Evangelicals & Politics: The Dangers Ahead

A group of evangelical leaders concerned about the future of evangelicalism, spurred by 80% of evangelicals having voted for Donald Trump in the last election, held a meeting recently at Wheaton College just outside Chicago.

Whenever I see evangelical leaders concerned about unstinting support for Trump and the potential problem of having the Christian witness tied to him, I am usually encouraged. But I have my qualms about the political direction of some of Trump’s evangelical critics.

Those who have read my blog on any kind of a regular basis know that I have written often with my own concerns about the presidency of Donald Trump. I did my best during the Republican primaries to warn Christians about his character; he received the nomination regardless of my warnings and those of others with a much larger audience than mine.

My concerns continue as his thin-skinned egotism and history of immoral behavior (which has really never abated) lowers the dignity of the presidential office. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama did the same in their own respective ways.

Yes, Trump has made excellent judicial appointments that will hopefully reverse some trends, but I sincerely doubt if he knows any of those appointees who were recommended to him by a group of constitutionalists who see the dangers of an out-of-control judiciary.

Principle is in short supply with this president.

Christians are to stand for Scriptural fidelity and the purity of the Christian witness to the world. Neither are found in the character of the current occupant of the White House, and those with strong ties to him may eventually fall with him.

And I do fear that a fall is coming.

On the proverbial other hand, I have a similar fear with those who oppose Trump: that some of those who gathered at this meeting in Wheaton are not sufficiently grounded in Biblical precepts of government and policy, and they, in a similar fashion, are linking their ideas to the Christian witness to its detriment.

We’re informed by some that the younger generation of evangelicals don’t have the same concerns as the older generation, and that their cry is for “social justice.” Let it be known that I also believe in social justice, but the term has been so overused and misused (and you can feel free to apply over- and mis- to any other term you wish) that I shun using it myself.

If by social justice, one means that the inalienable rights God has given each person should be protected by government, then I am in agreement. The paramount inalienable right is that of life, which is why I am so supportive of the pro-life cause at both ends: unborn children and the elderly.

If by social justice, one means that no one should be treated differently due to external features such as skin color, again, you will find me on that side of the issue.

If, however, social justice is promoted as a semi-Marxist envy of those who “have” and is built on a bedrock of class conflict/warfare that seeks to take away from the haves to give to the have-nots, thereby classifying all “haves” as evil, then count me out. The history of the twentieth century was replete with those kinds of tyrannies, and they continue today regardless of the changes in leadership:

If social justice goes beyond the basic rights of all people regardless of color and insists on calling all white people evil (based on their color apparently) and foments an attitude of bitterness for wrongs both past and present, I will not be one of that number.

If it is true, as reported in a recent article, that 85% of black evangelicals identify with the Democrat party, I’m saddened. Why? Well, if you want to look historically, that was the party that defended both slavery and segregation. More recently, as the “champion” of minorities, it set up government programs (Great Society, anyone?) that have proved to be the catalyst for the destruction of the black family in America, leading to even greater degrees of poverty.

For evangelicals, in particular, the Democrats are the party that are wholesale on board with abortion on demand (which Planned Parenthood has always used to decimate minority communities), same-sex marriage, and, under the Obama administration, a large-scale attack on the religious liberties of Christian organizations who fail to fall in line with the “new morality.”

I want to ask my black brethren this: “How can you support a party that has set itself up in opposition to so much of what a Christian evangelical says he believes?” Democrats, in their present persona, are about as anti-Christian as a party can be.

Republicans give greater lip service to Biblical standards; their problem is hypocrisy. Yet, even with all that hypocrisy, there are some Republican officeholders who do remain faithful to their principles and their word. At least there’s some hope there, however slight.

To my evangelical friends who give unyielding support for President Trump, I urge you not to be unthinking cheerleaders. Recognize the danger to the Christian witness when we give ourselves to a leader unconditionally.

And by all means, don’t provide excuses for wrong behavior. Maintain your Biblical standard.

To my evangelical friends who are tempted to go the way of political progressivism, please stop and think about the ramifications. When you ally yourself with a worldview that is fundamentally antithetical to Christian faith, you taint the faith as well.

One report, focused on one evangelical college (which will go unnamed) notes that 80% of the professors there voted for Obama in 2012. This is the president who made the greatest strides toward marginalizing Christian faith in American society. How anyone could have supported him is beyond my understanding.

