Facing Down the Anti-Evangelical Hate Campaign After the Iowa Caucus
Evangelical Christians were a key demographic in Donald Trump’s Iowa caucus victory. Secularists and progressive Christians alike are spitting out all the many ways that this “proves” we’re horrible people. Are we witnessing a vicious anti-Christian attack? A much-needed word of correction? Something in between, maybe? And whatever it may be, how do you answer it?
If you’re an evangelical you need to sort this out. If you’re a pastor, you must think about how to help your church members sort it out. These attacks aren’t just aimed at us, but at the God we believe in. The message is clear: Either He’s not real, we’re not real, or both. So it isn’t only your reputation at stake here. It’s your witness for Christ.
And it doesn’t even matter whether you voted for Trump last time or want to vote for him this time. He’s an extra-handy missile they can aim at us, but I doubt it would be much different with any other candidate. They complained about our “politicizing the faith” long before Trump showed up. You can bet they’d find a way to do the same with anyone we supported.
But you need to know how intense it is. Here’s some of what they’re saying out there:
- We love helping Trump torment “others.”
- We’re racist and fascist (and fascist and racist!).
- We don’t care one bit that Trump is “morally bankrupt sexual predator and adulterer.”
- We’re “civically immature.”
- Trump is our route to wealth, power plus Christian nationalist control of the country.
- We’ll elect anyone, no matter who, if he’ll just support our homophobia.
- All in all, we’re hateful and rotten to the core.
Think of the young people in your family or your church. They hear these attacks, and they don’t hear us giving good answers. What are they going to conclude? Probably that we don’t have any. That’s not much motivation to stay in the faith.
What Sort of Criticism is This?
How then do we answer? Let’s start by asking how real this criticism is.
We know that both progressive Christians and serious secularists hold evangelicals in contempt. We’re the main group standing in the way of their political goals. Would they stoop to misrepresenting us for political reasons? Of course they would. This is politics. If they won’t follow the Bible’s teaching on sex, life, or economics, why expect them to follow what it says about telling the truth? But they aren’t just goaded by politics, either. They’re fighting for their “lifestyle.”
They don’t want any opposition, least of all from us, so they’ll do whatever they think it takes to stop us.
But Is It True?
They mean it as an attack, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from it. If any part of their critique is even partially true, we need to repent of it. So if we’re looking for answers, the first one we all need is to questions like these: “Is any of it true of me? Or true of my church?” Then, “What would Christ have me do?”
In Christ we can learn and grow even from our enemies — whether they want us to or not. So go ahead: Take it to God with an open heart and He’ll show you what’s real.
But let’s not fool ourselves about how they’ll treat us if God leads us to repent of anything. These critics don’t care whether you draw your life closer to Christ or not. That’s not their goal. Their goal is to make us cower and hide, or for those who aren’t the cowering type, they’d love for you to shoot back, “No! That’s not me!” so they can talk about how insensitive we are.
For this part of the question, then, I say forget their motivations. You can’t make them happy, so don’t try. Just do what it takes to be sure before God you’re doing what’s right.
Why They’re Wrong About a Lot of Us
Don’t make the mistake, though, of thinking your critics will guide you to truth. Yes, some of what they say is true of all of us, since no one is free of sin. A lot of it is true for “evangelicals” out on the fringe. But most of it is dead wrong about a majority of us. Based on nearly five decades’ experience, traveling and getting to know dozens of churches and thousands of evangelicals, scoffers’ complaints don’t look at all like the Christianity I see in real life.
The fact is, they criticize us without knowing us. Hardly anyone among them even cares to know us. They accuse us of hypocrisy, but they who “hate bigotry” don’t hesitate to stereotype us themselves. It’s amazing how progressive Christians in particular say right actions count more than right beliefs, yet so many of them make an exception to that when it comes to treating other believers with respect.
How They Get Away With It
So how do they get away with it? At least four different ways:
1. They don’t know what goes on in our churches, and/or they are counting on no one else knowing.
For example: They’ll tell you we love being racist, putting down homosexuals, repressing women, and on and on. Think back on your last year in church, though. How much time did you spend on any of those? Or, they’ll say we don’t care for the poor. Is that true in your church? I could multiply examples, but I’m sure you get the point.
2. They rewrite right and wrong so they can call God’s instructions “wrong.”
They’ll say, for example, “The only reason you’re afraid of homosexuality is because you’re a homophobic bigot.” No, I disagree with it for a thousand real reasons. I’m convinced God knows moral truth better than we do, and He has spoken clearly enough on it. I know that history tells us societies that choose sexual perversion don’t last. I see how our negative marriage culture (for which a lot of straights share the blame) harms children. And there’s no denying the gay rights movement’s close connection with destructive, revolutionary Marxism or cultural Marxism.
3. They write it in oversimplified, moralistic black and white terms.
For example: “The most segregated hour of the week is 11:00 a.m. on Sunday,” they say, and there’s no reason for it but white racism. Maybe that’s a factor, but it’s so one-dimensional, so simplistic, it would be boring if it didn’t matter so much. Just one example for you, which I’ve heard and seen in action many times: How many people used to Black church worship find White church worship boring? How many Whites find Black church worship loud and hard to handle?
Is one group right and the other group wrong? We’re talking musical tastes here, folks. Still it can be a barrier for either group. I’m not saying that’s the whole answer, though, I’m saying any one explanation by itself can only be a partial explanation. That goes for the racism charge, too.
4. They say it often, they say it loud, they say it with help from just about every influencer outside of Christianity.
If you hear a lie often enough, you tend to think it’s true.
So What Should We Do?
What do we do with this criticism? Short answer: Follow Jesus. I could write chapters on that, but for now I’ll break it down into four really quick parts:
- Examine yourself and repent what you need to repent of. It’s okay: God loves us so much we can be vulnerable with him that way, and He cares for us so much we can be vulnerable with others.
- Love your enemies. Pray for them, as Jesus taught us to do.
- Love the truth (see John 18:32 and 2 Thessalonians 2:8-12, esp. verse 10). Love the truth enough to study it, so you can counter the lies they tell about us and our Lord. Love it enough to teach younger believers how the other side relies on lies, manipulations, and their constant rhetorical barrage to push us out of their political path.
- Stand your ground. Yield to Jesus, yield to what’s true, give of yourself in love, but never, ever, ever give in to a lie.
Tom Gilson (@TomGilsonAuthor) is a senior editor with The Stream and the author or editor of six books, including the highly acclaimed Too Good To Be False: How Jesus’ Incomparable Character Reveals His Reality.