I’m not a betting man, and it’s a good thing I’m not. I would have bet that anyone other than Donald Trump would win the Republican nomination. And after his surprise victory, I would have bet that Hillary Clinton would beat him in the general election.
Yet here we are, on the eve of Inauguration Day 2017 when Donald J. Trump will become the 45th president of the United States.
I know many Christians, some who voted for Trump and some who did not, who were preparing themselves for a Hillary Clinton presidency. They were preparing for new threats to religious liberty, the potential for hardening the Supreme Court’s commitment to abortion, and the possibility of Sexual Revolution ideology being enshrined into law. They were ready for Christian witness in the age of Clinton, only to discover that God’s plan was different.
Today, we are called to be faithful to Jesus in the age of Trump. And that task may actually be harder. Why? Because the lines between Christian principle and Trump’s policies are drawn in different and unfamiliar places, and because many conservative Christians belong to the party that Trump now leads.
So what will faithfulness in the Trump era look like? Here are four words of caution for believers today that should apply to you, no matter how you voted.
1. Don’t let your personal feelings trump your prayers.
If we are to be faithful in the age of Trump, we must be united in prayer. Paul urged “that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority.” Our prayer life demonstrates our “godliness and dignity,” and it “pleases God our Savior” (1 Timothy 2:1-3, CSB).
Praying for the president is not optional. It is a discipline that God uses to temper our rhetoric and grant us a measure of compassion and respect for whoever is in the White House, even when faithfulness may require resistance and dissent. Such was the case during the Obama era and the same must be true for Trump.
2. Don’t let party priorities trump Christian principles.
Recent studies show that your party affiliation has a gradual impact on the positions you take. For example, people who join the Republican Party tend, over time, to become more pro-life. People who belong to the Democratic Party tend, over time, to support stricter gun control laws. Party affiliation plays a large role in the political positions we believe, first, to be plausible, and then, later, to be right.
This phenomenon happens at a speed that can be disorienting. There was a time when many Democratic leaders were pro-life (Ted Kennedy, Dick Gephardt, Jesse Jackson, Al Gore). There was a time when many Republican leaders (Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush) had views on immigration that were strikingly different than the position of President-elect Trump.
Words like “conservative” and “liberal” can shift over time, taking on new connotations. Different political priorities and perspectives that were once on the margins can, in the span of a few months, suddenly become plausible. Party affiliation and the high hopes for a new president can lead people to change their principles.
The danger is that the same can happen with Christians.
For example, one of the intriguing aspects of today’s political alignment is the fact that the party with the most unabashedly pro-life platform includes politicians who champion the use of torture as a legitimate and morally upright act in today’s world. When Christians who are staunchly and rightfully pro-life go wobbly when it comes to Christianity’s ethical stance on torture, it’s likely we are seeing party pressure at work.
The danger, in this and every era, is that we would bend our principles or sideline our Christian ethics or excuse injustice or minimize sinful behavior in favor of good standing within a political party. If we’re not alert to this temptation, our allegiance to a party will trump our Christian principles by blinding us to the places where our party is not in line with Scripture. This happens regularly on both the right and the left, and so all Christians must be vigilant.
3. Don’t allow short-term gains to trump long-term witness.
Many white evangelicals reluctantly voted for Donald Trump because they believed the long-term impact of the Supreme Court overcame all other obstacles. They reasoned that it was worth voting for a terrible candidate if there was a chance that a Supreme Court Justice would protect life long-term and set up barriers against the enforcement of Sexual Revolution ideology. They weren’t motivated primarily by short-term wins for the Party; they hoped for long-term impact on the Court.
Other evangelicals withheld their vote from the Republican nominee for a similar reason: they worried that a short-term gain would hurt the Church’s long-term witness. They reasoned that evangelical support for Trump would send the signal to the Republican Party leaders that there is absolutely nothing that will ever jeopardize the loyalty of evangelical voters. And they worried that this would lead Republican leadership to give less attention to evangelicals as a voting bloc in the future.
Ironically, both sets of voters (those who reluctantly pulled the lever for Trump and those who did not) had similar motivations: they are concerned about long-term witness. The reasoning that led to their choice is strikingly different, of course, but perhaps common ground can be found at the level of motivation.
Regardless of how you voted, in the era of Trump, we must recognize the need for Christians to take the long-term view. We cannot rejoice in short-term victories at the expense of the Church’s long-term witness. Otherwise, we sacrifice our children on the altar of political expediency.
Regarding the pro-life movement, we should pray for a Supreme Court Justice that believes in the right to life. At the same time, if politics is downstream from culture, then we have much work to do in society to persuade people toward a pro-life position. We need a multi-pronged approach for pro-life victories. The Court is a crucial component of this, of course. But so is the cultivation of a culture that sees the sanctity of all human life.
4. Don’t let the voices of your political allies trump those of your brothers and sisters in Christ.
As we move forward prayerfully, and with great hope, we must seek out wisdom from believers in Christ in other parts of the world, and Christians here who may look and vote differently than we do. If we are to see progress in racial reconciliation in the days ahead, then all Christians (especially those who belong to the majority culture) will need to look for ways to become uncomfortable.
We will not be faithful in the Trump era if we allow the voices of conservative non-Christians to overshadow the voices of our brothers and sisters in Christ who are of other political persuasions, or from other cultural and ethnic backgrounds. We will not be faithful in the Trump era if we allow American voices to drown out the voices of our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world.
Of course, the Scriptures must overshadow even the voices of the global church, for God’s Word challenges us all at different points. The sword of God’s Word cuts both ways, and no particular culture has everything right.
Still, Christians should always be looking to strengthen what is good, challenge what is lacking, and denounce what is bad in our political parties. We can’t do that with our partisan blinders on. We need the wisdom and insight of Christians who don’t share all of our political views, but who are radically committed to the Scriptures, to the gospel, and to God’s mission in the world.
The sword of Jesus’ love cuts across all artificial lines, including the “conservative” and “liberal” divide that shows up in strange ways in the Republican and Democratic Party. We need brothers and sisters to show us which lines are artificial if we are to be faithful in any political era, and now, in the age of Trump.