Evangelicals Don't Agree on Politics, but We Must Learn to Disagree Well
Evangelicals disagree on politics, but how we disagree is more important than building consensus.
There were at least five different types of evangelicals in the previous presidential election: Clinton supporters, enthusiastic Trump supporters, reluctant Trump supporters, protest voters who supported neither Clinton nor Trump (also called nevertrumpers), and non-voters. While most of the media attention has gone to the enthusiastic Trump supporters, they represented less than half of all evangelicals. In reality, evangelicals were quite divided on presidential vote choice, as they are on many political issues.
Evangelicals, by and large, share a common theology and worldview, so why can't we agree on which political candidates to support?
I've observed evangelicals from across the political spectrum make the case that the differences are due to some spiritual or theological deficiency among those who support the "wrong" candidate. "Once we all have the correct view of scripture, we'll agree on politics," many evangelicals have assumed. My younger self would've agreed with that statement. I now find it incredibly naive. I've criticized evangelicals who support our current president, and will continue to do so. But I don't think our political differences signal a spiritual deficiency. That would be akin to the sort of legalism Paul slams in Galatians.
If evangelicals are "spreading the Gospel," as we like to say, we should see higher levels of political heterogeneity, and, while difficult, this is ultimately a good thing because the Gospel trumps politics.
Evangelicals are diverse. Political preferences are formed by life experiences, and evangelicals have many life experiences. Some of us fit the stereotype — Southern, white, Republican. Many others don't.
An evangelical believes in the Trinity, virgin birth, resurrection, authority of Scripture, and that Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins so that we may have eternal life with Him in a real Heaven. Since repentance and following Jesus as our Lord and savior is the only sure way to Heaven, we believe in the importance of evangelism, or sharing our faith with others. To believe these things, you don't have to be rich or poor, black or white, Republican or Democrat.
(None of what I say here is to imply that one can't be saved in a mainline Protestant, Orthodox or Catholic church. Rather, I'm writing as an evangelical about evangelicals.)
Those who have become evangelical Christians include the rich and powerful, as well as the poor and meek, and every social class in between.
Annie Lobert grew up in an abusive home and worked as a prostitute for 16 years until one night, near death from excessive drug use, she called out to Jesus. Now she's the founder of Hookers for Jesus, which helps other prostitutes find the healing she found.
Chuck Colson was President Richard Nixon's "hatchet man," a ruthless political operative. Amid the Watergate scandal, as he saw the world he knew crumble, Colson was Born Again. He confessed to crimes he had committed and was sent to prison. After prison, he founded Prison Fellowship and became an influential author and speaker.
Abandoned by his father, Gabriel Salazar became a teen gang banger. At a youth rally, he gave his life to Jesus and then started a Bible club at his school. Today, he is a motivational speaker and was recognized as "America's #1 Latino Youth Speaker" by Popular Hispanics magazine.
In the 1960s, Tom Tarrants was a White Knight in the Mississippi Ku Klux Klan. After bombing several Jewish synagogues, the FBI finally caught up to him and shot him four times. In prison, he read the Bible and "the light came on." Later, he befriended John Perkins, who had a similar transformative experience after hating white people for his treatment as a black man in Mississippi. They co-authored 1994's He's My Brother: Former Racial Foes Offer Strategy for Reconciliation.
An evangelical faith has taken hold of people in the halls of Congress and the White House, as well as inner city slums. CEO's, presidential advisers, and Hollywood stars have joined former drug lords, hookers, and KKK grand wizards, along with any occupation between these extremes, in this common faith. Is it any wonder, then, that we don't agree on politics?
None of this means we should avoid talking about our political differences. Just the opposite.
While many evangelicals bicker over political differences, even more go to the opposite extreme and seek to avoid the sniping altogether by never talking about politics. This is also a mistake.
Evangelical churches participate in many projects. They have small groups and Bible studies, serve the poor and needy in their communities, help people with addictions, provide pre-marital and marital counseling. They send missionaries to the developing world and those missionaries return and report on what they learned. Evangelicals are involved in their local schools, community organizations and other clubs that provide social capital.
I sense frustration from many of my evangelical friends when so much of the national news about them has to do with their vote choice in the presidential election. Most of their lives during the four years between those decisions have very little to do with their vote. Yet, that frustration shouldn't lead us to eschew politics.
God wants us to grow into Christ-likeness. We are blessed to live in a country where our involvement in governmental decision-making is expected and necessary. This political involvement should be part of our growth process, when done correctly.
Our political diversity can be a blessing, not a curse. None of us know everything. But in conversations and civil debates with each other, we can all gain in shared wisdom and understanding. As Proverbs 27:17 puts it, "Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another."
The Bible doesn't provide specific guidance on who to vote for or what policies to support. Instead, it provides foundational principles. How to apply those principles is debatable, and those debates should happen, but in a loving manner that honors Christ. Christian growth happens in community. We should debate political issues through our communities, and if we're doing that well, the way we contribute to public life through our democratic processes will improve.
But don't assume that arguing well about our political differences will lead to the same preferences for political candidates. If evangelicals did agree on our election day options, that would certainly make a powerful voting bloc. But the goal of our political involvement shouldn't be to win elections, but to make disciples. The manner in which we're involved in the political process is more important than election day results.
Adapted from the author's book in progress.