taking the words of Jesus seriously

More than 81% of white evangelicals in the United States voted for Donald Trump and there were reasons for this. Since most evangelicals are pro-life, many of them found that there was no way they could vote for an intensely pro-choice candidate as Hillary Clinton proved to be.

There were other reasons, good and bad, that motivated their voting. One sad reason was that they no longer believed that the moral character of a candidate was a primary consideration at election time. In 1980, more than 75% of evangelicals reported that the moral character of a candidate was a major factor in determining whether or not to vote for them, but in 2016 that percentage had dropped to 18 percent. Obviously, evangelicals had changed… Their opinion on this matter was so changed that Trump’s vulgar, sexist behavior towards women and his alleged dishonest business practices did not deter them from voting for him.

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Still another factor influencing the evangelical vote was a growing consensus among many Christians that the Democratic party had become anti-religious. Believing, rightly or wrongly, that America was founded as a Christian nation, they had been influenced, primarily by Christian radio and television preachers, that the government under Democratic leadership had steered the nation away from God and towards secularism.

For instance, evangelicals were so convinced that the government’s educational system had become permeated with godless teachings that many millions of Christian parents are now sending their children to church-sponsored schools. In addition, more and more concerned evangelical parents are home-schooling their children to insure that they be imbued with Christian values. Given that reality, it should have been no wonder that so many evangelicals believed that only a Republican president could reverse this trend towards America becoming a secular society, which, rightly or wrongly would be frustrated with a Democratic president.

Undoubtedly, a growing conviction that Hillary Clinton and the Democratic party had to be kept out of political power led some of the most prominent leaders of Evangelicalism such as Franklin Graham, Jim Dobson, James Robinson, and Pat Robertson, to endorse and support Donald Trump along with other candidates of the Republican party in the 2016 election. Perhaps the greatest strength for Trump among evangelicals came from the 17 million members of Southern Baptist churches. Robert Jeffress, the famous pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas, traveled with Trump introducing him to audiences throughout the Southern states and branding him as some kind of god ordained politician.

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Since Trump’s election, the New York Times has reported that these politically conservative evangelicals have gained exceptional entré into the White House. Evangelical leaders who supported Trump’s election now have regular phone access to the president and, with their calls, are making sure that he continues to promote their agenda with the appointments of pro-life federal judges and cabinet members.

Many politically progressive evangelicals, on the other hand, are appalled by many of Trump’s recent initiatives and increasingly are estranged from their more politically conservative evangelical brothers and sisters. They are shocked that President Trump, along with several members of his inner circles have proven to threaten the environmentalist movement as they deny global warming, and that the president is issuing directives to abolish many of the regulations that President Obama had put in place to protect the environment.

Perhaps most disturbing for most politically left-of-center progressive evangelicals has been the strong anti-Muslim statements and practices that have come from President Trump. Progressive evangelicals do not minimize the differences between Islam and the Christian Faith, but they simultaneously recognize that there are moral values found in Islam with which they can identify, as together they seek for what has been called, “The Common Good.”

The Common Good, if there is need for a definition, is a trans-religious basis to establish a needed just and loving society for our troubled world. Furthermore, as many Christians seek to bring the good news about Christ to their Muslim brothers and sisters in Islamic societies they know that loving Muslims is a prerequisite for evangelizing them. Certainly, the Trump followers’ attitudes toward Muslims are making it increasingly difficult for our missionaries to preach the gospel about Jesus to those in Muslim societies.

Finally, even avid politically conservative Republican evangelicals are becoming troubled by the falsehoods that Trump makes up and the damage those lies are doing. Here are some of them.

  1. On 9/11 thousands of Muslims danced on the streets of Jersey City. Not true!
  2. That refugees were rioting on the streets of Sweden. Not true!
  3. That Obama had tapped his phone lines. Not true!
  4. That three million illegal votes were cast in that last election, largely by illegal immigrants. Not true! Although after promoting this falsehood for eight years, he reluctantly changed what he said about all of this.
  5. That he would release his 2015 tax returns showing where he had financial interest and investments. Not true!
  6. That President Obama was not born in the United States and, thus, not eligible to be president. Not true!

There is no evidence for any of these claims. That such outrageous lies are not challenged by the prominent evangelical leaders who supported his campaign seems that they may have sold their souls just to be in good with the politically powerful in Washington.

Perhaps what is most troubling to many Christians is that the agenda of Donald Trump aims to cut taxes on the rich while curtailing Medicaid (the financial aid for the poor and the elderly who desperately need medical help) while dramatically increasing military spending. They are appalled by the cut backs President Trump has planned on a variety of programs that have provided a “social safety net” for the poor of America, along with his seeming disdain for those who challenge his policies for dealing with refugees from the Middle East and Latin America.

Is it any wonder that many of us who formerly called ourselves evangelicals have looked for a new name to identify ourselves and have adopted the label, “Red Letter Christians.” The red letters, of course, refer to the words of Jesus highlighted with red letters in many Bibles. We are committed to living out the words of Jesus, even if that sets us at odds with those evangelicals who have tended towards a cultural religion that has embraced Donald Trump with little or “no” prophetic judgment.

You should not assume from all of this that Red Letter Christians endorse the Democratic party and uncritically supported Hillary Clinton. Quite the contrary! We believe that Christianity cannot, nor should not, be identified with any specific partisan politics. Identifying the Christian faith with any political party is like mixing ice cream with horse manure. Such a mixture won’t hurt the horse manure, but it surely will ruin the ice cream. So, it is that identifying Christianity with any particular political party probably will not hurt that party, but it will certainly mess up Christianity.

Of course, Christians cannot walk away from the political process. Christians must vote! In the words of Jean Paul Sartre, “to not decide is to decide.” But in voting, judgments should be made, in so far as it is possible, using the red letters of the Bible to critically evaluate both political platforms and political candidates. Then, as the Bible teaches, each of us must “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” recognizing that there is seldom, if ever, a perfect way to vote.

This article originally appeared in the July 2017 issue of the New Urban World Journal.

About The Author


Tony Campolo is Professor of Sociology at Eastern University, and was formerly on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania. For 40 years, he founded and led the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education, an organization that created and supported programs serving needy communities in the Third World as well as in “at risk” neighborhoods across North America. More recently, Dr. Campolo has provided leadership for the Red Letter Christians movement. He blogs regularly at his own website. Tony and his wife Peggy live near Philadelphia, and have two children and four grandchildren.

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