the church are unlikely to see this nuance. Many are legitimately confused as to why so many Christians—who criticize the immoral behavior of so many in our culture—would support a man who has had such public moral failures, and who consistently makes crass and cruel comments toward his political opponents.
This leaves the American church open to the charge of hypocrisy. It also leaves us open to the charge of idolatry. After all, some would say, if we are willing to compromise our moral stance in exchange for political capital, then this is tantamount to putting our commitment to power in front of our commitment to God. And while many may say that this wasn’t their motivation for supporting Donald Trump, it is important for us to recognize that this perception exists. And this perception impacts what people think of Jesus and his church.
Doom and Gloom
But are we left only with doom and gloom? Certainly not. I believe that our current context provides the church of Jesus Christ with an important opportunity. After all, if non-Christians are genuinely asking, “Why do Christians support Donald Trump?” then this provides an amazing opportunity for dialogue. It gives all of us an opportunity to communicate our true allegiance to Jesus and his kingdom.
It allows us to talk about how we are Christians who happen to be Americans, not Americans who happen to be Christians. And it provides the opportunity for Christians who did vote for the president to demonstrate that voting for someone is not the same as idolizing him.
Regardless of how we all voted in the previous election, there is a calling on all Christians at this time to demonstrate a commitment to Jesus and to his kingdom. If we want to participate in this demonstration, we must be willing to do at least two things. First of all, we must be willing to tell the truth about the president. This is part and parcel of the church behaving as a prophetic voice in the culture. We must be willing to say that good things are good and that evil things are evil.
When we are willing to say, “This speech the president said was good,” and also to say, “That thing the president tweeted was bad,” then this demonstrates to people that Christians are more committed to our principles than to our politicians. If we are unwilling to compliment anyone who says something right or to criticize anyone for doing wrong, then we have missed an important opportunity.
Second of all, we must be willing to engage in personal conversations with people who are critical of Christians. If we want to change minds and hearts, this normally happens through personal interactions. Instead of rolling our eyes at neighbors and co-workers, we should take their criticisms as opportunities to share a true Christian vision. To share a vision of a perfect king who will one day return to usher in his perfect kingdom of justice and mercy.