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?”
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