If, by some wonder of time travel, you were to visit a small-group Bible study in 2010 and someone were to ask you, “What’s the state of the evangelical church where you are, up ahead of us in 2024?” you might explain all of the divided congregations, all the friendships broken, all the estranged families. You might mention that almost no evangelical under the age of 40 wants to use the word evangelical at all.

And if someone were to ask, “How did all this happen?” you might mention that a revolutionary leader emerged, demanding loyalty and vowing retribution and revenge against those who stand against him. You might add that this leader asks his supporters to wave away his sexual abuse of women, his criminal charges for seeking to use mob violence to keep him in power, his hush money to a porn star, his incitements to violence, his lies, his cruelty, his narcissism, and his dismissal of personal moral character as weakness.

Maybe one of those before-times Christians would slam their fist into their hand and exclaim, “This is exactly what Francis Schaeffer and Charles Colson and James Dobson all warned us about—this is what happens when evangelicals retreat from the public square. When the culture war is lost, immorality, relativism, and filth fill the void!”

Another might ask, “What are you 2024 Christians doing to try to turn the young people away from the normalization of this kind of decadence?”

“It’s not the young people who are turning to this,” you tell them. “It’s us. That’s why many campus ministries won’t use the word evangelical. In 2024, the next generation thinks support for this man, Donald Trump, is in fact what it means to be evangelical.”

By then, the silence might give way to someone noting that it’s time to wrap up. Someone might ask for an “unspoken” prayer request since no one would know what else to say.

Christianity Today does not endorse candidates. While this writer’s views of the former (and possibly future) president’s fitness for office and its implications for the American republic are public and emphatic, they are beside the point here. CT readers and contributors have a range of political views—Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Trump voters, Biden voters, conscientious objectors to voting at all, those who write in Steph Curry, and more. That’s as it should be. The implication that to be a Christian one must adopt a particular political ideology or partisan identity is awfully close to the Galatian heresy the apostle Paul called a different gospel altogether (Gal. 1:6–7).

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The crisis we face now, though, is one of witness and identity. Evangelical Christianity—for good or for ill—has long been tied in the public mind to a celebrity. Many people in the past, when they thought of evangelicals, would have thought first of George Whitefield or Charles Finney or Aimee Semple McPherson or Billy Sunday or Billy Graham.

Every one of those “celebrities” would rather have had Jesus as the first thought of the watching world, but at least the public recognized the person preaching him and his gospel. Now, when our neighbors hear evangelical, the face that flashes before their minds first may be a mug shot—of one of the most divisive personas in American history.

This is not because the secular media has caricatured us or because Hollywood elites have ridiculed us. Not all evangelicals—not even all Trump-voting evangelicals—have sought this confusion. But when it comes to this crisis of identity, the psychological incentives are different.

Those who want a separation of church and Trump tend to be those who most want unity, who are waiting for some magical happening to “break the fever” and return us to the before-times. They tend to cringe if anyone even acknowledges the problem, speaking in vague generalities and avoiding the name Donald Trump.

Meanwhile, in far too many churches and schools and ministries, loyalty to Trump must be explicit and total to not risk being seen as a liberal, as not “one of us.” And in those places, a person is only “one of us” if that Christian is willing to believe, against all evidence, that the last election was stolen. One must be silent at least or celebratory at most when seeing a man scream profanities at a rally and then market a Bible he endorses. One must pay no attention when a jury finds the leader liable for sexually assaulting a woman. What is all of that doing to us?

Moreover, we are in a time when even some Trump-voting evangelicals are noticing how destructive it is that this one figure seems to dominate every facet of our lives. Think of all the friendships that are gone. Think of all the families that are estranged. Think of all the churches that are in tension, the denominations that are splintered. Think of what this leader has asked you to ignore, to justify, in order to stay loyal to him. Think of the fear that overwhelms any pang of conscience for so many—fear of donors, online mobs, or maybe the extended family text thread.

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However you plan to vote—is this the way you want to live?

The Bible tells us that our father Jacob, in fear over meeting his brother, Esau, from whom he was estranged, told his servants to anticipate three questions: “To whom do you belong? Where are you going? And whose are these ahead of you?” (Gen. 32:17, ESV). We could do worse than to ask those same questions of ourselves.

Have we replaced our primary sense of belonging—to Christ and him crucified—with politics and personality? Are we still following Jesus in seeking “a kingdom that cannot shaken” (Heb. 12:28), or are we groping toward a time when every foe is vanquished, every victory total—something that can never happen in a democratic republic? And those out ahead of us—the generations to come—what are we telling them?

We cannot time travel to the past, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have time travelers all around us. They are the boys and girls in our Sunday school classes, the adolescents in our youth groups, the young adults leading our mission trips. When they look back on us, what will they think it means to be an evangelical Christian? Babylon asked for our souls, and we said no. Rome asked for our consciences, and we said no.

We take marching orders from Mount Zion, not from Mar-a-Lago. The watching world should know the difference, and so should we. We can pretend it doesn’t matter, but it does. What difference does it make who walks in to the tune of “Hail to the Chief” if our children don’t believe us when we say, “Jesus is Lord”?

Russell Moore is CT’s editor in chief and host of The Russell Moore Show.

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Russell Moore
Russell Moore is Christianity Today's editor in chief and the host of The Russell Moore Show.
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