Thursday, August 17, 2017

Christian Columnist: "Evangelicals, and Their Leaders, are Tools of the Trump Presidency"

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Peter Wehner, who writes op-ed pieces for The New York Times (and other publications), says evangelical leaders like Franklin Graham, Eric Metaxes, Jerry Falwell Jr., Pastor Robert Jeffress, James Dobson and others "are effectively blessing a leader who has acted in ways that are fundamentally incompatible with a Christian ethic."

And that evangelicals are "tools of the Trump presidency."

I wouldn't care what he thinks, except that pastors, some of whom I know, are posting his thoughts on social media in affirmation to their congregations.

Let's take a closer look at what he is actually saying.

Peter Wehner writes for the NYT and for other publications. He claims to be an evangelical Christian.

He was asked to write this for Religion News Services as a guest op-ed feature.

I have inserted my own questions and comments throughout his article, hoping pastor friends and others, will give the piece a closer look before becoming an advocate.

Evangelicals, Trump and the Politics of Redemption

Peter Wehner

(RNS) — We’re at a hinge moment in the public witness of American Christianity.
The evangelical Christian movement in America is being compromised and discredited by the way prominent leaders have associated themselves with, first, the Donald J. Trump campaign and now, the Trump presidency. If this is allowed to define evangelical attitudes toward political power, the public witness of Christianity will be undermined in durable ways.
I say this recognizing that the last election involved difficult choices upon which reasonable and well-intentioned people disagreed. I understand the argument of those who believed that Mr. Trump was the better of two bad options, whose policies would do less damage to the country than Hillary Clinton’s.

He's right. Many of us evangelicals began the presidential campaign supporting someone other than Trump.

He's also right that many saw the general election as a choice between the lessor of two evils---and many religious Left who voted "against" Trump, for Hillary, reminded evangelicals that the "lessor of two evils is still evil," but failed to point out the long term consequences of this last election.

The most significant long term consequence would be appointments to the Supreme Court. One has been made, more will come during the next 4 to 8 years.

Had Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama had the opportunity, does any evangelical believe they would have chosen Neil Gorsuch? Or anyone like him?

Nor would Mike Pence, a proven effective politician, solid evangelical and conservative be Vice President.

A presidency lasts 8 years at most, an appointment to the Supreme Court---and other courts, can last several decades. And the High Court---rightly or wrongly, defines the moral path this nation will take.

But the worry is that now that the election is over and there is no binary Trump-Clinton choice, many evangelical Christians have lost the capacity to hold the president accountable when he transgresses norms, violates principles and acts in malicious ways. In fact, they have become among his most prominent and reliable public defenders.
Either by their public defense of Trump or their self-indicting silence, certain prominent evangelicals — including Franklin Graham, Eric Metaxas, Jerry Falwell Jr., Robert Jeffress, Ralph Reed and James Dobson — are effectively blessing a leader who has acted in ways that are fundamentally incompatible with a Christian ethic.
The same qualities that Mr. Trump showed during the campaign have continued in his presidency. He lies pathologically. Mr. Trump exhibits crude and cruel behavior, relishes humiliating those over whom he has power and dehumanizes his political opponents, women and the weak. He is indifferent to objective truth, trades in conspiracy theories and exploits the darker impulses of the public. His style of politics is characterized by stoking anger and grievances rather than demonstrating empathy and justice.
Evangelical Trump supporters aren’t responsible for the character flaws and ethical failures of the president. But by their refusal to confront those flaws and failures, they are complicit in the debasement of American culture and politics. Even more painful, they are presenting a warped and disfigured view of Christianity to the world.

"Now that the election is over many evangelicals have lost the ability to hold the president accountable," supposes that we evangelicals are winking at, or turning our heads at the indiscretions, comments, flaws and failures. And it assumes evangelicals are sitting silently by.

I know for a fact that some of the men listed above as "blessing a person who is incompatible with Christian ethic" are in fact not blessing his behavior, as Wehner suggests, but in fact are privately counseling the president on spiritual matters and personally praying for, and with him---even laying hands on him. And it is not on occasion, but regularly. So they are not actually complicit in the debasement of American culture and politics---except in the eyes of those who wish to make it so.

