An Evangelical Crossroads
Last week Donald Trump was inaugurated as the President of the United States of America. He rode to victory back in November on the backs of the 81% of white evangelicals voters who picked him to be our next president. While I understand that not all evangelicals voted for him (clearly, 1 out of 5 did not) and that even some of those who voted for him did so begrudgingly, you as a subculture are inextricably associated with him for the next four years. Your voices melded with the masses who rallied around him in crying out:
“We’ve been forgotten!”
“Our right to religious freedom is being taken away!”
“We need to bring back our jobs!”
“We shouldn’t be forced to pay for things we don’t agree with!”
Evangelicalism needs a new rallying cry. Though you feel you have been forgotten by society, there is a much more critical concern. You call yourselves little versions of Christ, but you have forgotten the central teachings of Christ himself.
Jesus taught us that the blessed ones are:
“the poor in spirit” (Luke actually records Christ as saying “the poor” in an economic sense),
“those who mourn”
“those who hunger and thirst for righteousness”
“the pure in heart”
“those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.”
He said that we are blessed “when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you…” (Matt. 5:3-11).
He told us that a right relationship with God requires us to have right relationships with one another (Matt. 5:20-24). He told us to care more for our enemies than we do ourselves (Matt. 5:39-40, 43-44) and to give away our money recklessly (Matt. 5:42). He calls us to put aside selfishness, not caring about our own economic or social security (Matt. 7:24-31), and to be motivated instead by the needs of the most disenfranchised people around us. (See Christ’s interactions with lepers, beggars, prostitutes, cripples, those in poverty and more all throughout the Gospels; for a specific teaching, see Matt. 10:36-37.) Christ drew no distinction between caring for a person’s body and caring for a person’s soul (Matt. 9:2-7).
As he sent his apostles out to preach the gospel, he said, “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment” (see Matt. 11:5-10).
A message like that of Jesus would get you kicked out of most evangelical churches today. He didn’t teach us to vote based on our own sense of relativistic morality. He didn’t teach us to defend our rights or protect our jobs or defend a biblical definition of marriage. Time and time again he taught us to lay down our rights - our lives, if necessary - for the spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being of our neighbors.
Followers of Christ don’t have the privilege of refusing to subsidize healthcare for others, even if it’s sometimes used in ways they don’t agree with. We must value every life, whether it’s the life of an unborn child or the life of a black man murdered on the street or the life of an immigrant who follows another religion.
Christ knew how easy it would be for his followers to forget the truth of his message. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, when he delivered all of the teachings that I just worked through, he said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers’” (Matt. 7:21-24).
Evangelicals have for a long time held a position of privilege within the United States. Despite your claims otherwise, you have occupied places of power in our government and, as a result, much of our society has been built for your success. But the demographics of our country are changing.
Today we see much more religious and social diversity. As a result of that diversity, though, the balance of power is shifting and, as the saying goes, “when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression” (author unknown). The natural inclination for you evangelicals is to fight back and demand the prosperity, security, and social status you’re used to having.
In a supreme act of selfishness, you have bought into the Republican Party’s lie that it actually cares about the gospel. You jumped into bed with the political right because they gave you an issue - one single issue - that you cared about. They promised to give you the things your flesh craved and now you cannot see how far you’ve fallen from the gospel. And don't be fooled - swinging to the political left is not the answer either.
Evangelicals, you are at a crossroads. You can continue down this road of selfish preoccupation with political power, or you can follow the teachings of Christ and forsake your own political rights for the rights and needs of our neighbors. That means caring more for their health than you do your own wealth. It means fostering quality education and community support systems. It means speaking out - and acting out - against discrimination in any shape or form. It means opposing bullying and intimidation. It means rejecting political tactics designed to stoke fear and division.
You are at a crossroads. Will you choose to blindly follow the political party that thinks it owns you, or will you follow Christ? You cannot serve them both.