Some of us two-kingdom Protestants have been arguing for a while that an approach to U.S. political life based more on duties of citizenship than on the responsibilities of holiness is what American Protestants need. It was altogether true during the days of the Religious Right, who simply picked up where mainline Protestants left off in collapsing national identity with church affiliation. It is all the more true in times of inspecting every nook and cranny of conscience to figure out for which president candidate to vote. Doesn’t God care about Congress?
And we two-kingdom types are all the more resolved about the virtues of secularizing (read de-Christianizing) politics when we read pastors like Thabiti Anyabwile dissect the results of Tuesday’s election. Instead of letting Christians have the liberty of disagreeing about politics, Anyabwile thinks evangelical support for Donald Trump is a sign of spiritual weakness. He lists four problems but I single out two. First his number 3:
Third, the movement failed to escape its partisan bias in favor of more principled and biblical stands. A good number of evangelicals took #NeverTrump positions because they did not recognize Mr. Trump as a bona fide conservative. They felt conservative principles had been abandoned by party leadership. They felt a charlatan had hijacked their political home. But not enough of them sought out a new home, one of their own making based on more sure biblical grounds.
Anyabwile doesn’t explain what such a biblical stand might be. When he did write about his willingness to vote for Hillary Clinton, he wrote this:
I prefer the predictable over the unpredictable. Whatever we might call Clinton, however we might evaluate her as a leader or her platform as a vision for America, we could say more or less the exact same things about Trump–with one glaring exception. We have no way of predicting Trump’s behavior from one hour to the next. None. Except to predict that the behavior will be vile and repulsive for any person who cares about civility, truth, and the dignity of the office.
Neither candidate represents any of my values. That’s just not on offer to any Christian of serious biblical intent. But Clinton represents the status quo, a steady state of affairs in that regard. Trump is the revolutionary, the rebel it seems without a clear cause. His prescriptions are not only draconian but also erratic. When I add the loathsome race-baiting, the misogynistic views of women, the isolationist foreign policy notions, the equivocating on abortion, the advocating of war crimes and escalation of conflict even with allies, I’m left looking at a revolutionary that would cast us in sentiment and law back to the 1940s at least.
Those are plausible political preferences, but they are not biblical. So what gives? Why can’t white evangelicals have their own political preferences without having to give biblical reasons?
His other point deserving comment is his second:
Second, the movement has abandoned public solidarity with groups who considered Mr. Trump an existential threat to them. I’m speaking here of the many groups who expressed reservation regarding Mr. Trump’s racism, religious bigotry, misogyny, isolationism, and nativism. People with those concerns came from a lot of groups in the country, including African-American Christians, many themselves evangelicals.
Yes, but did Pastor Anyabwile show his solidarity with working-class white Americans, the Hillbilly Elegy types, who feel left out of an America that seems to accommodate the concerns of other groups more than them? And can Pastor Anyabwile explain why he is allowed to have solidarity with his group but some people aren’t? Wouldn’t biblical grounds suggest that neither blacks nor whites, Jews or Greeks, gets to retain their group identity from a biblical perspective?
Keep in mind that we are not talking about a biblical election. We are talking about a U.S. election. And in the United States groups are allowed to show solidarity. Race, class, gender, and sexual orientation, anyone? All the more reason that if you look at this from an American as opposed to a biblical perspective, if you keep the secular and sacred properly aligned, you may not necessarily write the way that Anyabwile does.
Meanwhile, did anyone notice that a biblical standard might require Pastor Anyabwile to regard his fellow white evangelicals’ vote more charitably than he does? Why interpret the vote in ways that reflect negatively on the motives of evangelicals? In one set of comments, Anyabwile sure seemed to understand the appeal of such charitable readings:
As for the assumption I’d vote for Clinton, that’s a reasonable assumption based on a May article. But lots has happened since May and I haven’t written since then. So, it would seem that courtesy would require making an inquiry before making a statement based on old data. Representing others accurately is not an unfair request.
Can’t white evangelicals who voted for Trump — I didn’t — get a little of that same fairness?