Did My Church Just Elect a Racist?

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As the election closed last week, political commentator Van Jones, tearfully and powerfully named the results of the election a “Whitelash.”

In the coming days, a media narrative began to take shape. Eight out of ten evangelicals voted for Trump—and they came out in record numbers.

Some have been quick to distance themselves, even disavowing the title “evangelical.” Skye Jethani, formerly of Christianity Today sums up his feelings this way:

In the past, I willingly accepted your name as my own. I even worked for your flagship magazine. More recently I have avoided you because of your political and cultural baggage, but I’ve not objected when others identified me with you because your heritage was worth retaining. That passive acceptance is over now. What was admirable about your name has been buried, crushed under the weight of 60 million votes. I am no less committed to Christ, his gospel, and his church, but I can no longer be called an evangelical. Farewell, evangelicalism.

So, can we blame evangelicals for just electing Trump? What do people mean when they say that.

Thinking About Who Voted (And Didn’t)

“Evangelicalism” and its complicated relationship with politics is not a new issue. It has been tied to the American identity since the Great Awakening proclaimed the colonies to be a “city on a hill.” It has been connected deeply to right-wing politics over the last few decades.

But who gets counted when pollsters describe “evangelicals?”

But who gets counted when pollsters describe 'evangelicals?' Click To Tweet

People Who Voted

It sounds obvious, but it has to be taken into account: the only Evangelicals that pollsters can count are voting evangelicals. There is an ancient tradition of the Church distancing herself from the state. It goes back all the way to Jesus teaching that his followers should not take an oath. Taking his words literally, this led the early Church to withdraw from organizations that promoted Emperor worship and the Roman military. This stance was revived by the Anabaptist tradition, who tend to separate themselves from the larger culture, but specifically, any part that condones violence, such as the military or police force. More recently, neo-Anabaptist voices, such as Greg Boyd, have articulated their reasons for not voting.

People Who Voted for President

Just because someone voted doesn’t mean they voted for President. With the two most disliked candidates of all time running for President, many chose to avoid the question altogether and stayed away from the polls. Yet others see voting as a locally-incarnational priority. Because of their commitment to being involved in the life of their neighborhood, some chose not to vote for President but to vote for school board elections, judges and local initiatives.

People Who Call Themselves “Evangelical”

Any story about “how Evangelicals vote” is shaped by the pollsters definition of an evangelical. “Evangelical” is a category described by the pollster and self-reported. They may use questions like “how often do you go to church?” or “Are you born-again?” So, when a pollster labels someone an evangelical, it must remembered that the person being polled self-identified as an evangelical.

Calling yourself “evangelical” does not necessarily mean that this person regularly attends a church in the tradition of John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards and Billy Graham. It does not mean this person agrees with the Lausanne Covenant or even knows what it is. It does not mean that this person is in a discipling relationship to become more like Jesus.

All it means is that you self-identify to the pollster, for whatever reason, as “evangelical”.

Why Did “Evangelicals” Vote for a Bigot?

When you listen to many of the things said on the campaign trail and throughout the very public life of the President-elect, it’s easy to label him as a bigot. He has openly mocked the disabled. He has described Mexicans as racists. He has bragged about sexual assault. He wants to register people in a way that hasn’t been done in America since World War II. He has given high ranking jobs to men who are outspoken racists.

People voted for him anyway. Four out of five people who told pollsters that they are an “Evangelical” voted for him in spite this behavior.

This does not necessarily mean that evangelicals voted for him because he is a bigot. It does mean that they voted for him in spite of bigoted language, behavior and policy suggestions.

An “Evangelical” is not necessarily a bigot, but 4 out of 5 of those who identify as Evangelical voted to empower a bigot.

An 'Evangelical' isn't necessarily a bigot, but 4 out of 5 voted to empower a bigot. Click To Tweet

There are a lot of reasons someone might have voted for Trump that have nothing to do with bigotry. And some of these reasons were so important to people because of their faith in Jesus and what they felt it required of them. However, in this case, Evangelicals must clearly answer why these reasons matter so much to them that they would choose to empower this man who has unapologetically spoken hatred.

People can and should be held accountable for how they chose to vote. These Evangelicals must be held accountable in light of the teaching of Jesus and their own historical tradition.

