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.

Another Reagan-Trump Comparison

There’s been a lot of commentary on the number of people in the Trump administration who have been shown the door and/or have voluntarily resigned during his first year in office. is it unprecedented?

I think back to the Reagan years and can think of only two individuals who stepped down during or shortly after the first year. Richard Allen, Reagan’s national security advisor, resigned when accused of taking a bribe, but that accusation was later proven to be false. Alexander Haig, Reagan’s secretary of state for a little over a year, had a habit of thinking he was so much in charge of foreign policy that he was above the president. It’s to Reagan’s credit as a patient man that Haig lasted that long.

When David Stockman, who was director of the Office of Management and Budget, publicly disagreed with Reagan’s policy on tax cuts, Reagan simply sat down with him over lunch and made it clear he had to support the president’s policies. Stockman lasted a full four years in that post.

So, yes, it seems to me that the revolving door at the current White House is somewhat unprecedented, especially for someone who has continuously boasted that he only hires the best people. If that’s so, why have so many either left on their own initiative or have been forced out barely a year into Trump’s tenure?

Now, I don’t mind the fact that some of them are gone. David Shulkin, as head of the Veterans Administration, was not effective. Let’s hope someone better takes his place.

I never believed Rex Tillerson was a good pick for secretary of state, so again, I have no problem with that subtraction from the administration. However, I’m not fond of the way he found out.

In fact, Trump’s method of informing people that they may no longer have a job is not quite what I would call professional.

His constant humiliation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions via tweets is bizarre, unbecoming of what we ought to expect of presidential behavior. To Sessions’s credit, it hasn’t yet worked.

Cartoonists have been having a wonderful time illustrating this revolving door. Here are some examples:

For the record, these examples are from cartoonists with a conservative bent, so this is not part of the liberal/progressive conspiracy to oust Trump. He does enough damage to himself that even those on the conservative side can see the problem.

Meanwhile, many of us continue to pray for this president that he will eventually exhibit grownup behavior. A lifetime of narcissism makes it hard to change at this late date, but one must always hope.

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.

Where Are the Nathans?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the prophet Nathan. If that name escapes you, it’s understandable. He’s not prominent like Isaiah, Jeremiah, or Ezekiel, who wrote down their prophetic messages. He’s not well known like Elijah, who, although he wrote nothing, did some rather remarkable things through the power of God.

But Nathan is important.

He comes to prominence in 2 Samuel, chapter 12. King David, the anointed one of the Lord, committed adultery and then had the woman’s husband put at the front of a battle to ensure he was killed. He got his wish and the man’s widow.

After all, he was the Lord’s anointed. He could do whatever he wanted.

Nathan comes to speak to David one day and tells him a story about a rich man who takes a poor man’s pet lamb and butchers it for a meal. David is incensed by the story. That evil man, says David, must make compensation four times the lamb’s worth.

Then Nathan points a finger directly at David: “You are the man!”

Immediately, because David normally has a heart for God, he recognizes the enormity of his sin and repents deeply over what he did. Yet there are consequences: the child born of the adulterous relationship dies and one of David’s own sons tries to take the kingdom away from him. Many more die in the process.

Proverbs 14:34 says, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.”

It was just and right for Nathan to confront David, even though he was God’s anointed. It was more than just and right; it was essential for the spiritual health of the nation.

How should this apply today?

No leader—political, spiritual, or otherwise—should be spared direct confrontation. The goal of such confrontation is to lead to a recognition of sin, a heartfelt repentance, and a restored relationship with God.

That’s always the goal.

It’s not “hate” to point out sins in a leader. Even if that leader is nowhere near being a Christian, there are still standards—God’s standards—to which everyone will have to answer. Christians are tasked with doing whatever they can, with God’s guidance, to bring a nation more in line with what God expects of a people.

In January 2017, when Donald Trump took the oath of office as president, I publicly, in this blog, stated that I would support him in any way I could. Despite  my firm conviction that a man of his character should have been rejected from the start when he entered the primaries, I would try to be fair and balanced toward him.

I believe I have been faithful to that commitment. If you were to check back in my blog posts, you would find a number of times I’ve agreed with his policies. Yet, I didn’t neglect to note when his character undermined not only those very policies but the integrity of the government.

Every time I dared to mention anything negative, a chorus of people arose to tell me I was judgmental.

At the beginning of this present year, I determined to minimize my political commentary because I was drawn more to other matters that I found more edifying.

Again, if you search my blog posts for 2018, I believe you will have to admit that Trump has shown up irregularly, and that I’ve been far more focused on positive messages on C. S. Lewis and moments from history from which we can learn important principles.

But whenever I venture to critique the president’s actions (or those of his supporters), the chorus returns.

It’s difficult to say anything anymore that even hints at criticism of Trump’s rhetoric or actions without an immediate and emotional reaction.

What has disturbed me most is that those who should understand sin, repentance, faith, and holiness better than others have decided to look the other way when it comes to the president.

Where are the Nathans?

Trump has an evangelical advisory group. Maybe they are doing a good job. Only God knows. But what I read and hear from people like Rev. Robert Jeffress is backtracking from Biblical morality in Trump’s case. He’s our man, so we’re not going to say anything negative. He’s God anointed; don’t touch him.

