Obvious Bias in ‘A Declaration by American Evangelicals Concerning Donald Trump’
The biggest problem with the declaration is not what it says, but what it doesn't say.
During the Council of Nicaea (A.D. 325), called to address the teachings of the heretic Arius of Alexandria, Arius submitted a draft creed that any orthodox member of the Council could have signed. Why? Because his creed carefully avoided saying the very thing that was at stake: that Jesus Christ was not God. Bishop Alexander of Alexandria wisely pointed out that it was important to note not only what Arius’s creed said but also what it failed to say. It failed to affirm the orthodox doctrine Arius rejected (that Jesus Christ is God) and the heresy Arius affirmed (that Jesus Christ is not God). The Nicene Creed eventually adopted language the Arians couldn’t wiggle around. What a document doesn’t say is often as important as what it does.
“A Declaration” Fails to Define “Evangelical”
I was reminded of that as I read “A Declaration by American Evangelicals Concerning Donald Trump.” The first seven paragraphs say nothing false, and I could endorse them myself except that my awareness of church history makes me recognize their failure to state important things. Most significant in its absence is a clear definition of what makes one an evangelical. The letter rightly rejects “the media’s continued identification of ‘evangelical’ with mostly white, politically conservative, older men.” It does not, however, offer any clear definition.
The most basic meaning of the term is one who affirms the gospel, the good news (evangel) of salvation in Jesus Christ. In that broad sense, every professing Christian at least claims to be an evangelical. But some think some others’ definition of the gospel is anti-Biblical and therefore a false gospel — the existence of which the Apostle Paul acknowledges in Galatians 1:8–9 and 2 Corinthians 11:4.
When the Modernist movement led to doctrinal decay (starting with denial of the divine inspiration and truth of Scripture and leading soon to denial of Jesus’ virgin birth, bodily resurrection, and other miracles) in many Protestant churches in America, some defenders of historic orthodoxy resisted, stating and defending a variety of doctrines they called “fundamentals” of the Christian faith while the Modernists denied them; they were called “Fundamentalists.”
But many of them refused to engage the culture — including but not limited to the political arena — and so beginning in the 1940s some “Fundamentalists” who believed in engaging the culture took on the name “Evangelical” for themselves, essentially denoting those who affirmed the fundamentals of the Christian faith (among which they included, importantly, not only the authority but also the inerrancy of Scripture, as stated in the doctrinal basis of the Evangelical Theological Society) and at the same time wished to engage culture.
From the 1940s through the 1980s and even into the early 2000s, this was the primary significance of the term “evangelical” in American religious discourse, though in the late 1970s some self-professed “evangelicals” (like Clark Pinnock) began arguing against inerrancy; in the 1980s, those who eventually self-identified as “Open Theists” began to modify the orthodox doctrine of God’s omniscience. By the early 2000s, they had begun to argue that since God’s knowledge is not infinite (not including, e.g., the future choices of free moral agents), God could make mistakes in predicting the future, and indeed some of His predictions (prophecies) in Scripture were false. In other words, God makes mistakes, though these Open Theists (such as Pinnock, John Sanders, and Richard Rice) usually avoided using that term.
At its fifty-third annual meeting, in 2001, the ETS debated expelling Open Theists from membership because their belief that some prophecies in the Bible were false was incompatible with the ETS’s doctrinal basis: “The Bible alone and the Bible in its entirety is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs.” The effort failed, and ETS has been doctrinally compromised ever since.
A survey of the initial signers of “A Declaration by American Evangelicals Concerning Donald Trump” suggests that many would not fit the ETS’s historic definition of “evangelical” as including the affirmation of the inerrancy of Scripture. Certainly that is so of, e.g., Shane Claiborne and Brian McLaren. A closer reading reveals that its most famous signers have long been on the Progressive wing of American Protestantism: Tony Campolo, Rich Cizik, Claiborne, Wes Granberg-Michaelson, Rachel Held Evans, Jo Anne Lyon, McLaren, David Neff, Ron Sider (of Evangelicals for Social Action), and Jim Wallis (of Sojourners). A more candid title would have been “A Declaration by American Progressive Evangelicals Concerning Donald Trump.”
