Last Monday I posted on Facebook that although I had deliberately stayed away from politics on this blog for a few weeks, I might not be able to continue doing so if Alabamans had the bad judgment to send Roy Moore to the U. S. Senate in their special election the following day.
I was already sketching out in my head what I would write about evangelical Christians and white people (which are often treated as synonyms) who apparently would rather vote for an accused sexual predator who believes homosexuals belong in prison than vote for a Democrat. One of my favorite Twitter sites, @TheGoodGodAbove (God’s unofficial Twitter site) tweeted
Dear Alabamians, If you call yourself a follower of Christ, then you already know the right thing to do tomorrow. Thou shalt not vote for a pedophile. When you pass away someday and come to God for judgment, you don’t want ‘voted for a pedophile’ on your permanent record.
But my hopes were not high. Tuesday was not going to be pretty.
Then, in a much-appreciated show of good judgment, the majority of Alabamans voting last Tuesday sent Doug Jones to the U. S. Senate and Roy Moore packing (although he hasn’t had the class or good sense to admit it yet). As I learned how this shocking upset happened, I realized that many of the things I was planning to write about my evangelical brothers and sisters still were relevant. I learned from various media sites, for instance, that in Tuesday’s Alabama election
- 81% of self-identified evangelical Christians voted for Moore; the exact same percentage voted for Trump in November 2016.
- Among all Alabama voters, 49% said that they believed the sexual misconduct allegations against Moore were true, with 45% saying they were false. Among white evangelicals, 24% thought the allegations were true, and 72% said they were false.
- Evangelical white women voted 76% to 22% for Moore, while non-evangelical white women voted 74% to 21% for Jones.
In other words, evangelical Christian support for Roy Moore was close to rock solid. But thanks largely to the votes of African-Americans, particularly African-American women, evangelical support was not enough. Despite the best efforts of evangelical Christians in Alabama, Roy Jones lost. And, might I add, thanks be to God.
I have written frequently over the past two years on ths blog about the odd and, to me at least, inexplicable voting patterns of large blocks of evangelical Christians.
How is it that persons who often are the most vocal and self-righteous about their faith, while at the same time being highly critical and judgmental of those who believe differently, are regularly willing to set aside their professed principles and vote for persons whose very existence is a slap in the face to Christian values? There have been studies, and there are as many opinions and “findings” as there are persons providing them. Do a brief Google search on “Evangelicals and politics” and you’ll get more perspectives than can be digested in several sittings.
Christians should be fully aware of the dangers of seeking to join their faith with political power—this is the last, and perhaps most challenging, of Jesus’ temptations in the desert after his baptism. Matthew’s gospel tells us that
Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.”
The temptation is a powerful one. Why wouldn’t a person of faith, a person who believes that her or his values and message of hope and salvation is precisely what this sorry and sinful world needs, seek the power necessary to effectively insert those values and that message into a godless culture? The reason not to do this, as Jesus tells Satan, is that by doing so one literally is selling one’s soul to the very forces that one is seeking to overcome.
At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written: The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.”
In Christianity Today, generally considered to be evangelical Christianity’s flagship magazine, editor-in-chief Mark Galli hit the nail on the head in an editorial the day after the election in Alabama:
What events of the last year and a half have shown once again is that when Christians immerse themselves in politics as Christians, for what they determine are Christian causes, touting their version of biblical morality in the public square—they will sooner or later (and often sooner) begin to compromise the very principles they champion and do so to such a degree that it blemishes the very faith they are most anxious to promote. . . . When we engage in politics, we often end up doing and saying things that make us sound and act like we don’t care about the very values we champion.
Although progressive Christians love to point their finger at evangelicals as the prime examples of the phenomenon Galli is describing, the temptation to join religious faith with political power knows no doctrine, dogma, or agenda. There are many reasons that Jesus resisted the temptation of political power, not only in the desert but also in his subsequent years of ministry—the corrosive effects of political ambition on a person seeking to life a life of faithfulness to God were as apparent in his day as they are in ours.
By all means Christians should be politically active—this is both a right and privilege of citizenship. But persons of Christian faith must guard carefully against giving the impression or succumbing to the delusion that the right sort of political positions or social policies are what Christianity amounts to. Christians should distinguish carefully between Christian political advocacy and Political advocacy by persons of Christian faith. The former is to be avoided at all costs, as no person should understand herself or himself as the spokesperson for all Christians or for God. I highly recommend the latter; if my Christian faith is serious, it will have a daily and direct impact on how I engage with others and my society. Do not advocate in the name of Christianity, but advocate as the person that you have become because of your Christian faith. And as Mark Galli reminds us at the end of his editorial, a large dose of humility is in order.
Perhaps the first step is for Christians, when they stand up to champion a cause, to stop saying “Thus says the Lord” and “Lord, I thank you that you have not made me like these other Christians,” but frame their politics with, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner.”