“I believe the evangelical alignment with the Trump administration has advanced the kingdoms of men but not the kingdom of God. I worry it has damaged the culture and tarnished our witness for generations.”
This is what Timothy Dalrymple, President and CEO for Christianity Today, writes in a recent article. This conviction does not prevent him from trying to understand evangelical Trump supporters. In fact, he does a good job laying out the logic behind why they act as they do, describing them as the Church Regnant:
The Church Regnant sees the kingdom of God, the end toward which we strive, as a world in which men and women are free to follow their faith, life is held sacred from conception to death, families can raise their children in biblical truth, churches take the lead in charity, and government provides a stable order for the flourishing of meaningful enterprise. […]
The Church Regnant views the election starkly as a battle between good and evil. The vices of the president seem small when the virtue of the world hangs in the balance. Winning political power means protecting the Christian way of life and sowing seeds of truth and goodness into culture, and thus bringing God’s blessing upon the land. Losing political power means the culture spirals into deepening immorality and untruth, eroding the foundations of society and leading to greater suffering for all.
In contrast to this group of evangelicals, there is the Church Remnant (with which Dalrymple identifies himself):
Unlike the Church Regnant, the Church Remnant tends to come from places where Christianity is not the reigning cultural or political authority. Of course, these are generalizations, but the Church Remnant trends younger, more diverse, and more urban than the Church Regnant. Members of the Church Remnant are more likely to live on the margins of power, sometimes deliberately and sometimes by exclusion. […]
The Church Remnant is captivated by a fundamentally different vision of the kingdom of God. The kingdom, in this view, is too sacred to be confused with winning elections and passing laws. It is not a political dispensation or social order. It is not a kingdom of this world. Instead, the kingdom breaks into time and space when men and women sent by the king seek the lost and serve the least. The kingdom of heaven is among us when we speak the gospel in word and deed, serve the homeless and the refugee, and come alongside our suffering neighbors.In other words, the Church Regnant has a Constantian vision for society where Christian influence is most important, whereas the Church Remnant has a prophetic vision for society where Christian integrity is most important:
The Church Remnant would rather the church lose its influence than its integrity, even if the loss of religious liberties were to lead to persecution. When has persecution ever defeated the church? Surely the same God who spoke the stars into being, who has preserved the church around the world for two thousand years, can preserve the American church against four years of political exile. The church only ever dies from within.As I’ve pointed out previously, this fundamental difference in perceiving evangelical identity follows racial lines to a large degree in the US: black evangelicals rarely support Trump as they value refugees, climate action and voting for the sake of the vulnerable much more than their white brothers and sisters. But this is not part of their ethnic DNA. White Christians can also belong to the Church Remnant. A lot of us Europeans do.
Joel Halldorf has written an excellent article about this tale of two evangelicalisms. Here in Sweden, evangelicals also value welcoming refugees and taking action for the climate, along with support for aid and a critique of militarism, to a much larger degree than the secular majority. Our values are not that different from the values of African American Christians. How come?
Halldorf connects this to social history:
During the 1900s Sweden became a secular country with a Lutheran state church, which further underscored the minority status of the free churches. As a minority, they depend on a state that accepts religious pluralism. The embrace of this principle has lead evangelicals to argue for tolerance of other religious traditions—including Muslims.
Likewise, the African American church has a strong identity as a minority movement. But white evangelicals want to be the “Moral Majority”. They want to siege political power in order to create the perfect habitat for revival, and they’re willing to compromise – a lot – in order to get there. The fact that white evangelicalism is shrinking fast increases its desperation for political salvation.
Didn’t Jesus say something about this? Yes, “And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?” (Matthew 16:26)
Commenting on Halldorf’s article, Chris Gehrz writes:
Perhaps the future evangelical leaders of the 21st century, like the Swedish evangelicals of the 19th, will have grown up to become a “democratic avant-garde” that decries the illiberal dangers of religious populism and is eager “to live as a creative minority in a pluralistic society.”
Of course, historians are not soothsayers. But if we’re at a kind of turning point in American religion and politics, then articles like Halldorf’s might be highly illuminating. For if there’s more than one tale of evangelicalism in the recent past, perhaps the near future might surprise us, too.
It shouldn’t surprise us. Movements without integrity will always fade away as they have no solid ground. The Church Remnant, protected by the Holy Spirit, will remain until the end of days.
Micael Grenholm is a Swedish pastor, author and editor for PCPJ.
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