Fathom Mag

We didn’t become Christians because of the hucksters.

Decrying false witnesses requires pointing to the perfect one.

Published on:
September 11, 2017
Read time:
4 min.
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I have watched with concern the contingent of Christian apologists for the Trump Administration—that cohort who seem to now read the Bible through the lens of Trump’s latest utterance, his most recent whim.[1] I’m not the only one watching.

The Trump presidency is overturning what was becoming a new consensus among many intellectual evangelicals: culture is upstream from politics, and Christian reform should—must—take place outside of and apart from politics. This tilling of the American evangelical landscape is exposing the reality that in this moment in American history, a Christian witness that ignores politics amounts to negligence.

We should never concede the worthiness of Christ in response to just critiques of his followers.

This truth did not come easily. It has required the ever accumulating examples of utter depravity apparent in so many of President Donald Trump’s words and actions, and the transparent self-indulgence of his cadre of Christian devotees, for this perspective to gain wider acknowledgment. Now it is undeniable: Christians cannot wish away the challenges of public life through quietism. Saying nothing also acts as a statement of our affections and convictions.

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Decrying the False Witnesses

As a result, many of us are speaking out.

We speak against many of the words and actions of our president, yes, but also those of his Faith Fan Club. It has become common that with each new antic of Trump’s that receives a Christian defense, there are other Christians eager to warn of the damage these Trump-endorsing-Christians are doing to the cause of evangelism. 

Their warnings are justified in a practical sense: many who do not identify as Christians point to the excesses, the hypocrisy, or any other number of flaws in the church and its members as a reason for why they do not believe.

But is this criticism stopping short of what is required of us? Could we be foregoing opportunities for evangelism as we fight for its efficacy? I think so. If we choose to convey in one breath the practical harm to evangelism caused by boneheaded Christian defenses of Trump, our next breath should express how insufficient a justification such poor public witness is for actually rejecting Christ. Too often our second breath seems to justify the first; we fail to point people to Jesus.

Why do we fight for evangelism without emphasizing Jesus?

At the root of some[2] of our warnings about the harm done to the proclamation of the gospel is personal grievance over the state of American Christianity and an invocation of gospel-motives for political change. This resentment births several reasons for focusing squarely on a moral and theological judgment of the Trump Administration and those Christians who convey unqualified support of it. But an honest look at those justifications finds them wanting.

One reason is that we may truly believe that until the church straightens itself up, that those who do not believe in Christ are justified in their rejection of the faith. Another is that, we might believe that if Christians were publicly positioned in a particular way—always, of course, the precise way that reflects our own personal preference—that revival would spring up from the barren ground. Lastly, we might be certain that particular theological concepts mandate a particular policy approach.

What these miss is that it is not we who convert and change hearts, but the Holy Spirit. 

What they miss is that while all who claim the name of Christ—all Christians—are imperfect and disobedient to that name, their example is faint in light of the shining name of Jesus. 

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It’s time to proclaim the perfect example of Christ.

Yes, if we are serious about evangelism, we must acknowledge and discuss the practical obstacles Christians place in others’ way when they condemn what is good and praise what is evil. But we should never concede the worthiness of Christ in response to just critiques of his followers. We should fight for it all the more.

If the world criticizes the pride of someone who claims the name of Christ—or who won the votes of those who do—point them to Jesus, who was born into poverty, who instructed his followers to take the low position, and humbled himself on the way to the cross.

If the world criticizes their greed, point them to Jesus, who told the rich man to sell all of his possessions, and argued that participating in his kingdom was worth any sacrifice of wealth.

There is nothing so wrong with the poor example of Christians that can’t be solved by proclaiming the perfect example of Christ.

If the world criticizes their bigotry, point them to Jesus, who inaugurated a kingdom of radical, unprecedented, and unmatched inclusion. 

If the world criticizes their self-aggrandizement, point them to Jesus, who overturned the moneychangers’ table and proclaimed an ethic of selfless love.

If the world criticizes their love of access and power, point them to Jesus, who rejected the help of angels who would answer his call and save him from great torment all to the glory of his Father.

There is nothing so wrong with the poor example of Christians that can’t be solved by proclaiming the perfect example of Christ.

Jesus speaks for himself. Two thousand years after he lived, died, and was resurrected, his life still saturates our time. The just critiques of Christianity, and Christians, are answered entirely in the life and witness of Christ. We should not make an idol of our conception of the ideal political witness nor inflate the importance of those who claim to speak for God.

I know that for many of you, the witness of some who claim to represent Christ has made you cynical about our faith. But we did not become Christians because of the hucksters and the showboats. Their tactics are not new, and they can be found across the political spectrum and in other realms of life outside of politics. The hucksters do not get to set the standard. They provide neither the question nor the answer. Jesus is the standard, and he remains unimpeachable.

Michael Wear
Michael Wear is the author of Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House About the Future of Faith in America. He is the Founder of Public Square Strategies LLC, and lives with his wife, Melissa, in Northern Virginia.
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Cover image by NeONBRAND.

[1] I do not wish now to fully unpack the roster of the Trump Faith Fan Club, nor debate the wisdom of each specific defense that has been made over the last several years.

[2] I say “some” because I am certain other similar expressions are made with just and righteous motives.

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