Thursday, July 11, 2019

Evangelical Support for President Trump

Jesus told a story of a man who had two sons:
“But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go, work today in my vineyard.’

“He answered and said, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he regretted it and went.

“Then he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered and said, ‘I go, sir,’ but he did not go.

“Which of the two did the will of his father?”

They said to Him, “The first.”

Jesus said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him (Matthew 21:28-32).
There are things President Trump says and Tweets, and there are the things President Trump does.

It is the more important latter of those two that brings Trump such strong unwavering support among some evangelical Christians.

One of the clearest signs to both the right and the left when Donald Trump was campaigning for office was his selection of Mike Pence as his running mate. A long-time stalwart of the conservative cause, Mike Pence showed Trump intended to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. Pence had the record to prove it and the connections to make it happen.

As for what President Trump says, the now-classic explanation for how his supporters hear him is they take him “seriously but not literally.” Many of the times Trump is accused of “lying,” he was clearly making a joke or was saying something that can sound very different when yanked out of context. This makes it hard to take the media seriously when they do this, and lends credence to the President's claim that they're peddling fake news.

Nonetheless, President Trump has indeed been our most pro-life President to date. This holds true for both executive action and his judicial nomination selections. The change of majority in the House gives the President new veto opportunities to strengthen his hand in the legislative realm as well. Perhaps his independent wealth indeed emboldens him not to be beholden to various interests or election concerns.

As for immigration, I don't go along with the hard-line conservative approach. I'm not worried about them “taking our jobs” or many of the other concerns that are or could be construed as racist. God is doing some demographic shuffling all around the world, and we're no exception to that.

On the border situation in particular, I would point out two things:

1. No one is forcing these people to come north to our southern border. Nonetheless, freedom and peace remain attractive to many, and they want to come to the land of the free, even if that exposes them to tremendous personal risk. I like it here, too. I get why they want to come. The question is, when thousands of people show up every day with no other plan than to get here, what do you do with that?

The comparison of migrant housing facilities to concentration camps is very weak and superficial at best. As one who remembers the Cold War, I can tell you the first major difference is we are not forcing people to come to our southern border. The Soviets did force people into concentration camps. People come to America for freedom. People were sent to concentration camps for forced pointless labor.

2. President Trump did not invent the approach for the executive branch. These migrant centers were in place before President Trump took office. This is not to say everything has been handled perfectly then or now. Some things about it should change. This is also not to say every group that looks like a family actually is. James Dobson recently gave a good first-hand account of what's happening. It's a complicated mess with a lot of nuance needed to untangle it. We need to seek God for his wisdom in this matter.

Some evangelicals have no use for a distinction between President Trump's words and actions. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). Character mattered when Bill Clinton was President, and it still matters when Donald Trump is President.

The key difference in that comparison is one of timing. President Clinton came into office with a reputation of going after other women, and this continued while he was in office. President Trump would not have been a candidate for evangelicals in years past, but he changed. While he may not publicly have a clearly articulated spiritual testimony, his political conversion on issues important to conservatives is apparent. He has talked openly about how he changed to the pro-life position.

Conservatives have accepted converted candidates in the past. Ronald Reagan was a Democrat for a long-time, and his divorce was nothing to celebrate. Yet, by the time he came to office, and while he was President, he was clearly and consistently on the right side of many issues. Evangelicals correctly cut him slack about his past then, and we do well to do the same for President Trump today. This is not hypocrisy; this is redemption.

Last week there was a headline that caught my attention: “The Deepening Crisis in Evangelical Christianity.” My first thought was this would be about doctrine and our need to take God's Word seriously and literally. Then I read the subheading: “Support for Trump comes at a high cost for Christian witness.” After acquiescing to accusations of “undeniable hypocrisy,” Peter Wehner argues for “another model for cultural and political engagement, and one of the best I am aware of has been articulated by the artist Makoto Fujimura, who speaks about ‘culture care’ instead of ‘culture war.’”

As much as he bemoans the “crisis” in and “poverty” of the American Church, the real tragedy is in the Church's unwillingness to face confrontation. Lost in the Church today is a sense of God as the Lord of hosts (armies). “The LORD is a man of war; The LORD is His name” (Exodus 15:3). “With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the LORD our God, to help us and to fight our battles” (2 Chronicles 32:8).

Wehner explains, “Culture care is to see our world not as a battle zone in which we’re all vying for limited resources, but to see the world of abundant possibilities and promise.” As if every political battle is about nothing more than limited resources. The left loves to paint conservative Christians into a corner by claiming their involvement on any political issue is about Christians “trying to impose their morality on everyone else.” They're ones to talk because now they want us all to pay for their abortions through tax dollars or insurance policies.

