WILL THE EVANGELICAL CENTER REMAIN SILENT AGAIN IN 2020?

In September, 2016, I talked with a very prominent evangelical leader whom I deeply respect He told me that he did not know anyone on his huge board of directors of more than 50 prominent evangelical leaders who supported Donald Trump for president. But—except for a very few courageous evangelicals like Russell Moore, Michael Gerson and Max Lucado—they did not have the courage to speak out publicly. 

 And their people voted for Trump! 81% of white evangelicals supported Donald Trump on November 8, 2016.

Already in 2016, we knew that Donald Trump lied regularly and made frequent racist and sexist statements. We already knew that Trump lived a sexual life  that was fundamentally contrary to biblical ethics. Today, four years later, the evidence is much more abundant and clear.

The president has referred to Haiti and certain African nations as “shit-hole countries.” He has called Mexicans seeking asylum “rapists.” Instead of condemning the white nationalist and Nazi sympathizers in the Charlottesville, Virginia, 2017 march, President Trump insisted there were fine people on “both sides.” The Washington Post reported in January 20, 2020 that President Trump had made 16,200 false or misleading claims since becoming president. Long-time Republican Peter Wehner labels President Trump a “compulsive liar”. President Trump denounces journalists’ stories he does not like  as fake news. He denies the overwhelming scientific consensus on global warming. No democracy can thrive  (or even survive) if its political leaders reject the distinction between truth and falsehood and refuse to base their policy decisions on the best knowledge available.

At least as troublesome as his personal immoral behavior is his long list of public policies that are both dangerously wrong and fundamentally unjust by biblical standards.

In spite of the ever stronger scientific consensus that global warming will produce  devastating climate change unless the world rapidly reduces carbon emissions, President Trump has  pulled the United States out of the 2015 Paris Agreement , thus  substantially stalling the essential changes we must make if our children and grandchildren are to inherit a livable planet.

President Trump’s much vaunted tax bill gave the vast amount of its benefits to the richest Americans. Trump’s tax bill increased the already dangerously unequal distribution of wealth and income in the United States. The richest 1% of Americans own more wealth than the bottom 80%.

At the same time, President Trump has repeatedly moved to cut effective programs to empower poor people here and abroad--thus ignoring the central biblical teaching that God demands justice for all, especially the poor.  Trump has slashed foreign aid designed to help poor nations overcome poverty. His proposed 2021 budget contains deep cuts in student loan assistance, affordable housing programs, food stamps, and Medicaid (healthcare for poor Americans).

Healthcare for all is a central part of any biblically informed pro-life agenda. Careful studies show that people without health insurance fail to seek medical attention as soon as they should and, as a result, die younger.  But President Trump has done all he could to attack, weaken, and destroy the Affordable Care Act of 2010 which provided health insurance to about 20 million more Americans and reduced the number of uninsured Americans to the smallest number in modern history

One of the central biblical teachings is that God and God’s people must have a special concern for the “sojourner” and  “alien” (eg, Deuteronomy 10:17-19).That means the immigrant! But President Trump has slashed the number of people admitted as refugees to the lowest point in many decades. His policies have separated thousands of children from their parents at the border – – causing agony and lifelong psychological damage. 

What about President Trump’s “America first” agenda? And the idea that America is a Christian nation with a special relationship to God that no other nation has? The Bible teaches that every person of every nation is made in the image of God and loved equally by God. God cares equally about every nation. For the biblical Christian, any politician who places the well-being of Americans above all else is flatly violating central biblical teaching.

 Instead of urging his followers to embrace the biblical view that all persons are created in the image of God and are equally loved by God, President Trump has blatantly stoked racist attitudes and failed to condemn the dangerous growing movement of militant white nationalism.

Clearly President Trump lies constantly, encourages white racists, models sexual immorality, and ignores factual, scientific knowledge. His policies in numerous areas – – the environment, immigration, economic justice, taxes, policies that empower the poor, racial justice – – violate fundamental biblical norms. And his vision of “America first” approaches idolatry.

So what should evangelicals  do?

