Like so many, I’ve been thinking about the US election and why it was that Donald Trump and the Republicans came to be elected at this time. One thing about the election is that it makes everyone think about what they really believe and why. In that way there’s a strong correlation between politics and faith, even though, in many ways they are two separate worlds – simply because faith involves much bigger issues and ultimate realities.
There are many theories about this election up-set. One explanation, through the media and otherwise is that the outcome was largely due to the vote of older white males. Yet we all know of many, many people who were younger, female, and people of colour that voted Republican. So, the suggestion that the result was due to the influence of that demographic seems an over-simplification.
Personally, I think the outcome had a lot to do with faith in more ways than one. That may seem ironic considering Trump’s contemptuous expressions at some points and his rather obvious character flaws. But it seems many evangelicals supported him despite their disdain for Trump’s personal life. How could this happen?
In my view, it’s possible that the outcome was a result of a desire for more conservative values as reflected in much evangelical thinking. It is true that some elements of evangelicalism lend themselves to such values, but there are many people who are conservative who are not particularly evangelical. Trump is definitely not an evangelical in the traditional understanding of what that means, but he does represent some conservative values that many evangelicals also believe. Unfortunately, and sadly, he has expressed them in rather extreme and often offensive ways, both to God and to people. So why was it that evangelicals would vote for someone like him? I think the answer is based on the historical relationship between conservative values and evangelicalism?
Evangelicals, traditionally, are people who believe in the evangel, the Gospel – which is essentially about Jesus’ death and resurrection for our sins. Evangelicalism affirms the deity of Christ, the authority of Scripture, the importance of the new birth through faith in Christ which comes entirely by grace, not by works, etc. It also affirms that Jesus will ultimately return to judge the world and to establish an eternal kingdom based on his righteousness.
Traditionally, evangelicals have also believed in God’s creation of the world, the entrance of sin and evil because of Adam’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden, and the significance of the history of Israel to bring about the coming of Jesus and its ultimate recognition of his salvation. Evangelicals believe in the uniqueness of the message of the Gospel and that salvation is only possible through faith in Jesus. This means that evangelicals have always been missionary-minded in the sense of care for all people and a concern that they come to know God through faith in Christ.
Some other corollaries of evangelical faith have often included the value of human life and dignity, individual freedom of choice and personal responsibility, the importance of faith toward God and the value of the church, a sense of stewardship of the gifts we’ve been given, and the significance of marriage and the family (including sexual fidelity) – all based on the authority of Scripture. They have also believed in the defence of these blessings and privileges when they seem threatened.
Obviously, it could be shown that Democrats also share many of the same values. In other words, it’s quite possible to show that democratic beliefs are also upheld by a wide range of Christian beliefs. While, no doubt, there may be many cases of conservatives who are atheistic, so it could be shown that there are many instances of Democrats who have a strong faith in God and are evangelical in their thinking.
For example, a strong evangelical value that Democrats champion is that every person has equal value in the sight of God and should have equal opportunity. Democrats also, strongly believe, that we should be good stewards of the resources and the world that God has given us to live in. Another biblical value held by Democrats is God’s special concern for the widow, the fatherless and the poor. Traditionally, Democrats have had a strong sense of social justice and then mission with that purpose in mind. Many look to Jesus as one who demonstrated this kind of love in his incarnation, in the manner of his mission, and in his crucifixion. As Christ demonstrated forgiveness, so it is, Democrats would emphasize, that we should offer forgiveness to those who offend against us. It is for these reasons that Democrats, classically, are against any hint of discrimination toward others — which is one reason why Democrats found Donald Trump so offensive.
Thus it is evident that there is much in either philosophy that has strong biblical support. These political ideologies classically overlap in biblical Christianity. And that is an important reason why churches are wrong to champion one political philosophy over another. Either ideology, taken to an extreme, is sure to be a problem. Each needs the corrective that consistent biblical teaching of the “whole counsel of God” is able to provide. It likely also explains why popular politics shifts from one to the other, and why Christians, including evangelicals, may often champion one or the other.
It’s also important to recognize that no government or leader will be perfect in the way they represent one ideology or the other. Leaders and governments will typically be inconsistent in how they tend to apply their respective ideologies, especially in relation to Scripture. It seems to me that each does best when they base their ideology on the heart of the Gospel message which concerns God’s absolute justice and mercy through the death and resurrection of Christ.