Evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem, whose theology books have substantially shaped my own theology and theological imagination, has penned a reasonable and fair article (“Why Voting for Donald Trump Is a Morally Good Choice“) by comparing the ideologies and policies of presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, and Donald Trump. Using biblical lessons and theological exegesis, he infers that a Donald Trump presidency will be a morally good choice for the future of American democracy and freedom, the religious freedom and triumph of Christianity in America, the welfare of the state of Israel, and many other things. Unfortunately, like Grudem, other Evangelical leaders such as David Jeremiah, James Dobson, Robert Jeffress, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell Jr, and many influential American Christian thinkers have given Mr. Trump their divine blessings. Interestingly, as Michael Horton has remarked in his important article (“The Theology of Donald Trump:Four words that reveal what his followers really believe“), “Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. hailed him as “one of the greatest visionaries of our time” and a wonderful Christian brother “who reminds me of my dad.” The redoubtable Pat Robertson gushed in an interview with the empire-builder, “You inspire us all.” Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, who has introduced Trump at rallies, says, “We need a strong leader and a problem-solver, hence many Christians are open to a more secular candidate.”
In a recent article (“Pew: Most Evangelicals Will Vote Trump, But Not For Trump“) published in Christianity Today, the author has remarked that most White Evangelical Christians will vote for Trump and favor his presidency. The opening words of the article is startling:
More than three-quarters of self-identified white evangelicals plan to vote for Donald Trump in the fall (78%). But they aren’t happy about it.
According to a Pew Research Center survey of 1,655 registered voters released today, more than half of white evangelicals said they weren’t satisfied with their ballot options (55%), reflecting the feeling of Americans at large (58%).
And 45 percent of white evangelicals said they meant their vote as opposition to Hillary Clinton, not as an endorsement of Trump.
Interestingly, the great divide among American Christians of different racial and color shades pertaining to their political voice, views, and preferences is very disturbing, and makes one question the future of American Evangelicalism and the meaning of the Christian faith in America. The competing voices in American evangelicalism have questionable implications for the relevance of Christianity in the public sphere and missional evangelism in the culture. Take a look at this statement from the same article:
Half of black Protestant voters said their vote was in support of Clinton (53%), while one-third said they were voting against Trump (34%). This preference lines up with African Americans at large, who favor Clinton.
Black Protestant voters diverge from the much larger group of white evangelicals, who make up one out of five registered voters and one out of three Republicans.
On the other hand, many Americans–both Christians and non-Christians, religious and secular–who have favorably decided for a Clinton presidency have advanced the following (gender-based) argument. If Hillary Clinton gets to become the next President of the United States of America, she will be the first woman to occupy that post in American history. It will be a historic election and an aspiration to little girls (i.e. brown, black, white, yellow, mixed, etc.) and other women who have similar aspirations. Electing a woman as President of the most powerful country in the world will be a terrific step forward toward the promise of American democracy and the democratic ideals we stand for as a nation, and people. For them, a Clinton presidential choice will symbolize the triumph of gender equality in the history of American democracy and freedom and opportunity for all–regardless of race, gender, sexuality, disability, etc. “Change,” they confess, is the most accurate word!
Nonetheless, like Grudem and other evangelical thinkers, I believe a presidential preference for Hillary Clinton is potentially dangerous to the future of the American Nation. She is not concerned about the welfare of the poor and the most vulnerable Americans. I have serious problems with her political views on Gun laws and rights, abortion, war, terrorism, foreign policy, racial justice, immigration, etc. In her political career, she has not done enough to ameliorate the plight of the American masses, the underclass, the immigrant, and the poor. In fact, her policies greatly favor the wealthy class and has consistently supported big American corporations and businesses detrimental to the welfare of the common good and American entrepreneurship. On the other hand, unlike Grudem, I’m appreciative of her great accomplishments such as her commitment to public service and relentless courage and efforts in defense of women and children’s rights. On this account, she is undoubtedly a champion. Yet, I do not trust Hillary as a political leader nor will I vote for her to become the first Woman President in the November presidential election.
By contrast, in the same line of reasoning, a presidential preference for Donald Trump is tentatively disastrous for America’s diplomatic relations with the global world. Trump wants to isolate America from the world. His messianic rhetoric is a gospel without hope and human relationality; his prosperity gospel is characterized by an apocalypse of vengeance, trauma, and despair. Trump’s rhetoric is very consistent. It is anti-immigrant, anti-American religious freedom, xenophobic, divisive, and God-human dishonoring language. Trump rhetoric is not reconciliatory and will not foster national unity and improve race relations in America. I prefer justice over order, friendship over retaliation, Globalism over arrogant (Trump’s) American ethnocentrism and exceptionalism, and planetary love over transnational alienation. A possible Trump presidency is potentially a threat to the triumph of human rights, race relations, and religious freedom in America. Like Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump has always worked in the best interest of big corporations and institutions that consistently exploit the labor of their employees, the underclass, and workers in the Third World. Trump’s own companies have robbed their workers of their fair salary. Evidently, there’s something questionable about the character, integrity, and leadership of both presidential candidates. After all, Trump’s presidency is a serious menace to American democratic ideals, progress, and future advancement.
Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton do not value life of the unborn, and have no interest to alter their conviction on this matter–an important point in Grudem’s article.The great Rabbi Abraham Herschel once observed:
Reverence for God is shown in our reverence for man. The fear you must feel of offending or hurting a human being must be as ultimate as your fear of God. An act of violence is an act of desecration. To be arrogant toward man is to be blasphemous toward God…The future of the human species depends upon our degree of reverence for the individual man. And the strength and validity of that reverence depend upon our faith in God’s concern for man.
While I have great respect for Wayne Grudem, I’m afraid that he has allowed patriotic zeal to influence sound biblical and theological exegesis–as he has modeled for the Evangelical community in such his best selling textbook, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. After his close examination of Clinton’s political ideologies and past record as compared to Donald Trump who has no political experience, he concludes the article with this provocative statement: ” When I look at it this way, my conscience, and my considered moral judgment tell me that I must vote for Donald Trump as the candidate who is most likely to do the most good for the United States of America.”
Grudem’s essay is a clear example of what’s wrong with us Evangelical Christians in America: the intentional (re-) appropriation of scriptural teachings and truths in the service of political agendas and cultural ideologies. Christian identity should not be equated or conflated with American cultural nationalism and identity. They are in conflict with each other. The kingdom of God is not the Kingdom of man. We can’t have two lords: Jesus and Caesar; it is either we serve Caesar or Jesus. Jesus cannot and should never be subservient to our unhealthy cultural and political habits masked in biblical theology. Jesus will always be supreme over the culture.
There’s nothing wrong for an “American Christian” to be proud of America and even celebrate the American freedom and democracy; however, it is definitely a theological crisis to assume that American freedom is parallel to Christian freedom, and that the future of American politics is equated with the future of Christianity in the world. The validity of the cross of Christ or the meaning of the Christian faith is not dependent upon the success of America nor is it vindicated by the triumph of America in the world. It is also noteworthy to highlight this national crisis: Given the current state of American Evangelicalism and its paradoxical attitude toward human life, America’s culture of violence and death, race relations, and the “Evangelical Preference” in the current presidential election, etc., Mark A. Noll’s 1995 provocative statement still rings true today about American Evangelicalism:
The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind….Notwithstanding all their other virtues, however, American evangelicals are not exemplary for their thinking, and they have not been so for several generations.(The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, p. 3)
The great divide between Biblical Evangelical Christianity and American Evangelicalism is quite wide. The Biblical Evangelical culture is the antithesis of the American Evangelical Christianity in terms of confession and practice. The pitfalls of American Evangelicalism is that it is trapped in the American culture of political correctness, and it promotes ideologies that do not honor the God of the Bible or glorify Jesus Christ. American Evangelicalism has for several generations abandoned the biblical worldview on matters of life and faith. Michael Horton is probably correct in his concluding words in the same article we quoted above: “Trump reveals, in short, that for many evangelicals, the word evangelical means something that many increasingly do not recognize as properly Christian, much less evangelical. Then again, if the working theology of American spirituality is a combination of “moralistic, therapeutic deism” (Christian Smith) and pragmatism (William James), then perhaps Donald Trump is after all exactly the right candidate for the moment.”
Allow me to close this short essay with these words:
Given the nature of human relations and interactions and the destructive political climate in the American culture, we who are Americans of different shades and cultural traditions and practices need to cultivate the spirit of Ubuntu and integrate its inherent values and moral vision in our society. If we try it in the present, we will see tremendous results in the future. While the worth of the political nation-state in the modern world is measured by its historic accomplishments and unrelenting strive to promote the democratic life, justice, and peace for all its citizens, as well as political stability and the protection of human life against both internal and external forces, the worth of a racial group, ethnic group , or an individual should never be assessed by his or her achievements in society or life. The dignity and worth of a person lies in the mere fact that both man and woman, male and female are created in the Image of God to the glorious praise of the Triune and Eternal God.
The cultural trap of American Evangelicalism is that culturally-sensitive-biblical exegesis and politically-masked- theological interpretation still enslaves the Evangelical soul, and comparatively, modern Evangelical theology crafted in the discourse of triumphal American exceptionalism and the rhetoric of exulting American ethnocentrism still wages war against the cross of Christ and the Gospel of grace in both American civil and political societies. For me, my faith is in nothing or no one else but in Jesus Christ died, buried, crucified, and resurrected.