Wehner wants our politics to be all about “grace, beauty, and creativity,” but if you have no anger over people forcibly taking your money to pay others to rip the arms and legs off of children in their mother's wombs, then who is unknowingly having the moment of crisis? What is it costing our Christian witness when pastors and church members are largely and regularly silent on this most barbaric of practices happening every week across our land? No thank you. Yes, we should fight that.

To evangelical defeatists, there is no fight because the fight is already lost. They don't think about the Promised Land anymore because to them, they're already in exile. Wehner: “(Mark) Labberton speaks about what it means to live as people in exile, trying to find the capacity to love in unexpected ways; to see the enemy, the foreigner, the stranger, and the alien, and to go toward rather than away from them. He asks what a life of faithfulness looks like while one lives in a world of fear.”

The way this is written implies several things that are not true.

1. We are not a people in exile. Our Founders fought for and were blessed with a land of liberty. They and successive generations have left this to us. Corrupting influences have come in and want to drive us out, but this is still a free country. The evangelical defeatist's go-to line from Jesus is “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). This, however, is out of context because Jesus was talking about “the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered” (John 16:32). Similarly, other periods of persecution recorded in the Scriptures were limited in duration. The intense period recorded in Acts was less than two chapters, and when Paul had legal troubles later in that book, he mounted a vigorous legal defense. Persecution is not the normal state for the believer. There are times when persecution makes for a powerful witness, and this is precisely because Christians stand strong in the midst of it, not because they give in to it.

2. Love is not the opposite of a political fight. We are to do everything in love (1 Corinthians 13), and we can have a policy fight in love. We don't want our political opponents “treasuring up for themselves wrath in the day of wrath” (Romans 2:5).

3. Our political opponents are not our enemies. Our enemy is Satan, the father of lies (John 8:44), and the demons that support his evil agenda.

4. The foreigner, stranger, and alien are not our enemies, just to clarify in case anyone would take that implication from what Wehner wrote. I welcome people to this land of freedom. I also recognize that to assume all cost and responsibility for all these people is one of the least helpful approaches for this nation. At Ellis Island, they wrote down your name, said “Welcome to America,” and on your way you went to fend for yourself. That's how it worked for my grandparents. I don't recall there being boats full of unaccompanied minors coming across the Atlantic, so that situation makes it harder to be welcoming and liberating.

Some evangelicals are taking part of Dobson's full statement out of context and self-righteously condemning him for trying to accurately observe a complicated, difficult situation and find a way forward. That's less of a path toward a solution, and more of a path toward “God, I thank You that I am not like other men” (Luke 18:11).

5. Christian political activists are not running away from our opponents. The most selfish of all responses would be to take the advice of the left and say, “Well, I'm not having an abortion, so I can ignore all this.” No, political and policy activism is one of the ways we in fact do “go toward rather than away from them.”

6. Christian political activism is based on freedom, not fear. Another technique the left uses to marginalize conservative Christian political activism is to accuse them of having motivations based on fear of losing something, and further claiming that something never existed. The more this can painted as fear of “it might all come crashing down around us,” “an existential struggle,” and “on the verge of losing,” the more extreme and threatening Christians can seem to everyone else.

To some of us this is quite foreign. God builds nations. God was working in Israel in Egypt, in the Promised Land, and in the exile. He did great things during each of those periods for the sake of His name and glory. God raised up America, and will only continue to do so as long as we are thankful to Him for that. I don't know of anyone anywhere on any political spectrum who does not think that there was a time in the not-too-distant past when we honored God more than we do today. Rejecting God, His existence, and His relevance is becoming a badge of honor in some places in America. What some may take to mean recovering what has been lost, or making America honor God again, is really simply a matter of making America honor God as she always should, even if that means more than we have before now.

Some Christians today reject political activism on the basis of claiming they deal in “spiritual” issues, not physical or material. The two are not so easily separated. We have an enemy who deals in spiritual evil through physical reality. In abortion, spiritual dehumanizing is physically manifested when real live babies are cut up into pieces with real knives. This is war, and the left recognizes that, even if they don't see the spiritual implications of it. When will we?

For a long time, no one would really fight on these issues. By fight, I mean being willing to become am impenetrable roadblock to an evil agenda. In the 2015 Republican debates, two moments especially stand out making this point. Governor Bobby Jindal took issue with the “surrender caucus.” Senator Rick Santorum indicated his respect for Democrats “because they fight.”

President Trump is done waiting on others. He is taking the fight to the left with or without help from anyone else. The media and the left don't like what he does or what he says. They're going to endlessly beat up on him in every way possible, and rope as many people as possible into their condemnation of him.

Just because the world opposes us does not mean our doing what is right, and recognizing when someone else of influence does something right “comes at a high cost for Christian witness.” We're not here for the approval of men. We're here for God's purposes and we have the hope that He will one day reward our faithfulness to him and honoring Him, including for how we use freedom in our land.

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