On the Right Side of Jesus (A Little to the Left)

Russell Moore, of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), recently claimed that opposing Donald Trump places Christians “on the right side of Jesus.”  This news has gone largely unnoticed outside of certain Christian circles, but the statement is a big deal. It is a rare moment in which a significant number of Progressives and Evangelicals may agree on something as important as an election.

However, it may ring differently depending how you receive it. 

On one hand, the Evangelical Christian vote has been significant since 1976, when the Moral Majority (in a nascent form) backed Jimmy Carter, who famously declared that Jesus Christ was the most important person in his life. They ran from him–largely because of his position on the ERA–and Ronald Reagan won their favor in 1980 by giving them his endorsement instead of soliciting their’s, at least publicly. Since then, Evangelicals have voted solidly Republican, a fact that Karl Rove realized when he first spotted a wayward scion named George W. Bush. John McCain and Mitt Romney underwhelmed Evangelical voters, and for the first time in thirty years proved to not be the most important factor in national elections. Their force can still be felt on the state and local level, shockingly being most dangerous on school boards. But that is the stuff of another post. 

On the other hand, the SBC is still the SBC. What their recent move does, though, is propel Progressive and Evangelical Christians together in a potentially uncertain alliance.  We can all be disgusted and put off by Trump’s misogyny, racism, xenophobia, and classism, but the SBC still adamantly opposed GLBT rights, feels that Christians are being persecuted in this country, and promotes of vision of Christianity that is hegemonic and exclusive. Yes, we find ourselves together now on the right side of Jesus, but what are we going to do? I find it powerful and significant that this moment has arrived; I didn’t think that there was much hope of Evangelicals and Progressives finding common ground, but here it is, shaky though it may be. But we have to engage in some real talk.

What is at issue here are competing notions of community. Trump is tapping into the fears of certain Whites in this country, many of whom most likely identify as Evangelicals. He is promising that foreigners and those he deems “idiots and losers” will not have a voice or any power when he makes American great again. The racial dog whistle ain’t so silent this time around.  But the SBC, which contains an interesting mix of Black and White Evangelicals, has clapped back and drawn a line. While it remains to be seen how this is received in the pews or if it is preached from the pulpit, the opportunity arises for us as Christians to  have significant conversations about  how we view community and what the proper relationship between faith and politics looks like.  For many Christians, myself included, when we think about political action driven by faith we think of the Civil Rights movement. And while there are lessons to be learned from our history, if we are to be prophetic we must utilize these lessons to propel us forward, and to develop new methods that resonate and address current needs and situations. The Civil Rights movement and the Moral Majority have to come together to form a platform. 

Riiiiiiight. But a man can dream.

We can certainly ask what took the SBC so long to make this statement; Trump is the presumptive nominee and there is little to no hope for the GOP to run anyone else. Do they want people to stay home on Election Day? To vote for the Democratic nominee? And what is the next move for Evangelicals that want their values to be represented in politicians? Can we have new conversations about what Jesus wants from us in terms of justice, compassion, mercy, and love? Sadly, I fear that this cycle will play itself out, and once again the Body of Christ will be rent from disagreements on issues that represent only a small part in the totality of life.

But like Dr. King told us, Christians are nothing without a dream.     

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