Pastor’s Note #67 — An Evangelical Pastor’s Concerns about Donald Trump’s Effect on the Spiritual Life of Christians
In my judgment, this is an almost impossibly difficult presidential election for American Christian voters. I do not believe there is any clearly acceptable candidate for Christian voters to support in 2016. Christian voters can in good faith make different decisions about which candidate to vote for. But as I have observed this election season play itself out down to these last few days before election day, I have come to the conclusion that both major candidates are pouring darkness and evil into our culture, and I believe that Christian’s need to keep a close watch on their souls lest we be swept up into this descent into the pit toward which both major candidates are dragging us.
I write as a theologically conservative Christian. In years past, I have been happy to refer to myself as an “evangelical,” but that label has become very complicated in recent years and has acquired political baggage that I prefer not to carry. Still, as I say, I write as someone who affirms an evangelical theological creed. And I write now primarily to theologically conservative Christians.
I write also as a pastor concerned for the spiritual well-being of the people of God. I’ve found myself becoming increasingly distressed by the spiritually destructive tone of this campaign. The ways in which I have seen some of my evangelical colleague unequally yoke themselves to Donald Trump and his candidacy have, I believe, opened doorways for spiritually unhealthy and un-Christ-like attitudes and approaches to life.
I am in no way a supporter of Hillary Clinton. I do not believe that Hillary Clinton would be a good president for the United States, and I do not encourage anyone to vote for her. I believe that Hillary Clinton will attempt to advance political and social goals that will not be good for our country. I believe that Donald Trump will also advance political and social goals that will not be good for our country, but I also believe that his candidacy and campaign pose a very real danger the hearts and souls of Christian people.
The way some segments of the evangelical community have embraced the Trump candidacy troubles me deeply. Many will argue that they support Mr. Trump’s policies but do not condone many aspects of his personality or character. That is a distinction that sounds tidy but is, I believe, impossible to maintain. Ultimately, his policy positions are thoroughly infused with his personal character. Mr. Trump’s campaign is really far more about his personality and character and about his positions. To those who support his candidacy, I feel compelled to issue a pastoral warning. Guard your hearts. Win or lose, Mr. Trump’s campaign has modeled some very dangerous vices that no disciple of Jesus should ever want to have in his or her heart.
Guard your heart from the risk of placing your hope in the wrong things. Biblically speaking, this is idolatry. The belief that the only hope for America is to elect the “right” person to the presidency is idolatry. I have cringed to hear prominent evangelicals insist that America is doomed unless somehow we can get this or that candidate elected to office. Behind that insistence is the idolatrous belief that the path to hope is to be found in the acquisition of political power.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we will trust in the Lord our God.” Psalm 20:7 [NIV]
Political power can easily become an idol to us. People sell their souls for the pottage of political power. That’s idolatry. If your hope for the future depends on who gets elected to the White House, then you have an idol.
Mr. Trump has explicitly stated that his philosophy of life is that one should help one’s friends and hurt one’s enemies. He has repeated modeled this behavior in his rallies, urging his supporters to violently assault anyone who opposes them. Christians must never allow such an approach to life to have any place in their lives. It is in direct opposition to you Lord Jesus. Vote for Mr. Trump, if you must, but do not allow yourself to hate anyone. Do not allow yourself to seek revenge on anyone. Do not allow your heart to harbor resentment toward anyone, no matter how offended you may be by them. Do not allow Mr. Trump’s treatment of those who oppose him to become your model. If you do, you will find yourself in opposition to your Lord Jesus. “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Matthew 5:44-45 [NIV]
Winning is more important than principles.
The most repeated insult used by Mr. Trump to dismiss his opponents must surely be that they are “losers.” For Mr. Trump, it seems, the world is divided into winners and losers. Nothing matters so much as winning, and nothing can be worse than losing. If winning is everything, then nothing can be allowed to get in the way of winning – nothing – certainly not principles and values.
But in the economy of God, principles, truth, and faithfulness to the heart of God is all-important. If holding to my principles and the truth of God causes me to lose, then so be it. I lose. Winning is not all-important in the economy of God. The martyrs of the faith demonstrate that truth to this day. In the world’s eyes, they are “losers.” I gladly cast my lot with them. Mr. Trump can have this world’s winners.
A World of “Us” and “Them”
If winning is all-important, then it is essential that the world be divided into winners and losers. I have to make sure that I and my “friends” win and that my opponents and “enemies” lose. If someone doesn’t help me win or if they oppose me, then that person becomes my enemy – that person becomes one of “them.” The world must be divided. There must be “us” and “them.” If there are to be “winners,” there must be “losers.” Otherwise, how could we know that we are winners. The world must be divided.
The gospel calls us to draw all people to Christ. In Christ, there are not Americans and others. There are just people. We must be on guard not to allow this “us” and “them” thinking to invade the life and mission of the church. The gospel calls us to reach out to all, to always bless all, to always welcome all. All are sinners before God; all are equally in need of Christ. No dividing. Only welcoming all in Christ. Love does not divide. Christ does not divide. We must not divide into “us” and “them.”
These are just a few areas in which we must be careful to watch our hearts. Vote for whomever you must, but be on your guard. “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:8 [NIV] No, I’m not saying that Mr. Trump is the devil. The devil is the devil, but the devil will use whatever and whomever he can to devour us. Watch your hearts.
©2016 Gary A. Chorpenning; all rights reserved.