There is a great deal of excitement today within my tribe, the evangelicals, over the inauguration of President Trump. Many evangelicals, a significant majority of them in fact, voted to make the businessman/reality TV star/politician the 45th president of the United States. Admittedly, many voted with their nose clenched firmly between their thumb and forefinger. But some did not. There were reluctant evangelical Trump voters but then there were also his embarrassingly ardent cheerleaders among the evangelical camp. These advocates downplayed allegations of sexual assault, wrote off clear character defects, and defended race-baiting and unprecedented ignorance from “their” candidate. Nothing Trump said could dissuade them. Nothing he did could dampen their enthusiasm.
Now, to be fair, evangelicalism is a pretty broad camp, with some even calling the label “meaningless” because if anything can be evangelical, nothing is. But the term seems here to stay, however, large and unwieldy its referent. One would expect there to be some wackos around the edges of such an extensive and varied group. But Trump’s cheerleaders were not squatting in mildewed tents at the edge of the evangelical encampment mumbling to themselves: they were sitting in the center, atop some of the most storied institutions and laying claim to some of the most illustrious names in the movement. They were the elites, the special forces, the kings and kingmakers of the movement. They wore the crusader’s mantle, proudly, handed down to them by their Moral Majority forebears. Their evangelicalism was as assumed as their Republican voter cards were well-worn. And nothing, not even a candidate as unfit as Trump, was going to dissuade them. So bearing the flags of both the Republican Party and Evangelical Christianity, they shouted, they whooped, they hollered for their man. And, lo and behold, they got him.
Frankly, it sickened me. That’s why I was #NeverTrump. It sickened me because I knew, I just knew, that the entire evangelical movement would get slapped with the Trumpite label. Efforts to engage in racial reconciliation would be chilled, outreach would become freighted with suffocating political baggage, and an increasingly liberal society, election results notwithstanding, would have further cause for pushing Christians out of thoughtful engagement in public square. The entire cause would be blacklisted because of the trumpeting of a few: the proud, the wilfully blind remnants of the Moral Majority. If ever there was a case of guilt by association, surely this would be it. In what would be a hilariously ironic, if not so tragic, twist, a minority of voices still waving that banner would co-opt the evangelical name in the public consciousness and it would be said that it was evangelicals who elected Trump.
And so it has been. Over and over, in the lead-up to today and in live broadcasts this morning, multiple references were made to the “essential” role “evangelicals” played in electing Trump.
But, in my mind, the truth is that it wasn’t really evangelicals who brought about Trump. Instead, the Grand Old Party and the Moral Majority, having consummated their relationship so many years before, found themselves the proud parents of a foul-mouthed, unprepared, unscrupulous, nepotistic, narcissistic, authoritarian President-Elect. Evangelicals got caught up in the prop wash of being told by their political and religious leaders that they had a moral obligation to vote for the man with no morals. And it worked. Mission accomplished, movement destroyed. The triumphal shouts from those Trumpian cheerleaders at the center of evangelicalism have been deafening. They’ve been so loud, so ebullient, and now are even more so.
Because Trump is now, officially, their president.
But he’s more than that: he’s now my president.
Why? Because I’m an American citizen and he’s the American president. And that’s the rub. That’s the problem with having been #NeverTrump. A staunch marcher in the #NeverTrump parade throughout both the primaries and the general election, I watched the election results and the ensuing spectacle of a transition in a dumbfounded stupor. The best I could manage was an infrequent grunt of confusion and disbelief. But, for all my opposition through the election, the peaceful transition of power has, for the most part, occurred. What do I do now that we’ve got #PresidentTrump?
I repent of the pride that too often lead me to write and speak, dismissively and condemningly, of well-intentioned evangelicals who felt there were no good options in this election and pulled the lever for Trump. I still believe that Trumpian cheerleaders within evangelicalism were wrong, but I was wrong to conflate the two groups together.
I repent of failing to acknowledge the sovereignty of God in this election. I don’t believe, as some do, that Trump is God’s man in the sense that he will save America and the American church. But he is God’s man for God’s purposes. And it is arrogant for me to claim knowledge of what those purposes are or to refuse to submit to the president God has placed in power.
I repent of allowing politics to distract me from my task as pastor. Many of my conversations were pastorally-motivated, begging fellow saints to not give in to fear, to place their hope in Christ instead of politics. But along the way, I got distracted by the prideful desire to be right. I pray Trump is the president many think he will be and that I will be the pastor my people need me to be.
I repent of #NeverTrump. It worked during the primaries. It worked during the general election. But it doesn’t work now. The word “Never” in #NeverTrump made a strong case for joining the ranks of the #NotMyPresident crowd. But God brought me back from the brink of that prideful rebellion. As any counselor will tell you, the words “always” and “never” are not conducive to healthy dialogue. And I want to see healthy dialogue amongst Christians in this nation regarding our relationship with the power of the state and to continue waving a #NeverTrump flag after he is now #PresidentTrump would prevent that conversation.
My views of Trump’s fitness for political office have not changed. But God in his mercy is changing my understanding of how to express and live those views (see John Piper’s article, “How to Live Under an Unqualified President”). I still grieve the moral apathy of those who were supposed to be moral leaders. I lament the authoritarian, misogynistic, racist overtones of Trump’s rhetoric and actions. If I were not so recently renewed in my affirmation of God’s sovereignty, I would fear for the future of not just this nation, but of the world. America has pulled the pin on a grenade without knowing if it’s live or a dummy: either could be devastating.
Repenting of #NeverTrump is not affirming his actions or words or those who would sacrifice biblical truth for the privilege of bending President Trump’s ear from time to time. I still believe that Christians have a responsibility to hold President Trump accountable, to stand up for minorities and the weak, and to speak boldly against any Christian, evangelical or otherwise, who would dismiss, downplay, or redefine sin for the sake of a place at the political table. But I believe as well that my Christian faith demands I repent of imagining myself blameless in the pursuit of these things.
Repenting of #NeverTrump is submission to the authority of God in Christ which insists that I “submit myself to every governing authority.” For Christians, that doesn’t mean being political doormats, but it does mean being faithful. It means praying for President Trump, not hypocritically, but honestly. It means applauding the peaceful transition of power. It means thanking God for the freedoms we have even as we seek to protect them for those who cannot protect themselves. But it also means living as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven even as we walk amongst the kingdoms of earth. We can’t put our trust in a president, but neither should we move in rebellion. Yes, we should speak truth to power, but we should never do so in a way that seeks power for ourselves. Yes, we should be engaged politically but as humble sojourners because, no matter who is president, God is still sovereign on his throne, Jesus is still Lord, and the Holy Spirit still is at work.