I’m accustomed to seeing Donald Trump Twitter tirades. I’m not, however, accustomed to seeing Southern Baptist theologians as the object of those tirades. Yet, yesterday morning, I woke up to this:
.@drmoore Russell Moore is truly a terrible representative of Evangelicals and all of the good they stand for. A nasty guy with no heart!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 9, 2016
Opinions of Donald Trump aside, when was the last time a Republican Presidential nominee publically went after an influential Evangelical leader? I can’t think of an example. Republicans used to actively court Evangelicals, not crucify them.
And the cordial feelings tended to be mutual. Though the Republican Party has never aligned perfectly with Christian teaching, conservative Evangelicals could generally rely on the party to produce candidates who valued life, character, and religious freedom.
Yet that assumption has been slowly eroding, and Trump’s tweet seems to be the nail in the coffin. The gospel no longer fits neatly into a political party (if it ever did at all).
As a pastor, I’m watching this transition occur in real-time. Two recent conversations put a face on the topic.
In a dusty, crowded bookstore, I struck up a conversation with an intelligent, white-haired lady in her 70s. We talked coffee, books, and our mutual love for Marilynn Robinson. Eventually, I invited her to visit the little church I pastor.
After a brief pause, she replied, “Any church I attend must be accepting of people of all genders — perceived or otherwise.” As we continued our conversation, she criticized my denomination for being narrow-minded, unaccepting, and “too political.”
Put simply, the gospel we proclaim was too conservative.
Later that same day, a friend and I met with a warm, smiling lady in her sixties who had visited our church. As we sat in lawn chairs under a shady tree on her small, secluded farm, we talked gardening, tractors, and nature’s beauty.
Eventually, I asked her what she was looking for in a church. After a brief pause, she explained that she watches a conservative-leaning cable channel every day. She’s worried about the direction of our country, and she wants a church that preaches on these hot-button political issues.
“My old church wanted us to give donations to the poor kids in Africa. I’ve about decided they’re always going to be poor — and we have real problems here,” she said.
Though I was a “real good minister,” she wanted a church that preached more about political issues.
Put simply, the gospel we proclaim was not conservative enough.
After both conversations, my heart broke. Both women were kind and intelligent. Both were mildly connected to a Christian tradition. Yet the gospel didn’t fit into either of their political paradigms.
What’s worse, both women were allowing their politics to trump their faith. Practically speaking, politics had become their gods.
I don’t think these ladies were alone in their political idolatry. In recent years, politics has slowly become the new national religion. We now divide ourselves into teams not based on what we believe about God, but about what we believe about the government.
One team watches Fox News. The other watches MSNBC. One team reads Breitbart. The other reads Salon. One team laments the plight of political correctness and illegal immigration. The other grieves the problems of homophobia and police brutality. One team wants to deregulate the economy. The other wants to add more regulations.
Both sides lob verbal bombs at the other side, unable to befriend — or even carry a conversation — with someone whose politics are different than us.
Yet, the gospel doesn’t fit neatly into either category — and increasingly so.
The gospel inspires us to love the poor, the widow, and the immigrant, and pursue racial justice — issues on which we often connect with liberals. Yet the gospel also challenges us to love the unborn and protect free religious expression — issues on which we often connect with conservatives. And at all times, the gospel speaks prophetically to both extremes — affirming the good, and critiquing the bad.
Most of all, the gospel says that politics cannot be your god. It will not fulfill you. It will let you down.
I mourn for these ladies and for others who idolize politics. But I also pray for them, knowing that God can change hearts and give new affections.
And as our faith becomes stranger to our neighbors, I also pray that we would be radically committed to a life-changing gospel — not swayed by the whims of a political party. Because ours is a homeless gospel in a partisan world.
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