Christianity Is Not a Political Movement

As Donald Trump accepted the GOP nomination for president last night

He profusely thanked evangelical Christians for their support. He acknowledged the role they played in securing his nomination and even expressed a note of humility—he wasn’t sure he deserved their support. Trump vowed to work hard to repeal federal tax regulations that prevent political advocacy by churches.

While gestures like this may be appreciated in and of themselves, they are not helpful for the true cause of Christianity. Even if Trump were a more respectable candidate, Christianity is not an engine for electoral victory. It is focused upon one figure—Jesus Christ—who traded a crown of heavenly glory for a crown of thorns. And Christianity flourishes when its people bear the sword upon their backs, not within their hands. While political and cultural power may be stewarded toward good ends, it is not the primary quest of Christianity.

Aside from the fact that Christ’s kingdom is “not of this world,” there is a practical consideration here: do Christians want their faith and hope primarily identified with another sinner like themselves? Every person—not to mention politician—will inevitably disappoint the litmus test of pure religion because of our shared fallen nature. Yet Donald Trump, the present figurehead of evangelical Christianity in the political realm, has said that he has never asked God for forgiveness. Not only will any man disappoint under the weight of a religious mantle, but this man in particular is blind to that fact.

Trump has described his mainline Presbyterian background as “middle of the road” (as opposed to Ben Carson’s more visibly evangelical variety of faith) and constantly speaks of himself in superlative terms—like “the greatest jobs president that God ever created.” His remarks run against the biblical grain regarding human nature, for “none is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3). His evident lack of compassion for those who disagree with him or get in his way smacks more of the self-righteous elder brother in the Prodigal Son parablethan the son who in humility came home to a gracious father.

This is not to say that only Christians may make good politicians, but to so hypocritically posture as a Christian politician is an affront to Christianity. To see a line of fellow-travelers of celebrity Christian politicians kiss The Donald’s ring is embarrassing. It is one thing to say that pragmatic considerations must often govern whom one supports for public office and that one will support a disagreeable politician with reservations in hand. It is quite another thing to support unreservedly a politician who simultaneously claims and defames the mantle of evangelical Christianity.

We will rarely agree with a politician on every issue. It is incumbent upon Christians and voters in general to vote their conscience and freely express points of contention—even with a preferred candidate. To simply sweep such points of contention under the rug, especially on deep matters of conscience, is odious.

Now Trump has offered Christians an additional incentive to vote for him—he will work to unshackle pastors and enable them to endorse and promote political candidates from the pulpit. While such a maneuver is likely consistent with basic conceptions of religious liberty, it again promotes the wrong message.

While a pastor should have maximum political freedom in his ministry, it is not a freedom he should be eager to exercise in service of politics. Before a culture can change, individual hearts must be changed. For that to happen, a pastor must constrain himself to preaching what the Bible actually proclaims and do it through the lens of Christ’s completed work on the cross, which is the heart of the Bible.

Christians must primarily identify with Jesus Christ and not any political figure. And when they aim for change, they must aim for it first in their own hearts. Christianity does not make political opponents into enemies, but perceived enemies into friends. The Bible proclaims that all were once enemies of God, but that God of his own free grace gives faith to those who were otherwise dead. By grace through faith in Christ, anyone—Republican or Democrat—can be part of the family of God. Christians would do well to remember that.