Is It Worth It?

For more than three decades, since my very first time voting, I have been staunchly supporting the Republican party. I was entirely a party-line voter, and through 2020 I never voted for a single Democratic candidate for any office, not even a local sheriff or school board.

That included voting for President Trump in both 2016 and 2020. In retrospect, my “perfect attendance record” party-line voting is to my shame, not my credit; by December 2020 I was quite sorry that I’d voted for him. So I share my voting record only as credentials for what I have to say below, not as bragging. I think I’m qualified to discuss the Republican party and its flaws as an faithful, long-term insider.

As a matter of fact, I’m still solidly conservative on quite a few topics, especially a number of areas where I believe that the Democratic positions are untenable for a long-term future of our nation. So while numerous posts on this blog are concerning social issues that clash with typical Republican platforms, I still wish for the balance that the Republicans bring to America – or at least, that they used to bring.

As such, I have a strong personal interest in the future of the party.

Also, for more than four decades I have been a committed practicing evangelical Christian. I fully realize, again, that numerous posts on this blog concern social issues that clash with typical evangelical positions. Still, what motivated me for decades still motivates me today: a commitment to the Lord, to sharing the good news with those around me, a belief in the importance of the scriptures, and belief in a personal salvific relationship with Jesus as Lord of my life.

As such, despite an awakening awareness of some flaws of evangelicalism, I have a strong personal interest in the future of the church.

With this background and perspective, what I’m watching happening on the political and religious scenes is both appalling and nearly incomprehensible to me.

The Republican party has tied its future, almost inextricably, to a deeply flawed, deeply immoral man who’s willing to tell any half truth or even full lie, roll over any human obstacle, show total disregard for liberty and human rights, and act with utter disregard for good character just to maintain power. His past and continuing actions have the very real potential to permanently damage the very structure of our political system.

And the evangelical church in America is throwing its full weight behind this man with total disregard for the damage to the Church and the image and witness of Christ that it bears.

Donald Trump won’t be on the scene much longer, even if he were to win another term in office. The moment he were out of office, he’d be overtaken by a younger rising star like DeSantis.

Here’s the critical question: is it worth giving up the church’s witness and the party’s integrity to throw their combined weight behind such a deeply flawed, deeply immoral man?

One thing I recognize about the conservative and evangelical training I had, both explicit and implicit, is that we were taught to deeply suspect (and usually outright reject) any ideas or messaging coming from “the other side.” Anything coming from the Democrats – or socialists or communists – was automatically off limits to a “real” Republican. Anything coming from non-Christians – and even from Catholics or progressive Christians – was automatically anathema to evangelicals. It didn’t matter how factual or thoughtful, it was to be avoided or rationalized away at all costs.

But the problem with that logic is that, very often, “the other guys” see things clearly that we don’t see. In particular, the secular, skeptical, agnostic, and even atheistic people around the church are keenly aware of hypocrisy. The church has been so good at grandstanding and soapboxing its message that there’s zero doubt in the world about what the evangelical church claims to stand for. But it’s not been so good at actually DOING what it talks about, and doubters are looking intently into its behavior to ascertain whether there’s actual truth behind the talk. We could talk about the SBC’s sexual abuse scandal, or dozens of high-profile moral failures of megachurch pastors, or its failure to look beyond abortion in its pro-life position, or its rejection of the entire racial equality discussion, among others.

As a result, when the world makes an observation about the church, chances are pretty high that there’s at least some truth there. So when we discount those external observations, we miss the chance to learn from our own mistakes.

Consider that the Bible is full of stories of the Lord using the Gentile world to judge His people. Many times the prophets warned Israel of its sin, but when the prophets were ignored, the Lord turned the task of judgement over to the surrounding nations. And the same thing happened after the Gospels, when the Lord used Roman persecution to rouse the fledgling church out of its comfort and across the known world. As an extra-biblical but very real example, consider the German church’s pursuit of political influence and stability in the early 1900s, which led directly to oppression under Hitler followed by the devastation of WWII and decades of oppression under communism and Allied rule. (Germany’s participation in WWI was also linked to Christian nationalism, and popular support for the idea that Germans were God’s chosen people.)

