f you think that, as bad as Trump is, you ought to vote for him because Hillary would be even worse, then vote your conscience. I am not here today to argue that point, but rather to look at the bigger picture of where we have come, how we got here, and where we can possibly go in the future.
In so far as it jumped on the Trump bandwagon, thinking of him as anything other than a horribly necessary evil given Hillary, the old Christian Right is no longer either Christian or Right. I’m talking about the many professing Christians who looked to Trump as a political savior before his nomination was assured, who indeed helped make that tragedy happen. They supported a blatantly immoral man with no integrity and no allegiance to any actual set of political principles other than his own ego. They could appeal to nothing in support of that choice except anger at the “Establishment.” The anger was understandable; the solution proposed was not. It was like saying, “I don’t want to die of cancer, so I’m going to inject myself with Bubonic Plague.” In so far as it became NeverTrump, the old Christian Right retains its integrity but is utterly impotent. In so far as it is voting for Trump as the “lesser evil,” it is well-intentioned but pathetically desperate. As a unified and coherent movement able to have any real impact for the principles it once stood for, any way you slice it, it is dead.
There are still people who believe in the principles of the old Christian Right. They believe that the first principle of politics for a faithful Christian is that there is only one Messiah, and the State isn’t it. They believe that Edmund Burke and Russell Kirk best understood the political implications of that fact, Francis Schaeffer best understood their theological grounding, William F. Buckley best articulated them, the U. S. Constitution best embodied them, and Ronald Reagan best tried to put them into practice (though with the imperfect success that has to be expected in a fallen world with a Democratic congress). People with those beliefs still exist, not a few of them; but we no longer have any effective organized movement we can identify with or any flag we can fly or serve under with any enthusiasm. How did this happen?
It happened for a lot of reasons, but here is a big one: We took it far too much for granted that our adherents understood our principles merely by virtue of identifying as Christians, even as Evangelical Christians. We failed as a political movement because first we failed as a church at evangelism and, even worse, at discipleship. That is, even when we made converts, we grounded far too few of them in the Christian world view. We took for granted, rather than teaching, a coherent set of principles, while people gradually got fuzzier about what they were. And we utterly failed to develop moral discernment in our followers, perhaps because we feared that church discipline might shrink our rolls. And so we ended up a mile wide and an inch deep, with too many followers who are part of the problem rather than part of the solution and who cannot tell the difference. The Republican establishment has its own share of blame for this debacle. But if Evangelicals want to understand the more basic problem, they need only look in the mirror.
Now the Christian Right is dead and the Republican Party, as an instrument for advancing principled Constitutionalism, is committing an election-long slow suicide. Now we must start over from scratch if we want something better, but it will be doubly hard–because we have so much rebuilding to do, but also because many will draw the false lesson from the abjectness of our failure that we should not have been involved in politics at all. That is not a lesson Christians can take away. Why not? Because you cannot claim with any credibility to love your neighbor if you are indifferent to the shape of the world he will have to live in. Christians cannot escape the obligation of loving their neighbors. That means that in a representative democracy (while we still have one), Christians are required to be good citizens, and good citizens have a civic duty to be responsible voters. Responsible voters need to understand the issues in the light of the basic principles they hold as true (remember the First Principle I laid out above?). The very fact that I need to explain this shows how terribly, terribly far we have to go.
It’s a good thing Puddleglum the Marshwiggle is my patron saint. I don’t need optimism to keep on fighting for what is right.. But it would be nice to have a small glimmer of it once in a while. Oh, well.
Check out Dr. Williams’ books at http://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/! Stars Through the Clouds: The Collected Poetry of Donald T. Williams (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2011), Reflections on Plato’s Cave: Essays in Evangelical Philosophy (Lantern Hollow, 2012), and Inklings of Reality: Essays toward a Christian Philosophy of Letters, 2nd ed. (Lantern Hollow, 2012). Each is $15.00 + shipping. And watch for his newest book, coming this fall from Square Halo Books: Deeper Magic: The Theology Behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis!
Coming, Fall 2016!