It’s Time to Move On

Donald Trump has occupied the evangelical imagination for long enough. Both those who did nothing else but #Resist and those who turned him into an avatar of Christian politics contributed to an imaginative captivity that has succeeded in doing nothing but creating new enmities and churning up old ones. For four years the preeminent sorting within evangelicalism was not about the gospel or how we live it out, but Pro Trump vs Never Trump. I can’t help but wonder if that is what will reverberate to ill effect longer than 99% of Trump’s policies or rhetoric: that we who believe the dead come to life were enthralled by the most pitiful exhibition of American polarization. Did we really have nothing better to do?

I’m not really sympathetic to the response, “Politics is about love of neighbor, that’s why we fight!” Yes, politics is about love of neighbor, but blasting your pastor on Facebook or trying to get people fired from their jobs on Twitter is not politics. I’m also not too sympathetic to the idea that evangelicals and conservatives were writing their own death warrant by criticizing a president who wasn’t afraid to tell the woke enforcers to get lost. There are other ways to engage with enemies of free speech, and we know this because (ta-da!) the gospel came to a people who were not “free” to advance a new religion. The First Amendment wasn’t conceived by reality TV stars who “told it like it is.” The Trump moment in American history was, and is, and always will be, about Trump.

That’s precisely why it’s such a tragedy that so many evangelicals have been unable to see beyond it. The odds were always very good that America would get a new president in 2020. Why didn’t that reality tame our tongues and discipline our time? Why was there so little “temporal bandwidth,” so little effort to imagine an imminent American culture where the person we were most willing to torch our institutions and our friendships over simply was not in power anymore? It’s as if in a moment of acute amnesia we forgot that 2012 was also the “most important election of our lifetime,” as was 2008, 2004, 2000….

Now he’s been voted out. Who knows what role in our clicks-and-ratings media jungle Trump will play? Probably one we can’t predict. My question is, “Why should we care?” I hear a lot about “the media” in regards to why Christians should be very concerned with how our 45th president was treated. The same media that ridicules religious believers as unscientific rubes while cheerleading the emasculation of children for the sake of ideology is the same media that relentlessly criticized and undermined Donald Trump’s presidency. I take the point. But if the last four years prove anything at all, they prove that the obsession many conservatives and evangelicals have with the media is not one rooted in reality. Even those analysts many loathe at CNN do not determine elections (they didn’t in 2016….right?). Even those New York Times columnists who despise you and your family and everything you believe cannot actually do anything about it. They are the biggest fish in the bowl, nothing more.

I talk a lot nowadays about Christians engaging culture from ahead rather than behind. The Trump moment In evangelicalism is the proof we need of how bad it can get when we engage culture strictly from behind. Not only do we let elite media institutions dictate our agenda, we allow right-wing opportunists to co-opt it. A Christian cultural engagement cannot simply be slapping theological vocabulary onto our hottest takes that own the libs. Aside from decidedly not being what the Bible says, such an approach is doomed from the start. It will cycle out every 4 years, a slave to electoral maps and exit polls, frozen forever in the tyrannical “now” of digital news. 

It’s time to move on. Not just from pro-Trump vs Never Trump, but from this worn out effort to feel actualized as Christians by the winds of power. Let’s not be taken in like this again. We don’t grieve as those without hope, so why should we live like them? 

Author: Samuel D. James

Believer, husband, father, acquisitions editor, writer.

5 thoughts on “It’s Time to Move On”

  1. My whole issue with my brothers and sisters in faith the past four years has been the attitude of “if Trump isn’t on the throne, neither is Jesus.” All the contortions to justify his awful behavior, the “court evangelicals” (one of who recently lost his position as a university president for aberrant behavior) who kept saying he was a “baby Christian”, etc. My salvation and Christian growth do not depend on Trump, Biden,, Obama, fill in the presidential name. I think if believers channeled more of their political energy into community service, loving their neighbors in practical ways, and serving on local government boards, so much could happen for the kingdom. And, a Christian president will not a Christian country make (we saw that with Carter). We need to visible for the love we have for God, not for our particular political points of view.

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  2. That’s precisely why it’s such a tragedy that so many evangelicals have been unable to see beyond it. Just curious, what gives you this impression? My experience has been different. Thank you!

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    1. I have friends mourning the loss of the greatness of America. Others think we will lose the republic. I’ve also been chewed out several times by friends who could not believe I wasn’t voting for Trump.

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  3. As a British Evangelical (widower of a Virginian) I have been horrified how the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been besmirched by idolatrous devotion to a very fallen man. Thank God that nightmare is over! According to The Gospel Coalition I would be a Witnessing Evangelical if I lived in the USA and now that Trump has gone perhaps my wonderful brothers and sisters in Christ in the USA (many of whom are feeling rather sore right now) can rediscover the priorities of the Gospel again! Psalm 146 is as true in 2020 as it was back then – we must not put our trust in princes who cannot save. Only Jesus is Saviour! Thank God for the faithful remnant of Evangelicals like Samuel James, Mark Dever, Tim Keller and Russell Moore who have kept loyal to the Gospel! Your faithful witness has been of huge encouragement to Evangelicals outside the USA and let’s pray and hope that yours will now be the voices that are heard!

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  4. It’s not time to move on. This is it. You don’t accept evil. You fight it. This is why nothing changes. The best thing this country can do is fight.

    If, at this point, you have any doubt that President Trump was duly and legitimately reelected by the legal votes of the U.S. electorate, you’re simply not paying attention. Have you not noticed the weak wave of Democratic triumphalism has already died down? Have you not observed the way the media is beginning to hedge its statements? Have you not heard that the mainstream media is attempting to bury all of its live election coverage?

    Can you not smell the fear?

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