I’m trying to be a voice of Christian reason here, holding fast to fidelity to Scripture and hoping to make both sides reconsider where they stand. It’s not easy or fun being in the middle.

I sincerely love all who are truly in Christ, no matter where they come out on the political spectrum. However, I am urging all to put Biblical principles ahead of politics. If we do, we might find we agree on more things than we imagined.

No Swamp Draining Here

At the end of last week, the Congress and the president gave us an “omnibus spending package,” not a true budget, because we don’t do those anymore. They’re apparently too hard to negotiate. The tab on this “package” was $1.3 trillion.

We are supposed to be happy that this happened because it avoided a government shutdown. But let’s be honest: the government never really shuts down even when a shutdown is declared.

Republicans promised, if given control of both the executive and legislative branches (which they now have), that they would restore fiscal sanity. Democrats have no concept of fiscal sanity, but Republicans ought to. Talk, though, is cheap. It’s easy during a campaign to make promises. Much too easy.

It’s not just the spending itself that’s so bad, but also the sad truth that organizations like Planned Parenthood are continuing to receive taxpayer funding, despite all the pledges that they would be cut out from government support.

I know as well as anyone that you rarely get everything you want in a bill and that compromise is the name of the game, but why does every compromise seem to be so one-sided?

Planned Parenthood, by the way, was one of the sponsors (along with a number of other garden variety progressive and anti-Christian organizations) of the weekend’s so-called March for Our Lives protest.

“Planned Parenthood” and “respect for the sanctity of life” should never co-exist in the same sentence. Concern for the children? Really? After being responsible for more than 300,000 abortions per year?

Back to the spending package.

Yes, the Republican leadership in Congress deserves no small amount of disdain on this issue. There were standout negative votes in the Senate—Ted Cruz (whom I supported for the Republican nomination for president), Mike Lee, and Rand Paul among them. But, as usual, they were in the minority.

I’ve heard a lot of criticism of Congress on this from the most ardent Trump supporters, but no bill becomes law without the presidential signature. First, Trump supported it; then he tweeted he might veto it; a few hours later he signed it, citing the increase in military spending as apparently the most important feature.

If you are disgusted over the passage of this bill, and if you want to be a credible critic, you must be willing to acknowledge that Trump was just as much a part of this particular area of the “Swamp” as anyone else. Some, however, will go to almost any lengths not to admit that.

I never bought into the Trump rhetoric about “Draining the Swamp” because I knew he has spent his entire life in his own personal swamps, both in business and in his personal life. I knew it was merely campaign talk, not intended to be transferred over to actual governing.

So his decision to go along with this doesn’t surprise me at all. I think it’s time, though, for those who were surprised and/or disappointed to wake up and face reality: the Swamp will never be drained with either Trump or the current Republican leaders setting the agenda.

May Integrity Be Our Guide

Does anyone remember when Republicans thought deficits were a bad thing? Somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind, I can recall that the Obama spending was going to ruin the country.

Now, not so much, apparently.

Republicans, under the leadership [?] of Sen. Mitch McConnell, have joined hands with Sen. Chuck Schumer’s Democrats to pass a budget that continues to blow the roof off the deficit.

We’re over $20 trillion and still counting. But don’t worry, both parties are coming to our rescue.

I used to believe that Republicans were sincere about reducing spending. Ah, for those good old days when I could rest assured that there were adults in the Congress.

I don’t wish to overstate, as there are conscience conservatives who stand for principle, but it’s becoming painfully obvious that they are a distinct minority.

And all that talk about defunding Planned Parenthood? Well, talk is, as they say, really, really cheap. Sometimes satire sites get it absolutely right, as the Babylon Bee did the other day. Check it out.

Please know that I take no pleasure in pointing out all the hypocrisy. It’s disheartening, and I do continue to pray for the Christians among our representatives to come forward and stand with integrity. They have a hard job, I know.

Meanwhile, this exhortation seems appropriate:

The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity. Proverbs 11:3

The Latest News Roundup

Republicans have almost accomplished something—almost because the House and the Senate still have to iron out differences—but it looks like a tax cut bill is ready to become reality.

Democrats criticized the Senate version as being cobbled together at the last moment, thereby not giving enough time to study it. Does that concern jog anyone else’s memory?

Yes, they didn’t exhibit this type of concern back in the Obamacare days.

