Another day, another poll showing terrible things about evangelicals in America. This time, the poll is actually a year old, but it’s traveling around again. NPR had asked people if they were thought politicians who erred in their personal lives were still ethically capable of performing their public duties. White evangelicals, a group that in 2011 saw only 26% answer affirmatively, jumped to 72% in 2016, making them the largest group in the survey to do so.
On its face, this is shocking and enraging. In light of the Roy Moore accusations, it is unthinkable that Christians would support a man accused of such despicable acts. The accounts of these women are convincing and damning. Roy Moore is plainly unfit to serve in a public service capacity. No doubt there will be some individuals who claim to follow Jesus that will continue to endorse him, but it really can’t be 72% of the fastest growing Christian movement in the country, can it?
I’ve got three thoughts about this poll and others like it.
Who Are These Evangelicals?
First of all, who are these people? I don’t mean that in a Seinfeldian way, I mean literally, who is giving these answers? There are many issues with polling, but chief among them is the problem that people can just say whatever they want. Especially when it comes to identifying with a group like “evangelicals”. How did they find out these people were evangelicals? Well, they asked them what category they fell into and that was the one they picked.
Thomas Kidd does a fantastic job over at The Gospel Coalition highlighting the problems with this. Many times when probed further, we find out that these individuals don’t attend church, don’t read the Bible, and don’t share their faith. Now, of course, the only litmus test for entry into the Kingdom is faith in Jesus Christ, but faith demonstrates itself through works. When someone doesn’t even attend church, can we really call them an evangelical?
Let’s pump the brakes on assuming these people are all actually evangelical Christians, because I’m not sure that label would fit if you dug deeper. That’s not to say they’re lying though, they may legitimately believe themselves to be, which brings me to my second point.
Politics as a Worldview
Over time, the Republican party and the evangelical church have become conflated to the detriment of both. Their missions fundamentally could not be more separate. They are literally trying to usher in two completely different kingdoms. The Kingdom of God is not compatible with any Earthly kingdom, no matter how “moral” or “just” it may be.
The Gospel collides with everyone somewhere. I know first hand from preaching the Bible week-in, week-out. When you preach Jesus as he actually is in the Scripture, you’re bound to irritate both conservatives and liberals. If you don’t believe me, go read the Sermon on the Mount and tweet me when you hit something that rubs you the wrong way. Trust me, it won’t take long.
Talk to pastors in the Bible Belt and they’ll be quick to tell you how they wish the people in their area were a bit like those cold, abrasive northerners. The big difference is that when you do ministry in New York City, the people know they’re not Christians! In the Bible Belt, it’s assumed that because their grandma goes go to church and they occasionally ask Sky Santa for favors that they are Christians. You have to first shake them out of their false security and then share the actual Gospel.
I think what can be observed now is that it is no longer just a southern phenomenon (if it ever solely were). Now, wherever you are, if you’re socially and politically conservative and you watch Fox News, you might consider yourself a Christian.
Politics has become a holistic worldview, rather than, well, a political position. Gone are the days of two sides agreeing on the problems and debating the proper solution. Now it’s an ugly game of name-calling, ad hominem attacks, and reductive dismissals of anyone who disagrees. If you say something that goes against the tribe, well, you must be with the other team. It’s an age of groupthink and there’s no room for stragglers.
For actual Christians, though, politics can’t be our identity because Jesus demands to be. I have more in common with the Christian on the other side of the political spectrum than I do with the therapeutic deist that votes like I do. That’s not to say, however, that there aren’t legitimate Christians who have a problem with this.
Grace Does Not Remove Consequence
There was a surprising and dismaying number of Christians who voiced support for Donald Trump during the elections last year.1 Some did so holding their nose and thinking only of the Supreme Court Justices he would have opportunity to appoint. I cannot identify, but I understand the position. Others honestly endorsed him proudly and that to me was the most baffling part. Those anecdotes that we all have from our personal lives are the thing that makes these polls ring true to us on some level.
The refrain usually includes something along the lines of, “King David killed a guy and he was called a man after God’s own heart.” Which is true, but is also deeply irrelevant. For one, he showed great contrition. Meanwhile Moore has denied even empirically verifiable details from his accusers and Donald Trump boasted that he has “never asked God for forgiveness”. It also misses one of the biggest parts of that story.
If you stop the story at David murders Uriah and pick it back up at the end of his life, it sounds great. But what about all the stuff in the middle? Yes, the contrition, but what happens after Nathan confronts David and David repents?
God strikes his son dead.
There were incredible consequences for David’s sin. It literally costs his son his life. David receives forgiveness, but he also endures consequences.
I think some Christians have misunderstood grace for salvation to mean absolution from consequences and that’s just not reality. If you murder someone and then give your life to Jesus, they’re not going to just open the doors and free you from prison. You belong there for the crime you committed. Your standing with Jesus doesn’t fix the damage you’ve left in your wake overnight.
Can God forgive Roy Moore and Donald Trump? Absolutely! That doesn’t qualify them for leadership automatically, though. Those are two completely different things. We can and should expect more from those who desire to lead.
I thought both candidates were morally unqualified last year, so save the email proving point #2 here. ↩︎