The election is finally over. After more than a year of tumult, America has elected a new president. It was a particularly chaotic and difficult campaign, and like most people, I am grateful that it has come to an end. But even as we enjoy this respite, we should take the time to ask what lessons might be learned from election 2016.
Evangelicals were prominently featured throughout the entire campaign. There was much discussion about our approach to politics and how our votes might be allocated. And like it or not, the way we engage the political sphere is a part of our public witness. I will leave it to others to provide a more detailed analysis, but considering the importance of this subject, I wanted to share five reflections on evangelicals and our politics taken from these many months.
1. Christians need more political discourse, not less.
I know this statement seems counterintuitive. I know that because I also have those Facebook friends who are constantly engaged in never-ending, unproductive debate. But that isn’t what I’m referring to. Instead, I am thinking of the honest conversations that I shared with other believers around my dinner table, in coffee shops or after a church service. Far from the invective of digital debate, I found these face to face conversations to be immensely helpful and sincere. Through those conversations, I was able to hear from other believers who were wrestling with the volatility of American politics and trying to reconcile their politics with their Christian worldview.
Most of the Christians that I spoke with believed that they had both a Christian and civic duty to vote. But many of these brothers and sisters were also unsure about how to think through certain issues including religious freedom, marriage and evaluating a candidate. In the course of those conversations we were able to help one another think more clearly, and biblically, about the factors that determined the decisions we made on election day. Rather than hiding our politics under a bushel, we need to encourage Christians to engage in charitable discourse about political issues.
2. A lot of factors shape a person’s approach to politics.
As evangelicals, we need to stop assuming that our common belief in the Bible will lead us to the same conclusion on every matter of policy. There are certain truths that every Christian must affirm, such as the inherent dignity of every person and the evil of abortion. But in many cases, we must rely on our conscience, experience and God-given wisdom in taking certain positions.
One of our biggest problems is that we tend to live in echo chambers, where all of the voices we hear only affirm our own conclusions. This is a problem on both sides of the political aisle. I would encourage any Christian to seek out opportunities to spend time with believers who share your belief in the Bible, but not your approach to politics. It will stretch you. But you need it.
3. There are many ways to participate in the process.
Too many times during this election, evangelicals made definitive statements about the Christian position on (insert your preferred party or candidate). Such statements are seldom warranted, and are often foolish.
In addition to being Christians, we are all human beings. We tend to spend our time with people who share our preferences and beliefs. That is understandable, but one of the most encouraging things taking place in evangelicalism today is a movement toward diversity. We must not let politics stand in the way of pursuing the vision of kingdom diversity—of multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-generational local churches. And to do this, we must make peace with the fact that our church body might include Republicans and Democrats, libertarians and progressives. Instead of seeking uniformity, we must seek unity in the essentials. Instead of binding the conscience with irresponsible hyperbole, we should seek to shape the conscience with the Word of God.
4. Sometimes the chaos brings out the right impulse.
This was a tense election. There was, and remains, a lot of emotion and uncertainty about the outcome. Over and over again this year, Christians issued and answered the call to prayer. It is a striking reality. In the midst of the chaos, the people of God stopped to pray.
The only real hope for America’s future is found in the hands of the one true God. And this is true at all times, not only before a national election. The Bible calls us to pray for our leaders and those in authority (1 Timothy 2:2). One of the beautiful outcomes of this election is that the church dedicated itself to prayer. There is still much to be said and critiqued about the politics of evangelicals, but surely we can affirm this while addressing those concerns.
5. The gospel is (still) political.
The gospel represents a declaration of our true allegiance. Each week as we gather in our local churches we offer our confession, Jesus is Lord. That reality shapes everything we do. We vote and engage the political sphere for many reasons, but we never lose sight of our true citizenship which belongs to an eternal kingdom. Republican or Democrat, the allegiance of the Christian transcends partisan boundaries. Again, evangelicals have much to do to cultivate a more faithful public witness, but I can hardly explain how deeply encouraged I was to see so many Christians — particularly millennials — fully engage the political sphere without losing sight of this truth.
Sometimes we are tempted to view things like politics as a distraction. They certainly can be. At certain times I was more than disappointed by the choices and behavior of certain evangelical leaders. But many times during this election I witnessed Christians faithfully put the gospel on display. As evangelicals, we have submitted our lives to the lordship of Jesus. When we engage faithfully, politics offers us a unique opportunity to make visible both our convictions and our King.