Recently, I have felt a clear call (from God I believe) to pray for the evangelical leaders who vigorously and publicly support President Trump.
No, I have not changed my mind about Trump. I continue to be astounded and deeply saddened that so many evangelical leaders support him. More of that in a bit. (Of course, it is also important to remember that it is not just white evangelicals who support Trump. In 2016, over 50% of white Catholics and over 50% of white “mainline” Protestants also voted for Trump.)
But I feel called to wrestle in a new way with the fact that Trump’s supporters are brothers and sisters in Christ. They are part of Christ’s one body – – whose loving unity, Jesus said, would convince the world that he came from the Father (John 17:21-23). Sadly, the world does not see much loving unity demonstrated between evangelicals like myself and pro-Trump evangelicals.
Shortly after Mark Galli, Christianity Today’s’ senior editor, published his amazing call for Trump’s removal from office on December 19, , about 200 prominent pro-Trump evangelicals published a piece attacking Christianity Today, saying why they support the president.
I think they are profoundly wrong. But these are my brothers and sisters in Christ. I assume they love my Lord Jesus as much as I do.
A few of the signers I know well. I have worked with them on important kingdom projects. I am certain their deepest desire is to be faithful disciples of Christ. I’m sure the same is true of other signers like Robert Jeffress, pastor of the huge first Baptist Church of Dallas and George Wood, a prominent leader in the Assemblies of God. I choose to believe the same of all those who signed that letter.
It is still true that I simply cannot understand how these brothers and sisters in Christ can endorse someone like Donald Trump. Another evangelical friend (and prominent Republican leader for decades) Peter Wehner, calls Christians to reject a man who boasts of sexual infidelity, lies constantly, promotes racism and “dehumanizes his political opponents, women and the weak” (The Death of Politics, 80).
So what do we do?
Well, first of all I want to pray in a new way. I hope to pray that God forgives and corrects any arrogance that leads me to quickly dismiss rather than listen honestly to ideas that are different from mine. I intend to ask God to help me love Trump’s Christian supporters. I also want to listen carefully to the reasons they give for supporting Trump. (President Trump has, for example, done some things that will probably help protect religious freedom and the unborn.)
But we also must find ways to talk and listen to each other across the huge disagreements that divide us.
In his book The Death of Politics, Wehner outlines how perilous our current political situation is. The political parties are more polarized than they have been in more than a century, refusing to compromise to make progress on major urgent problems facing the country. Each side listens to its own news sources. The very idea of objective truth is disappearing. Wehner is right that the future of American democracy is bleak unless the American people can learn again to listen to each other, respect people who disagree with them, accept that objective facts exist, and agree to compromise in order to find acceptable next steps to solving urgent problems. That will require honest persistent listening by people who disagree deeply. Tragically that is not happening much in the current political climate.
It seems to me that the church should be the best place for modeling that kind of respectful listening and dialogue. Christians know that Jesus should be Lord of every part of our lives, including our politics. Christians know that our oneness in Christ’s one body is far more important than political disagreements. Christians remember that our Lord prayed that the loving unity of his disciples would be so visible that the world would believe. Today, tragically, our harsh disagreement and unfaithfulness make many turn away in disgust.
So how concretely should we change?
By all means let’s ask God to help us pray for and learn to genuinely love those with whom we deeply disagree.
But I also have a concrete suggestion for the next nine months before the November elections. I wish each congregation would organize one or more dialogue groups in the church to have an open honest discussion about the political issues and candidates. I would hope these groups would meet at least twice a month through October.
Several rules would be important: The basic goal must be to evaluate political platforms and candidates on the basis of biblical norms. Every person will be listened to carefully and have genuine opportunity to speak. Every effort will be made to transcend hyper-partisan “news” and honestly search for and submit to the best available facts and scientific data.
Every discussion group must have a good mix with roughly equal numbers of Republicans, Democrats and Independents. If almost everyone in your congregation is a Republican or a Democrat or an Independent, then reach out to one or two other congregations with a different political membership. Then together establish one or several discussion groups with the proper political mix.
I imagine my proposal sounds utopian and unworkable. But remember that our democracy will not survive unless we rediscover this kind of honest dialogue. And that certainly is not happening in the political world today.
But surely Christians who remember our most basic beliefs about the Lordship of Christ and the oneness of Christ’s body should be a more promising place for this kind of honest listening than any other place in our dangerously divided political world.
If we could do this in the church in large numbers, the model would begin to permeate the larger society. Just maybe, we could preserve a working democracy for our children. Even more important, a dangerously divided world might begin to ask: How is it possible that those Christians can talk respectfully and honestly about deep political disagreements? In response, we could say it is because we love and seek to follow Jesus more than political parties and agendas.
So I intend to pray in a new way for President Trump and his evangelical supporters. I also intend to ask God to open a door for me personally to be engaged in the kind of dialogue which I just proposed.
One final suggestion. Take this proposal to your pastor and encourage him or her to take the lead in developing that kind of group in your church.
Encourage your friends to join my free blog at :https://ronsiderblog.substack.com