One of the more revealing of the many incredulous reactions amongst liberals to last week’s election of Donald Trump is their continued bewilderment at the fact that Trump collected a great deal of the religious vote. It is generally expressed in some variation of this:
…I was trying to understand how Donald Trump, the most irreligious of people, could win the devotion of deeply religious people.
The revelation is how incomplete a view the left has of what religion actually is. It is fair to say that Trump has not conducted his life in accordance with Christian morality, and did Christianity consist only of a moral standard, then indeed Trump could be labeled “irreligious”. That is to say “the opposite of religious.” But Trump professes a faith, so a Christian would call him “fallen” or “sinful” which are expressions of non-adherence, not opposition. Those that doubt his professions could at best label him “areligious” (without religion) because again while he may not conduct himself by Christian standards, he is not in opposition to Christianity.
Of course, many in the now disbanded #NeverTrump crowd could be accused of the same confusion. A fact which may shine a light on the origin of the Left’s deep misunderstanding of just what Christianity is and what it is not. There is most certainly a moral component to Christianity – a very big one. But rather than compliance with some moral standard being the work of faith, in Christianity adherence to the moral guidelines is the sign of the work of faith going on in a person – particularly on more spiritual and less material levels. In Christianity morality is an expression, not a means to an end. Many, many Christians are confused about this distinction, so it is not surprising that when combined with the Left’s desire to simply do away with Christian moral standards, that the Left would assume this misunderstanding to be the reality of Christianity.
The distinction is vitally important because Trump’s religious status creates a unique opportunity for Christianity in our nation – an opportunity for Christianity to reestablish itself as a great shaper of American culture.
The forces that resulted in the Christian Reformation of the 16th century are many and varied. Different forces play greater or lesser roles in various regions. Among those forces, and significant throughout is the fact that the Church – at the time the single Roman Catholic Church – had become too enamored with its earthly, material role to the determent of its spiritual role. Exercising too much power over the English monarch, schism resulted and the Church of England was born. Selling absolution for simple material gain rather than demanding spiritual penance resulted in a theological revolution that created further schism. Generally speaking the church had become content to rule rather than exercise its true power in the hearts and spirits of the people.
Similarly, the political ghetto in which American Christianity, and particularly Evangelicalism, finds itself can be attributed to an over infatuation with political activity at the expense of the genuine work of the church. Whether you think Trump fallen or areligious, he is not in the game to represent Christian political stances. Yet, his lack of opposition to Christianity, particularly as compared to the Left which has been in active and rhetorically violent opposition, will allow the church to flourish, provided it is willing to do so instead of chasing after political power.
Christianity truly flourishes when its moral code is followed as a expression of its effect on the hearts and spirits of the people, not when that moral code is mandated by temporal law. The newly elected Trump administration is an opportunity for renewal. If the church is willing to rededicate itself not merely to the gaining of adherents, but to the capturing of souls we could be entering a new golden age for Christianity – an age in which our viewpoint wins the day not because of the force of law, but because everybody agrees with us.
Such renewal begins, as does pretty much everything in Christianity, not with victory but with confession. Our first step must be to examine our own hearts and spirits and ask God to remove from them the desire for political victory when what He asks of us is discipleship. While my heart burns for Donald Trump to know the saving grace of Jesus Christ on the deepest of levels, I am grateful for the opportunity his very visible departures from Christian morality creates for the church. For the first time in a very long time we have opportunity without political victory. If we take full advantage of the opportunity, political victory will follow, but simply as an expression of people’s hearts.