Evangelicals Won The Election Battle, But They May Have Lost The War

Protesters have rallied against Donald Trump.Reuters

It will be months before the world processes what happened to it on Tuesday, not weeks – and certainly not days. Much of that processing can't even begin until Trump actually takes office and we find out what sort of President he's going to be. But one thing is pretty clear: his victory has delayed the reckoning due to be faced by the white evangelicals who voted for him in vast numbers, but they will – in time – face it.

They may, in any case, be in for a disappointment. Whether the wave of resentment and disillusionment that swept Trump to the White House will carry the repeal of same-sex marriage, Roe vs Wade and other evils is another question entirely. Trump is not the man to champion their socially conservative agenda, and while his expected appointments to the Supreme Court may roll back the frontiers of federal power a little, they will do so only by returning power to the individual states. There are many more battles ahead.

What this election has shown – not just in the Trump phenomenon but in the creation of a solidly Republican legislature – is that conservatives can win. Fair enough. But the identification of evangelical Christianity with that cause is deeply worrying.

Evangelical leaders from Wayne Grudem to Bill Johnson, with all shades in between, have lined up to praise Trump's Republican programme. Johnson attacked "open borders", the American welfare system, same-sex marriage, the "socialist" tax system and globalisation. Grudem released an interminable defence of the Republican platform including pronouncements on healthcare, the military, the economy and much else beside.

And the problem is that Christianity has absolutely nothing to say about any of this.

Now actually, that's not quite true. Christianity has a huge amount to say about the issues behind these issues. It talks about justice and about human flourishing. It talks about peacemaking and taking care of the poor. It talks about the need for security and defending the weak. It implies that it's better to be reasonably comfortably off rather than actually dirt-poor, though it's decidedly ambivalent about riches.

What it doesn't do is tell you what the best way of arranging a state healthcare system looks like. It doesn't tell you capitalism is good and socialism is bad. It doesn't tell you to stop spending money on defence, and it doesn't tell you how much you ought to be spending. Most Christians believe it says same-sex relationships are wrong, but you know what? It doesn't say that a state can't allow same-sex marriage if it wants.

And the trouble is that evangelical Christians have hitched themselves to a socially conservative agenda that has absolutely nothing to do with Christianity.

Does this mean Christians can't pronounce on these issues? Of course they can. They can do the research, they have a voice, they have a vote. They have a right to an opinion.

What they can't do is speak in the name of the Church, or even their part of the Church – not without a long, patient, thorough and thoughtful examination of these cases from first principles. There are some things that are just wrong – unprovoked invasions, slavery, the death penalty – and these have to be unequivocally condemned. But think of how long it's taken to get to that understanding, and how many places in the world where those things still aren't obvious at all.

US evangelicals have weaponised Christianity in the service of a party. That's not going to end well. As Dean Inge famously said: "Whoever marries the spirit of this age will find himself a widower in the next."

So Trump's victory represents nothing more for US political evangelicalism than payment deferred. In spite of its ceaseless activism, it lacks anything like a proper political theology. Success means power and getting its own way. But it's nothing like that; it's about the kingdom of God, which can't be identified with one party, programme or individual.

US evangelicals have bought into the Trump agenda. The protesters on the city streets are furious at Trump, but they are furious with the people who elected him, too. There's a reckoning coming, and it may be devastating.

Follow Mark Woods on Twitter: @RevMarkWoods