Where did all that clout go?
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If you are disappointed, as I am, at the dismal recent showing by presidential candidates with bona fide labels as “evangelicals,” maybe it’s time for an altogether different way of looking at things.
By my count, zero out of two Democratic candidates sought to be identified as evangelicals, while four (or, at most, five or six) out of 17 Republicans seemed to welcome the label. In descending order of their campaign longevity, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry, and Scott Walker all eventually had to tell their evangelical backers that 2016 just wasn’t the year. (Whether you’d add Seventh-day Adventist Ben Carson or Roman Catholic Marco Rubio to that short list is a subject for a good discussion another time.)
Where did all those evangelicals go? We could, and probably to some extent should, blame it on the evangelical voters, who in massive throngs preferred the populist and simplistic promises of Donald Trump. In state after state, pragmatism trumped principle—even among principled evangelicals.
The evangelical candidate who will ultimately win needs also to produce and dramatize a track record of lifetime accomplishment.
But my focus is on the candidates themselves. Is this handful of folks the best we can produce? With 100,000 to 200,000 evangelical congregations across the country; with several hundred colleges and seminaries committed to the development of a so-called biblical worldview; with more than 250 publications listed in the Evangelical Press Association and more than 1,000 Christian radio stations—with all that and more, what does it say about the evangelical community that we have not shaped somebody with a strong enough biblical and philosophical understanding of issues, big enough leadership skills, a clean enough personal record, and courage enough to take the risks and pay the price of getting out front?
Well, we shouldn’t kid ourselves. One reason we don’t have a bigger roster on the political front is simply that we have a similar shortage in just about every field of endeavor. Where are the standouts in business and economics, in law and public policy, in medicine and healthcare, in science and technology, in education, in the media? Where are the men and women in these and other fields who have developed leadership skills honed by biblical teaching, principles, and values?
But such an awareness, along with an ability to articulate it winsomely and clearly, is just a start. The evangelical candidate who will ultimately win needs also to produce and dramatize a track record of lifetime accomplishment, rooted in biblically illuminated truths. As much as I had an inclination in the last few months to back Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, such support was minimized by their relative inexperience. Both were freshman senators. Both had relatively meager records of real-world achievement. Both brought some serious negative baggage to the contest—including a simple inability to get along.
In every vocation, in every calling, God asks his people not merely to wrap a Christian veneer around what they do—but radically to reform all such tasks through biblical insights and Spirit-provided power. Only then will the larger public come to sense that we are Daniels in the top halls of government, and not just one of King Nebuchadnezzar’s other ding-a-ling no-names.
Keeping in mind such a combination of (1) clear thinking and (2) record of accomplishment, does a single one of the recent evangelical wannabes leap out as “just right”? Not one of them has approached the American voting public with a clear explanation of why he believes what he believes. That explanation doesn’t have to be narrow and sectarian. It starts instead with a simple affirmation of what Francis Schaeffer said a generation ago: “He is there, and he is not silent.” A presidential candidate who has thought through the issues should be able, without mean-spirited offense, to anchor his proposed program in the historic truths of the Bible and to explain to the American people how such truths offer hope for a world that is increasingly broken and terror-stricken.
Next time around (if there is one!), these folks will have put on a few years. Whether they add wisdom and serious accomplishment as well will be another matter.
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