I have recently posted a number of articles on politics, in particular about where Evangelicals find themselves as the new President of the United States is inaugurated and how our witness has been damaged as a result of this election (Rebuilding Our Witness: Part 1, Part 2).
Regardless of how you voted, it’s just obvious that this has had a negative impact on the reputation of Evangelicals.
Of course, this topic is front and center for me with the inauguration of President-elect Trump later this week. I am even co-hosting a panel discussion on Tuesday, January 24, at 7:00 pm CST that you can attend in person or via livestream (Fractured).
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Christianity has taken a blow for the worse in this election, and likely antagonism toward Christians will continue to rise in our nation, because the fundamental pattern remains unchanged. (Of course, not in the form of martyrdom and death as in many other countries of the world, but in other real and tangible ways.)
When I say Christian reputation has taken a blow for the worse, it’s not because of who won or lost. It’s because of how the Church acted before, during, and after the process. It was, in fact, quite far from the shining moment of the Christian faith in America. And yet we must move forward. The gospel, and the Person the gospel speaks of, compels us to move forward and once again shine brightly in the world.
Let me share a few questions for us to consider over the next year as we adjust to a new political reality and how we can best respond.
1. How do I interpret my candidate's loss in light of scripture?
There were a lot of candidates in this election— and yours probably lost, either in the primary or in the general election.
Believe it or not, your candidate’s loss is not the worst thing for Christianity. A pharaoh who “did not know Joseph” (Exod. 1:8) enslaved God’s people and commanded the murder of Jewish boys, yet God’s people survived. Herod ordered the slaughter of infant boys in the region of Bethlehem (Matt. 2:16), yet Jesus was kept safe.
Nero and countless Roman emperors persecuted and executed Christians because of their worship of the eternal, triune God; yet, Christianity not only survived, but thrived during these periods of distress. The election of a different candidate than you preferred is nowhere near the worst thing Christianity has faced. In fact, it reminds us that our candidate is not our savior, nor can he or she in any way hinder God's kingdom from advancing in the world.
2. How should I act if my candidate won?
For some readers, your candidate won the election because Donald Trump was your candidate.
If this is the case, I would offer two suggestions.
First, don't flaunt it.
Remember, a lot of people voted differently, and are feeling unsteady or insecure about the country's future. A characteristic of biblical Christianity is humility and grace (Eph. 4:2; Phil. 2:3; Col. 3:12). This is a good time for that.
By flaunting Trump’s win, you are acting antithetical to the New Testament’s call to show kindness towards one another, a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). When you show humility, it communicates grace to those around you and models Christian unity.
Second, don't believe the lie that any specific President will solve our country's problems or usher in a new area of prosperity.
Scripture tells us not to put our hope in military might or in kings, but in God and His salvation alone (Ps. 20:7; Isa. 31:1). Christians who place their confidence in a Presidential victory instead of a sovereign God have traded their hope in the True Creator for a creature who can never give us what we ultimately need.
3. How do I become thankful for the outcome of the election, regardless of the result?
Paul has some radical statements about how we should address kings and those in authority: we should pray with them, pray for them, intercede on their behalf, and be THANKFUL for them (1 Tim. 2:1-2). Additionally, he says that our new life in Christ should result in peace ruling our hearts, and we should be thankful (Col. 3:15).
These are strong commandments that we should take seriously, especially in this contentious time.
As Christians, we have confidence that the Lord has given us a new life, and the peace that flows from this truth is the means by which we can be thankful and pray for the leaders God has placed over us. Within our new gospel framework, our approach can be obedience, recognizing that thankfulness aligns our hearts with God's and submits to His authority and Lordship over the world.
4. How do I view the country in light of God's promises?
The Bible is clear that God oversees the nations of the world (Deut. 32). He has even used rebellious, sinful nations like Babylon and Assyria to accomplish His purposes, but He has only chosen one people to carry His kingdom into the world: Christians (Gal. 3:28).
It might be challenging to consider, but America has no special promises or protections from God. However, it does have a unique role, like every other nation, in God’s plan.
We are wise to remember the framework of citizenship laid out by Peter. He describes believers as those “who reside as aliens” (1 Pet. 1:1) and are scattered throughout the world. He commands Christians to look to Jesus, the one who has formed them into “a holy nation” (2:9). They were formally pagans without an identity, but Jesus has brought them together as “the people of God” (2:10).
Our citizenship, therefore, is in heaven and not within specific geographic boundaries. Our response to this reality is to think with a kingdom mindset and not an American mindset, remembering God is working across the world through His people, with His Spirit, and for His purposes.
The Bible says that God removes kings and sets up kings (Dan. 2:21). On November 9, when the votes were counted and a winner was determined, God was not surprised at the result of the election, and His kingdom is not going to be limited or expanded any more than it was on November 8. This is true as well for after our new President-elect is inaugurated later this week.
Our unison as brothers and sisters in Christ must override the political outcome. Jesus, and unity in Him, is more valuable than a political victory or defeat. When we believe this, our approach is self-aware humility that we don't know the plans, but we know that He will continue to answer the prayer: "on earth as it is in heaven."
Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, is Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.