None of this necessarily means that we should take the world’s advice on how to live, or how to solve our problems. After all, there’s a necessary and appropriate hesitation to take advice from someone who disagrees with one’s fundamentals. But nonetheless we should definitely pay close attention to what the world sees and criticizes, because it’s quite likely very relevant to our condition. One of the primary calls on a Christian life is humility, and that includes valuing the ideas and opinions of others, and holding our own wisdom lightly, with a healthy sense of skepticism.

So back to the main question: is it worth selling our souls to almost blindly support someone so flawed, all in the name of political power?

In this season, I have read dozens upon dozens of thoughtful, carefully-crafted, deeply intelligent assessments of how the evangelical church has left its roots to throw its nearly full support behind President Trump. There are also plenty of studies showing the strong correlation between evangelicals and Trump supporters – the Venn diagram is nearly a single circle.

Many of the warnings to the church in the book of Revelation seem applicable to the configuration of the church and politics that we see today: where the church is chasing after political power, after worldly influence, to secure its future and its comfort. In particular, chapter 17 describes the woman who is described as “Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth,” sitting upon the beast which seems synonymous with the kings of the worldly system bent on destroying the seed of God, the true church. Many Biblical scholars have understood “Babylon” to refer to the worldly systems opposed to God’s purposes. Since earlier in Revelation 12 the woman is shown as the source of Christ’s birth, then fleeing into the wilderness where she was pursued by the beast, it seems reasonable to infer that on the whole Revelation is describing the church that has left its first love and sold herself to the beast to gain riches and splendor and power (it says “arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand“) yet riding the beast “having seven heads and ten horns” which is exactly as a Satanic kingdom is described in Revelation 13. It’s impossible in this short time to adequately cover the topic, but I find it compelling and can point you to some detailed exegesis if you wish.

The critical point here is that I see in Revelation a strong warning to the church about the dangers of selling itself for power and splendor. But that’s exactly what I see happening in this season: the church wants a seat at the table, so to speak – it wants political power to remake America into its vision of a true Christian nation.

But here’s the problem: the American system is just another worldly system that ultimately opposes God’s true kingdom. Any system ruled by the will of the people and founded upon majority rule opposes a system ruled by the will of the Lord Almighty, ruler of heaven and earth, founded on self-sacrificial righteousness and justice especially for “the least of these.”

For all its human benefits, the American system is still fundamentally founded on a lot of distinctly worldly philosophy, like independence and personal power and autonomy and self-interest. And it’s undergirded with thoughts and concepts directly from anti-Christian philosophy; most of the Founding Fathers were actually Deists who were heavily influenced by secular philosophers like Immanuel Kant, Thomas Paine, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and others, springing from the recent 17th century Enlightenment and the Age of Reason, which backed away sharply from a Christian world view and pressed into the idea that everything is understandable and the world can be made perfect without religion. Kant was a founder of liberal secularism. Locke was a strong secularist. Paine believed in secular humanism and opposed Christian religion. Rousseau was a secularist and opposed Christianity in politics. So America’s systems, while honoring and naming God in some ways, were fundamentally founded on secular principles that stood in direct opposition to God’s Kingdom as a political foundation. A few references to God in the Declaration of Independence, and various discussions in private writings by the Founders, cannot change this underlying systemic view of the world.

And critically important, you cannot remake a worldly, God-opposing system into God’s image. I find it impossible for America’s political system to ever be a truly Christian system.

And I think the Founders understood this. John Adams famously observed that “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” The system itself was not Christian; it required a people that were Christ-like to make it work.

In other words, if the people of God do not behave like the people of God, no system constructed by man can ever be inherently Godly. Only the Kingdom of God can do that, and the American system is not the Kingdom. So if we’re going to see stability and growth of righteousness in America, it requires Americans to be righteous.

But what is coming out of the evangelical church is slavish protection of former President Trump, and trying to position him for another term in 2024, despite a wealth of factual data showing his flawed character and legally-questionable if not outright illegal actions.

Franklin Graham went on a news program to berate the FBI for its legal search of Mar-a-Lago to recover top secret papers that were improperly taken and stored, calling it political targeting of the former president, and that the committee formed to investigate 1/6 was merely an attempt to discredit him. He then called for prayer for former President Trump, not for President Biden and other current leaders.

