The 2016 election has been groundbreaking for more than a few reasons. The populist serious angst on both sides of the aisle has caused Donald Trump to be the lead GOP candidate and Bernie Sanders to cause friction for Hillary Clinton. But the rise of Trump had also led to a major debate with certain religious commentators on what their role in politics should be. Most of the focus is on First Baptist-Dallas Preacher Robert Jeffress’ decision to appear at Trump rallies and unofficially endorse him for president (Jeffress cannot officially endorse anyone because of 501c3 rules). Jeffress’ support of Trump goes as far as to tell The Christian Post that Christians who don’t vote for Trump are “fools” because they’re letting Clinton get the White House. That caused Dr. Michael Brown to write an open letter in Charisma News asking Jeffress if he wants to rephrase his words:
There are many other Christians who feel just as [David] French does, who cannot imagine pushing the button or pulling the lever in support of Trump, a man who has managed to bring the Republican Party to all-time lows and who has made a mockery of the campaign process.
Many of us have had it with politics as usual and have tremendous distrust for the political establishment, yet we would feel like we were selling our souls to help a man like Trump become the representative of our nation. And we feel this way not so much because of who Trump was in the past but because of who he is today…
And what potential damage could Trump cause as president? Could he lead us into a needless war? Could he alienate our allies? Could he provoke racial or ethnic strife (and even violence) in our nation by making inflammatory remarks?
Perhaps rather than saying, “God bless Donald Trump!”, you should have said, “May God bring Donald Trump to repentance and salvation!”
Ross Douthat noted a similar feeling of division in The New York Times:
But others clearly look at things a little differently. If this is really a post-Christian society, they seem to be thinking, then Christians need to make sure the meanest, toughest heathen on the block is on their side. So it makes sense to join an alliance of convenience with a strongman, placing themselves under his benevolent protection, because their own leaders have delivered them only to defeat.
And the lure of the strongman is particularly powerful for those believers whose theology was somewhat Trumpian already — nationalistic, prosperity-worshiping, by turns apocalyptic and success-obsessed.
It’s a tough way to go for Christians who want to be involved in politics. They’re seeing leaders they’re supposed to respect become drawn in by Trump’s allure. Is it better to support a hypocritical candidate who may or may not follow his promises (but is from the “right” party) or support a candidate who is just as bad? Or is there an alternate solution in just not endorsing candidates at all? Is it really the church’s role to say, “This candidate is better than this one” or should they be focused on other things? This is something both the Christian Right and Christian Left have to debate and decide for themselves. Religion is probably always going to have some involvement in local, state, and national politics, but it doesn’t mean it should.
This isn’t saying pastors should shut up about political topics. But it might be smarter to keep those debates outside the realm of lawmaking and more focused on changing opinions, socially. Maybe it’s best for religious leaders to say, “Hey, abortion is wrong, so let’s do more outreach to women on the services we provide, including helping them find someone who can adopt the baby.” The pro-life rallies can keep going on, but maybe take a similar stance as what religious leaders are saying. The same goes for debates over gay marriage. There’s nothing wrong with churches deciding to leave a congregation over whether or not gay marriage ceremonies should be performed. That’s a theological discussion which deserves debate because there are Christians out there who believe gay marriage is biblical and those who do not believe it’s biblical.
One thing I do think pastors should stay away from commenting on other religions like Islam because not only could those comments be used to recruit moderate Muslims into ISIS’ fold, but they also forget the First Amendment’s passage on freedom of religion. It’s fine to disagree with another religion, but calling it “from Satan” doesn’t exactly encourage unity or the saving of souls. Maybe that’s what the church should be focused on, instead of commenting on who the best president should be.