“Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.” Psalm 146:3
“Thus says the Lord: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord. 6 He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land.
7 “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.8 He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:5-8, ESV
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.” Romans 13:1-7, ESV
Al Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and frequent spokesperson on behalf of Southern Baptists on political and social issues was quoted in the New York Times saying “Millions of American evangelicals are absolutely shocked by not just the presidential election, but by the entire avalanche of results that came in. I think this was an evangelical disaster”
The Christian church in America, a term I will use to apply to a genuinely confessing body of believers in this country, has a mission and purpose that cannot be defined in political terms. Look at the scripture passages I cited. These, and many more in the Bible, make it very clear that depending on human power in attempting to accomplish the mission and purpose of the church will lead to failure all the time. And the passage in Romans shows us that God has placed governing authority in a domain under his authority with a very specific, and narrow, mission and purpose. It’s all still under his control, and when Paul wrote that passage in Romans, he wasn’t talking about people who had the ability to elect their governing authorities.
First of all, Mohler is not taking into account the fact that support for Republican candidates, and the Republican party in general is not universal among all Evangelicals. According to the exit polls, about a third of white Evangelicals supported the President, along with over 90% of African American Evangelicals and 75% of Hispanic Evangelicals. So Mohler’s statement ignores over 40% of all self-identified Evangelicals who voted. I’ll take that as an oversight, rather than a pronouncement of who he thinks is right, and who is wrong.
Second, the Republican candidate’s religious beliefs were most definitely a factor. Mitt Romney is a Mormon, served a two year mission on their behalf in France, is ordained to one of the church’s priesthood orders and has served as both the bishop of a local ward (similar to pastor of a church), and president of the stake, which is a group of churches in a geographic area. So he’s not just a pew sitter. Given that Mormon beliefs are completely at odds with those of Evangelical Christians on virtually every essential point of major doctrine, that was problematic for those Christians who have a heightened awareness of what Mormons believe and teach, though I would say that, on this subject, the vast majority of Evangelicals, and other Christians, are completely unaware.
In spite of the rhetoric about “not electing a theologian in chief,” or comparisons to JFK as a Catholic, most Evangelicals give a lot of weight to their perception of the President’s faith when they are voting, and most have been highly critical of the President, and his former pastor Jeremiah Wright. They have scrutinized his former church, Trinity United Church of Christ, its doctrinal statement, and virtually every word the President has uttered on the subject, and, from an anecdotal perspective, have pronounced him an unbeliever. If it doesn’t matter, why point it out and make an issue out of it? So when the Republicans nominated a Mormon, that created an awkward situation for many Evangelicals, and even some mainline Protestants, who believe the President’s faith is a determining factor in casting their vote. The future of Evangelical Christianity did not depend on a Mormon becoming President, and that nullifies the argument that the election was a “disaster.”
There are all kinds of professional researchers who could provide an analysis of the decline in attendance and membership that, after several decades of affecting mainline Protestant churches in America, has finally reached into Evangelical denominations. Though Christians are gathering into larger churches, there it little “kingdom growth” taking place through evangelism, and the growth is coming as the resources are gathered and internally aimed ministries attract people out of smaller churches that can’t do as much in that regard. The numbers are declining, and because so many of those in the younger generation are dropping out after college, the churches are aging. I have to think that at least part of that is due to the image of Evangelicals as a constituency within a political party.
The primary mission and purpose of the church is to preach the gospel and make disciples of Jesus. Could it be that the perception of Evangelicals being a large constituency within the boundaries of one political party diminishes their ability to preach the gospel, especially to people who do not share the political convictions of Republicans? Could it be that so much time, energy, and other resources, are put into accomplishing a political goal that preaching the gospel and making disciples become less of a priority? Is there a double purpose of preaching the gospel to win lost people to Jesus, and turn them into voting Republicans causing confusion about the mission and purpose of the church? Yes, those are all rhetorical questions.
And at the risk of making this too long, there are the issues themselves. Support for the GOP among Evangelicals stems largely from social issues. Abortion and same-sex marriage top the list of the issues most frequently mentioned, and the GOP position opposing abortion on demand and supporting the Defense of Marriage Act is the most frequently cited reason for Evangelical support of the Republican party. Many times during the recent election, when the issue of Romney’s Mormon faith came up, the response was to downplay that and justify the vote because the “party” was closer to the Christian perspective than the other side. But, given the amount of support that Evangelical Christians have given to the Republican party over the years, including enough to elect Presidents, abortion on demand is still legal because the promise made by Republican Presidents to only appoint justices to the Supreme Court who were committed to overturning the Roe decision has not been kept. That became a disaster when we placed our trust in politicians to resolve it.
The mission and purpose of the church has not changed. What needs to happen is that, from within, prophetic voices need to come forward, not muted by partisan political wrangling, or by fear of not being the majority. The focus needs to be on preaching the gospel and making disciples, not on winning elections and depending on politicians to do our work for us. Maybe that can be the lesson learned from this election.