Al Mohler, after initially staunchly opposing Donald Trump’s run for office, swung completely to writing voluminous defenses of him.

Robert Jeffress continued strongly supporting President Trump even after calling the 1/6 storming of the Capitol “godless” and “a sin.”

Ralph Reed, two days after the Capitol storming, gave unflinching support to President Trump.

Yet there seems to be little attention to the unsurprising results of this kind of blind support by the church, such as data showing that 1 in 4 Americans turned away from religion due to evangelical support for President Trump, and 1 in 3 evangelicals say that it made personal witness to non-Christians more difficult.

Is it worth it?

I don’t believe so. What I see happening, and what I’m strongly opposing, is the evangelical church bending over backwards and abandoning its moral foundation in pursuit of political rule. Our kingdom is not of this world, and never will be. Jesus Himself refused to get involved in politics. Why should we do any differently?

It’s worth reading Jeremiah 12 as just one example of the Lord’s response to a people abandoning their righteousness and justice in pursuit of gain. You should read the whole thing, although I’ll just include the initial and concluding remarks here.

Jeremiah is pleading with the Lord about the state of his nation, and begins by asking

1 Righteous are You, Lord, when I plead my case with You;
Nevertheless I would discuss matters of justice with You:
Why has the way of the wicked prospered?
Why are all those who deal in treachery at ease?
2 You have planted them, they have also taken root;
They grow, they have also produced fruit.
You are near to their lips
But far from their mind.
(Jeremiah 12:1-2)

The Lord responds:

14 This is what the Lord says concerning all My wicked neighbors who do harm to the inheritance with which I have endowed My people Israel: “Behold, I am going to drive them out of their land, and I will drive the house of Judah out from among them. 15 And it will come about that after I have driven them out, I will again have compassion on them; and I will bring them back, each one to his inheritance and each one to his land. 16 Then, if they will really learn the ways of My people, to swear by My name, ‘As the Lord lives,’ just as they taught My people to swear by Baal, they will be built up in the midst of My people. 17 But if they do not listen, then I will drive out that nation, drive it out and destroy it,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 12:14-17)

I don’t think this is a prophecy about America. It was written to Israel and Judah. But I do think it clearly communicates a few important things about how the Lord deals with His people and those who don’t honor Him:

  • He is quite willing to remove them from a land to restore justice (the same exact word translated “righteousness”).
  • He is quite willing to bring them back into that land if they repent.
  • But He is also quite willing to destroy entire nations if they do not listen to His call for repentance.

But we have the counter example in the story of Jonah. He was sent to prophesy against Ninevah, and even after the Lord pronounced utter judgement and destruction, the people’s prompt and complete repentance caused the Lord to relent.

Despite not believing that America’s political system can ever substitute for the Kingdom of God, I simultaneously believe that America can do great good around the world if it acts with consistent righteousness and justice. I understand that many Christians believe that Christian control over the American political and legal systems is necessary for this to take place, and they have made a judgement that extreme measures may be necessary to bring this about. I see it differently. The church is not of this world, and worldly systems will never be substituted for God’s Kingdom. However, our past history shows that we can still do great good when the church is righteous and holy and shows the way to unbelievers. And that is the key: our power, if there is any, will come from demonstrating goodness, righteousness, and justice, not from wresting power by violence. Violence will only prove that we don’t act as we say we believe. Violence and toxic misrepresentation of the Gospel eliminate any chance that unbelievers will be moved to repent and change.

The only way we can have power is to surrender it. This is inherently paradoxical, I know. But paradox is written deeply into the Bible. The most central principle of the Gospel is a paradox: those who want to live must lay down their lives. So our goal should not be not power. Our goal should be fully and accurately representing the Heavenly Father, the Lord of Creation, the Almighty One, here in a broken and dark world. Only once we do represent Him accurately will He give us authority to rule and reign with Him. But at present, the way I see the church behaving, I don’t expect He finds sufficient character in us that we should expect to be granted that authority. I think it’s more likely, as happened in Jeremiah 12, that He will reject us until we repent.

So again I ask, is it worth it? Is political or governmental control worth the utter damage to our witness?

I don’t think so.

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