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US Christians should focus on mission, not political empire-building

by
11 November 2020

It should work for the good of all people, not help to perpetuate divisions in society, says K. Augustine Tanner-Ihm

PA

Eric Trump, President Trump’s son, speaks during an Evangelicals for Trump rally, during the presidential election campaign, last month

Eric Trump, President Trump’s son, speaks during an Evangelicals for Trump rally, during the presidential election campaign, last month

MORE than 150 million Americans voted in last week’s presidential election (News, 6 November). This was the largest turnout n more than 100 years, and the most votes for a presidential candidate in American history.

While this is a great day for democracy, there is also an ever-growing divide in the United States. There have been protests because of racial brutality by police officers, and rioting by angry people because of the restrictive laws enforced to tackle Covid-19. American public life in the run-up to the election has been anything but normal.

The example of the faith communities has been part of that. Evangelical megachurch (mostly white) communities have invited President Donald Trump to the stage to give him prophetic words, give blessings, and to endorse his re-election publicly.

The Evangelical community (for the most part) threw its energy into trying to re-elect him for four more years. Many see him as adhering to a more conventional and traditional way of life, before secularism and humanism were on the rise. His profession of pro-life political views and Christian faith have attracted many supporters. His appointment of the conservative Roman Catholic Amy Coney Barrett was a seen as evidence of his Christian conservative commitment (Comment, 2 October).

Celebrity Christian leaders — such as Bill Johnson, of Bethel Church, in California (one of the most successful music ministries in the Church), Paula White, of Apopka Church, in Orlando (President Trump’s faith adviser), and John MacArthur, of Grace Community Church — have been vocal supporters.

Many have even regarded the true salvation of the Christian as resting on the decision to vote for him. Mr MacArthur stated in a recent interview: “True Christians vote Trump.” He went on to say that a Christian would never be able to vote for a Democrat because of the party’s views on abortion and LGBTQIA issues, and he cited Romans 1 as the scriptural evidence for this statement.

 

WHICH side should a Christian be on — or, at least, which is the “biblical” option for the Christian to vote for?

Christians cannot be apolitical. This is not an option. To be silent and “just preach the gospel” is not what discipleship demands. Christians who choose not to engage in the world vote for the status quo, in any case; and our faith does not give us that option.

American churches in the 19th century which did not speak out against slavery, because they wished to stay neutral were, nevertheless, making a political statement in support of slavery. To not be political is to be political. The Christian story is about the renewal of God’s creation for the glory of God; and God has set his people on earth to bring renewal to the earth and to form a more just and holier society. To ignore that is to ignore your first call as a disciple of Jesus. In the Hebrew Scriptures, there are biblical leaders who hold positions of influence in pagan governments, such as Joseph and Daniel.

But the Christian cannot identify Christ’s Church with one political party. Doing so would mean that, to become a Christian, you would also need to obtain membership of a political group; and this is incompatible with Christian soteriology.

Christians should not be just a voting group aiming for ultimate power in government. Choosing a political party or candidate to support is not about merely following a biblical command, but, rather, seeking Christianly wisdom drawn from a life of discipleship with Christ, in community with the saints.

The Bible includes the commandment to love your neighbour. For the Christian, this has to be applied to the economic and social realities of the day. Christians should, therefore, respond to the fact that 500 children are being separated from their families; and defending the poor and lifting up the rights of the oppressed means being outraged by the killing of unarmed black men and women. These are moral imperatives for those who belong to the beloved community.

But biblical principles do not align with the manifestos of political parties. Some issues look extremely left-wing, while others may be oppressively conservative. The alignment will never truly fit.

 

AMERICAN Christians’ witness to Christ has been overridden by loyalties to a political party or a political system. Being party-political is not an option for the Church as a whole, but it is a privilege that God has given individual Christians a voice, and the ability to write, protest, and to make lasting changes to society.

The Church has a complex history of engagement and withdrawal from the political sphere. At times, the Church has got it wrong, at others, right. But we are on this mission from God to show the glory of God to the world; not to create little Christian governments, but, rather, to imbue everywhere with the presence and fragrance of Jesus Christ.

In the past two US elections, however, we have seen church leaders and congregations choose not the Republican Party or the Democratic Party, but a man, Donald Trump. Putting your faith in, and entrusting your security to, a fallible human ought to be something that makes a Christian hesitate.

When the Church focuses on its mission rather than building political empires, God is truly glorified. Church leaders and congregations must not help to continue the current divide in American society, but work for the common good of all.

 

K. Augustine Tanner-Ihm has recently completed ordination training at Cranmer Hall, Durham, during which he completed an MA in Theology.

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