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Man’s chief end is not political obsession

Evangelicals must be able to see through the fog of election season

Former President Donald Trump steps on stage at a campaign event in Manchester, N.H., on Saturday. Associated Press/Photo by Matt Rourke

Man’s chief end is not political obsession

We’re only briefly into the new year and with the Iowa caucuses in the history books and the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary today, the commentary around evangelicals and former President Donald Trump is already exhausting. Last week’s caucuses came with all the predictable commentary of the large percentage of evangelical Christians who voted for Trump. Leave aside all of the legitimate questions about the theological identity of those “evangelical” Christians. Everyone, it seems, can get their fix filtering contemporary American life through evangelicals and their support for Trump. We might call this the worldview of reductio ad Trumpum or, to put it in a Protestant gloss, sola Trumpa—all things, everywhere and always, are interpreted through the aura of Donald Trump.

But what matters for the sake of this column is the outsized focus that evangelical politics has become in mainstream political punditry and to warn against how that can affect the attention of the normal, churchgoing evangelical. I have only a simple plea to make: Though we cannot stop the media from doing what it will do, it’s our choice whether to make politics the central fixture of our focus.

I’m not saying to give up on politics. Heaven forbid, in fact. I’m saying to approach politics with proper perspective and cool-headedness. In other words, to paraphrase a quote from theologian Oliver O’Donovan, Christians might be at their political best when talking about politics least. That may have a tinge of irony to it, but O’Donovan’s point is that the pronouncement of Jesus’ kingship should produce an anti-fragility and anti-frenetic spirit in how Christians conceive of worldly authority. If Jesus truly is King (and we most certainly believe He is), earthly politics is at best secondary to our lives in this age. What should be more important is your family, your local church, and your relationships.

What an impoverished worldview it must be to let politics—and Donald Trump or Joe Biden—reorder the hierarchy of loves that we are to spend our lives cultivating.

So, why, then, am I devoting a column to the subject of evangelicals and politics? Am I a hypocrite for penning such a column? Evangelical Christians need to be able to conduct their affairs as evangelical Christians without letting the external commentary swallow up the good work that is happening in evangelical churches or the political circus from distracting us from what makes us evangelicals: a fervent belief in the good news of Jesus Christ and His life-transforming power.

For evangelicals, what occurs in the voting booth is much less significant than what is happening in our local congregations on Sundays or around your dinner table.

In an election year, it is more than easy to collapse and reduce the most important things happening in America to politics. How much more is that amplified with the endless drama of Donald Trump? But for evangelicals, what occurs in the voting booth is much less significant than what is happening in our local congregations on Sundays or around your dinner table. The Word is faithfully preached by thousands of pastors who labor in anonymity. Mercy ministries are helping vulnerable women choose life over abortion. Wednesday night prayer groups gather to intercede for one another. Weekly discipleship groups gather around their Bibles to study God’s Word and grow in Christlikeness. Moms and dads are hustling through hectic schedules to eat dinner as a family and pray with their children before bedtime. That is far more important than anything said about evangelicals and their political activity.

All of this can easily be forgotten when it comes to evangelicals and politics. To the outside world, we’re just a voting bloc. But if your experience is like mine, inside the church, politics is much less the focus. One witness we may offer as evangelicals is not letting political punditry have more head space than it deserves.

Since 2016, too many are wasting their lives, careers, and emotional bandwidth in the intrigue of politics. A lot of people need Trump to win to maintain their relevance. The even sadder truth is the number of individuals who hate Trump but nonetheless also need him to win in order to maintain their relevance. Make it your goal to be in neither camp. See past 2024 and 2028.

We must see through the political fog that dominates much online evangelical discourse and is foisted—fairly or unfairly—on evangelical identity in America. We must avoid both Trump Derangement Syndrome and Trump Devotion Syndrome. Surely there is a space between obsessive contempt and obsessive fixation that can moderate every side’s own worst tendency.

Non-Christians should know that evangelicals do not spend all their time thinking about politics. And for the Christians on both sides who do, maybe take a cold bath. In other words, to put it in words that many will be familiar with from the Westminster Shorter Catechism, political obsession is not the chief end of man. Glorifying Jesus Christ is. Whatever may come in November, here’s the truth: God’s unstoppable, mysterious, and beautiful providence wins out. In the meantime, keep your wits about you and pursue sanity (1 Peter 1:13). Go to church, worship God, and let the Word of God transform you. And think a little bit less about politics even while doing your civic duty.

Andrew T. Walker

Andrew is the managing editor of WORLD Opinions and serves as associate professor of Christian ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also a fellow with The Ethics and Public Policy Center. He resides with his family in Louisville, Ky.

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