For nearly three decades Jim Abrahamson has been a teaching pastor of the Chapel Hill Bible Church near the campus of the University of North Carolina and Duke University. He was instrumental in starting this congregation in 1971 with a group of about 20 students and young faculty. The ministry grew to include some 2000 individuals. The church has a reputation of being broadly evangelical in its theology, nondenominational in its affiliation, open minded in its learning style, lay centered in its ministry, and ecumenical in its community involvement. Jim is retired and no longer the lead pastor of the congregation. In the piece below he offers some thoughts on evangelicals, Donald Trump, and the coming election. This article reflects the thoughts of Jim Abrahamson and does not represent the official position of the Chapel Hill Bible Church or its staff.–JF
Brene Brown writes, “We’re tired of the national conversation centering on “What should we fear? and Who should we blame?” Our greatest challenge is not the pandemic, racial injustice, economic stress or climate change. I believe that the greatest challenge we face in our country at this time is leadership.
In my three decades of pastoral ministry as an evangelical Christian pastor I have learned that it is not circumstances that shape our lives going forward but rather how we respond to them. The majority of my evangelical friends believe that our current President is the clear choice in the upcoming election. Realizing that evangelical Christians will not be comfortable with everything in a particular party’s platform, we have got to decide what issues are most important. I am asking Evangelical Christians to reconsider what they believe to be most important based on the following scriptural principles.
Political involvement: My priorities with respect to my life as a US citizen are shaped by principles formed by Christian Scriptures. Jesus, in response to a poll tax to support the Roman Empire, instructed his followers to “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). In the USA we have a government “of, by, and for the people,” which means we are called to be involved in politics. Our vote, voice, and virtue are not optional but a part of what it means to “render to Caesar.” For many it is surprising to note that Jesus seemed to have no problem paying taxes to support the corrupt Roman Empire. This challenges me to rethink what is most important in our political agenda as American Evangelical Christians. This leads to a second point.
Expectations: An important Biblical passage comes from St. Peter, “Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming” (1 Peter 1:13). The Christian’s striving for social justice and peace is an important witness to a kingdom of God that is coming, but not expected to appear in this age. As Christians, our ultimate hope is not to produce a perfect society in this age. Our hope is in the return of Christ at the end of history. As the late Richard John Neuhaus put it, “We cannot expect the kingdom of God before its time and without its King.”
Jesus saw a distinction between our responsibilities to the Roman Empire, “rendering to Caesar” and imposing the principles of God’s kingdom, “render to God the things that are God’s.” Civic virtue should not be ignored but Christians must decide where and how to promote it. When our vision to “Make America Great Again” is to make it our customized version of the kingdom of God, we misunderstand the Kingdom and lose credibility as witnesses for it’s Gospel. So what should Christians strive for as aliens in a “secular society”? This leads me to a third point.
Peacemaking: Evangelical Christians are to promote order, civility and good will as peacemakers. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18). We are called to promote civil peace so that we can show and tell the Gospel’s hope to the world. The Gospel is about peacemaking – with God, our selves, and our neighbors, in that order. Christ does not call Christians to impose on the secular state, the same spiritual goals and moral boundaries that are expected of the Christian church. We are to invite individuals to be a part of Christ’s family. The civic protocol of our republic was shaped by the European Enlightenment, Classic GrecoRoman structures, and a generic, Biblical moral worldview. The architects of our constitution did not frame America as a distinctly “Christian nation” and Christ did not seek to influence the world through political, military or economic power. His kingdom was to emerge, not through controlling people from the top down, but by from the bottom up, changing hearts one by one. A key characteristic that we as evangelical Christians should look for in our president is the ability to be a peacemaker so that we can effect change through the popular support of “we the people.”
Character in leadership makes a big difference in peacemaking, and “promoting the general welfare.” Leaders must promote respect for our civic institutions (like the presidency and the press), model common values of our republic (like truthfulness and compassion), and be both civil with others and a servant of the people. We need a president who is a wise, healthy, adult who possess characteristics that mark him or her as an effective political peacemaker displaying characteristics like:
- Truthfulness – Respecting common facts of reality, and transparency, not deceptiveness
- Trust – Respecting others, dependability, earning other’s respect
- Tolerance – Forbearing with diversity and differences
- Tenderness – Empathetic, compassionate, gracious
- Toughness – Perseveres wisely with courage, and stamina, not as a childish bully but after the manner of a true civil servant.
I am concerned as I observe President Trump unashamedly sow fear rather than trust, build walls rather than bridges, and foster vitriol rather than compassion and empathy. He seems too comfortable with lying, focusing on optics rather than reality, and self-interest rather than the “general welfare.” If this is allowed to continue we will survive as a nation but the credibility of evangelical Christian’s witness will be so damaged by their association with Trump, that any superficial gains will not be worth the losses incurred.
As citizens, we dare not overlook the character defects of our President and we must ask ourselves, does Donald Trump exemplify the traits necessary to lead us through this stressful period of our history in bringing us together? In contrast, Joe Biden has a long and consistent pattern of personal strength in these areas. He has a track record as an empathetic bridge builder with strong family values, a sound faith, and a history of perseverance through many personal trials. Noting Jesus’ encouragement to “seek the truth” and “fear not,” I have concluded that Biden is better suited to lead our nation than Trump.
In the Kingdom of God, the means are a part of the ends. When the devil tempted Jesus (Matthew 4:8-10) he offered him “the world’s kingdoms and their glory” if he would only give up the means, and Jesus said “no.” However, many evangelicals are saying “yes.”