I toyed with the idea last night as I went to bed that I might just shut down my blog, remove myself from Facebook, walk away from Twitter, and generally get myself out of the line of fire. I’m tired of this.

It’s easy to make bad decisions based on emotion. In the light of this morning, I’ve decided that’s not the solution.

What I will do, though, is scale back even more from making political commentary—at least about Trump. No one who is devoted to him is going to listen to what I have to say. Minds are made up. Every excuse imaginable for why he shouldn’t be criticized is dredged up.

So what’s the point anymore?

That doesn’t mean I won’t write about government and the principles I believe God wants us to follow. And it’s not an absolute moratorium on Trump. To pledge that I will never mention him again would be foolish; I would undoubtedly break that pledge.

But I will never back away from the Biblical truth that righteousness exalts a nation and sin is a disgrace to any people.

And I will continue to pray that other Christians will take that seriously, considering the dangerous and increasingly anti-Christian times in which we live.

I will also continue to pray that more Nathans—those who are called by God to point out sin for the purpose of ultimate redemption—will come to the forefront.

Presidential Greatness: A List to Ponder

Presidents Day apparently was a prime time to release the new rankings of presidential greatness. Who is judging which president is greater than another, you may ask. The answer: 170 members of the Presidents & Executive Politics Section of the American Political Science Association.

You may ask further: what are the political leanings of these 170 members? The answer with respect to political party: 57.2% of respondents were Democrats, while 12.7% were Republicans, 27.1% were Independents, and 3% selected Other as their option.

The other question asked was whether they considered themselves liberal or conservative. Here’s that breakdown: 32.5% consider themselves ideologically liberal, while 25.9% consider themselves somewhat liberal, and 24.1% consider themselves moderate. Only 5.4% consider themselves ideologically conservative, while 12% say they are somewhat conservative.

In my experience, those who call themselves somewhat liberal are being too modest; they are usually quite liberal but don’t like to be labeled as such. If I’m correct, that would put the ideologically liberal as well over half the respondents while conservatives overall top out at just under 18%.

Gosh, I wonder if that skewed the results of this survey?

To be fair, I think there were some solid selections of greatness. For instance, Abraham Lincoln and George Washington come in as #1 and #2, respectively. Given Lincoln’s gargantuan task of navigating a civil war and Washington’s precedent-setting tenure as our first president (and giving honor and dignity to the office), I take no issue with those choices.

But, as is always the case with a liberal-dominated group, we find FDR voted in as the third-greatest president in American history. This is the man who tossed aside the Constitution, who allowed the federal government to dictate an ever-higher portion of each individual’s life, and who put into place policies that extended the Great Depression for an entire decade.

Sorry, but that’s not my idea of greatness.

FDR’s cousin, Theodore Roosevelt, comes in fourth, probably because he began the movement toward more “progressive” policies and even ran for president later on the ticket of the newly formed Progressive Party. Now, there are things I like about TR as well, but not those.

The #5 spot went to Thomas Jefferson. I’m currently teaching a course on the Early Republic and if you were to ask my students their view of Jefferson now, you probably wouldn’t get too many superlatives. He did his best to undermine both Washington and John Adams. He thought the French Revolution was a wonderful event. He signed an embargo act that practically froze all American commerce and his presidency ended with a whimper, not a bang.

Ah, but the Declaration of Independence makes up for all of that, I guess.

I admit to being pleased, and somewhat surprised, to see Reagan included in the top ten, coming in at #9. What was less surprising was to see Obama just ahead of him at #8. Let’s see now: one president revived the economy and was instrumental in bringing down the Soviet Union; the other reigned over an economy in the doldrums, attempted to take over the entire healthcare industry, and apologized the world over for America even existing.

Can you tell I disagree with that ranking?

LBJ comes in at #10, just behind Reagan. He only put FDR’s New Deal on steroids with his Great Society. And I don’t think we can call his Vietnam policy a sterling success.

I won’t try to go through the whole list, but here are some more thoughts as I look over it.

Woodrow Wilson ahead of James Madison? Really? Bill Clinton fell from #8 to #13 in this new ranking—a nice trend. Keep it going. Grover Cleveland all the way down at #24? I guess that’s what happens when someone believes in reining in government spending and warns against big-government paternalism.

Jimmy Carter at #26 ahead of Calvin Coolidge at #28? Give me a break. Why is Carter so high comparatively? His presidency was a near-total bust. Coolidge had integrity and presided over a robust economy. But he was Coolidge, you know, and that’s all it takes for a liberal-dominated voter pool.

Filling out the bottom of the list were some of the perennials: Warren Harding, Andrew Johnson, Franklin Pierce, William Henry Harrison (hey, give the guy a break; he was president for only one month), and James Buchanan.

Oh, I almost forgot. At the very bottom is the name Donald Trump. Now, that’s hardly fair with only one year under his belt. Even though I’m a great critic of Trump’s character, etc., I would hardly place him below some of those perennials noted above. At least not yet. Let’s see how this plays out over the next three years.