One feature of the bill is something Ted Cruz added to it. I’ll let him explain:

The Senate also voted to adopt my amendment to expand 529 College Savings Plans to include K-12 elementary and secondary school tuition for public, private, and religious schools, including K-12 educational expenses for homeschool students.

I appreciate Cruz’s concern for families, and that it extends to Christian schools and those who choose homeschooling. The Democrats’ reaction to the Republican bill is perhaps best expressed by their Senate leader, Chuck Schumer:

What else has been happening? How about the wheels of justice in a place like San Francisco, where the illegal immigrant who was deported five times and then shot and killed Kate Steinle was acquitted by a jury of San Francisco citizens?

I think most of America has a different verdict to offer to the denizens of that Far Left enclave:

Also, the Mueller probe continues, in which former Trump advisor Michael Flynn has now accepted a guilty plea for lying to the FBI. I don’t condone Flynn’s actions nor his sometimes shady activities, but the glee on the Left reached new heights when ABC reporter (?) Brian Ross, citing a single anonymous source, declared that Flynn was prepared to testify that Donald Trump, as a candidate for president, told him to contact Russians.

The glee turned gloomy when the report turned out to be false. Ross has now been suspended for four weeks and has been informed that he will not be allowed to cover Trump news.

Lest you think everything has been rosy for the president, don’t forget that he tweets. He’s now claiming that the voice on that infamous NBC tape in which he boasted about how he could do pretty much anything he wanted with women due to his celebrity—you know, the tape that almost brought down his candidacy—is not really his voice at all.

Really.

We’re supposed to ignore the fact that he acknowledged back then that it was indeed his voice and that he offered somewhat of an apology for those words. I say “somewhat” because apology is not part of his vocabulary.

Even when things go right for Donald Trump, he is capable of ruining good news.

I shouldn’t neglect to mention that North Korea keeps firing missiles. It appears that rogue nation now has the ability to send one directly into the heart of America. What’s the next step for us in response to this threat?

I really hope we come up with something better than that.

Sexual Harassment: The Christian Response?

What began with Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein has turned into a daily report of the latest sexual harasser: Roy Moore (I’ll come back to him further down in this post); Al Franken; Charlie Rose; a New York Times reporter I don’t know; indications of a $17 million slush fund to bail out congressmen who are accused of sexual improprieties.

That last one is the news I woke up to today. Democrat Congressman John Conyers of Michigan, who has been in the House for 50 years (you read that correctly) has habitually used his office to press women for sexual favors. Color me not surprised.

People who get into positions of power often try to use that power for their own personal desires. That’s as old as the entire history of mankind. It’s called sin.

As a Christian, while I’m grieved that so many are being exposed as abusers of their power, I’m also gratified that they are now being called to account for what they have done. The politicians among them, though, may not suffer as much as those in the private sector who are being snared. Will Al Franken and John Conyers really have to resign, or will their Democrat colleagues circle the wagons to protect them?

In my view, all politicians who are caught in any kind of wrongdoing should step down and let someone else take their place. Of course, I’ve said that all along, as it should have happened nearly twenty years ago with a sitting president:

Now, when it no longer counts, some Democrats are speaking openly about how Clinton should have resigned. What’s the reason for this newfound courage? Could it be that Clinton, Inc. is no longer the power base it once was? It’s safer now to critique the Clinton brand after Hillary’s latest humiliating loss.

Let’s be honest: Bill Clinton was and is a man who has never said no to his sexual appetite. And while the country has been fixated on a different Southerner, there has been a case of historical amnesia about the former Southern president.

Now I must talk about Roy Moore, the Republican candidate for the Senate from Alabama. I’ve been silent in this blog about the allegations swirling around him, waiting for the dust to settle and to give him whatever benefit of the doubt I can.

In the nine years that I’ve written this blog, I don’t believe I’ve ever mentioned Moore. He made a name for himself as a staunch defender of the Ten Commandments being displayed in his courtroom and as a judge who said Alabama doesn’t have to abide by the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage.

As a result, he became a champion of Christian conservatives. Many Christian leaders in the conservative movement have counted him as a friend. All of these reasons are why I’ve been hesitant to write about the allegations.

Yet while I certainly am not the final word on Roy Moore’s guilt or innocence, I’ve followed the story closely and feel compelled to say that the accusers are credible and Moore’s defense, such as it is, has been less than stellar.

