Faith and politics are a very powerful cocktail with serious implications. Christian leaders from Bonhoeffer to Martin Luther King, Jr warned that faith should always serve as a moral compass and never as a subservient pawn to any partisan or political ideology. In the words of Martin Luther, "The cross tests everything." Too often when we as evangelicals have entered the political fray we have been more partisan than gospel-centered. In recent days Dr. Russell Moore warned of this proximity in response to Mr. Trump's visit to Liberty University. To be fair, Senators Sanders and Cruz have also been to Liberty to speak recently. Liberty University is wise to inform their student body by having open forums and discussions with and by presidential candidates. Nevertheless, Dr. Moore is correct that the glowing introduction of Mr. Trump can sound like a tacit endorsement of a candidate who in recent months has used rhetoric about women, immigrants, and Muslims that does not reflect the Gospel core. Evangelicals of all stripes can and must do better.
Ideological partisanship (which happens on both the left and right) diminishes our prophetic autonomy and gospel credibility. To be clear, this does NOT mean Christians should be silent on politics or policy; we should not. What it does mean is that we look at candidates and platforms through the prism of Scripture and Christian ethics. Our public stances on issues ranging from but not limited to life, poverty, family, war and peace, immigration, religious liberty, criminal justice, and education should not be captive to partisan politics or political expediency. Reasonable people can and do disagree but we should never make an idol out of an ideology. All political parties, like all human constructs, are fallen. Nevertheless, governments however fallen also have the capacity for good. We should not abandon our capacity to try and influence those in authority. Of course, the danger of being used looms large.
Moreover, evangelicals can, with much wisdom, work within governmental structures and parties with the understanding that conscience and conviction requires us not to bow when we disagree with these structures. Convictional leadership within governments are the lessons of Joseph, Nehemiah, Esther, and Daniel. We, like every generation, must face the discerning task of prophetic public engagement without becoming puppets.
Our generation of evangelicals is again faced with a decision, "Will we sell our prophetic birthright for access to power?" Or will our generation take our cue from the prophets of old who used access to speak from a principled moral conviction? We have deep soul-searching work to do. Regrettably, in recent months we've seen xenophobic rhetoric by some on the right and immigrant raids on the left. Our moral commitment to the immigrant, stranger, and refugee is not based on a party platform but Biblical principles found in Scriptures. Xenophobic political rhetoric and policies must be confronted not because of partisan allegiance but because of a commitment to the most vulnerable. In addition, genuine commitments to a culture of life from the womb to the tomb have been dismissed by some as religious naivete. Calls for an end to capital punishment and standing for life in utero have been politicized as incompatible. Standing for religious liberty for all faiths has become a political third rail. We stand again at a crossroads between political expediency and Christian conscience. For the sake of future generations, I pray conscience wins.
This means that we can meet with all candidates but NOT to sacramentalize their political agenda but to proclaim our commitments with conviction. We should remind all candidates that evangelicals' primary allegiance is to the Gospel. So let's move away from facile talking points, easy partisanship, and uninformed voting. Let's recommit ourselves to the arduous task of doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly before God.