The dilemma moderate evangelical pastors/leaders find themselves facing is, well, the other evangelicals. The majority. Or, more specifically, the, “81%.” While evangelical pastors and leaders are almost evenly split regarding their approval of the sitting president’s job performance, their congregants, their people, are much more supportive.
What to do? These moderate evangelical pastors and leaders are learning that their people are being discipled and formed, not by them, but by Fox News, conservative social media, and other right-wing sources.
One of the things they have been trying to do, is come to grips with the fact 81% of white evangelicals voted for Trump. Like the rest of the nation, they too have been trying to wrap their heads around such a disappointing, and revealing, statistic. The latest effort is this article by Ed Stetzer and Andrew McDonald.
As much as moderate evangelical leaders want to try and salvage, and put the best face on, what happened this last presidential election, here are five reasons the findings of this survey fail to do that and amounts to, at the end of the day, putting lipstick on a pig.
Before we start, let’s address a quibble, the article’s title, “Why Evangelicals Voted for Trump: Debunking the 81%.” Strange, I couldn’t find a significant, “debunking,” anywhere in the article/survey. To debunk something is to show it as false. There is nothing false about that percentage or its implications. The title is somewhat misleading. A better sub-title would have been: “Putting the 81% in context.”
Now, first, the writers note the 81% number fails to address, motivation. The 81%’s vote wasn’t an, “enthusiastic,” vote. Seriously? Do we care at this point? Imagine a person drives a truck, one that is on fire and loaded with garbage, into your living room. The driver gets out, smiles, and offers, “It’s okay, I wasn’t driving enthusiastically.” If we were supposed to feel some sympathy for the Trump voter, because he wasn’t enthusiastic, we should not. Our sympathy should remain with the home-owner—the rest of the country.
Second, we learn the 81%’s vote was more about the economy than the Supreme Court or pro-life issues. Here was really the only surprise. But, are we supposed to take comfort in this finding? In my view, this makes the motivation for their vote even less understandable or worthy of sympathy. At least we might understand their choosing a morally challenged, ethically stunted, con-artist, with minimal character, honesty, and integrity, if we thought due to conscience, they felt compelled to vote, “pro-life.”
But to learn they voted with the almighty dollar, mammon, foremost in mind is unbelievably worse. This reveals an even more shallow, unwise, and selfish motivation for their decision. For me, this was the most disappointing and shameful finding. This also undercuts the next finding that they would cross party lines over abortion. Why should we believe that when their primary motivation was the economy?
Third, we are informed the 81% were taking the long view with their vote. Again, a very disappointing finding. It tells us white evangelicals decided to ditch their long-held advocacy of the idea that, “character matters,” that candidates had to be decent people, honest, and ethical, (regardless their political views or party platform), and join the Machiavellian, modern, utilitarian chorus, to wit: The ends justify the means.
So, if the writers were hoping we would see how strategic, reflective, and purposeful, the 81% were being, please, just stop. There is nothing to admire about throwing up one’s hands and basically saying: If we can’t beat them, let’s join them.
“Many evangelicals are willing to overlook personal character when voting.”
Moderate evangelical pastors and leaders: This should bother you greatly. This reveals a deep disconnect between the pastors/leaders and evangelicals in the pews when it comes to political theology and Christian ethics. The above finding is the result of a failure to disciple; or, the result of actually forming a person to believe character doesn’t matter if it means we, “win,” or gain power. Either way, a failure.
They go on:
“Put another way, many evangelicals struggle to hold favored candidates to the same standards expected of rivals.”
Or, we could be honest and put it a way that actually captures what this finding means: Hypocrisy. And again, it is the result of ceding their congregants’ discipleship and formation to outside, non-Christian, sources. Isn’t there a verse somewhere that talks about protecting one’s flock from wolves in sheep’s clothing?
Fifth and finally:
“Many of the 81 percent were not influenced by church leadership…Put another way, many evangelicals are likely turning to culture—and often the most outraged voices [emphasis added]—rather than the church for political discipleship.”
Exactly. But here’s a question: Was the, “political discipleship,” ever offered? And what about the political discipleship that actually pointed people toward Trump (Jeffress, Graham, Falwell, Jr., etc.)? Too many evangelical pastors were either silent out of ignorance or fear of their conservative congregations, or they actually advocated for the candidate with the worst character and ethics. A failure, all the way around.
So, moderate evangelical pastors/leaders, what say you? What are you going to do about the findings in this polling? Please decide quickly, because I’m not sure the rest of us, the world, or the good name of, “Christian,” can take much more of your people listening to everyone else, except, you.
The writers end on a positive note: “… [they hope these findings] help evangelicals submit their political engagement to God’s Word, in God’s community, and under the discipleship of godly people rather than to a party, politician, or pundit.”
I should add that I like and respect Ed Stetzer and I would bet many of the findings of this polling bother him as well, even as he tries to put the best face on them. I just think there isn’t enough lipstick in the world to make this look pretty.
White evangelical pastors and leaders: Get your own house in order. Stop worrying about who can marry whom, bathrooms, cakes, scary women, or the black and brown people moving into your neighborhoods. Start worrying about the findings of this survey and the fact that rather than, “debunking,” it confirms our worse suspicions and fears about the evangelical world and the reasons for their vote in 2016.
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