Lists like these are interesting, but you always need to know who the respondents are. A liberal-dominated electorate will always give a decided nod to those who have expanded government power.

Every Secret Will Be Brought to Light

I’ve been letting this whole FBI-Trump Dossier-Russian Collusion episode play out before attempting to comment much on it. It’s always best not to jump into something in the middle while it’s all still a muddle.

I naturally want to trust the FBI in the hope that it is fair and impartial in its investigations. It’s clear now that some agents haven’t lived up to that standard, yet it’s not an indictment of the entire organization, even if some people think it is.

What’s also pretty clear is that the Hillary campaign was behind the infamous Trump Dossier, thinking it would derail Trump in the election. There’s nothing surprising about that since integrity has never been a Clinton trait.

The Mueller investigation into whatever influence Russia had on the election has become a center of controversy as well, with partisanship on both sides seeming to overrule sound judgment. While I have my own concerns about whether this investigation is being conducted with all rectitude, I heartily concur with the aim of bringing everything to light.

One burning issue is whether the president will be called to give testimony. Apparently there is a division among his own lawyers as to whether that would be wise and/or appropriate. At the very least, it could be entertaining.

Politicians and political operatives tend to believe that they can get away with almost anything. Too often that has been the case. But they need to know that there is One who sees everything, no matter how cleverly they try to hide what they are doing. Jesus noted,

For everything that is hidden will eventually be brought into the open, and every secret will be brought to light. Mark 4:22

And there is that Day coming when nothing will be hidden ever again:

For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil. Ecclesiastes 12:14

Justice doesn’t always prevail in our day, but on God’s Judgment Day, He will have the last word.

Shall We Retire the Term “Evangelical”?

I call myself an evangelical. What does that mean? “Evangel” means good news; an evangelist is someone who spreads good news; evangelicals, therefore, are those who believe in spreading the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

So I like the term.

Yet it has come under scrutiny lately within the church because it seems to be losing its original meaning. Some are questioning whether it ought to be dropped as a description of those who follow Christ.

Most of that questioning stems from political developments. Evangelicals are now considered one of the “interest” groups in elections. Commentators examine their political clout and try to figure out how they will vote.

The problem, however, is the number and type of people who are lumped together under the name “evangelical.” They include those were who raised in the church but aren’t really faithful Christians. Many simply relate to the word evangelical because it’s part of their family tradition.

The word, then, has lost its real definition.

Let’s look at history for some guidance.

In the first half of the nineteenth century, the US experienced what historians describe as the Second Great Awakening. This revival of Christian faith spawned groups of believers who were tired of the division of Christians into denominations. They sought to get back to how they perceived the first-century church operated.

One group decided simply to call themselves Christians, as distinct from Congregationalist, Presbyterians, Lutherans, etc. Another took the name Disciples of Christ in an attempt to identify as Christians only, without any denominational tag.

They even said they would not become official denominations; they were merely movements of like-minded Christians. Well, no matter the original intent, they coalesced into identifiable denominations regardless; it was a natural development.

So the attempt to be just “Christian” without any further label wasn’t wholly successful.

Toward the end of that century, with the new higher criticism of Biblical authority threatening to undermine basic Biblical doctrines, those who rejected that criticism called themselves “fundamentalists” because they were declaring their allegiance to the fundamentals of the faith.

As theological liberals who denied Biblical teachings such as the virgin birth of Christ began taking over the seminaries, the fundamentalists set up their own Bible colleges and seminaries to counter that denigration of the true faith.

Unfortunately, too many of the fundamentalists became rather rigid in their practices while simultaneously withdrawing from meaningful interaction with the world, avoiding politics, education, etc., and thereby losing influence in the culture.

Those who agreed with the concept of maintaining the fundamentals but who didn’t wish to be viewed in the same light as those who claimed that label, migrated to a new term: evangelicals.

The shock of the cultural changes of the 1960s-1970s, spurred by events such as Supreme Court rulings relegating the Bible and prayer to the periphery of social life and opening the floodgates of abortion led these evangelicals to get involved in the political arena to hold back—and hopefully reverse—that cultural tide.

In my opinion, evangelicals have tried their best to carry out that endeavor without rancor and in the hope of drawing people to the Truth, not only about personal salvation, but also about how the Christian faith ought to impact all aspects of our society’s culture.

Evangelicals, in the last election, eventually attached themselves to Donald Trump. Some did so reluctantly, knowing his many flaws, but unable to countenance the alternative. Others did so with genuine fervor, seeing Trump as God’s anointed/political savior, not only minimizing his history of poor character but actually applauding his in-your-face persona.

I have to admit that’s when I started wondering whether the word evangelical had lost so much of its flavor that it needed to be retired.

Yet, despite the watering-down of the term, the original definition remains. An evangelical is someone who knows the truth of the Gospel message and is determined to see that truth disseminated so that the chasm between God and man, created by our own sins, can be bridged through repentance and faith in what Christ has done for us.

Therefore, I’m not retiring the word. I’ll continue to use it to describe who I am. The evangel of God is the good news; I’m to be an evangelist of that good news; I am an evangelical.