Have Christians lost their ability to speak into things with an objective, moral voice? This question has been asked more times than I care to count since the days of Donald Trump, but I don’t believe Christians have lost their moral voice. In many ways they are losing it, but not as a result of their respective choices in the last presidential election. I couldn’t conscionably vote for Trump, but I have friends who did – and I understand many of them did not vote for him on the basis of his “Christian faith” or him leading America into a “golden epoch” for Evangelical Christians.
Some simply voted for him because they recognized he was their best shot in getting another conservative appointed as justice to SCOTUS. Others voted for him in the hopes that they would, at best, slow the liberal tide in our culture. Many voted for Trump simply because they could not stand the idea of another Clinton in the White House (as some of my liberal friends voted for her for the same, yet obverse reasons). However, what often gets thrown about is the asinine logic that Christians, Evangelicals in particular, have lost their moral voice due to voting for Donald Trump.
Hypocrisy Doesn’t Invalidate Objective Truth
The wonderful thing, which I’ve argued before, is that no amount of hypocrisy can qualitatively change the nature of truth. More clearly, truth is by nature irreducibly true. Mankind does not have the authority and power to thwart what is true. At best, man may twist, malign, or hide the truth, yet notice even in that state, truth itself is not changed. However, simply because the quality of truth does not change, we ought not to diminish the damage hypocrisy can do. It not only has a detrimental effect upon the faithful, but likewise the culture they are seeking to be witnesses within.
This is precisely at the heart of what Paul has in mind for hypocritical Jews, who though they boast in the Law, remain unrepentant and store up wrath for themselves. He quotes the prophets, saying, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Rom. 2:24). It was the [sic] zealous man of God incurring the wrath of God because of his serial unfaithfulness.
Interestingly, we see a similar line of thought from Peter in the midst of him speaking of false prophets in 2 Peter 2:1-3:
“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.”
While one’s hypocritical actions might not invalidate biblical truth claims, it does, however, tarnish the Christian witness. While it does not change the nature of truth as construct, it surely does misrepresent it in a falsity. This is perhaps closer to the heart of the question itself, yet the more difficult line of reasoning to pin down. Even in the midst of a collapsing culture, Christians can’t seem to find agreement on what actually compromises one’s moral voice. Keeping in line with the election motif, I don’t believe I’ve yet to see a house so divided on the issue of candidacy. Some Christians have taken the stance that any vote for Trump was a grand compromise and others have gone to the opposite extreme.
Secondly, I don’t see a consistent line of reasoning from the left that proposes any objective criteria by which one could say another has lost their “moral voice”. Surely, the charge to hypocrisy gives rhetorical flair and adds fuel to the fodder so that claims to morality can be dismissed out of hand, but it doesn’t actually deal with the question of morality. However, even if it did – we have to reconcile with the fact that even a broken clock is correct two times a day. So do I think the election of Donald Trump forfeited Christian witness to the nation? In short, no. In long-form, I believe there is a different, albeit correlated thing, which has led to concessions along the way and given room for many to blaspheme.
Christians are Losing their Moral Voice
The more I contemplate the issue, the more convinced I am that it is bound in Evangelicals placing figureheads in their stead to address moral issues. In other words, we desire to impact the culture and turn back the tide, but we would rather someone else climb the barricade as we retreat to safety. More clearly, we are losing our moral voice because we aren’t actually the ones doing the speaking in our personal circles. In much the same fashion as nearly everything in the church today, we farm it out to the experts. What is more alarming in this is that we neglect to accurately understand that often, the ones we farm it out to are those who are not Christian.
We know them to be provocateurs, for though they may speak eloquently to moral issues, they also bear no reasonable Christian witness. These are the Jordan Peterson’s, Ben Shapiro’s, Matt Walsh’s, and at one point, the Milo Yiannopoulos’s of the world. Don’t misunderstand me to be saying these men are not intellectually savvy, nor that they do not uphold some of the same virtues Christians do. I just don’t see that we have appropriate categories for a quasi-agnostic, yet conservative people that aren’t Evangelical, even though these men would candidly reveal they are not.
There is an element wherein we should recognize the truth for what it is, despite the messenger – yet I sense in the midst of this, we have neglected to recognize these “messengers” are still in need of the gospel of Christ. Ben Shapiro isn’t one yard closer to heaven than the abortion-lauding campus student whose faulty logic he artfully circumvents. These men still hold worldviews opposed to Christendom; they still hate the Lord who created them. They may uphold an ethic similar to our own in many instances, yet the worldview they operate from and espouse is still one at odds with their Creator. Their presuppositions, motivations, and goals, are not the same as our own, yet we adopt them into the fold, slap a shepherd’s crook in their hands, and follow their lead.
