A top-rated relative asked me what I thought of Peter Wehner’s piece in the New York Times, “Why I Can No Longer Call Myself An Evangelical Republican.” This was my reply:
I kept saying “Amen” the whole time. I feel the pain of anyone who is sick, sick, sick of being “evangelical” and “Republican” in the Trump era.
But as for formal voter registration, I remain registered as a Republican and will continue to do so as long as 1) there are effectively only two political parties in the U.S. and 2) the GOP platform aligns more closely with my views than does the Democratic platform. I could totally see another faithful Christian choosing differently here. I feel quite open to disagreement here, especially since November 8, 2016.
I have publicly vowed (something I do not do lightly) never to vote for a pro-abortion candidate on the strength of this article by John Piper, which has never ceased to be persuasive to me. He basically argues that being pro-bribery, pro-extortion, or pro-racism would disqualify a candidate—so why wouldn’t something even worse, pro-killing-babies? This makes it unlikely that I will ever vote for a Democrat, if only because they (as Kenneth Woodward describes with chagrin in his Getting Religion) chose a long time ago not to permit a pro-life wing to develop in their ranks. As long as they think it’s okay to murder unborn babies, I’m out.
Though I would love to say “good riddance” to the Republicans, and though the national leadership is frustrating and galling and emetic to me, and though I think David Brooks is right that they’ve made a deal with the devil and ruined the “evangelical” name for a generation—registering as an Independent (which would feel so good!) only means that I don’t get to vote in primaries and try to push the party back toward my more or less “conservative” political ideals. I have little hope right now that that will ever happen, but I have even less hope that it will happen with the Democrats—even though I do share some of their values and I refuse to demonize them. Politics is about choosing the best means to ends that a lot of us, left and right, still agree on.
I’m willing to abstain from given votes: I did not vote for Trump but went third-party. But I want to abstain as a Republican so that the party leadership comes to see me and mine as a constituency to please. 2016 showed us that anything is possible in American politics. It’s possible that the party will lurch back toward its Burkean conservative roots. There are other “Biblical Refuseniks” out there. There have to be, if my Facebook feed is any indication. I’m holding out a little hope that I’m letting the feelings of the moment sway me too much, that the good the GOP has done isn’t all rotting around me.
As for “evangelical,” words about religious groups will always have sociological and theological definitions; they’ll be defined by the people that actually make up the group and by the ideals that were supposed to have formed it and still, at least officially, guide it.
Sociologically, empirically, the polls seem to be saying that self-described “evangelicals” are woefully shot through with Moralistic Therapeutic Deism and nationalistic civil religion. They apparently deserve their hero, Donald Trump. I don’t identify with that crowd at all; I’m ashamed of what they’ve done to the precious Bible word, “evangelical.”
But, theologically, I do identify doctrinally with the 1) biblicism, 2) conversionism, 3) activism, and 4) crucicentrism (the Bebbington Quadrilateral) that generally define evangelicalism among people who try to map out such things. And until the sociological and theological definitions drive so far apart that one has to give, I’m happy enough to call my theology “evangelical” (Bible word, remember). Labels will always be contested. I think this one still is; neither side has won.
I’m a Christian; I’m a pilgrim who lays no permanent claim on this world—yet. I’m waiting for the next age when Christ will put it all under his feet. So I care a lot more about “evangelical” than I do about “Republican.” And I lead with neither, especially now, and especially if doing so tends to conflict with my goals as a Christian pilgrim.