1. Evangelical

Evangelicals in a Post-Trump World

“Evangelicals in America had a wide range of reactions to Joe Biden’s inauguration.” That proposition may not make sense from the dominant media and academic view of “evangelicals,” a term which usually means “Republican” and “white” (but may not necessarily mean “churchgoing”). If you consider the full landscape of American evangelicalism, however, there truly was a range of responses. If you go to an average evangelical church in America, you can bet that there was range of reactions in the congregation too, depending on a person’s age, ethnicity, and other factors. There’s even more political variety (including being uninvolved politically) in the segments of evangelicalism and Pentecostalism that are growing most quickly in America: immigrant-led or immigrant-majority churches, especially among Hispanics.

So yes, among politically active, self-identified white evangelicals, the majority felt some dismay if not horror about Biden’s win. But let’s never forget that white, politically active Republicans who tell pollsters they’re evangelicals are hardly the sum total of American evangelicals. They’ll be even less so in the decades to come. Instead, American evangelical churches will increasingly be led by Hispanics, Africans, Asians, and other people of color, as well as younger generations whose political consciousness was not formed by the Moral Majority, the Cold War era, and nostalgia for Reagan’s “Morning in America.”

What does Biden’s inauguration and the post-Trump world mean for American evangelicals? Here are a few likely possibilities:

  • Evangelicals will be in the news less often. Not just evangelicals, but Protestants in general, are becoming more marginal in the centers of American political power. Observers have long noted the trend away from Protestant justices on the Supreme Court, and Biden’s cabinet is dominated by Catholics and Jews. There are two African American Baptist cabinet nominees, but otherwise Protestants are scarce. Biden and Nancy Pelosi are Catholics, while new Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is Jewish. Kamala Harris’s family background has Baptist and Hindu influences, and her husband is Jewish. The Democratic control of the White House, Senate, and House, will mean that there is simply less interest (at least until 2024) in the self-identified white evangelical factor in politics. Even Donald Trump had much more of a mainline Protestant than an evangelical (or prosperity gospel) background, despite his great success in retaining the support of white evangelical voters.
  • Pastors and churches will have an opportunity to wean people off politics. All but the most hardened evangelical Republican insiders will readily concede that American Christians tend to put too much hope in politics and politicians. Yet we keep doing it. Pastors and teachers can avail themselves of this moment of greater marginality – and perhaps a couple of relatively quiet years for evangelicals in politics – to model the truth that whatever our political alignments, Jesus is the King in the church. No other partisan allegiances should compete with his eternal Kingdom. If Christ’s followers are at each other’s throats over temporal partisan alignments, something has gone wrong.
  • Many churches will prepare for a wise, tempered, Kingdom-minded response to 2024. Enough with panicked conspiracy-mongering. Enough with turning our churches and denominational meetings into campaign stops for politicians (Republican or Democrat). Enough with making any politician or party the only Christian choice. We don’t know whether Donald Trump will run again in 2024, and if he does, whether he’ll run as a Republican. Even if he is not a candidate, however, we will almost certainly be facing more politicians who will tell Christians that they’re the only godly alternative. Sure, Christians will continue to believe things that have political ramifications – that all human life (the unborn, the immigrant, the disabled) is precious, that we need racial reconciliation and mutual understanding in Christ, that religious liberty is important, and that the biological categories of “male” and “female” are real. But if the Trump era taught us anything, those beliefs do not have unidirectional political implications among sincere believers. And some issues – like an effective response to COVID – should never have become partisan issues at all. Sometimes what we need is just good governance!

We should no longer expect our beliefs to sync up perfectly with a temporal political party. If they do, we are likely being discipled by party politics and partisan media more than the counsel of Scripture. As dismaying as a Biden/Harris administration may be to some white brothers and sisters, I actually think it may represent a healthy “wilderness time” for many evangelicals. We might remember more clearly now that our hope is not in American politics. It never has been.

Learn more about how American evangelicals arrived at this troubled moment in my book Who Is an Evangelical?: The History of a Movement in Crisis.

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