In 2008,  an important book  was published showing that in the years around 2000, an  evangelical center had emerged.  This  evangelical center  rejected a narrow focus primarily on just abortion and marriage and instead adopted a much broader agenda that included abortion and marriage but also embraced a concern to end racism, promote economic justice, environmental concerns and immigration reform. Composing this new evangelical center  were evangelical organizations like Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, Christianity Today, Evangelicals for Social Action, evangelical relief and development agencies like World Vision and Compassion, International Justice Mission, Black and Hispanic evangelicals and mega-church pastors like Rick Warren.

Perhaps the best single illustration of this new evangelical center was the official public policy document, FOR THE HEALTH OF THE NATION unanimously adopted by the huge board of the National Association of Evangelicals. (The NAE represents the largest evangelical network in the United States. Most evangelical denominations – – Reformed, Wesleyan, Pentecostal – – are members. And many heads of those denominations serve on its board. You can find their statement at:NAE.net/forthehealth.)  

 In the section on the “Method for Christian Civic Engagement”, the document insists that “faithful evangelical civic engagement and witness must champion a biblically balanced agenda” (p. 13) . “The Bible makes clear that God cares a great deal about the well-being of marriage and family, the sanctity of human life, justice for the poor, human rights, care for creation, peace, religious freedom and racial justice” (p. 13). Then it goes on to develop eight different issues in the section  called “Principles of Christian Political Engagement” that are necessary for a “biblically balanced agenda”. They are: religious liberty, the sanctity of human life (abortion and euthanasia), marriage, justice and compassion for the poor, human rights, racial justice, peace, and care for creation.

This consensus evangelical document insists that faithful evangelical engagement must be based on “the best available factual information”( p. 12). It also rejects an “America first” agenda, insisting that “we must advocate for policies that offer the most potential for creating the conditions of human flourishing, not only for Americans, but also for all those in the human community” ( p. 18). That means that “the reduction of global poverty should be a central concern of American foreign-policy” (p. 34).

We must “welcome refugees and others who seek protection and opportunity within our nation” ( pp. 18-19). “Immigration policies should prioritize family unity and avoid separating families by deportation or detention” (p.  34).

The document also calls Christians to “reject white supremacy” ( p. 42). 

“God identifies with the poor… (p.46)… God measures societies by how they treat the vulnerable and powerless” (p. 33).

Both by his words and his policies, Donald Trump contradicts and violates many of the biblical principles and concrete applications of this consensus document of the most representative evangelical organization in the United States. In spite of that, 81% of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump and the vast majority still support him. And with a few notable exceptions, the white evangelical leaders of the evangelical center still remain largely silent.

So what should they do?

I do NOT think that evangelical pastors and denominational leaders should tell their people not to vote for Donald Trump. I do NOT want evangelical pastors and denominational leaders to tell their people who to vote for in 2020.  

 But what they must do, if they do not want to repeat their timid, unfaithful silence of 2016, is  to clearly and publicly call their people to support the candidate who embraces an agenda that comes closer, on balance, than other candidates,  to reflecting a “biblically balanced agenda.” “One-issue” voting contradicts the consensus public policy document of the evangelical center. 

I believe a major test of biblical fidelity and courageous leadership  in 2020 will be whether  this large body of evangelical leaders in the center will dare to break their silence. Will they dare to say, clearly  and publicly, that biblical Christians must demand truth and submission to the “best factual information” – – including that on global warming? Will they dare to say that biblical faith demands a commitment not only to defend the sanctity of human life and religious freedom, but also to oppose racism and white supremacy, promote economic justice for the poor, welcome refugees, work for peace and care for creation?

My hope and prayer is that the leaders of the evangelical center will have the courage in 2020, clearly and publicly, to call their people to use their own official public policy document to decide how to vote in 2020.

This blog is a summary of my chapter in the book I edited, THE SPIRITUAL DANGER OF DONALD TRUMP: 30 EVANGELICAL CHRISTIANS ON JUSTICE TRUTH AND MORAL INTEGRITY. It is now available on Amazon and from the publisher.  For a 50% discount, go to www.wipfandstock.com and use the coupon DANGER50.  Order several copies and give them to your pastor and friends who need to hear this message!

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