Joe Carter, Communications Specialist at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (ERLC), recently posted a piece on The Gospel Coalition website where he also works as editor. Entitled, Why Evangelicals Are Divided Over Trump, Carter claims the divide over Donald Trump within the evangelical wing of conservatism is clearing new ground since, according to him, up until the present presidential election cycle, “there has been a general sense of unity” among social conservatives. Carter blames Trump’s polarizing persona as the chief culprit: “Few people could have predicted he’d bisect socially conservative evangelicals into warring camps.”1
Even so, Carter’s purpose in this piece, in his own words, is to “attempt to bridge this chasm” between evangelical conservatives by “explain[ing] the reasoning of both sides…examin[ing] their strengths and weaknesses” in order to “propose a way forward.” According to Carter, while the two sides may be warring now, they “can at least attempt to seek a modicum of understanding and reconciliation.”
Before looking closer at some of the details of Carter’s proposal (Part 2), it must be stated up front that neither understanding nor reconciliation is likely to transpire between the two “warring camps” within social conservatism until the fog surrounding the claims that gave rise to the division in the first place has receded somewhat.
Understanding may surely take place when new or better information is acknowledged. In other words, it's correct to expect the fog of ignorance to begin dissipating when substantial facts are finally accepted. On the other hand, reconciliation is another matter entirely. In fact, it’s not too much to suggest, that reconciliation can hardly happen in this case until certain claims are recanted on the one hand and forgiven the other. Remember, Joe Carter and Russell Moore (i.e. the ERLC) publicly claimed evangelicals who were/are voting for Donald Trump are “idolaters” and “hypocrites” who are de facto living out their citizenry "on the wrong side of Jesus" by voting for Trump.2 These are not trivial claims, accusations reflecting one's lack of knowledge either about a particular candidate or the electoral process. Rather, these implications strike at the core of a person’s faith and are undeniably moral and spiritual in nature. Ignorance may be corrected with truth. Idolatry must be confessed as sin.
Hence, to suggest as Carter does that come November 9, we can just shake hands and go back to being co-belligerents in a worthy cause is too naïve for words.
Until Russell Moore, Joe Carter, and the ERLC actually concede that their bombastic, condemnatory rhetoric was not only unnecessary and imprudent, it was also flat-out wrong to accuse other evangelicals of actually committing idolatry and losing their faith when, while they may not have made the right decision in voting for Trump,3 neither their purpose nor their heart was/is to forget God, shame their Lord, tarnish their witness, nor align themselves with sheer political power.
Those evangelicals I know who are voting for Trump are doing so hardly for selfish reasons. Instead their motivation is their love for their country; their compassion for unborn human life; their concern for their families; their commitment to religious liberty; their God-given right to free speech and to bear arms; their concern for the Supreme Court and safe borders; among a host of other values not endemic to their own personal well-being.
Truth be told, the over-whelming majority of the issues from which they reason a Trump presidency would be a greater good for this country than a Clinton administration concerns what they believe is best for all people, not just themselves. Contra Joe Carter, for Moore et al to skew and twist Trump-voters' motivations into sinful idolatry, hypocrisy, heresy, moral apathy, and other unholy ethical vices cannot be reduced to a mere division of opinion over voting for Donald Trump.
Hence, in this sense, November 9, I’m afraid, is not going to usher in a let’s-just-forget-all-about-it mock millennium where social conservatives can all kiss and makeup as Carter seems to gullibly hope.
The divide is real.
And the divide is not over Trump per se. Rather it's over the ceaseless, imprudent and sub-Christian way the ERLC has deliberately questioned the faith and integrity of evangelicals who believed it was their civic and moral duty, based upon what they knew of the only two viable presidential candidates, to do everything in their power from handing over the country's future to Hillary Rodham Clinton.
And until Joe Carter, Russell Moore, and the ERLC understand that, peace will hardly be probable.
Part 2 up next.
1Some evangelicals believe it’s arguably not Trump that’s created the divide--at least in Southern Baptist circles—so much as it is Carter’s boss, Russell Moore, with his brazen, condemnatory rhetoric aimed at traditional social conservatives.
2While perhaps Carter himself has not explicitly referred to Trump-voters as idolaters, Moore (and therefore the ERLC) most certainly has indicated it.
3Every voter is faced with the possibility of being wrong every time he or she steps into the polling booth and casts a vote for any candidate of any party or of no party. I need only recall my vote for Jimmy Carter to substantiate this principle. It’s called living in a Genesis 3 world.