The wave has washed over us. Donald Trump is America's President-Elect, stunning the world. As evangelicals seeking to engage the city of man, what are we to make of this? Here are six brief thoughts in the wake of the 2016 Presidential Election.
#1 We note that massive numbers of self-identified white evangelicals voted for Trump—80%. Overall, white evangelicals made up a large portion of voters—the Wall Street Journal put the total at 26% of the overall electorate. The percentage of white evangelicals relative to the overall vote was higher in 2016 than in 2012, 2008, and 2004, according to Pew Research. We cannot miss that many of these voters felt disaffected and directly targeted by hostile voices and recent public policies. Will Republicans learn long-standing lessons from this? Will they become a populist party? Can they do so and maintain any meaningful connection to conservative principles? Much remains to be seen.
#2 Sadly, the church is divided along racial lines–72% of nonwhite evangelicals voted for Hillary Clinton. Many onlookers would note that certain policies of Trump left racial minorities cold. The church thus has much work to do on this front, as the people of Christ must oppose nativism and ethnic bias wherever these sins may be found. Many of us feel a degree of unease about racial tensions in America, and hope for progress in days ahead. I for one am uncertain about Trump’s desire to lead in racial reconciliation. I do know this: whatever his stance as President will be, the church has the responsibility to pray for him (1 Tim. 2:5), and the divine call of portraying unity in Christ, showing the gospel makes us one new man (Eph. 1:10; 2:15).
#3 There is a good deal of discussion taking place about the religious right and its identity. Whatever your perspective, it is hard to avoid the somewhat surprising conclusion that religious folks played a pretty major role in this election. We have sometimes heard about the “silent majority” of conservatives and Christians in America, a concept many folks have recently viewed with suspicion due to lower turnout in previous presidential elections. I am not in a position to independently confirm this trend, but it seems quite possible that Trump did indeed draw religiously-identified voters who previously stayed away from the polls.
Whether this draw owes to the machinations of religious leaders or the appeal of Trump himself, it seems clear that evangelicals as a voting bloc—and a Republican-oriented one at that—have not died away, and are still powerful in national terms. This represents a reworking of the narrative many of us thought true not long ago. It also presents those of us who engage public theology with a whole range of fresh questions. I’m thankful that Southern Baptists have a body chartered to help us in just these kind of moments—the ERLC, led by statesman-theologian Russell Moore.
#4 Trump may be a wild card in the eyes of many of us, but it appears the cause of life is alive and well in America. Republicans control both the House and Senate, and we can reasonably hope that our national legislators will use their platforms to advance the cause of the unborn. I write these words tentatively, because pro-lifers as a group are well-acquainted with disappointment on the national level. But we can hope, and more importantly pray, that this will be a season in American public life in which the momentum surrounding unborn babies will continue to shift, and that countless children created in God’s image will be welcomed to life, to use Richard John Neuhaus’s famous language.
#5 We are left by this election to marvel once again at America, a nation that takes pride in upending conventional wisdom. This is a humbling season for many of us, for people from all corners of the ideological spectrum. Never has more effort been expended on prognostication and prediction than ours, and yet rarely have so many been more wrong in their assessments. Like many others, I had little awareness of the roaring wave that was about to sweep over America. There is plenty of humble pie to eat right now, and many who can justly be served a slice. (I’ll take raspberry with vanilla ice cream.)
I do not know what the future holds. I do know this: history is not traveling in a straight line. Many of us thought with certainty that Hillary Clinton would win, that religious liberty was in the crosshairs, and that the church was sure to lose cultural influence. These and other possible problems may yet pick up speed in coming days. But at the very least, the election of Trump means that our predictions must be recalculated. The cultural revolution may be delayed (possibly more). For those who see history moving in only one direction—downward—we have received a rebuke. We would do well to remember this lesson in days ahead, dark as they yet become. America, and mankind, will surprise you.
#6 Much has changed—and yet, little has changed at all. I mean this of the church. Our mandate and mission remains the same. America may prove more friendly to our views in the immediate future than many of us thought, but we have work on a much grander scale to prosecute. We have global fields that are white for harvest. We have churches in desperate need of doctrinal—biblical!—infusion. We have cities that have no gospel witness. We have scores and scores of university campuses that need campus ministries connected to local churches. We have children to raise, marriages to nurture, bonds to strengthen. We have neighbors to evangelize. If there are cultural gains of some kind made by this recent election, we must not forget that our work is largely humble, ordinary, and anonymous. The kingdom advances one soul at a time.
In conclusion, much in unsettled at present. For our part, I hope evangelicals and Baptists will view this election in missiological terms. As mentioned above, America is divided. Racial hostility is evident. The voters who elected Trump have rejected the current administration and are in many cases struggling to find work, to build a safety net, and to form meaningful social ties. Our country is fractured. I don’t know how you read times like these, but here’s what I see before us: a situation and setting that is as ripe as ever for gospel proclamation, for faith made visible, and for a kingdom that cannot be shaken.
Give us cultural favor or give us a jail cell—it matters not. After all, we are not here to head for the hills. We’re here to reenter the city of man, and to be the city of God.
Editor's Note: This post originally appeared on the Center for Public Theology website.