We keep hearing a similar refrain: “This is the most important election of our lifetime!” In political ads and in commentary, Americans are bombarded by politicians and pundits alike warning that this is the year, this is the election.
If you listen to some Republican voices, a Democratic win means the end of Christmas. Democrats paint an equally dystopian picture, evoking the Handmaid’s Tale.
While there are significant issues at stake in this election that demand our consideration, Christians need to recognize the destructiveness of this thinking. It feeds our fears, distorts our views of others, and invites us to place our hope in political deliverance.
Elections are important, and we should take our vote seriously. Yet our life must be animated by faith in an all-powerful, all-loving God who has reconciled and secured us solely through the redemptive work of his Christ. To place our faith in anything in this world — whether a politician or an institution — is to build our house upon sand.
Despite this clear warning from Scripture, it is concerning that the political strategy of playing to our fears has proved so successful within the evangelical church. There have been several recent examples, but the one we return to regularly was the White House dinner in August 2018. Speaking to a group of evangelical leaders, President Donald Trump warned they were “one election away from losing everything that you’ve got.” In 2018 this message found an enthusiastic audience and continues to be an effective tool in this election.
While we might dismiss a few outliers, in reality this fear of political and cultural loss is far more prevalent in our pulpits and pews than we admit. In a recent study we undertook at the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center Institute, we asked evangelicals by belief how they felt when either a Republican or a Democrat was president of the United States. For evangelicals, the two highest responses for when a Republican was president were Protected (34%) and Safe (33%) while during the Democratic administration the most common response was Fearful of the Future (34%). When we narrow the focus to only white evangelicals, each of these percentages rises to over 4 in 10 (44%, 41%, 46% respectively). In other words, security seems to be the driving emotional force for evangelicals and particularly white evangelicals when they consider political power.