What Trump’s Departure Means for Evangelical Christians

As one presidential administration ends and another begins, I feel the need to put some words to paper, so to speak, and wrestle with the complex legacy of evangelical America’s 4-year yoking with Donald J. Trump.

I feel my reaction to the January 6 capital riots echo my feelings about the Trump presidency as a whole. I believe I can sum it up in a few words:

“Hold up… that actually just happened?”

I remember my wife was so excited about watching the Trump vs. Biden election coverage. Living in the metropolitan Middle East, eight time zones ahead of US Eastern, we had to get up early in the morning Wednesday, Nov 4, to see election results. She rose with the same zeal that I watch SEC football games with, and the competitiveness of this election was no different!

Around midday Wednesday, it looked as if Trump would go in for a second term. Why had they ever called my home state of Georgia a battleground state? It had muscled forward as a bulwark of conservatism in every election since I was a toddler. 

Then, as Thursday and Friday rolled onward, I watched in disbelief as my native Georgia slowly turned blue. Clearly, this was not the Georgia I grew up in. America had changed, too.

On that Saturday evening, I sat in a British restaurant with my wife during our only shared off night of the week. An avid bargain hunter, my wife had spotted the eatery to scratch her Anglophile itch with a two-for-one dinner deal. We talked about the election as I ate my first ever fish-and-chips. Tearing open the fresh, steaming white cod, our conversation bit deep into the state of evangelical Christianity in America.

Trump, the so-called champion many white evangelicals looked to, has lost a close but decisive race. (Note well, the purpose of this article is not to address alleged election fraud.) As an evangelical Christian, I felt… subdued. Now it was time to start reckoning with his—and Christians’—deeply complex legacy. So… now what? 

What He Accomplished

“There are the peace agreements—those were significant,” my wife chimed in. The normalization agreements with Israel by the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Sudan were remarkable, considering the Arab world’s historic antipathy with Israel. She added, “and he appointed conservative supreme court justices.”

“Yes, three of them,” I said. “Kavanaugh and Barrett and… who was the other?” Neither of us could remember Neil Gorsuch. 

In addition, Trump helped get the US embassy in Jerusalem, a foreign policy coup for conservatives. It felt almost biblical.

What’s the Biggest Issue?

Between bites of savory shepherd’s pie, Heather told me about a recent video from Lou Engle, one of the foremost prayer mobilizers of the 21st century. Lou spoke for many who felt the issue of abortion was the most important one in 2020. [1]

“He said this entire election comes down to life versus death,” my wife said. It was significant in both of us voting for Trump, sincere personal reservations notwithstanding.

“That’s such an activist thing to do,” I countered, picking at deeper discussion, “—to condense the entire election down to a single issue. There’s a lot more at play here. Many minority Christians I know see it from a completely different angle. For them, this election had only one issue, and that issue was—?” 

“—-Racism,” Heather answered.

“Exactly!” I said. “That’s the only issue many could see. In the same way that conservative white Christians minimized the issues of social inequality, those who saw racism as the biggest issue downplayed many other policies.”

Please don’t check out on me here, friend. Listen.

Living overseas has been a jolting experience for me. I’ve spent the last several years living in a part of the world where the laws were written by and designed to benefit people that look and think very different from me.

It’s given me the tiniest sliver of a glimpse of what my non-white Christian brothers and sisters go through in the USA. It helped me begin to understand why many non-white Christian friends were celebrating on my social media feeds when Biden was first projected as the winner.

John C. Richards, an African American believer, makes a piercing point, stating that “as Christians we are called to care about both fetuses snatched from their mothers’ wombs and fatalities of black men and women snatched from this world too soon while jogging or sleeping in their own beds.” If it’s challenging for you to understand why minority Christians might not vote for Trump, consider his “executive orders and declarations that threaten[ed] defunding diversity initiatives.” [2] 

For many minorities, these are the life and death issues. No African-American or Latino parents want to turn on the evening news and see their child’s name as the most recent unarmed person shot while innocently exercising.

Voting in Fight-or-Flight Mode

Of course, let me also address the elephant in the room (pun intended). White evangelicals like me have been among Republicans’ most dependable voting blocs for decades… but why, exactly? 

I’d say it’s largely because of the increasing secularization of America. Successive generations continue to set record lows for church attendance and record highs for agnosticism. Our grandparents saw prayer taken out of schools; our parents saw the legalization of abortion; and my generation has seen gay marriage legalized nationwide in a sweeping supreme court decision. 

White Evangelicals feel they are in an existential crisis, not a crisis borne by their skin color, but by everyone who claims or ever will claim the Name of Christ in America. 

I think white conservatives fear their children waking up in a nation that decriminalizes prostitution and charges with a hate crime those who say homosexuality is a sin. They shudder thinking of a nation where churches lose their nonprofit status and tax dollars are used to perform abortions and subsidize sex changes. The bottom line is there is a latent sense of alarm among whites, and of course, when you’re in an existential crisis, you’re willing to overlook a lot in order to find an advocate.