Within the church we find the same issue; we place men in high places who make grand, moral and theological compromises, and find ourselves shocked when they come tumbling down and hit a few plebes along the way. The injured are swept to the side and the church continues in protecting the brand. Meanwhile, the truth is maligned and the Gentiles are afforded another opportunity to blaspheme. Instead of recognizing what just transpired and perhaps shifting our priorities, we plod that same fateful course. We are mighty generous, no?
Moral Voices Beget Moral Actions
I realize there are more factors within this framework that don’t make it quite as tidy and neat as I’d like to necessarily believe it to be. Christians have long made questionable choices when it comes to various issues, such as the intersection of faith and politics, their choices in entertainment, their complacency in various issues, such as no-fault divorce, etc. Some have been faced with a conundrum simply because they legitimately do not know the right course of action. Others still walk into predicaments they never believed they would be placed into, often as a result of small capitulations which inevitably led to something much larger.
Part of this is owing to people speaking into these issues without a clear, guided voice. Surely, there are many with a platform and a pulpit that have no business teaching anyone, and while they will incur strict judgment, they still manage to pluck a few petals from the rose. However, part of this is also owing to the fact that people naturally justify poor choices and reasoning. We are gluttons for punishment, for though we know the consequences to sin and unwise decision making reap long-lasting results, we allay our conscience in favor of more expedient, albeit temporarily positive results. It is ultimately short-sighted and more often than not, driven by fear or excitement rather than wisdom.
Most people are not going to be faced with the infamous Kobayashi Maru scenario. We often like to think we have a no-win scenario on our hands, but if we were to right our course and simply rest in the indicatives of Scripture, much of the conundrums we place ourselves in would dissipate. We might not receive the best result in the short-term, but our eye ought to be on faithfulness instead. In this line of reasoning, the desire seems to be the escape of hardship and suffering, rather than embracing its purifying effect.
Again, there are other factors at play and to reduce everything down to one only seems overly simplistic. Motivations can be an interesting variable to predict and even interpret. There are those who seek to harmonize two mutually exclusive things, or simply overlook them due to pragmatic reasons -but this then returns to the statement above wherein people tend to justify the unjustifiable. While a charge to hypocrisy might be apropos, it is not always the case. However, given our natural inclinations to generally ignore the full counsel of God, it is more than likely true in many cases.
Regaining a Prophetic, Moral Voice
The implications of a mindset that adopts doing the right thing simply because it is right, is far more invasive than a simpler one which weighs political and social expediency. Truth be told, it isn’t concerned with the outcome of major elections, gaining friends in high places (even within the Evangelical world), nor retaining the “flavor” of Evangelicalism as we know it today. It certainly isn’t concerned with the ever-vacillating cultural tides of moral relativism and sexual anarchy. It comes down to a far simpler rubric: a vision of the long-haul. Simply stated, it is an eschatological outlook on all of these things that is willing to accept the teaching of Scripture. It is one that submits to the fact that what God has required of us is true and good. Secondly, it is the simple faith in the certainty that what He says will come to be, will actually come to be. Finally, it is resting in the significance of His sovereignty over all things.
The moral voice of Christians is not the popular one, nor is it beholden to a political party or any social movement. There is an element wherein we are simply outsiders, targeted by both sides, because we are able to speak into an issue with biblical clarity and faithfulness. However, the moral voice of Christians is directly tied to one’s actions. The moral voice of truth is not tied to individual actions – but a Christian’s credibility does indeed correlate to whether or not they can both “talk the talk” and “walk the walk”. In either case, no one remains justified for their unbelief or their disobedience.
Equally as important though, the Evangelical church needs to be able to stop farming out our moral, prophetic voice to those who are not in Christ. I look at Paul’s example at the Areopagus; he freely quotes pagan poets to reason back to the truth of Scripture. He doesn’t hide behind them, but instead robs them of their artistic license and inserts the beauty of objective, Biblical truth. He does so with the express purpose of calling forth the urgency of repentance and faith in Christ. It was not simply a matter of affecting the moral culture of Rome.
To conservatives, we can and should be able to mimic Paul’s approach and say, “Even your Jordan Peterson has said_____, therefore, repent and be cleansed from the guilt of your sin...” To Catholics, we ought to be able to say, “Even your Matt Walsh has said_____, therefore, repent and be justified by faith alone...” It is not simply the liberals who need Christ and surely, if we farm this out to an unbelieving conservative, they might win some to a form of social conservatism, but they surely will not win any to Christ. So much of the desire here doesn’t seem to be motivated by the gospel of Christ, but rather, sticking it to liberals. A moral voice is not about sticking it to anyone, but in reality, being able to point them to the Author of true morality who will require their life of them one fateful day in the not-so-distant future.
“Although God overlooked the ignorance of earlier times, He now commands all men everywhere to repent, for He has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the Man He has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).