After the election, then what?
I read this article by Russell Moore, the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, bemoaning the impact that this election has had on what he calls the religious right. Moore has been perhaps the strongest consistent Christian voice saying that we cannot, under any circumstances, support Donald Trump for President.
He points out, correctly, that many evangelical leaders have supported Trump well aware that his personal ethics are far from Christian ideals. His thesis, as I have often said, is that Trump’s claim on our support is based only on his not being Hillary Clinton. But his real concern, and it is a valid one, is that (particularly if Trump loses) our political effectiveness is over. We will have revealed ourselves as nothing more than yet another political group struggling for power and willing to form an alliance with someone whose personal life mocks our ideals.
I’d like to point out that very few evangelicals I know actually wanted Trump as “our” candidate. Almost everyone wanted another Republican candidate. Many of the leaders he complains about, to say nothing of the evangelical rank and file, turned to Trump with great reluctance. We are more likely to vote for him despite his personal character, not because of who he is.
Also, while he may well be right; this election may indeed end the widespread political influence of the so-called religious right; this does not mean that we must retreat from politics with our tails between our legs. Frankly, whether they know it or not, this country, and in particular the GOP, needs a strong confident Christian voice. Someone like Donald Trump is what you get when you leave basic Christian morals out of conservatism. It was the religious right that, in the Bush years, led the GOP effort to try to reach out to minority communities; that spearheaded the investment of billions to fight AIDS in Africa; and pursued criminal justice reform in the states.
Frankly, I am more afraid of what will happen to the political influence of Christians if Trump wins than if he loses. We will be convinced that power matters more than character and continue to be defined by who and what we campaign against, not for. We would be less likely to rethink how we should give our voices into the political sphere. If we lose, or rather Trump does, we can:
- Become a voice for trans-partisan moral values. The deeper our political system goes into vicious partisan attacks the greater the hunger there is for someone to set aside the all-consuming effort to get “our side” to win. Who is better than the church to articulate principles of justice, mercy, freedom and reconciliation? We can advance these principles by being willing to work with those who articulate and share them, and drop those who don’t, without regard to whether “they” are the enemy. For example, why couldn’t the church and feminist organizations work together to fight the abuse of women?
- We could make a holistic and urgently needed stand for true religious freedom. This might mean setting aside crusades to advance our rights to the detriment of the rights of others. We need to be as aggressive to support the religious freedom of others as our own. When we fight for our religious freedom and call that a fight for religious freedom is it any wonder we create hostility?
- We need to base our stances on moral issues on a robust theology not political expedience. We should express that theology in ways that doesn’t make us captive to one party. We want to be able to speak in such a way that Democrats and Republicans alike can embrace our goals on moral issues.
- Above all else, we need to choose carefully who we consider “leaders” in our efforts. The relentless pro-Trump expressions of so many who are considered leaders; often in the face of clearly demonstrated moral failings, damages all of us.
There is, and ought to be, life for Christian witness in a post-election era, no matter who wins. That witness needs to place our confidence in God, not political power, and be unashamed to express our convictions with gentleness and respect to whoever will listen.