By Mark Azzara
My weekly letters to you usually are brief but not this time. I am returning to my journalistic roots by reporting what others are saying about a faith topic of great importance to me that’s being discussed on the Web to an extent I find exhilarating and long overdue.
For months we have discussed the effect that evangelical Christians could have, and eventually did have, on Donald Trump’s candidacy. But numerous articles in the past week ask a profound and fascinating new question with potentially far broader implications: What effect will Donald Trump’s election have on evangelical Christianity?
“Evangelical” is becoming a dirty word these days – among evangelicals!
Former American Bible Society executive Doug Birdsall, quoted in Christianity Today, said that in the wake of the election, “The role of evangelicals is being carefully scrutinized by some, and is being bitterly ridiculed by many, here and around the world.”
Christianity Today Editor Mark Galli said evangelicals are asking one another how they could have voted for the candidate they chose. Part of the answer is simple: Each person believed that his or her ideas and motivations were right while “the others” were wrong.
“When we disagree strongly with people who claim the same category that we do, we start to wonder what the identifying term even means,” wrote Ed Stetzer in a Christianity Today blog.
Two articles focus on data that show the overwhelming support Trump received from white evangelicals.
Stetzer, in another blog, said the data “highlights something very important—the people of God, who are called to hold to the highest standard of morals and ethics, now rank as the highest group percentage-wise of those who say that these things don’t necessarily matter. This is a problem of huge proportions.”
Stetzer summed up that problem in two words: “Selling out.”
Jennifer Rubin, writing for the Washington Post’s website, said white evangelicals dug in their heels on religious liberty when it affected them, but by “embracing a candidate who painted an entire religion as the enemy, for a time wanted to ban all its adherents and favored a ‘Muslim registry’ (!) these evangelicals have been revealed to be egregious hypocrites and, yes, even religious bigots. At least we know with whom we are dealing.”
Given such criticism it’s hardly a surprise to learn in a Religion News Service article by Sarah Pulliam Bailey that some Christians will no longer call themselves evangelical because of the foul implications.
Jon Stewart, of all people, came to the defense of Trump’s supporters on The CBS Morning Show. “There is now this idea that anyone who voted for him has to be defined by the worst of his rhetoric,” he said. Stewart contends this is just as stereotypical as branding all Muslims terrorists. Some Trump voters, he said, are just worried about their health-insurance premiums.
“Evangelical” is rooted in the Greek and refers to sharing the Good News. But, starting with the Rev. Jerry Falwell and his now-defunct Moral Majority, many evangelicals have tried to use politics to impose the Good News, which is anything but good news.
In the view of Walter Kim, lead minister at Park Street Church in Boston, “Evangelicals in the past have been very enamored with the possibility of social change via acquisition of power, and yet we are now having to ask ourselves, ‘Is this the way of Jesus?’”
My answer: No, it isn’t! Nor has it ever been! As Paul wrote in Galatians 2:21, “If justification comes through the law then Christ died for nothing.”
Our faith/trust must be in Jesus, not in politicians who claim, or are elected, to act in his name. And the sooner Christians figure this out and repent for concocting this odious stew of religion and politics, the better. If this is how God intends to answer our prayers then let’s all shout “Hallelujah!”
Perhaps, when Christians prayed this campaign season for God to save our country, we were actually praying for him to save our faith. If it can only be cleansed as a result of Christians who bring humiliation to our faith, then we can still celebrate because we worship a humble and humbling God.
All God’s blessings – Mark
Mark Azzara spent 45 years in print journalism, most of them with the Waterbury Republican in Connecticut, where he was a features writer with a special focus on religion at the time of his retirement. He also worked for newspapers in New Haven and Danbury, Conn. At the latter paper, while sports editor, he won a national first-place writing award on college baseball. Azzara also has served as the only admissions recruiter for a small Catholic college in Connecticut and wrote a self-published book on spirituality, “And So Are You.” He is active in his church and facilitates two Christian study groups for men. Azzara grew up in southern California, graduating from Cal State Los Angeles. He holds a master’s degree from the University of Connecticut.