The beat-down that is the 2016 presidential election is nearing an end. As the New York Times reported on Friday, “more than eight in 10 voters saying the campaign has left them repulsed rather than excited.” In many ways, the band-aid that has been covering the brokenness of the political system has been ripped off, and the underlying wound that has been festering is now laid bare. We can no longer ignore the issues that have been looming just below the surface because they are no longer below the surface.The American experiment now stands at a crossroads.
Similarly, American evangelicalism faces a crossroads of its own. This election has demonstrated a fundamental difference in how evangelicals approach political engagement. The candidacy of Donald Trump has split evangelicals in ways that only careful observers could have predicted. A year and a half ago, few would have expected the president of the largest evangelical university to endorse Donald Trump. Not only did he endorse him, but he also posed for a picture with Mr. Trump with a framed picture of Trump on the cover of Playboy in the background. What was inconceivable eighteen months ago is now our reality.
At the heart of the evangelical dilemma lie one simple question: How do we understand America within God’s plan? Past generations believed America was a city on a hill, much like Israel of old. We would be a nation led especially with Christian morals and ideals. Passages spoken to ancient Israel were often reappropriated to the new cultural context. Political figures in the vein of Reagan were elevated as the ones who would lead the moral vision forward, and the Republican party represented everything we believed. But time and time again that hope proved wanting. Time and time again we saw politicians who said what we wanted to hear fail to live up to those ideals once in office. We thought we had a political marriage made in heaven when it turned out to be a marriage of convenience for those seeking office.
A new generation is coming of age that does not see America as the land of Israel but as the land of Babylon. We must face the reality that our belief in the Gospel does not place us at the center of society but the fringes. Younger millennials are beginning to embrace their identity as exiles. The cultural Christianity that marked their youth has disappeared before their eyes and they have found profound significance in their faith. As society has pushed them further to the fringes because of their faith, they have clung to it out of conviction, not convenience. They have given up hope of a “Christian nation” because they have learned from previous generations the potential pitfalls.
American evangelicals cannot go back and relive the rise of the moral majority, nor should we want to. Our task as the people of God is not to make a Christian nation that will be a city on a hill but to stand as churches shining the light of the Gospel into communities plummeted in darkness. Throughout human history nations have risen and fallen. America too will rise and fall. But Christ has promised that He will build His church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.
When the polls close across America this evening, evangelicals will face a choice of whether we will embrace the political vision of the moral majority or the exile vision of the prophetic minority.