I have been out of the country recently so I realize I’m late to the game on this, but I couldn’t let this contentious and unusual election season pass without some commentary from a pastoral perspective. Donald Trump has been elected to serve as president of the United States, which has left some Americans elated, and others despondent. What is unique about this election is that the divide that exists in the nation seems to exist within the church also. Secular media have been talking about “evangelical rifts,” “what is a Christian?” and “fractures” in the evangelical community — all because of different perspectives held on the new president.
Will Christians allow this election to divide them? I certainly hope not. Here are four things to remember in our attempt to resist the slide into disunity:
Remember that God has been sovereign over this election process. Most Christians understand that God is sovereign over everything, but some are perhaps hoping there might be an escape clause when it comes to the president-elect. And yet the Bible is clear that the governing authorities, no matter how favorable or objectionable they might be, have been given their authority by God. Rom. 13:1 tells us that the governing authorities have been “instituted by God,” and 1 Peter 2:13 tells us to “be subject for the Lord’s sake” to every human institution. Some would say Trump was elected as a blessing to America, while others would say he was elected as judgment on America, but in any case, God was not surprised by the election of Donald Trump, just as he was not surprised by the election of Barack Obama.
By this do I mean that a Christian should just passively accept a new president without commentary and in total apathy, refusing to take a stand for what they believe? No. But the Christian who trusts in God’s sovereignty knows that no matter who is in the White House, Jesus is on the throne of the universe, and that should bring a sense of peace, and not panic, to one’s heart.
Remember that voting decisions are disputable matters. A few months ago I preached two sermons on Romans 14, where Paul talks about “disputable matters” — that is, issues on which Christians have sincere disagreements over secondary issues that do no strike at the heart of the Gospel. One of my application points was that a Christian’s decision to vote for a particular presidential candidate qualifies as a disputable matter.
Paul writes in Rom. 14:3, “Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats.” In light of the election, we might adjust this exhortation to say, “Let not the one who voted for Hillary Clinton despise the one who voted for Donald Trump, and let not the one who voted for Donald Trump despise the one who voted for Hillary Clinton.” Christians have sincere, deeply-held and sometimes complex convictions for why they voted for one candidate or another, and out of the desire for unity in the church, Christian brothers and sisters should seek to respect those reasons.
Remember the clear command for all Christians to pray for your leaders. At New Life, we have been praying regularly for President Obama during his presidency. Now the time is coming when we are going to pray for Donald Trump. Is this because we have favored Obama in the past, or because we will favor Trump in the future? No. It’s because this is what the Bible commands: “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” (1 Tim. 2:1-2).
Those on the Christian right have been (hopefully) submitting to this command for the last eight years. My hope now is that those on the Christian left will do the same. To the degree that you might be horrified by Donald Trump is the degree to which you should be on your knees, pleading with God to make Trump into a wise, dignified and effective leader for our nation. This certainly wouldn’t be the first time God has used a broken, fallen, sinful person to accomplish his purposes.
Remember that Christians find their unity in Christ, not in presidents. As Christian brothers and sisters, we are a community united by faith in the person of Jesus, who is our Savior, Lord and King. Our hope is in the power of the Gospel, the advancement of God’s kingdom through the building of his church and the fulfillment of the Great Commission, and in the promised return of Jesus, who will finally and permanently fix everything that is broken in this world. No political leader can accomplish that, which is why Ps. 146:3 tells us, “Put not your trust in princes (or presidents), in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.”
Some are elated by Donald Trump, thinking he is going to make America great again, which in their minds means something like the kingdom of God will finally be established on earth. To them, I say that in Donald Trump, there is no salvation. Some are demoralized by Donald Trump, thinking he is going to destroy America, which in their minds means something like enduring a kind of hell on earth. To them, I say that in Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, there is no salvation.
To the degree that you are either exultant or despairing over the election of Donald Trump could reveal something about your ultimate hope — is it in a prince, in whom there is no salvation, or in the Gospel?
Christians, pray that God would soften your hearts toward those who didn’t vote like you did. For the sake of the unity of the church and the honor of the name of Christ, there might not be a better passage for politically minded Christians to remember than Eph. 4:1-3: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”