“Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth.” (Psalm 2:7)
The necessary divorce
Is this the necessary divorce? The match wasn’t made in heaven. It was a coupling that shouldn’t have been, and yet some leading Christian voices in the United States laid down their theology and ascended the White House. In the last 48 hours, this special relationships has unravelled. Government and Church can be good friends but they make a lousy married couple.
Following an article written by Christianity Today’s Editor in Chief, Mark Galli, President Trump has attacked the magazine and ‘defended’ evangelicals. With what appears to be a sense of betrayal, the President has resorted to his usual public naming and shaming on twitter.
“….have a Radical Left nonbeliever, who wants to take your religion & your guns, than Donald Trump as your President. No President has done more for the Evangelical community, and it’s not even close. You’ll not get anything from those Dems on stage. I won’t be reading ET again!
“A far left magazine, or very “progressive,” as some would call it, which has been doing poorly and hasn’t been involved with the Billy Graham family for many years, Christianity Today, knows nothing about reading a perfect transcript of a routine phone call and would rather…..”
“guess the magazine, “Christianity Today,” is looking for Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, or those of the socialist/communist bent, to guard their religion. How about Sleepy Joe? The fact is, no President has ever done what I have done for Evangelicals, or religion itself!”
I’m not writing to comment on the impeachment or to even comment on President Trump’s policies. I’m not here to defend Christianity Today either. My issue relates to the necessary separation of Evangelicalism from the White House (and any single political party for that matter).
In response to President Trump’s assertion about looking after evangelical interests, it is not the role of Government to guard the evangelical faith. That is beyond the purview of a President’s responsibilities. The Church is not the State and the State does not control the Church.
Government and Church have different spheres of responsibility. The keys of the Kingdom belong to the Church while the Government holds the sword of justice. The different roles don’t mean there is no conversation between the two and that one cannot be of service to the other, but they are not institutions designed for a wedding. This important separation of Church and State is not an argument for the removal of religion from the public square, for all politics is religious. Some pundits argue for the removal of any semblance of religion in proximity to government, but this is neither biblical nor is it ideologically possible. Whether in the foreground and background everyone brings their convictions with them into the public square. We are all shaped by views about God and the world and these beliefs impact political priorities and policies.
It shouldn’t need saying, but just in case, the Government is not tasked with the responsibility of guarding one subsection of society, but caring for all its citizens by upholding the constitution, the law, and working for the good. Christians are part of the constituency, not the whole.
Also, President Trump understands Evangelical Christianity through a political lens that sees everything through a false binary: You’re either Conservative or socialist, you either vote Republican or Democrat. This is to misunderstand the nature of Christianity and the message of the Christian Gospel.
The Christianity Today article has spoken boldly about the importance of character,
“It’s time to say what we said 20 years ago when a president’s character was revealed for what it was.”
Indeed, too many Christians threw this qualification into the recycling bin for a season. I also remember at the time of the 2016 election, leading evangelical voices were cautioning Christians and reminding them that character matters. Ed Stetzer, Russell Moore, and Al Mohler were among them. The reality is that some evangelicals wedded Trump while others stood at a distance. By in large, the Australian media ignored all this and instead ran with the preferred narrative of evangelicals supporting Trump. The reality is far more complex than has been reported. This doesn’t take away from the fact that many Christians in the United States, especially with notable names like Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell Jnr, anointed Trump with a sacred calling that he and no President can hold.
Lest we conclude the problem is all Trump, we would do well to recall remember some of the things that have been said recently by Democratic presidential nominees in the name of Christianity. Pete Buttigieg, for example, takes the identity of Christian while supporting many ethical positions which are irreconcilable with the Christian faith, both politically and personally.
Should we blame the President? He is certainly responsible for what he believes and says. But is he to blame for the marriage with Evangelicals? No.
The greater responsibility lies with the fact that many Evangelicals in the United States fused their hopes and aspirations onto the Presidential bandwagon. They sacrificed integrity for expediency. I am not saying that voting Democrat is the alternative. How can one support a party that advocates the killing of unborn children and the destruction of sexual norms?
Sometimes there is no viable option. Surely this has been the predicament for Christians in many cultures during many seasons in history. The Bible never gives Christians a voting card. We are meant to honour, obey and pray for the Governing authorities, and to keep doing good to all. Some Governments are better than others, and we should wisely decide whom to support.
In none of this am I making a statement about who to vote for; not at all. The issue at hand is far more important and pressing; do not fuse the Christian faith with a political party or leader. Do not give to the State that which belongs to the Church. Do not sacrifice the Great Commission in order to maintain a place in the halls of Washington DC.
This isn’t an evangelical problem alone. Conservatives and Progressives alike make this blunder with a place too much emphasis on common grace and not enough episodes on the churches mission which centres in particular grace
It has been sad to watch a word which has holds such rich theological and historical significance, being undone in such a short time. Evangelical has been regularly misappropriated not only by political pundits but also by Americans themselves. True evangelicalism has little to do with the political aspirations of right-wing America, and everything to do with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Authentic evangelicalism is defined by this Gospel as presented in the Bible, not by the political right or left, not with Democrats or Republicans, and for the Australian context, neither Liberal nor Labor.
Terribly, “evangelical” America supported Donald Trump and have been tarnished for doing so. I cannot see how this association will advance the cause of Jesus Christ. If anything, the word may become irretrievably immeshed in a cause that is not the Gospel.
It is one thing to be part of a Presidential term, but it is quite another to one day stand before the Judge of the earth and give an account for how our lives have adorned or maligned the Gospel of Christ.
This final point is not only true for American Christians but also Australian Christians. When will Christians learn not to place undue hope in Government? The election has exposed a messed up eschatology and misplaced soteriology, which will not only disappoint, but will prevent people from seeing Christ. However Donald Trump decides to build his wall along the Mexican border, it is nothing compared to the wall evangelicals have built-in this election which will block out the wonder of the Gospel. How will true evangelicals work to dismantle this false gospel? What will we do publicly and in our Churches to redress the damage caused by this political misalignment?