Politics Is Not a Test of Fellowship
As a people for whom Jesus explicitly prayed would be united as one (John 17:20–23), we cannot allow political tribal markers to define our identity more than the blood of Christ does. Christ did not die for us to merely tolerate one another but for us to love and bear with one another—even if we do not like how our Christian brother or sister triages political priorities (Eph. 4:2; Col. 3:13). Diverging political urgencies compel competing visions for Christian political witness. On one side is an evangelical constituency that views Christian political witness as mediated primarily through moral consistency; on the other side is a constituency that views secularism ravaging basic pillars of human decency. Though the categories are imprecise, the contest rages between those more attuned to social justice and those more attuned to cultural conservatism.
As I witness self-identified evangelicals engaged in our fraught political climate—a climate captured in microcosm by the Christianity Today impeachment editorial—I am alarmed by the judgment-casting from both sides, especially on social media. Neglected are the listening and sympathizing that Scripture demands of Jesus’ disciples (James 1:19). We tell ourselves that politics ranks below our faith obligations, but our actions betray our priorities. Political affiliation—especially in the Trump era—determines how we relate to and how we regard the political preferences of others.
For the Trump-voting Christian, refusal to support the president is seen as elitist capitulation. For the Trump-opposing Christian, support for the president is low-culture captivity to nationalism and nativism in Jesus’ name. Trump defenders reject the assertion that voting for Donald Trump is at odds with moral credibility and Christian integrity. Excuses pave over the president’s excesses for the sake of policy wins and proximity to power. Trump-resisters condescendingly downplay the achievements of the Trump administration many Christians favor. For resisters, whatever Trump is for must either be opposed outright, or, if acceptable, begrudgingly acknowledged.
There are thoughtful Christians who will carefully decide to support Trump in his re-election. There are thoughtful Christians who believe Trump’s baggage, character flaws, and bravado cannot justify voting for him. I can respect both and refuse to see either as reasons to throw stones. At the same time, cartoonish extremes on both sides need rebuke.
Based on what we know now, I don’t have strong opinions on whether impeachment was justified. Likewise, I did not have strong reactions to the position Christianity Today took on impeachment. I did, however, take umbrage with the rationale that led to the editorial’s conclusion. Whether intended it or not, the editorial had the effect of binding the consciences of his readers. It became a test of fellowship (Gal. 2:9). Galli’s statement, “That he [Trump] should be removed, we believe, is not a matter of partisan loyalties but loyalty to the Creator of the Ten Commandments” was bitterly divisive. Intended or not, it labeled those who disagreed with impeachment as on the wrong side of God and the Ten Commandments.
We need to honor freedom of conscience among our Christian brothers and sisters, even if we do not agree with the use of that freedom. This is central to Christian public theology. Public theology does require passionate commitment to justice and morality, but their application to contemporary society entails careful nuance based on a faithful hermeneutic as well as personal and ecclesial instincts able to distinguish between first-order ethical issues from second- and third-order ethical issues.
The apostle Paul writes in Romans 14:10–12 (ESV):
Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’ So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.
With this perspective in mind, we must disagree humbly and with charity. In a time when our political disagreements are punctuated with particularly harsh forms of judgment, the Apostle Paul reminds that each of us stands in judgment ultimately and only before God.
As I have written elsewhere, evangelicals can muster justifiable rationales for voting for Trump, just as they can find just cause in choosing to not vote for him. This applies to divergent opinions on impeachment too. As Romans 14:1 begins, we are “not to quarrel over opinions.”
Andrew T. Walker is an associate professor of Christian ethics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
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Politics Is Not a Test of Fellowship