As we all let out a big sigh of exhaustion (not relief) following the presidential election, it’s important for the evangelical church of Jesus Christ to do some serious self-evaluation. We are now seen as the people who substantially helped to elect a racist, homophobic, misogynist xenophobe to the highest office in the land because we ourselves tend toward being racist, misogynist, homophobic xenophobes. Whether we like it or not, that’s how non-Christians and even many fellow Christians perceive it. But rather than argue about that perception, we urgently need to get to work on living up to its opposite as followers of Jesus Christ.
There are more than three points I could make, and nothing here is new. But these are the three that strike me as particularly urgent today.
We Are Strangers in a Foreign Land
If it is true that we are citizens of Christ’s kingdom, and that his kingdom is not of (that is, it transcends the nations of) this world, then it is true that our highest allegiance is to our King. It seems to me that too many evangelicals mouth these words as an appendix to their passionate political statements, not stopping to realize that they are fusing the kingdom of God with the USA. I’m nauseated from reading the jubilations of evangelical Trump supporters on social media as they rejoice in how wonderful God is because he has shown mercy on the USA in bringing Donald Trump to power. I’m really not sure it’s more of a mercy or a judgment, but I do know that God would be just as wonderful and gracious if Hillary Clinton had won, and my experience of his love and mercy does not have to be diminished by how bad our president is.
But back to the point at hand: we need to think again about what it means to live as a stranger in a foreign land. Both citizenships are important, as Paul says to the Philippians:
Only conduct yourselves [that is, “live out your earthly citizenship”] in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ so that—whether I come and see you or whether I remain absent—I should hear that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind, by contending side by side for the faith of the gospel, and by not being intimidated in any way by your opponents.
Our citizenship in the USA is important precisely because it’s the canvas on which we paint a portrait of Jesus with the life we lead. So the fact that Jesus is my King dictates how I live in the context of my American citizenship. I’m afraid I’ve seen too many evangelical Christians during this election cycle appear to set aside their citizenship in the kingdom of God and its transcendent interests in favor of getting the political result they’ll be more comfortable with.
We are Free Regardless of Government Restrictions
I’m concerned that in (rightly) speaking up in favor of preserving religious liberty we’ve come to think that something really horrible will happen if we lose that liberty. But as Russell Moore said last week, “We are the church of the resurrected and triumphant Lord Jesus Christ. We have survived everything from the rage of Nero to that of Middle Eastern terrorist cells. We have, in fact, often done best when we are, what one historian calls, the ‘patient ferment’ of a church alive with the gospel.” Let’s fight in all righteous and legal ways to preserve religious liberty, but let’s also remember that Jesus will build his church regardless of the political climate. And let’s temper our political fervor with a greater passion to be strengthened by our King to face whatever difficulties may come.
Also, let’s remember that political freedom is secondary by far to the freedom that all those in God’s kingdom enjoy: freedom from the power and penalty of evil. Those whom the Son has set free are indeed free! No matter how many political battles we win or lose, nothing can change this transcendent reality, as countless persecuted Christians of the present and past can attest. Let’s remember our true, real freedom in Christ, and set our political freedom in proper perspective.
Unity Through Politics is not Christian Unity
The objective unity of Christians is established by the Holy Spirit. But we are commanded to “be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3) because we are one Body, bound together by one Spirit. So many Christians have been unable to experience this unity with other Christians who planned to vote differently. Political unity is not Christian unity, and when we allow the former to destroy our experience of the latter, we are in sin. Brothers and sisters, we must repent of this sin.
I have Christian friends who voted for Trump, Hillary, other candidates, and no candidate. Whether I agree with their choice or think they have good reasons, they are my family. I am determined to genuinely love them. After all, that’s how the world will know that I belong to Christ’s kingdom (John 13:34-35). If we allow ourselves to disdain our brothers or sisters because of political differences, we are working against Christ and his kingdom and mission. God help us.
Now that this election cycle is over, we have much work to do to rebuild our witness as the church of Jesus Christ. Let’s start working now to display to the world the truth that even though evangelicals helped to elect Donald Trump, we are not like him in any way that really matters. We are about the evangel: the good news that Jesus Christ is King, that true life is found in him, that he deserves our highest allegiance, that he sovereignly ordains kings and presidents, and that the good we do in this world we do in his name.
NOTE: as an aside and because some readers will not be able to hear me unless they know the answer to this question: I did not vote for either Trump or Clinton because I could not escape the sense that in doing so I would surrender the moral credibility to say the things I’ve just said. But no matter who you voted for, I love you for Jesus’ sake. I’m not accusing you of anything here. Your voting choices are a mere footnote compared to the real relationship we share in Christ and his Spirit. So let’s fix our eyes on Jesus and follow our King together.