They need to answer questions like:

  • “You did not vote for Trump, so much as ‘against Hillary.’ In light of the things he has said and the policies he has suggested, and in light of the teachings of Jesus, how do you justify this vote?”
  • “You voted for Trump because of his promises regarding the Supreme Court and abortion. In light of the things he has said and the policies he has suggested, and in light of the teachings of Jesus, how do you justify this vote?”
  • “You voted for Trump because of his economic policies. In light of the things he has said and the policies he has suggested, and in light of the teachings of Jesus, how do you justify this vote?”
In light of Trumps words & in light of the teachings of Jesus, how do you justify your vote? Click To Tweet

The Answer is Evangelism, Not Evangelicalism

Over the past few decades, as Evangelicals have become more political, many in America have grown to distrust them. The fallout of this election shows that this distrust is not just among non-Christians or Mainline Christians, it can be found everywhere.

Some are quick to disavow Evangelicalism. Others are even calling for a divorce.

For some, this may be necessary. But it fails to address what the Bible teaches is the problem.

Scripture teaches that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Racism is a sin. Sexism is a sin. Persecuting minorities is a sin. Hate language is a sin.

Scripture also teaches that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Finally, Jesus commanded us to make disciples. To baptize people and teach them to do everything that Jesus said.

Evangelicalism has a problem, but it’s not the problem. Sin is the problem, and evangelism is the answer.

By that I don’t mean angry guys with bullhorns yelling on a street corner. I don’t mean high pressure door knocking. I don’t mean altar calls. I don’t mean handing out tracts.

I mean going into places where people do not know Jesus or act like Jesus and proclaiming the Good News. The news that Jesus is King. Being on the side of King Jesus always means being on the side of the hurting, the endangered and the oppressed. Being on the side of King Jesus means being willing to change everything—even your politics—if it makes you more like the King.

If you are a Jesus follower and you are frustrated about the election results, start evangelizing. Tell people—even other Christians—the good news about what it means to make Jesus your King. Start communities dedicated to helping each other submit to Jesus.

Don’t blame the Evangelicals. Instead, spread Good News.

If you are a Jesus follower frustrated about the election results, start evangelizing. Click To Tweet
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3 responses to “Did My Church Just Elect a Racist?

  1. So as I read this a couple things come to mind… First and foremost is you seem to be trying to provide justification for why someone would support the current President-elect. The Christian-right’s continued willingness to take this stance is most assuredly one of the significant reasons why our country now sees the highest positions in government being filled by people exactly like the President-elect. So why voices like yours continue to try to justify this are baffling to me.

    Second, you very accurately state that everyone is a sinner. You seem to be listing the sins that the President-elect is guilty of living out in the eyes of everyone that has been paying any attention the last 18 months (sexism, racism persecution and hate), and appears will be continuing to living out for months or years to come. Again you seem to be using the “everyone is a sinner, everyone is broken” argument to justify his sin, and the you add to that that Christ died for us all. You seem to be missing one EXTREMELY important component of this. God’s grace and forgiveness comes with a cost, and that cost is to ask for it. Meanwhile the President-elect you appear to be defending has said on camera when asked if he has asked for God’s forgiveness that “I am not sure I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don’t think so,” he said. “I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t.” Really? The word “I” seems to be the center component of that entire answer, not “Him”. That is the model you support for how to “evangelizing”?

    Finally, as for “Evangelicals” voting for a bigot, racist, misogynistic, xenophobe, egotist… You seem to be completely on board with that, though there doesn’t seem to be any reason given as to why you would support that. At no point does/did the President-elect reference God in his life or in his plans for how he was going to “Make America great again”. And yet there was a candidate that continually leaned into her faith, quoted her faith, and provided examples of how her faith shaped her compassion and care for “the least of these”. Oh but wait she believes that “Christianity” and “Christian beliefs” should not be forced into people’s lives. She believes that every woman has the right to make decisions about her body and the flesh of her flesh in a manner that reflects her beliefs. However, “Christians” just can’t seem to accept that. They can accept a man who is a multiple case adulterer, a multiple divorcee, an open bigot to pretty much every demographic that isn’t white and male, a purveyor of hate speech just so long as he is against gay marriage and abortion.

