Timothy Dalrymple is president and CEO of Christianity Today. Follow him on Twitter @TimDalrymple_.
All four Gospels describe violence in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus wept alone among the olive trees, praying that the cup of suffering should pass from him. When he returned to his weary disciples, soldiers and religious leaders confronted them. Peter responded with a flash of steel and cut the ear off a man named Malchus. “Put your sword away!” Jesus said as he healed Malchus. “Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” (John 18:11).
Jesus was led to the high priest, and then the Roman governor. “My kingdom is not of this world,” he told Pilate. “If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place” (18:36).
The kingdom of heaven is elusive. It comes not with a sword but a sacrifice, not a crown of iron but a crown of thorns. It arrives not through the powers of the world but through the inverted power of the cross, which is to say the power of powerlessness. Peter swung the blade. Jesus drank the cup.
This story comes to mind as we approach a presidential election with deep divisions among us. Evangelical believers who have long labored in the same fields now find themselves in warring camps. One camp declares they cannot comprehend how men and women who share their faith could possibly support the incumbent. The other camp wonders how anyone nurtured by the Word could reject the incumbent. The camps not only disagree but cannot understand one another. Unable to see reason in the opposing view, each side asserts the other has succumbed to unreason, to prejudice, or to the lust for power or approval.
Our inability to understand the rationality of an opposing viewpoint is more often a failure of imagination on our part than a failure of rationality on theirs. The difference between the camps cannot be that one side is truly Christian while the other is not, or that either side possesses a monopoly on good ideas and good intentions. Countless men and women striving with every bone and tendon to follow Jesus stand on both sides.
If it were a division between conservative and progressive evangelicals, it would be more easily understandable. Yet this is a division among conservative evangelicals, and I have wrestled for years to understand it. Perhaps I have still not understood it, but I want to explain it as best I can. Underlying the differences between us, I’ve come to believe, is a different vision of the kingdom of God.
Following former editor in chief Mark Galli’s editorial in December, and my statement affirming the substance of its concern, I heard from respected and beloved friends who were heartbroken. We work tirelessly, they said, to save the lives of the unborn. We stand on the front lines defending the religious liberties that permit families and churches to live according to conscience. We are working, they said, toward a government and a culture that hears Christian concerns and honors Christian values. These letters were as painful to read as they must have been to write, as dear friends felt we were betraying the cause in a critical moment.
With some exceptions, the sentiment generally came from people who were formed in environments where Christianity was, or recently had been, the dominant cultural force. The Christian ethic had long been an influence for good, they believed, and as it waned they saw their own freedoms curtailed but also the common good of the community deteriorating. They also believed that years of progressive foreign policy had diminished our global standing and turned a blind eye to Christian persecution overseas. These concerns led them to support a politician who contradicts Christian values in his personal behavior but, they believed, advanced Christian values in the public square. They did not admire his personality or condone his rhetoric, but they believed he and the party he represents would usher in the greatest good for society as a whole.
I will call this contingent the Church Regnant. The Church Regnant sees the kingdom of God, the end toward which we strive, as a world in which men and women are free to follow their faith, life is held sacred from conception to death, families can raise their children in biblical truth, churches take the lead in charity, and government provides a stable order for the flourishing of meaningful enterprise.
Members of the Church Regnant are concerned with foreign and economic policy but feel especially compelled to support the present administration for its stances on life and family. Failing to vote for the Republican empowers the party that protects the appalling abortion regime and that advances a sexual ethic that leads to immense confusion and suffering.
There are, to be sure, more virulent strains of support for the incumbent president. But there are also loving and reasonable supporters, and charitable disagreement requires that we represent our brothers and sisters at their best. We do our faith no favors when we caricature our fellow faithful.
There is nothing essentially irrational or immoral in the position stated above. It leads the Church Regnant to place a higher value on the acquisition and use of political power. The Church Regnant views the election starkly as a battle between good and evil. The vices of the president seem small when the virtue of the world hangs in the balance. Winning political power means protecting the Christian way of life and sowing seeds of truth and goodness into culture, and thus bringing God’s blessing upon the land. Losing political power means the culture spirals into deepening immorality and untruth, eroding the foundations of society and leading to greater suffering for all. For these friends, then, to undercut the support of the president is to undermine the power of Christians to shape policy in a manner that protects the church and benefits the world.
Of course, another group responded quite differently to the Galli editorial. They called and wept on the phone. They sent balloons to the office. They encouraged us to stand strong against withering criticism. They were deeply grateful someone had articulated their profound ethical and spiritual misgivings about evangelical support for Trump.
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Source: Christianity Today