Those of us who do not have personal access to the president pray for him. Prayer doesn't equate to affirmation of behavior.

However, there is no question of the complicity in knowingly voting for a presidential candidate who has a long and documented history of advancing abortion, same-sex "marriage" and the notion that certain religious beliefs and norms must be changed to accommodate the further advancement of these sins. Hillary has a long and consistent political history, and from an evangelical view it does not embrace a biblical Christian ethic.

Scripture tells us there were also those who felt Jesus presented a warped and disfigured view of the faith, because of His associations with desperately needy people---including political leaders and morally bankrupt individuals. His accusers clearly lacked understanding of what God was doing. That is true in our own times.

A non-Christian I know recently told me that what is unfolding is “consistent with what sociobiology theorizes about religion: Its evolutionary purpose is to foster in-group solidarity. Principles serve rather than rule that mission.” This certainly isn’t my view of faith, but in the current circumstances – given what is playing out in public — this is not an unreasonable conclusion for him to draw. And he’s not alone. This kind of perception is multiplying.
I’ve worked in politics much of my adult life, including in presidential campaigns and at the White House. I understand that governing involves complicated choices, transactional dealings and prudential judgments. No one ever gets things exactly right, and all who choose to serve deserve our prayers for wisdom. Politics is certainly not a place for the pursuit of utopia and moral perfection; rather, at its best, it is about achieving the best approximation of the public good, about protecting human dignity and advancing, even imperfectly, a more just social order. That is why Christians shouldn’t exile themselves from politics.

Certainly evangelicals understand the importance of protecting human dignity, and advancing a more just social order. But the primary focus of evangelicals is presenting the transformative gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost and sinful world---not creating a more just social order. And the religious freedom to preach the Gospel is a very high priority. Jesus Himself commanded we do so. When the gospel is preached, lives are changed. When lives are changed and restored, a culture is changed and restored.

But with political involvement come temptations and traps, and it is the responsibility of Christians to act in ways that maintain the integrity of their public witness. And that is why this moment is so troubling. It seems clear to me, and I think to others, that many evangelicals, even unwittingly, are subordinating the Christian faith to partisan loyalties and political power.

There is no evidence that those evangelical leaders named above are subordinating their faith to partisan loyalties. They are public figures. Their words and actions are public. The evidence is that they are being the salt and light Jesus instructed them to be.

“The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state,” Martin Luther King Jr. said. “It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool.” Today, far too many evangelical Christians are tools of the Trump presidency.

Agreed. But this quote raises the question of who is the tool? And for whom? Is it more Christian to work tirelessly to undermine and destroy the presidency because the religious Left doesn't approve of Trump personally and wanted Hillary, even though he has already taken a stand on some of the most important issues to evangelicals?

Or is it more Christian (biblical) to have set out the election because there was no perfect candidate---or worse yet, cast your personal vote for someone with a proven record of attacking and undermining evangelical's deepest biblical beliefs regarding the sanctity of life, human sexuality and family---while claiming to be one of us?

To be sure, the people with whom I have differences on this matter often do worthy work in other areas of their lives. But in this area, I believe their words and actions are harming the faith we share.
I’m speaking out at this time because I’m a Christian who places himself in the evangelical tradition and senses that some important lines have been crossed, some significant damage is being done, and some substantial repair work needs to take place. I hope others who share these concerns – who might feel anguished by what they perceive as the abuse of their faith – will take a stand in their own lives and in their own way. We can all be part of a politics of redemption.

Politics don't redeem. The gospel of Jesus Christ redeems individuals. Individuals redeem the culture. In America, we are blessed to have the opportunity to choose which politicians will, in our view, best serve these ends.

The religious Left is focused on social justice and a social gospel. Evangelicals are focused on going into all the world and preaching the gospel, because we believe that cultural and political restoration will follow personal and spiritual restoration.

Be Discerning. Be Informed. Be Prayerful. Be Blessed.