The latest bit of evidence is seen in the presidential election. Many evangelicals are troubled by Donald Trump’s arrogance and bluster, yes, but if I’m reading the tea leaves right, their concerns are ultimately rooted in his desire to severely limit the number of Muslims and Mexicans who enter this country—not to mention his insensitive comments about these groups. For those deeply committed to racial and ethnic inclusion, this is blasphemy. I mean that literally: “the act or offense of speaking sacrilegiously about … sacred things.” Racial and ethnic justice has become a “sacred thing,” an item that defines what it means to be an evangelical Christian to many. Saying something racially insensitive is like telling a joke about abortion or about the holiness of God. Proposing policies that exclude the sojourner is a moral outrage.
If this is true—that racial and ethnic justice has now become a first-order social issue for us—we’re in a new chapter of modern evangelicalism. And with that comes an old temptation: to divide ourselves by our politics. Except now the shoe is on the other foot.
For many elections in recent history, some evangelicals have refused to vote for any candidate that is not clearly pro-life. And they look askance at evangelicals who “compromise” their faith by doing so, even if they explain they are doing so to champion other important issues. The pro-life evangelicals can’t imagine how any evangelical could support a politician who continues to support the murder of millions of children in the womb.
Today, we’re hearing one group of evangelicals say they can’t imagine how any evangelical could support a candidate who devalues people from other nations and religions, who doesn’t make racial justice a high priority.
Of course, the evangelicals who rightfully gasp at this prospect are often the same people who will vote for a candidate that supports the murder of children in the womb. And fervent pro-life voters, currently concerned about security and jobs, will vote for a candidate who champions torture. Such are the ironies and conundrums of democracy in action. I hope it’s clear I’m not relativizing these crucial moral issues. I’m just saying it’s really hard to vote in alignment with one’s conscience purely and consistently in a democracy (even when supporting write-in candidates), and he who has sinned might put down that stone.
I would hope we could recognize the difference between core issues that unite us and political judgments that divide us. What has united us historically is the person of Jesus Christ, his atoning work on the cross, the final authority of Scripture, and the need to share the gospel in word and deed. It’s that last part that causes our most fervent divisions, of course, especially in election seasons.
At such times, I look at things like this: the election season will be over in a few short months, and then we’ll have to figure out how to live with one another again.
I don’t agree with the politics of “evangelicals for Trump” or “evangelicals for Sanders” or evangelicals for any other candidate. But contrary to rumors, these evangelicals all worship the same God. And they are people with whom I share so much else that looks and sounds like historic evangelicalism. I’m betting that once this divisive season is over, we’ll have a lot to talk about and a lot of work we can do together in the service of our Lord.
Mark Galli is editor in chief of Christianity Today. An earlier version of this article was posted by mistake. This is a revised version.