Evangelicals Have Already Lost the Election Regardless the Outcome
Evangelicals are in disarray. But it is entirely their own doing. They’re losing because Trump is losing, or so they think. Some try to jump ship after the lewd tapes released last week proved what everybody already knew: Trump is a misogynist and a sexual predator. But no matter what is going to happen and no matter what evangelicals are going to do, they have already lost the presidential elections. This happens when you get in bed with the devil. Trump hardly is that devil, by the way. He has mastered enough tricks to be a populist but not enough to be a pied piper who leads a nation down the path of a perilous ideology. No, the devil I’m referring to is the demon that lusts for power and is willing to sacrifice any god to get it. It’s the Machiavellian nihilism that provides its own justification.
So evangelicals placed their bet and now that the jackpot is not delivering they stand to lose much more than their cherished influence in the White House and a hand in who gets to join SCOTUS. Their credibility is at stake and with it everything they stand for including the message their Lord sent them to the world to proclaim. What has gone wrong?
The problem is that many evangelicals are stuck in a discourse that is failing in a radical way. Perhaps this can best be illustrated by paying attention to an evangelical leader who has given a ringing endorsement of Trump in spite of the exposure of Trump as a genital grabbing pervert, Norman Geisler. Geisler is known for his apologetic work in which he prides himself for his superior logical powers. In one of his books he outwits the philosopher Immanuel Kant by proving that Kant makes claims Kant can’t prove. Geisler proceeds to prove that God must exist and that this God is the God of the Bible. We’re impressed. But where do the superior powers of logic lead Geisler in the current debate? Well, according to Geisler, speaking to Christianity Today, there is less chance that Trump will become pro-abortion than that Hillary will become pro-life. Asked about the things Trump said about women, Geisler responds: “Trump has expressed regret for offensive things he has said. Hillary has not shown regret for the numerous lies she has told…”
Case closed, right? Tight reasoning. Deductive supremacy. Syllogistic conquest. Well, not really. Geisler is preaching to the choir. He satisfies the discourse of his own constituency. But that’s where it stops. It stops there, because (a) everybody knows that Trumps apologies mean nothing, (b) abortion numbers actually went down under Obama, © and Hillary is perhaps a liar but not a debased character that tramples any and every minority underfoot. Geisler goes on to say that he is not voting for a Pastor-in-Chief but a Commander-in-Chief. One wonders if such logic would also apply if — to stay with the evangelical jargon — he was about to vote for the antichrist. Such blatantly faulty reasoning trumped up under the guise of watertight logic exposes much of the evangelical public discourse as bankrupt. Morally bankrupt. It is a reasoning that is blind to its own blindness. After all, most thinking people know fully well that Trump would be total disaster for any America, including a Christian one.
Eric Metaxas shows an even more baffling ability to talk nonsense with a straight face. In his piece in The Wall Street Journal he downplays Trump’s misogyny by blaming Hillary for her husband’s sexual escapades. Yes, really. Metaxas, who is the author of the best-selling (though by far not best) biography about German theologian Bonhoeffer, even has the guts to compare the evangelical support for Trump with Bonhoeffer’s acts of resistance in nazi Germany. Voting for Trump is suddenly a courageous act as America faces the dangerous threat of a Clinton presidency. Evangelicals are called to put their lives on the line and vote for Trump. Are you serious? This reasoning is worthy of the very demagogue Bonhoeffer fought against. In which world does this reasoning count as rational? With such thinkers who needs enemies? Geisler and Metaxas prove themselves to be powerful ideologists who rally their constituencies behind the ideology which dictates that America always was and still ought to be God’s Kingdom on earth. They can only think about America in terms of theocracy.
These are just two examples of evangelical discourse that expose themselves as corrupt, inconsistent, and subservient to a hidden agenda. That hidden agenda is the desire for power. Sadly, much of this rhetoric is deeply intertwined with central tenets of evangelical doctrine. Take for instance the evangelical doctrine of Scripture. It is instructive to look at the way the evangelical view of the inerrancy of Scripture, so cherished by evangelicals, functions in public discourse. One might wonder why it is so important to have this doctrine. Is it not enough that God has revealed Godself in Jesus Christ? Is it not enough that God addresses humanity through the texts that make up the Bible? You wonder until you understand that inerrancy also means the ability to make absolute claims: claims about sexuality, claims about science, claims about truth, and, finally, claims about how to access God. I’m sure there are evangelicals who hold this doctrine in humility, but across the board inerrancy means power, because ultimate power has need of the claim to absolute truth. The moment you have that, God merely becomes a cypher for your own power game. Once the line of deductive reasoning is complete nothing can stand in its way, not even proof of a pussy grabbing presidential candidate.
This is why evangelicals are largely failing to address audiences in our culture today. They allegedly come with the gospel but behind the gospel is a claim to power. The infallible reference to God becomes a move of utter self-possession and self-assertion. And some evangelicals will say: “That’s not true at all. We are not like that.” The numbers, however, tell a different story. 78% of evangelicals have the intention to vote for Trump. Not all these folks are power mongers, but their leaders have told them that this is the way to go. And so they go. And so this is what evangelicalism is becoming.
Now that evangelicals have flocked behind Trump in large numbers and evangelical leaders have rallied to support, endorse, and pray for the republican nominee, in spite of this man’s misogyny, xenophobia, lack of character, lack of knowledge on policy, and his ability to be a serial liar, the truth, that always was, is becoming devastatingly clear: evangelical leaders care not so much about unborn babies, the honor of their Lord, the need to pursue justice, the protection of the widow and the orphan in their midst, as they care about influence and power. They are willing to put up with a leader who gropes women, marginalizes Muslims, deports Latinos, and what not, as long as this tips the balance of power into their favor.
What these evangelical leaders don’t realize is that even when they would arrive at their prized position of influence, they would also have left behind the audiences they seek to address with the gospel. They would have left behind their own moral framework of sexual ethics (or finally admit that they don’t care when it hurts women). They would have left behind their Lord who calls them to justice and truth in humility. They would have bought into the hypocrisy that confesses Jesus as Lord while condoning every kind of immorality in order to maintain the cultural upper hand.
While Christ called his followers to be counter-cultural by carrying a cross and seeking to subvert the systems of the world through humility and servanthood, these people have been usurped by the very world they seek to conquer for the gospel. They have picked up the gun the gospel was to turn into a plough share. They attempt to invade the palace the gospel was supposed to turn a house of worship for all. By waging a culture war they seek to dominate a culture that needs to be permeated by love. Trump-touting evangelicals have forgotten their mission and forsaken their first love.
People who are not part of the movement know this. For them it is evident how evangelicalism has not only lost its bet but has surrendered its truth. Its claim to truth is a loss of that truth and its grasping for power is the loss of the power of the gospel.
Evangelical leaders in this country will have a lot of soul searching to do in the coming month and years. The movement may fall apart. It may get marginalized. Let me be clear on one point: many evangelicals have not bought into the power strategy of their leaders. Many younger evangelicals are very upset and seek to redefine what it means to be evangelical in the 21st century. It is for and with them that I write this piece. But more than soul searching it will have to rethink what it means to do theology and engage in public discourse. It will have to be done without the absolutes and self-assuring certainties that are but the fossilized remains of the modern era.
Whatever the outcome of the 2016 election, the evangelical movement has already lost. If Trump wins, they will get drawn into the ugliness and untruth of his platform. If he loses, which is more likely, evangelicals will not only miss out on the influence they so desperately seek, they will also be seen as the hypocrites who were willing to sell the eternal gospel of peace for a fleeting moment of futile power.