My Facebook feed has been filled with both defenses of and outrage toward the various evangelical leaders, including Wayne Grudem, who have endorsed the Republican candidate for the U.S. Presidency. Maybe the reason for this is that I have friends across the spectrum (yes there is one!) of evangelical belief who have lots of different takes on these endorsements, and on the fitness for office of the one being endorsed.
I will not engage in any of that discussion here–there is enough of this. More fundamentally, I want to ask the question “what business do these ‘evangelical leaders’ have endorsing any presidential candidate?” I ask this because these leaders enjoy a certain status of influence within a certain segment of the community they represent. Also, as ministers of the Christian gospel, they have a certain calling from God to fulfill.
I believe they betray their calling when they become publicly enmeshed in the partisan politics of any candidate. This was brought forcefully home to me several years ago when talking with a friend about a particular church, which would be considered “evangelical” in belief. This friend told us that joining that church would be out of the question because our friend was not a Republican. It hit me like a ton of bricks that for this person, the impression was that to be a Christian, one had to both believe in Jesus and the Republican Party. I think there are many out there like my friend–attracted to Jesus, but not so much to political parties of any stripe. It is partisan endorsements rather than tenets of the faith that are stumbling blocks to belief for these friends.
Part of what is so troubling with these endorsements is that given their positions, it appears, and the news media plays up, that these people are speaking for a constituency. And perhaps they are. But because of the fuzziness of the boundaries of that constituency, and in fact the spectrum of political views in that constituency (I have friends who are Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, American Solidarity Party supporters and more who would all consider themselves ‘evangelical’ in conviction), no endorser can represent all of those the media or general populace think they represent.
The deal with the endorsement game is that the endorser hopes that lending their reputation and influence will be rewarded with further influence if the candidate is successful. You would think that over the last 30 years evangelicals would learn. Cal Thomas, a conservative columnist, and Ed Dobson, a former political operative wrote a sobering account, Blinded by Might, of the high expectations and dashed hopes that Religious Right operatives in the 80’s experienced in the Reagan and post-Reagan years.
I am not arguing that the figures who have endorsed candidates do not have the right to do so. Free speech, as I’ve written elsewhere, is a tremendous freedom. My question does not have to do with the right of these figures to do what they have done but rather the wisdom of these endorsements in light of their calling. Nor do I object to Christian involvement in politics, at any level, in any party. Rather it is the implicit or explicit idea that these people represent anyone other than themselves, and the use of the perception that they do that I believe is wrong.
I would also contend that the proper role of these leaders is to pray (I Timothy 2:2) for whoever is in leadership, to prophetically preach, calling on whoever is in leadership to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8) and to pastor the flock that is under their care (1 Peter 5:2), including such political leaders they have influence with.
And for the rest of us? I wonder if it makes more sense to just stop paying attention to endorsements, to give appropriate attention to the candidates, vote our consciences, and get on with other equally and perhaps more important things, whether it is the educating of our children, building bridges of understanding across our differences, protecting the most vulnerable, caring for the good creation, and creating cultural goods.