Even in an atmosphere where the questions were not from the mainstream press—how can anyone in the Trump tradition find a more friendly interrogator than Sean Hannity?—Moore couldn’t come right out and say that he never dated teenagers when he was a man in his thirties.

His entire defense is simply a misdirection: it’s all a vast conspiracy by the Democrats and their media allies; ignore all the evidence backing up the accusations; they’re just out to get me.

That sounds pretty Clintonesque to me, shades of Hillary’s “vast right-wing conspiracy” back in 1998-1999.

Well, says Moore, I never dated anyone that young without asking permission of their mothers first. How about not dating anyone who is underage? Did that ever occur to him?

Frankly, I find it nearly impossible to believe his protestations. Two of his accusers say they voted for Trump; others who know them attest that they have told their stories over the years but were afraid to stand up publicly against Moore because of his high position in government; many others in the community where he lives are now going public with his old habit of cruising the mall and restaurants, looking for teens to date.

The Republican party, cognizant that he is a drag on the image of the party, has largely abandoned him, and I don’t blame the leadership at all for doing so.

What pains me the most is the cavalcade of Christians who stand by Moore for no other reason than they are more attracted to the conspiracy theory he’s spinning than the actual facts that are coming out about his past.

Well, I’m told, we all have things in our past. He’s changed. My response? First, one of the accusers, who was not one of the teens targeted, notes that her bad experience with him was in 1991, after Moore was married. Further, if he’s truly a new man in Christ, why not come clean and simply say that was his former self? No, he just sticks to the conspiracy story.

My biggest concern in this Moore controversy is that Christians come out of it with their integrity intact. I feel the same way about what is happening now as I did with Christians boarding the Trump train.

How much are we willing to put up with before we realize we are supposed to stand for righteousness?

Virginia: A Trump Referendum?

There’s no way to sugarcoat for Republicans the results of Tuesday’s elections, especially in Virginia, where prognosticators thought the governor’s race would be close. It wasn’t. Republican candidate Ed Gillespie lost by 9 points to Democrat Ralph Northam.

It’s difficult to argue that the fault lies wholly with Gillespie when the results were the same down ballot also. The lieutenant governor and attorney general races were also Democrat victories. The most stunning outcome is that a House of Delegates, which Republicans controlled with a super-majority, is now likely to reverse course and be controlled by Democrats—a few races are still too close to call, but even if Republicans retain a majority, the margin will be slim.

New Jersey’s elections were also Democrat gains, as Gov. Chris Christie has become increasingly unpopular in the past few years.

Back to Virginia. Polling shows that of those who voted, 17% were voting because they ardently supported Donald Trump, but nearly double the number, 33%, voted for exactly the opposite reason: they ardently opposed Trump.

You can’t have that kind of disparity and expect a good outcome for Republicans. Most commentators I’ve read see what happened in Virginia not only as a referendum on President Trump but a harbinger of what might await Republicans in the 2018 midterm elections.

It’s conceivable that they could lose control of both houses of Congress in 2018. The more vulnerable house is the Senate, and if that goes Democrat, all who were hoping for a reworking of the Supreme Court will see their hopes dashed. No Democrat Senate is going to confirm a solid conservative constitutionalist to the Court.

Trump will continue to nominate should vacancies occur, but I predict that, because he will want to be perceived as a winner, he will abandon the quest to find good conservatives and will instead promote nominees acceptable to Democrats. That’s what happens when someone without principles is awarded the authority of the presidency.

I do believe this last election was a referendum on Trump, and it is a warning. Personally, I wish Republicans had heeded all the warnings many of us gave during the Republican primaries in 2016, but nothing can be done about that now.

Trump’s character, more than his policies, is what turns many people off. Consider his response to Gillespie’s defeat. Immediately he jumped on Twitter to make it clear that it wasn’t his [Trump’s] fault. Gillespie lost, proclaimed Trump, because he didn’t tie himself closely enough to the president.

Massive ego can never admit fault.

All indicators are that Gillespie would have come much closer, perhaps might have won, without the albatross of the Trump presidency around his political neck.

Some angry Trump supporters are saying that Republicans who are not enamored of Trump are happy with the Virginia results. Well, I know that’s not true for me. I can never be happy with a turn of events that allows the Democrat agenda to advance.

