Four years ago, after 81 percent of white evangelicals voted to elected Donald Trump president, there was a lot of fretting from the former white evangelical establishment that this might harm evangelicals’ “witness.” This concern has re-emerged with a new intensity amid the 2020 election, with white evangelical support for Trump remaining almost as high.
Allow me to put that concern to rest: No, white evangelical support for Trump has not harmed and cannot harm evangelicals’ witness. Because white evangelical support for Trump and for Trumpism is its witness. This is the gospel that white evangelicalism proclaims and embodies. This is the testimony it offers and the witness it bears to the world. This is the community embodied in its churches, schools, para-church ministries, Bible colleges, publications and publishing houses. This is the news it has to share with a fallen world.
White evangelical support for Trump’s candidacy and presidency has not altered the witness of white evangelicalism, only clarified it.
“Witness” may be a familiar word, but its religious usage may be strange to them that are without, so let me step back for a moment and try to explain what this word means when we Christians speak of our “witness.” As with a witness bearing testimony in court, Christian “witness” includes the words we speak, but the words that we say are not the only or the most important part. Our “witness” entails the whole of our lives, the way we live, every day, and how that living sets us apart from our “unsaved” neighbors. Our lives are to stand as examples, as testimony, demonstrating that we have been born again into new lives centered on something new, on something else as the Most Important Thing.
The political career of Donald Trump has not changed the Most Important Thing for white evangelicalism, it has only given it a specific, pancaked face and a more prominent platform. This has not altered white evangelicalism except in allowing it to shed some of the superfluous trappings of sanctimony that had previously accreted around its ever-present Most Important Thing.
White evangelicalism did not change in order to support Donald Trump. It did not have to change. It was Trump, after all, who announced his conversion to “nondenominational” (i.e., white evangelical) religion. White evangelicals did not need to convert to or away from anything to support him and the whole of his agenda. They’d been there all along, just waiting for him.
So please rest assured, ministers and gatekeepers of white evangelical Christianity, massive white evangelical support for Trumpism is not harming your witness. It is your witness. The entirety of it, for all the world to see. And that message is coming across loud and clear.