First, the movement has surrendered any claims to the moral high ground in electoral politics. Even though many evangelicals chose Trump while having significant reservations about his character, they nevertheless chose Trump. They did not choose character. To be clear, Mrs. Clinton was not an objectively better moral option. But not voting, voting third party, or writing in, as many said they would, were also options. The lion’s share of evangelicals put character concerns aside and pulled the lever for a man whose character is every bit as “flawed” as President Clinton’s, whose impeachment evangelicals supported. For that choice, as many have already observed, the moral high ground is lost.
Second, the movement has abandoned public solidarity with groups who considered Mr. Trump an existential threat to them. I’m speaking here of the many groups who expressed reservation regarding Mr. Trump’s racism, religious bigotry, misogyny, isolationism, and nativism. People with those concerns came from a lot of groups in the country, including African-American Christians, many themselves evangelicals. At 80 percent, white evangelicalism en masse sided with Mr. Trump over and against the concerns of fellow evangelicals weary of his alienating and divisive rhetoric and campaign promises. Based on correspondence during the campaign and following the election, it seems clear to me that that voting decision will likely put a deep chill on efforts at reconciliation and co-belligerence in the culture. For many, evangelicals expressed solidarity (again) with some of the worst aspects of American history and culture while abandoning brothers and sisters of like precious faith. Coming back from that may be difficult.
Third, the movement failed to escape its partisan bias in favor of more principled and biblical stands. A good number of evangelicals took #NeverTrump positions because they did not recognize Mr. Trump as a bona fide conservative. They felt conservative principles had been abandoned by party leadership. They felt a charlatan had hijacked their political home. But not enough of them sought out a new home, one of their own making based on more sure biblical grounds. Instead, some evangelicals offered “biblical” justification for voting Trump and minimized his character flaws. Others endorsed and vigorously campaigned for him. With last night’s election result, the GOP stranglehold on evangelical conscience and voting may have tightened to unbreakable strength. It may be we’ve reached the point that the only thing that would move evangelicals in more constructive directions would be outright persecution from the GOP itself. Short of that, it’s difficult to imagine evangelicals going elsewhere. This, for me, is all the more discouraging because I’ve long endured evangelicals questioning African-American allegiance to the Democratic Party. “Why do nearly all African Americans vote for Democrats?” they ask. “Isn’t it better if African Americans refuse allegiance to that party?” I resonate with the sentiment; but I wonder if it’s not born in some sense of hypocrisy. If the movement doesn’t escape its partisan pull, its usefulness will be seriously compromised.
Finally, the movement has made its evangelistic mission more difficult with many it wants to reach. A good number of people outside the faith look at the exit polls aghast and angry. Aghast because they themselves cannot imagine supporting a candidate with the personal moral flaws of Mr. Trump. Angry because they’ve watched evangelicals moralize in public for a long time, often shaming people for their sins and moral weaknesses. The vote for Trump creates or amplifies a credibility problem for evangelicals. Why should the unrepentant listen to their gospel when it seems so evident they’ve not applied that gospel to their political choices? “Shouldn’t we view evangelicals as basically concerned with politics over all things?” they ask. Convincing answers will be difficult to find. For many, Christ and the gospel are now bound up—rightly or wrongly—with evangelicals choosing a man with little resemblance to either.
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