Friday, June 3, 2016

Your Display of the Gospel Is Bound to What You Do with Trump

The public face of evangelical Christianity is about to be tested and determined this month.

Evangelical leaders of different ministries and denominations are about to decide what to do about Donald Trump as a candidate for president. A meeting of nearly 500 evangelical leaders is set for June 21 with Trump and his staff. This is a call for all of us to pray, because regardless of what you think they should do, you can pray for discernment and wisdom and faithfulness to God. They will need it. There are all sorts of wrong reasons that could tempt and persuade someone to support a politician, and they will be present in force that day.

It's also time for us to get serious with each other. What these leaders decide to do is going to reflect on Christianity and the entire church. We all have a right to participate in politics and voting as citizens, but nothing can separate the choices we make there from what people see of our faith and our beliefs about God. When people see what you value and support as a Christian, and how you make decisions, you are testifying to them about what is important to you and what you believe is right. Michael Gerson explains why what these evangelical leaders do is going to mark the church, either with the behavior, attitudes, and vices of Trump or with the convictions we stand on in remaining apart from him. The church is much more than just the political involvement of its members and leaders, but we can't convince people to set aside what we do politically as Christians from what they know about our faith and beliefs. Actions demonstrate beliefs. Choices demonstrate values.

We are ambassadors for Christ - each and every one of us - whose entire lives are a witness of the kingdom of God and the Gospel. Every minute we are testifying to what we believe and what the Gospel is about - even when our testimony is false because our actions are out of step with the Gospel. We're still portraying it a certain way to people, and they see the message our actions send even when we are getting the message wrong. Which is why Paul says: “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel[.]” (Phil. 1:27). The manner of your whole life. Every part. All your conduct, even in how you eat your lunch - as Paul confronted Peter: “But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, ‘If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?’” (Gal. 2:14.)

The nomination for the Republican Party belongs to Trump now, despite all efforts to prevent that. But we don't belong to any party or kingdom on earth. We belong only to Christ, and the first and absolute priority of how we act in this world is to be faithful to Him and display the Christian faith and Gospel accurately. I shared some of my concerns here about how it harms the Gospel when Christians endorse a candidate as "the Christian choice." But even when we don't say we think Trump is a Christian, or we specifically say we don't agree with his statements on religion or his values, we are still showing the world something if we say we support him. Many of these evangelical leaders may go the same way that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and other Republican elected officials have gone, submitting to Trump with excuses or resignation. We have to pray and decide whether we will follow those leaders, or whether the great responsibility and privilege of reflecting the Gospel to the world requires us to take a stand and choose between God and political influence.

I pray we have the courage to be faithful to God, even if it requires us becoming irrelevant politically this year. There has never been a clearer example of a candidate who put us to the test of whether we will do that. As Gerson so clearly articulates it: "Support for Trump involves a massive, disorienting shift, especially given the reputation of the religious right. It is, well, unexpected for evangelicals to endorse a political figure who has engaged in creepy sex talk on the radio, boasted about his extramarital affairs, made a fortune from gambling and bragged about his endowment on national television." 

Yet that's the choice before us. Which is why I wrote a couple of months ago that Christians Must Have the Courage to Lose this Election (if Necessary). I stand by it. Ready or not, now is the time for Christians to prove what they worship and who they put their trust in: men or God. There's no halfway here. Either stand firm in faith, waiting on the Lord, or you are bowing your knee to worldly power and saying that political power and control of government is something you can't bear to surrender even if it tarnishes the image of the church. Even if your associations and alliances become the picture of the Gospel and Christian community that the world sees.

"Put not your trust in princes,
in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation."
Psalm 146:3

"Be strong, and let your heart take courage,
all you who wait for the Lord!"
Psalm 31:24

As you ponder how to respond, I commend Matt Lee Anderson's article here, with which I wholeheartedly agree: Evangelicalism After Trump
This is a good example of wrestling with the reality that our choice about Trump is inseparable from what it means to be a Christian.

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