Clinton’s Shortcomings Conspicuously Absent
The letter’s specific objections to Trump begin in paragraph eight by saying “Trump has given voice to a movement that affirms racist elements in white culture — both explicit and implicit.” That’s undoubtedly true. But it is equally true that Hillary Clinton has given voice to a movement that affirms racist elements in black culture — both explicit and implicit.
It objects to Trump’s questioning President Obama’s fulfilling the Constitutional qualification for the Presidency of being a natural-born American citizen but falsely assumes that questioning that was racist. It overgeneralizes when it says Trump demonizes Mexicans, immigrants, and Muslims, neglecting that he has qualified (albeit not prominently) such statements to apply specifically to criminal elements. It criticizes Trump for not explicitly confronting white supremacists among his supporters, but it fails to criticize Clinton for not explicitly confronting the Black Lives Matter movement among her supporters.
It continues in paragraph nine by objecting, rightly, to Trump’s fueling white xenophobia and religious intolerance but fails to mention Clinton’s fueling black reverse racism and her intolerance of orthodox Christianity (when, e.g., she insists that religious objections to abortion on demand right up to the moment before birth will have to change). It condemns Trump’s mocking of women and marriage vows but fails to condemn Clinton’s attempts to destroy the reputations of women whom her husband sexually abused. It criticizes Trump’s materialism while ignoring Clinton’s abuse of the non-profit status of the Clinton Foundation and her influence as Secretary of State for her own enrichment.
In paragraph 10 it denounces racism as “America’s original sin” and its “brazen use to win elections” while ignoring the fact that Democrats/Progressives, including the Clinton campaign, have appealed to black Americans on racial grounds for decades. Of what other American racial group can one confidently predict that over 90% will vote for one party in a Presidential election — not to mention that, however well-intended, Progressive policies have led to the breakdown of African-American families and consequently to the high rates of single parents (mostly women) and absentee fathers?This has led to educational and vocational failure that keep black Americans dependent on the state and therefore faithful Democratic voters.
Interestingly, in paragraph 13 the letter says, “We … will not tolerate the racial, religious, and gender bigotry” that Trump represents. What, precisely, does this mean? The essence of toleration is to permit the coexistence not only of ideas with which one agrees but also of those with which one disagrees. I despise racial, religious, and gender bigotry as contrary to the Biblical doctrine that all human beings are created in the image of God. But to live in a free society is to tolerate even ideas we despise. The letter’s language expresses Progressives’ determination not to out-argue but to silence those who disagree.
In the same paragraph, we read a tepid, “Whether we support Mr. Trump’s political opponent is not the question here. Hillary Clinton is both supported and distrusted by a variety of Christian voters. …” This is a fig leaf that fails to cover the nakedness of a brazenly biased critique of Trump’s real and serious failings wedded to a brazen disregard of Clinton’s.
Chief among these are:
- her support for abortion on demand up to the moment of birth
- her insistence that all Americans to contribute to it through tax funding
- her abuse of power as Secretary of State through pay-to-play with donors to the Clinton Foundation
- her Foundation’s exploitation of the Haitian poor by funneling money donated for their relief after the earthquake through the Haiti Reconstruction Fund back into the Foundation itself
- her seriously compromising national security by sending classified information over a private email server, actions that would have landed anyone else in prison
- her committing perjury in testimony to the FBI and to Congress about the emails
- and her religious intolerance, exhibited in her saying, while addressing opposition to abortion, “deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed.”
Had the letter been evenhanded, equally criticizing both Trump and Clinton for their respective serious moral failings, it would have been something any evangelical could embrace. As it stands, it is a thinly veiled Progressivist campaign piece for Clinton. No evangelical — or anyone else — should be deceived.
E. Calvin Beisner, Ph.D., is former Associate Professor of Historical Theology and Social Ethics at Knox Theological Seminary and author of Prosperity and Poverty: The Compassionate Use of Resources in a World of Scarcity.