In Trump, many white Evangelicals felt they had found a bulldog who would fight for them. Ralph Reed said to his Faith and Freedom Coalition supporters, “There has never been anyone who has defended us and fought for us, who we have loved more than Donald J. Trump. No one!” [3]

When it came to the judiciary, Reed wasn’t completely off-base. There, Trump didn’t disappoint evangelical aspirations, putting on the bench three conservative Supreme Court justices, swinging the balance of power in the nation’s highest court, at least for the moment, solidly conservative.

Evangelicals got four years of economic growth and even some tax cuts, not to mention the Abraham Accords, a surprising foreign policy development to feel proud of.

I’ve been living in the Middle East for four years now, and for the first time, I feel I’m able to say the name “Israel” out loud in public without any fear. I cannot overstate this. Over the past several months, the country in which I reside has seen tens of thousands of tourists from Israel.

All said, Evangelicals got four years of presidential conservatism… but now that it’s finished, I’m finding myself asking, “What did it all cost us?”

A Conservative Stomach Ache

American Christians now have to reckon with the results of their association with Donald Trump, the Republican Party, and politics in general.

Trump demonstrated just how much white evangelicals would put up with for a shot at political efficacy. 

A British believer wrote incisively, “Some Christians may believe they are bringing about God’s purposes [in their political affiliation with Trump], but in reality they are causing [Christ’s] name to be associated with the very things he stands against.” [4]

I’ve seen numerous anecdotes to support this.

A few weeks ago, a person in Christian ministry told me in pained and poignant terms that he’s been counseling scores of younger evangelicals who are on the edge of leaving their faith and scores more who actually have lost their faith because they have been so unsettled by what they have witnessed during the Trump years.

I’ve heard from others about how nascent efforts at multiethnic reconciliation within their communities have now collapsed because of racial tensions that have been inflamed by the president, even while Trump retains the enthusiastic support of white evangelicals. [5]

I hate to say it, but our Evangelical alliance with Trump, though resulting in political gain, has caused some to leave the church entirely. I’m not kidding. One self-described “white, straight, suburban mom” articulated what many others were feeling when she wrote, “Trump’s campaign and election was a breaking point for me and many other American evangelicals. This was when we realized that [the importance of morality] we had been told was non-negotiable didn’t matter when there was [political] power on the line.” [6]

I’m confronted with a complex and stomach-turning reckoning as I realize  how effectively Republicans, as a party, have co-opted and commodified the white Christian vote in America, more than pleased to arm-bar us into voting Republican with (rightly) emotional issues like abortion. Peter Wehner wrote that “in politics, the Christian faith is far too often subordinated to ideology, to tribalism, to dehumanizing those in the other tribe. Faith is an instrumentality, something to be weaponized. That’s bad for politics; it’s worse for the Christian witness.” Will we white evangelicals continue to trade personal integrity for political progress? Will we continue to demonize those who disagree with us? [7]

History seems to say so. In 1998, the Southern Baptist Convention passed a Resolution on Moral Character of Public Officials, saying that “tolerance of serious wrong by leaders sears the conscience of the culture, spawns unrestrained immorality and lawlessness in the society, and surely results in God’s judgment,” and that “moral character matters to God and should matter to all citizens, especially God’s people, when choosing public leaders.” [8]

I wholeheartedly agree… but I think we may have written our own indictment. If hindsight is 20/20, then this 90s statement looks unabashedly partisan. One may well ask if the same American Christians who righteously skewered Bill Clinton over his affair with Monica Lewinsky then turned a blind eye to the over twenty women who have accused Trump of sexual misconduct.

How many of the same Evangelical leaders threw their support behind Trump, who in 2005 boasted, in no uncertain terms, about the sexual-harassment his star power afforded him? “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. . . . Grab them by the pu–y. You can do anything.” [9]

God doesn’t only call murder and sexual immorality sin; he also calls hatred and factionalism sin (Galatians 5:19-20). This echoes the sentiments of John Piper, who stated in an open letter that he could not, in good conscience, vote for Trump in 2020, for which he caught substantial flack from other Christians. In addition, Billy Graham’s granddaughter also publicly disavowed Trump and even went so far as to say she was pro-life and voting for Biden. [10, 11]

The issues about which Christians care deeply are not laid out neatly before us but are scattered across multiple parties. “[N]either candidate’s platform captures what the whole of Scripture says about the issues most pertinent to the office,” John C. Richards said. This isn’t a binary discussion, though perhaps we wish it was. [12]

Long-Term Effects

John 13:35
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

As followers of Jesus, are we known for our love?

My experience in the church has shown me that most Christians are compassionate people who love those who have different skin colors and backgrounds than them. Because of my relationships with fellow believers, my faith was not shaken when I saw pictures of Jesus flags alongside Trump and MAGA flags in Washington D.C., but for those outside the church looking in, the intersection of faith and politics is making it very hard for them to tell the difference.

Whereas rioting in the capital tainted the overall image of conservatism in America for a bit, I’m more concerned about the way the image of Christianity has suffered… at our own hands.

