Five Things I Think I Think About Politicians “Wooing” Evangelicals

canstockphoto8469495Presidential candidate Donald Trump invited 1,000 evangelical leaders to meet with him last week, and the media coverage—both traditional and social media—had all kinds of takes on it. I’ve watched this happen my entire life as an evangelical pastor—the wooing of evangelicals by politicians and the wooing of politicians by evangelicals. Here are some of my thoughts as I saw it happening again.

 1. The diversity of Evangelicals needs to be recognized

I wasn’t invited to the meeting—what’s up with that?—but from what I’ve read the group in attendance was overwhelmingly middle-aged and older white males. (Again, why wasn’t I invited?) While this reflects the leadership of evangelicals, which tends to be older white males, the culture at large needs to recognize that evangelicalism as a movement is more diverse than it has been portrayed. One fourth of evangelicals are non-whites, and not marginally so. According to the Pew Research Center, a higher percentage of African-Americans and Hispanics/Latinos attend church weekly, read their Bibles daily, pray regularly, and consider their faith to be very important to them than whites. They are not an insignificant part of evangelicalism—except when it comes to positions of influence.

 2. Evangelicals don’t all believe the same.

Movements start out with unity of belief. Indeed, that’s generally what defines a movement. Within a generation, however, diversity starts to inevitably make it’s way in. Children are “baptized” into the movement and claim its mantle because of heritage, even if they start to move away from some of the core tenets. Most people think of evangelicals as social conservatives, but there has always been a significant number of evangelicals who are theologically conservative but socially progressive. Now several generations into the movement evangelicals more and more reflect the multiplicity of positions you find in the country as a whole. It’s really not proper to refer to evangelicalism in the singular; we should start referring to evangelicalisms.

 3. We are still seduced by worldly power.

The Temptation of Jesus was about whether he was going to use worldly power—whether financial, political, or religious—to bring about his kingdom. He obviously forsook them for the power of self-sacrificial love. The church, not just evangelicals, is still seduced by earthly power. It’s hard to resist. It’s easy to think we can use worldly power and maintain our integrity to the Gospel—but we can’t. We always end up being used, and the Gospel compromised.

 4. Some have forgotten about Constantine

For the first three centuries of the church, Christianity was poor, powerless, and persecuted—and it flourished. Yes, there were problems, but Christianity grew and it spread. But Constantine credited the Christian God with giving him military victory over the competitors to the throne, and over the course of his reign Christianity rose in power and influence in the Roman empire. As it did, the corruption of Rome found its way into the church, and indeed the very central message of Jesus was compromised. He became a savior of sins, but his message of enemy-love, non-violence, and the tearing down of ethnic and national divisions was minimized and/or explained away. Christianity has never won when it tries to use political power to advance it’s ends. It can’t, for it’s ends demand eschewing political power. Indeed, it’s ends are a threat to all forms of worldly power.

 5. It was a combination of politics and religion that crucified Jesus.

Pilate may have tried to wash his hands of the mess, but the fact remains that while the Temple leaders brought Jesus to him because he was in their eyes a blasphemer, Jesus was crucified as a rebel against Rome, under the mocking title, “King of the Jews.” As subsequent emperors would soon find out, Christianity was a threat not just to Jerusalem, but to Rome. Killing it didn’t work, so they tried taming it by seducing it with power. Eventually it worked.

Will it still?

Photo by © Can Stock Photo Inc. / mikdam

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