We’ve thought often in the past week of The Candidate
, the seminal 1972 film starring Robert Redford as a dark–horse political candidate who improbably wins a seat in the U.S. Senate. Overwhelmed with the implications of his victory toward the end of the film, Redford blankly asks his campaign manager (Peter Boyle), “Marvin…what do we do now?”
We’ll never know for sure, but we believe that question has been asked often among Donald Trump’s inner circle. Trump astounded almost every political pundit and, by all accounts, even himself in pulling off a dramatic, decisive victory in the Electoral College over Hillary Clinton. He deserves our congratulations and our earnest prayers as he forms a team that will lead the executive branch of our government when he’s inaugurated Jan. 20, 2017.
For values voters, Trump’s victory represents a chance to dramatically improve public policy concerning its most important issues — including life, religious liberties and the temperament of the federal judiciary. But that’s exactly
what it is — a chance.
The Church’s unexpected opportunity for the next four years is far better than the alternative, but is far from guaranteed. In addition, the Church has its own battered reputation to rebuild in the months ahead.
The Trump Administration and the 115th Congress will surely be more sympathetic to the interests of values voters than the administration of Hillary Clinton would have been. We are praying for the executive and legislative branches to work together in the following areas:
- The federal judiciary. The U.S. Senate’s bold approach to the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court left by the tragic death of Justice Antonin Scalia — declining to hold hearings or a vote on President Obama’s nomination, Judge Merrick Garland — paid off in a big way with the election of Donald Trump as president. Mr. Trump has said he will nominate originalists for the federal court system. It will be interesting to see how he responds to the opportunity to fill the vacancy on the high court, and others across the federal judicial system. The Church should be relentless in its advocacy for judges who will interpret the law as written, and resist the temptation to settle for candidates with a record or reputation for making law from the bench.
- Life. Under a Clinton administration, any federal restrictions on abortion or funding for Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers would surely have been dead on arrival. It’s likely, but no sure thing, that a Trump administration will be more open to common–sense limits on abortion and to getting the abortion industry out of the taxpayers’ pockets. Our caution stems from a significant sector of the population what propelled Trump to office — the sector that has come to be known as the alt–right. We’ve read more material than we’ve cared to from bloggers and commentators who identify with the alt–right, and it’s disturbing. Suffice it to say that the alt–right believes in eugenics every bit as much as Margaret Sanger did. We can hope that the alt–right won’t bring its political muscle to bear on this issue, but we won’t know until we try to change public policy to more effectively protect the unborn. And we must seize the opportunity before us to do so. We especially look forward to advocating for legislation that will uncouple Planned Parenthood from the federal treasury and make the Hyde Amendment — a provision barring the use of Medicaid funds for abortion — a permanent part of the federal code.
- Religious liberties. Hillary Clinton had made it clear that she expected faithful Americans to change their views to accommodate the political correctness movement, in apparent defiance of the First Amendment. The Trump Administration figures to be far more amenable to religious–liberties concerns. He said during the campaign that he would favor something akin to the Houses of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act, a bill that would have expressly permitted supporting or opposing a political candidate from the pulpit of a church, synagogue, mosque or other house of worship. This strikes us as necessary but not sufficient. We would prefer something akin to a strong federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which permits all Americans — not just Christians — to publicly live and conduct business in accordance with the tenets of their faith without causing egregious harm to others. Previous attempts at federal and state RFRAs — including in incoming Vice President Pence’s home state of Indiana — have been watered down to the point of being worthless. The Church has the right to expect more now, and perhaps the clout to get it. We should advocate relentlessly for religious freedom in the 115th Congress and before the Trump Administration.
At the same time, we believe the Church and especially its leaders who spent relational and political capital on the election of Mr. Trump need to do an internal integrity check, and repent before God where necessary. The Nov. 8 election resulted in possibly the best possible outcome for the Church, but it has surely come at a cost.
The undeniable truth is that a broad array of Christian leaders worked tirelessly for the election of an unrepentant serial adulterer who has bragged openly about sexual harassment, building an empire from the gambling industry and unjust business practices with employees and vendors. That Mr. Trump won the election does little, if anything, to mitigate what people inside and outside the Church have called hypocrisy on the part of its leaders.
The damage done to our witness is unknowable, but it would be naïve to think the Church won’t pay the price for its striving after political power. We’ve burned some bridges in our congregations and among those we’re charged with reaching with the Gospel, and it’s clear we will need to rebuild those bridges.
We understand that many believers reluctantly supported Mr. Trump out of a belief that the alternative to his election was unacceptable. And we agree that Trump’s election precluded the prospect of four dark years for values voters. But we can’t escape the nagging notion that some of our leaders have made the Church’s primary task more difficult in the months and years ahead.
The Church’s mission is not to be politically powerful, or even welcome, in political circles. It’s to make disciples. Our prayer going forward, as we advocate for righteousness in the public square, is that we would remain mindful that our primary goal is to win souls for the Kingdom.