RIP, Religious Right (11/8/16)

Long dubious of Donald Trump, evangelical Christians are now flocking toward him

In their desire to thwart a President Hillary Clinton.

In that same survey, we see that the majority of evangelicals who are planning to vote for Trump will do so out of antipathy for Clinton, not sympathy for Trump. For many, Trump is simply the lesser of two evils. His is not a moral candidacy, but a cynical one.

Many evangelical leaders have worked hard to justify their support of Trump. These justifications have provoked further cleavages between evangelicals who disagree about Trump. One might question whether these endorsements or public feuds are helpful for the primary evangelical cause—the propagation of the Christian faith—but such questions clearly aren’t as important as who one decides to support for president.

And therein lies the reason for the final dissolution of the Religious Right on Election Day. Over the past three decades, most of evangelicalism has coalesced around the Republican Party—largely because of its stances on key social issues. While those issues, like abortion and marriage, are important, this close identification with a political party has carried with it a major risk—being co-opted. Indeed, we now see countless evangelicals using the Bible more to justify their politicians than to discuss the importance of the doctrine of justification.

Erick Erickson made a similar point recently. This sentiment was particularly apropos: “More importantly, while I think Clinton will do long-term damage to the country, I believe Trump will do far more damage to the church, which must be my chief priority. A Clinton administration may see the church besieged from the outside, but a Trump administration will see the church poisoned from within.”

I understand that a lot of evangelicals believe that the church is under siege by both our culture and our politicians and want a political champion to come to their aid. They must understand this, however: while Christians should desire toleration from their government (1 Timothy 2:1-2), they do not need a strong man to protect them (Psalm 20:7). In fact, such a desperate desire for such an unsatisfactory source of salvation led evangelicals into their current political predicament.

For Christians, cultural engagement is meant to flow from hearts constantly shaped by God’s Word as it is preached, read, signified, sealed in the sacraments, and prayed over. Yet life-giving doctrine has been replaced by cultural engagement as the driving animus for much of evangelicalism. Revival in the church is thought to spring from revival in the country-at-large, not vice-versa. The salvation of the integrity of the Supreme Court is thought paramount to the salvation of individual sinners, regardless of political persuasion.

While there are plenty of exceptions to this troubling tendency, they do not negate the fact that evangelicalism is choking on its political pretensions. Christianity is not a movement, but a body of redeemed sinners, called and gathered by a body of divine truths. Only such truths—contained in the scriptures of the Old and New Testament—can sustain the Christian life. In the diminishment of those truths and their replacement by a cultural agenda, the Christian life inevitably comes apart.

This will be the election when the Religious Right will finally fall apart and not a moment too soon. I do not cheer the decline of the Church, but I do cheer the decline of this particular political anomaly. It has grown, like a cancer, at the Church’s expense. If this movement and its sway upon evangelicals is eradicated, then the Church will grow more healthy as it again focuses upon its proper prerogatives.

Evangelical Christians are no longer the cultural force they once were and neither major presidential candidate right now even remotely reflects their values. While this lack of representation is sad in itself, it is also illuminating. With the loss of their political power, evangelicals will be forced to reevaluate their priorities. In so doing, they might discover that they have lost the world, but gained their souls.

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