Let me say that the Christian faith will always have its detractors, and there will always be secular activist voices in the media that would love nothing more than to wipe clean any Christian influence on America and its history. That’s not who I’m talking about here. The way in which many prominent Christian voices shouted his praise and anointed Trump as God’s unimpeachable political standard-bearer threw many others into confusion.

Again, are we known for our love?

Are we known for lending a helping hand to those who are marginalized, or are we known for white supremacy?

Are we known for our generosity, or are we known for our corporate tax cuts?

Are we known for forgiveness or fury?

Are we known for loving outsiders, or are we known for fearing them?

I, for one, am relieved at no longer having to explain President Trump to my Middle Eastern and South Asian friends. Imagine the mine field of attempting to explain a man who claims to be Christian but whose persona runs counter to every verse in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. Imagine trying to invite people into God’s kingdom while your nation’s top leader is trying to keep them out with thick walls and travel bans. 

In supporting Trump, have we sent the world a mixed message we can’t now unsend?

Where’s God in All This?

Okay. A real estate magnate and reality TV star with no political experience was elected America’s president and served for four years. Evangelical Christians, by and large, excused his spotted moral history because he was doing God’s work of advancing conservatism and helping lessen the secularization of America. When he lost his bid for reelection, protestors breached the capitol building. As wild as story as it is, it all really happened.

What now? How do we pray?

We know from Daniel 2 that God sets up kings and deposes them. We know that in Romans 13 Paul says that God has appointed every authority among men. So what is he saying to his church in this hour? Where is he inviting his people, now that Joe Biden is beginning his term as president?

I’ll tell you what I don’t think God is doing. I don’t think he’s inviting his people into mud-slinging, bitterness, and conspiracy theories. “Anger and resentment are not a governing philosophy. Globalism is here to stay and we have to deal with it,” said former Arizona Senator Jeff Flake. [13]

I think God is leading us into prayer and repentance. First, we must be praying for the new government, that it would be one of the rules justly, that evil would be restrained, and that “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (2 Timothy 2:2 ESV). If God can use Trump, I have to believe he can use Biden.

Secondly, the fact that America has its first female and woman-of-color vice president is reason to celebrate, irrespective of the liberal policy positions she brings, considering the sexism and mistreatment women of color still face in positions of leadership. 

Let’s use this as an exercise for humility and to put others first. Isn’t that what Christ was always about? Let’s continue to fight for the unborn, but let’s also fight for the poor, the alien, and the victims of systemic injustices. 

I would challenge you to direct your energy away from crying foul and calling out the flaws in Biden for four years. Conservative news outlets will do more than their fair share of that. I challenge you to focus your zeal toward a future generation of Christian leaders who can be both principled and compassionate, unite races rather than divide, and communicate the unchanging gospel of Jesus clearly in an increasingly urban and digital America.

Regardless of the person in office, Jesus is indeed enthroned over America, and as secularism and immorality continue to metastasize throughout America, so also God will continue to use every circumstance to refine and mature his Church until that final day when Jesus is enthroned over the earth and will be worshiped by every tribe and tongue together.

Featured photo credit: Reuters – Leah Millis

[1] https://youtu.be/veRllwcUf7c

[2] https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2020/october/john-c-richards-jr-independent-voting-for-biden.html

[3] https://twitter.com/RightWingWatch/status/1143910863461634052?ref_src=twsrc%255Etfw%257Ctwcamp%255Etweetembed%257Ctwterm%255E1143910863461634052&ref_url=https%253A%252F%252Fwww.rightwingwatch.org%252Fpost%252Fanointed-trump-reaffirms-his-promises-to-religious-right-a

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jun/05/us-evangelical-christians-trump-bad-name

[5] https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/10/the-evangelical-movements-bad-bargain/616760/

[6] https://www.huffpost.com/entry/evangelical-christians-trump_n_5bfc326de4b03b230fa57ae9?fbclid=IwAR3mhyHIwJZwFFgHK22qEYsuutRjmeE-9twg0hyvO2P3DtPPIbP_XBOllus&guccounter=1

[7] https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/01/there-no-christian-case-trump/605785/

[8] https://www.sbc.net/resource-library/resolutions/resolution-on-moral-character-of-public-officials/

[9] https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/media/trump-access-hollywood-four-years-media/2020/09/25/bcd7de20-f918-11ea-89e3-4b9efa36dc64_story.html

[10] https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/policies-persons-and-paths-to-ruin

[11] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/21/opinion/evangelicals-election-biden.html

[12] https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2020/october/john-c-richards-jr-independent-voting-for-biden.html

[13] https://www.cnn.com/2020/11/07/politics/republican-lawmakers-trump-legacy/index.html

2 Replies to “What Trump’s Departure Means for Evangelical Christians”

  1. This is really good, Grant. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  2. Nope. Unfortunately in American politics you have to weigh which is the lesser of two evils And vote accordingly. ideal? No but neither is a corrupt system.

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