While some point to the fragmentation, split, reorganization, and secularization of the evangelical consensus, others argue that this election season represents an identity crisis if not war for the soul of evangelicalism.
How, if at all, should evangelicals engage the ongoing conversation about faith and politics?
While some may be so disillusioned with the national conversation as to abandon the use of the “evangelical” term for the rest of the election season, I argue that this election season is an opportunity for evangelicals to discuss, explain, and live out how our evangelical beliefs, practices, and identities can and should shape our political attitudes, discourses, and behaviors.
During presidential election years, there is significantly greater coverage of evangelicals in local and national media. There is also greater public interest in evangelicals. As seen in this Google Trend chart of Google searches from January 2014 to February 2016, there is a dramatic increase in searches on “evangelical” that corresponds to the election cycle.
Therefore, during this time, we have unparalleled opportunities to articulate how the Gospel affects and transforms our lives and worldviews. If politics and religion are two taboos that should not be discussed in everyday conversation, presidential election years are perhaps the only time where conversations of religion, politics, and religion in politics are tolerated if not welcomed.
Instead of dreading or avoiding these conversations, we should look forward to them and “be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you’re living the way you are” (1 Peter 3:15, The Message translation).
While our pastors may differ in how or if they discuss politics from the pulpit, laymen evangelicals (that’s most of us!) can share how our faith shapes our political attitudes, motivates our social engagement, and adjusts our expectations of politics as unable to address the fundamental ills of society caused by sin and satisfy the deep longings of our hearts.
Evangelicals also have an opportunity to model Gospel-based engagement and civility. We live in an age where there are fewer political moderates, partisans live drastically different lifestyles and increasingly segregated from each other. If there is only one place where people across the political spectrum gather together each week, let it be our churches where “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11).
There is a great diversity of political attitudes among evangelicals. Evangelicals are also more radically diverse than non-evangelicals; while 79% of non-evangelicals are white, only 67% of evangelicals are white. Let us aspire and be intentional in being communities where the grace of Christ compels us to welcome, engage, and love those whose politics and worldviews may differ from our own. If unity is possible in diversity, I hope it is most evident in our faith communities.
We may disapprove of the public politicking of some evangelical leaders, be saddened by how the name of Christ is misused by candidates for political gain, and frustrated at the failure of any candidate to fully or adequately represent our priorities, beliefs, and aspirations. But I hope that the fallenness of the world around us does not lead us to exile and withdrawal during this political season.
Instead, I hope we would ask God for wisdom and humbly use the opportunities this election season to share and live out how the Good News transforms our minds, hearts, behaviors, and yes, even our politics.