Donald Trump met yesterday in Manhattan with nearly a thousand evangelical leaders. Nick Pitts, our Director of Cultural Engagement, attended the meeting as an observer. Trump was asked questions about religious liberty, national security, leadership, immigration, marriage, racial tensions, and America’s policy toward Israel. According to Nick, the meeting was civil, with no endorsement of the Trump campaign. Though some were clearly supportive of him, others were obviously skeptical.
However, a large group of pastors have made clear their personal endorsement of the presumptive Republican nominee. Pastors supporting Hillary Clinton have done the same. One group of ministers made news when they gathered around “President-to-be Clinton” to “decree and declare the favor of the Lord upon her.”
Pastors supporting politicians is a phenomenon with a long history. Leading up to the 1800 election, some ministers warned that Thomas Jefferson was an atheist who could not be trusted as president. Prior to the 1960 election, Norman Vincent Peale led a consortium of ministers who were opposed to John Kennedy because he was a Catholic.
I am not writing today to encourage or discourage ministers from supporting political candidates. There is no law against such personal endorsements, so long as ministers do not use their churches for political purposes. Some of my pastoral mentors make their political commitments public, while others (like me) choose not to do so.
I am a staunch advocate for the separation of church and state. However, I am equally opposed to the separation of faith and state. The church should not be a political organization, but Christians should be involved in politics whenever God so leads. In fact, I believe that God is calling more Christians into public service than are answering his call. William Wilberforce is just one example of a Christian who changed the world through political means.
While I encourage Christians to consider political service, here’s the caveat: we must not trust politicians to do the work of the church.
Followers of Jesus are called to care for our “brother in need” (1 John 3:17), to “visit orphans and widows in their affliction” (James 1:27), to serve the hungry, naked, and imprisoned as though we were serving Jesus (Matthew 25:44–45). No government programs can care for hurting people as effectively as Spirit-led Christians who incarnate the sacrificial, unconditional love of Jesus.
As sociologist James Davison Hunter documents, electing Christians to office is not enough to change the culture. Divorce rates escalated during the Reagan administration; gay marriage made significant inroads during the George W. Bush administration. Neither was their fault, of course, but both illustrate the fact that winning elections is not enough to advance the Kingdom.
It’s one thing for evangelicals to ask Donald Trump how he would lead our nation. It’s another for evangelicals to ask ourselves how we will serve our nation. As salt and light, Christians are the conscience of the culture, the conveyors of grace, the means by which God’s message of salvation is to be shared.
Whoever becomes our next president, God is still our King. How will you endorse him today?