Since Donald Trump met with evangelical and social conservative leadership last week I’ve been thinking a lot about the late Chuck Colson’s book God & Government. I reread through some of it over the weekend, and in chapter 22 entitled “Perils of Politics” Colson offers the following quote from the late 20th century conservative political theorist Russell Kirk.
Christian faith may work wonders if it moves the minds and hearts of an increasing number of men and women. But if professed Christians forsake heaven as their destination and come to fancy that the state… may be converted into the terrestrial paradise – why they are less wise men than Marx.
First, I don’t believe those who have endorsed Trump are forsaking heaven as their destination. I want to be clear about that. I do believe there is a danger on the Christian right to lift political activity above the proclamation of the Gospel. Also, there is also a danger that we subvert the Gospel in our political activity.
Today’s enthusiasm for political solutions to the moral problems of our culture arises from a distorted view of both politics and spirituality — too low a view of the power of a sovereign God and too high a view of the ability of man. The idea that human systems, reformed by Christian influence, pave the road to the Kingdom – or at least, to revival – has the same utopian ring that one finds in Marxist literature. It also ignores the consistent lesson of history that laws are most often reformed as a result of powerful spiritual movements. I know of no case where a spiritual movement was achieved by passing laws, (pg. 344).
Colson makes clear in his book numerous times that the church should not engage in partisan activity. He would discourage pastors, from the pulpit or otherwise, from making endorsements. He does make clear that the Church should address moral questions and issues from a biblical worldview and even address how candidates line up to that, but shouldn’t get behind a candidate or party.
Politics, as with any earthly pursuit, comes under the lordship of Jesus Christ. Abraham Kuyper, a Reformed theologian and statesman who was prime minister of the Netherlands from 1901 to 1905, affirmed this in a speech given at the opening of the Free University of Amsterdam, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”
So a Christian’s involvement in politics is not in question. We should be involved. This part of our cultural commission as salt and light. Our involvement should be different however which is why Colson warned against partisan activity.
The Church should never become a voting bloc of a political party, but that is what we in fact have essentially become or at least are seen as being.
Representatives of the kingdom of God must never forget that the transcendence of God’s justice must come before any political entanglement that marries Christianity to a political movement. It becomes easy to understand how this happened because the Republican Party has been far more open and responsive to major concerns of America’s Christian community – abortion, gay “marriage,” human rights, embryo-destructive research, human cloning – than have Democrats. The Democratic Party, sadly in my mind, has almost excluded conservative Christians by its fanatical allegiance to the causes of abortion on demand (including late-term abortion) and, more recently, same-sex “marriage.”
But while it’s understandable that Christians turn to the Republicans who listen to their concerns rather than to Democrats who often don’t, our tendency to do so is both dangerous and unwise.
Tocqueville warned that if the church were to become a mere interest group, it would be measured and honored according to political and not moral criteria. The great strength of the American church, he believed, was that it was not linked to a partisan cause, (pg. 351).
I’ve identified with the Republican Party only in as much as it aligns with my worldview on primary issues of importance for me. I’ve endorsed candidates (even when I was in vocational ministry as a private citizen) when they have been closely aligned with my worldview. I understand the pitfalls that come with that however. It is easy to get defensive about your preferred candidate (guilty!). It is harder to criticize a candidate you’ve backed publicly (also guilty!).
When I refer to an endorsement I mean publicly putting your stamp of approval on a candidate and publicly encourage others to support that candidate’s campaign. In my mind this is not the same as a private vote at the ballot box.
I think we, as Christians – especially those who represent the Church – must be extremely careful who we publicly endorse. As an example in 2012 I made the decision to vote for Mitt Romney, but I was unable to endorse him publicly because of misgivings I had about his record and concerns I had about his worldview.
I was unable to endorse any candidate in Iowa’s 2014 Gubernatorial race, but I did vote in it.
In both instances I did not reveal who I was voting for until after the election and only when I was asked.
I took quite a bit of heat for not publicly supporting the Republican at the top of the ticket.
Colson brings up another point which I think relates to this evangelical meeting with Trump. He warned, “Christian leaders who are courted by political forces may soon begin to overestimate their own importance,” (pg. 351).
He points out the side effect of this:
A side effect of this delusion is that rather than lose their access to political influence, some church leaders have surrendered their independence. “If I speak out against this policy,” the reason, “I won’t get invited to dinner and my chances to minister will be cut off.” While such rationalizing is understandable, the result is exactly the opposite; they keep their place but lose their voice and thus any possibility of holding government to account.
In this way the gospel becomes hostage to the political fortunes of a particular movement, (pg. 352).
Both liberal and conservative Christians, Colson notes, have made the mistake of aligning their spiritual goals with a particular political agenda.
I heard from those who attended that it was an opportunity to influence Trump and minister to Trump. Do you have to support him publicly in order to do this? Do you have to encourage others to vote for him as well? Shouldn’t Christians be doing the same with Hillary Clinton?
I understand the rationale some give for their decision to vote for Trump. What I have to ask Christian leaders who were invited to this meeting (those who publicly opposed Trump were not invited) what line will they draw before they do not publicly endorse a candidate?
Why do they feel the need to endorse? Again, I’m not talking what a person privately decides to do in the ballot box. Every person is going to have to vote his or her own conscience and as believers we shouldn’t be asking ANYONE to ignore their conscience. Publicly endorsing Trump, however, is akin to putting one’s seal of approval on his character, his record, his rhetoric and all that those things entail.
It seems like evangelicals who endorse Trump have put all of those things aside because of promises he has made in terms of the Supreme Court and the Church’s IRS status.
Is this really what we should be doing? How does that impact our witness to a watching world?
Right now it appears the only line that has been draw is that the candidate has an “R” behind their name. If that is the case Christians are nothing more than a special interest voting bloc. We’ve lost our influence and we are no longer representing the Kingdom of God, but are being subservient to the kingdom of man.
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