My sincere hope is that Republicans can regroup and offer real solutions so that the electorate sees the folly of following the Democrat vision. The next two years will determine whether they are up to the task.

The Hope & the Agony of Politics

I’ve never been a utopian when it comes to politics. I’ve always known heaven won’t be created on earth. Yet, along with that realization, I’ve maintained a commitment to instilling Biblical values into politics as much as possible. When government follows policies based on Biblical principles, I believe we get closer to the ideal, regardless of the pervasive sinfulness of men.

This past political season was a jolt to my hopes. Faced for the first time with two candidates for president who never should be allowed close to the Oval Office, I had to go another route with my vote. My conscience constrained me.

What bothered me most was what I consider a nearly wholesale abandonment of principle by those who call themselves conservatives, and even worse, those who are my fellow Christian believers who ultimately decided that principles no longer mattered in this situation.

Note: this is not an indictment of many who struggled with their consciences and voted for Trump because they couldn’t imagine the alternative. My concern is with those who have become unapologetic apologists for a man regardless of what he says or does.

Yesterday, I read a column by Erick Erickson that echoed what I’ve been feeling. I’m going to share some of his pertinent comments and intersperse mine. Erickson feels betrayed by politics and by those he thought were his spiritual/intellectual companions. He says that, although he’s always been a Republican, he no longer has a home in that party.

I understand how he feels.

On the right, a party that used to be centered around the idea of smaller government and individual empowerment is instead captured by its own personality that centers around a strong man in Washington and whatever he wants.

I have argued for a constitutional understanding of government for more than thirty years. I thought Republicans, on the whole, agreed with that perspective. Instead, I’m seeing far less concern for that now that “we” have a supposedly strong man in power.

Erickson then addresses the Christian community that has sought, like I have, to return Biblical principles into our governing (especially after the ill effects of the Obama tenure):

Christians are supposed to find some peace in the world by knowing that there is a last day and they are on the winning team. But right now a bunch of American Christians are looking to political solutions for spiritual problems and convincing themselves they’re making a Heaven on earth. . . .

So many people going to church on Sunday looked at Trump and called him a Cyrus, but increasingly this looks like a Maccabean revolt. Sure, they threw out those they saw as pagans and set about purifying temple America, but things did not exactly go well for the people or the kingdom thereafter.

Of course it was all downhill to Herod and the first coming, so maybe it’ll all be downhill from here to the second coming. That increasingly looks likely as the world goes mad, this country included.

Hyperbole? Not from where I’m sitting. That’s my perception also.

He then switches to what he would like to see in politics; I’ll share a few of his dreams:

I want a new party, and a conservative one where conservatism is not defined by beating the other side, but by pursuing the best policies.

I want a party that is pro-family and structures the tax code accordingly and fights for school choice so parents can get their kids educated instead of indoctrinated.

I want a party that is pro-life and that does not run from the Bible.

I want a party that does not define people by the color of their skin or where their families came from, but sees us all as part of the American experiment.

And I want a party that is beholden to ideas, not men.

I will add my “amen” to all of that. And with Erickson, I can also say that I, at one time, thought that existed. Now I’m not so sure. You see, I’ve not changed, but my party has. Ronald Reagan used to say that he hadn’t changed, but that the Democrat party he had always been a part of was the one that moved away from his beliefs.

What happened to a conservatism that was based on ideas, not nationalism? Caring for one’s nation is good, but there is a line that can be crossed. When does one’s devotion to the nation become a substitute for devotion to God?

Here’s one more short paragraph from Erickson’s piece that resonates with me:

To the extent that I have changed, though, I think I have changed for the better. I have a harder time reconciling my faith to my politics and see so many of my friends trying to squeeze their faith into their politics. I would rather go the opposite way and connect my politics to my faith, giving up those things that cannot be reconciled.

One of the key concepts I’ve tried to communicate to students, and to anyone else who will listen to me (I guess that’s why I write this blog) is that you start with Scripture and then make everything align with that. You never start with what others say is true and then do your best to inject Scripture into it, thereby making a false attempt to Christianize something that is not Christian at all.

I’m going to continue on the path of making God’s truth my cornerstone. I will not bow to the political gods who say I should set my Biblical principles aside for the sake of a few Supreme Court justices or some temporary victories via executive orders.

I want to look back on my decisions and not experience deep regret over my subordination of God’s ways to man’s ways. He calls us to be faithful, and that is what I intend to be.