    This is the hypocrisy the non-believers look into “Christianity” and see. The Christian willingness to rank sins. Some are worse than others and are worth fighting against. Meanwhile others, mostly the ones that they themselves might be guilty, are not equally worth the effort to shine the light on. Christ says that is God’s eyes all sin is equal, which means that 4 out of 5 “Christians” that voted for the current President-elect should have looked at the long list of sins he is self-admitted to being guilty of and said no, I cannot support that. Instead they looked at that, and through an amazing amount of mental gymnastics were convinced by voices, just like yours here, that the end justified the means.

    Your and 4 out of 5 voting “Christian’s” use of religion as justification for why you supported the most divisive, vitriol filled, hateful, candidate for President this country has ever known is exactly why I echo the amazing words of Skye Jethani, I am now unable to self identify as an Evangelical. I will continue to be a follower of Christ, but my belief in Christ’s words and God’s love will not allow me to associate with your version of “religion” any longer. The Pharisees have nothing on the current “Christian” establishment and you should all be ashamed.

    I leave you with this:
    Isaiah 5:20 Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.

    1. Hi Andy,

      I’ve read your response a few times, and honestly, I’m having trouble getting the gist of what you’re saying. Sorry!

      Rest assured: I am not “excusing” anyone for voting for Trump. What I am trying to do is steer away from the “racist white Christians voted for Trump.” This is undoubtedly part of the story, but many people voted for him don’t see it that way. They believed their voting (or not voting) was important.

      What I’m encouraging people to do is explain is how they can follow the teachings of Jesus, and still vote for someone who has said and done the things he’s done. That is a task that (in my opinion) seems avoided or unfulfilled his Evangelical supporters.

      In other words, as our friend Geoff Holsclaw has said “I believe you are not racist. But how will you combat hate?” http://wpo.st/xt0G2

      Hope that helps.


      1. Chris,
        Hello and thank you for not only taking the time to read my comment, but also respond to it. Let me see if I can clarify what I am trying to say… I, like you, don’t believe that there was a significant “racist white Christian vote[d] for Trump.” I believe there was some of that, and I hope we can agree that was clearly evident by many comments captured from the President-elect’s supporters during the campaign. However, I lean to being hopeful that was a significantly small minority of the “white Christian” vote that the President-elect captured.

        However, what concerns me is the rest of the non-racist white Christian vote. The people that looked across the landscape that is the President-elect and said you know what, I know he is an adulterer that has not demonstrated remorse or repentance for those action, in fact he exhibits pride in them. I know he has been divorced twice, as a result of said adultery, I know he lies more than 80% of the time. I know he has multiple times admitted to actions that can be considered sexual assault. I know he has been proven to be, and even admitted, to being racist, sexist, xenophobic, and bigoted. I know he curses on TV. I know he calls for violence against those who disagree with him. I know he cheats those that work for him. And I know that he has stated he doesn’t need God’s grace or forgiveness and in fact that he really doesn’t consider God in his thought processes. I know all that, but as a “Christian” I am going to vote for him anyway.

        With that list of negatives what possible reason could “Christians” have to vote for him? He has demonstrated no willingness to support religious freedoms. Through the entire campaign he was obviously conning the “Christian” vote. So what possible reason could any “Christian” leader or follower have to support him? After giving this much thought the only thing I or anyone I have discussed this with can come up with is “Christians” are willing to over look all of that other stuff, just so they can win on abortion and gay marriage. There is nothing else in the entire Republican platform as it was presented this year that any “Christian” should be willing to get behind.

        So my point in this is how petty have “Christians” become when the only thing they are willing to consider when voting is the candidate’s opinion on abortion and gay marriage? They are so wanting to force “Christianity” down people’s throats that they feel the need to legislate it, and are going to overlook every other teaching of Christ in order to win that battle…

        That is who I think voted for the President-elect. The “Christian” vote wasn’t driven by racism or sexism or xenophobia or bigotry, but rather in spite of it… It was driven by hate and persecution of those who don’t willing choose to follow Christ. And seemingly the only answer the conservative “Christian” right has for that is change the Supreme Court so their beliefs can be the law of the land. To be honest I would rather they voted for him because they were racist.

        I don’t know if that helps, but in a small way this conversation is therapeutic for me as I wrestle with understanding of the direction of “Christianity” verses the direction of my relationship with Christ. 🙂

        Thank you,

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