In 2012, a respected friend in my church asked me, in passing, who I was supporting in that year’s presidential elections. “Do you like Romney?” he asked. “Or maybe Gingrich or Santorum?”
For a moment, I was at a loss for words. It wasn’t that political conversation was off limits in our church, which is evangelical and Reformed, but not openly partisan. It was the unexamined assumption that my support would go to one of those three, or perhaps Bachman, Cain or Perry –all vying for the GOP nomination.
In fact, I wasn’t crazy about any of those candidates. I was one of the millions of Christians who, four years earlier, had suspended past party allegiances in the wreckage of the banking disaster, the Great Recession, climate denial and reckless unfunded wars – to vote instead for “hope and change.” The awkward fact was, four years later, I wasn’t ready to go back just yet.
Evangelical Christianity among white Americans in recent years has seemingly become almost synonymous with allegiance to the Republican Party. The Pew Center tells us that 56% of evangelicals identify as Republicans, a gaping 28-point spread over the 28% who identify as Democrats.
Evangelicals are presented with two “batch ideologies”
But it’s not necessarily intuitive, is it? For argument’s sake, some might imagine that Christians would gravitate toward political platforms focused on “good news to the poor,” maybe? For better healthcare for those who can’t afford it, and for livable wages for the disadvantaged? For medical assistance to the poorest, such as Medicaid? Or for wider voting rights assuring a voice to every person?
We might suppose that those who affirm that “the earth is the Lord’s” would be among the first to support efforts to clean up toxins in the air, soil and water. As followers of the Prince of Peace, they might be among the most cautious regarding runaway military spending and the use of deadly force abroad. At home, they might entertain serious doubts about the proliferation of weapons that can snuff out sacred human lives in an instant. They might prioritize biblical welcome for “sojourners,” immigrants fleeing hunger or violence in their homelands.
But curiously, few of these moral issues seem to have mattered enough yet to shake evangelical allegiances to the GOP. One issue would seem to silence all others: If you’re a “pro-life” politician regarding abortion, evangelicals would seem to be willing to overlook all manner of life-threatening postures that would seem strange to many readers of the biblical Gospels.
It’s not that it’s so strange that evangelicals haven’t become Democrats. What’s strange is that so many are so unquestioningly aligned with the Republicans, libertarians, or free-market conservatives.
But this year, things might possibly be different. I have the hardest time imagining any of my fellow congregants asking me seriously if I intend to support Donald Trump. No matter how many times Trump waves his confirmation-class Bible and swears that it’s his favorite (or second-favorite) book, Christians understand that he has little clue as to its contents, nor much interest in its directives.
And that’s why I’m wondering – seriously – if Trump doesn’t perhaps have a special place in God’s plans for his church in America. Trump, I believe, just might be God’s anointed servant in 2016.
Trump? God’s servant? I admit, it does sound outlandish. But consider biblical history. The prophet Jeremiah must have sent shock waves throughout Judah when he proclaimed to Jerusalem that King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was God’s servant. The pagan King of Babylon, poised to carry them into exile, was specially chosen by God: “I have given all these lands to … my servant …. All nations shall serve him” (Jeremiah 27:4-8).
The prophet Isaiah bestowed the same honor on Cyrus, the King of Persia, naming him as God’s anointed. “I will go before you,” Isaiah prophesied regarding the pagan Cyrus. “I call you, I name you, though you do not know me…” (Isaiah 45:1-6).
If God anointed the kings of Babylon and Persia as his servants, why couldn’t he use the Boss of “The Apprentice?” The Master of Trump Tower?
Okay, in theory at least, I might just have a point. But what on earth might God have in mind for the vulgar real estate billionaire? What role could megalomania and narcissism have in God’s plans?
Well, maybe it’s this: What if the greatest obstacle to God’s purposes for America was something other than ISIS, underemployment, or intrusive bureaucracy? What if it had something to do with political idolatry that has crept into the community of faith – merging the Way of Jesus with the way of Ronald Reagan? And what if Trump’s crassness, egotism and petulance should simply prove too much for evangelicals – driving them to critically evaluate those seeking positions of power from either Party?
In our day, religious people are presented with two “batch ideologies” to choose from – two brightly painted doors at the end of the hallway to the voting booth. Behind the Red Door is public declaration of faith in the Christian tradition, individual liberty, gun ownership, opposition to abortion, law and order, military muscle, aggressive foreign policy, American exceptionalism and tax cuts. Behind the Blue Door is secular tolerance, assistance for the poor, legal abortion, multilateral foreign policies, inclusive governance, racial reconciliation, progressive taxation, regulation of commerce and protection of the environment.
In our world, it seems that there are only two doors. We must enter one or the other, and check all the boxes as our own. For the most part, white evangelicals have chosen the Red Door.
But it wasn’t always so. In the 1960’s, American Christians split their votes about evenly between the two Parties. Before Reagan, they supported Carter in droves. Perhaps they somehow recognized that allegiance to Christ superseded any single ideology. Maybe they knew that the call of individual rights found its basis in the Bible, but so did the communitarian vision of “Shabbat shalom.” Maybe the scripture enshrined personal liberty, but also mandated practical equality among all.
Can there be a Third Door for Christians?
Maybe God was neither Republican nor Democrat.
Today, perhaps, maybe there is a Third Door. Maybe that door is neither Blue nor Red, but one that stands apart, supporting and confronting politicians from an ethic rooted in the Prophets, in the Gospels, in the Torah. Maybe “Jesus is Lord” means that Caesar is NOT Lord – nor Kennedy, nor Reagan, nor anyone else.
The Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright sums this up possibly as well as anyone: “The followers of Jesus are to live under the rulers of the world, believing them to be appointed by God but not believing that that makes them perfect or that they do not need to be held accountable. On the contrary. Because they are God’s servants they may well need to be reminded of their duty, however dangerous and uncomfortable a task that may be.”
If so, then surely, Donald Trump could be God’s servant in this age, sent to break the bond that shackles evangelicals to one single incarnation of Caesar in our day. Surely Trump could be the man who can lead us as Christians – unknowingly, perhaps – to the Third Door.