With Ted Cruz’s (perhaps premature) exit from the presidential race, Donald Trump is finally the presumptive Republican nominee. Many Christian conservatives see this as a terrible thing, but there is one major silver lining involved — Trump’s nomination reminds us that our true citizenship is not of this world.
Kingdoms, empires, and politicians all rise and fall, but the Kingdom of God will last forever. Our ultimate hope is not in political leaders, but in Jesus Christ, and Trump’s victory should help Christian conservatives to re-examine not just our message, but our place in politics as a whole.
At an event sponsored by the Falls Church Anglican, Vice President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC) Michael Cromartie recalled an exchange he had with the late Irving Kristol. Kristol told him, “There’s not a culture war in America today. There was one, it’s over, and the other side won.” This has more to do with Obama, the culture on college campuses today, and political correctness, but it also has a connection to Trump.
In seeking to explain Trump’s success, the founder of the Federalist, Ben Domenech, argued that southern evangelicals are backing Donald Trump because we live in a “post-apocalyptic” environment for Christians. They see in The Donald not a leader who is “one of them, ideologically or faithfully.” They “have no illusions about his unbelief. The difference is that while they believe Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio would be one more round of good soldiers for their cause, they think Donald Trump would be a tank.”
Trump will be a tank — against political correctness primarily, but not for Christian conservatism. Many of his supporters likely know this: there is evidence to suggest that the “evangelicals” supporting Trump did so in areas with low rates of church attendance, while those with high rates backed Ted Cruz. Be that as it may, many Christians may have decided that the system needed shaking up more than a true conservative champion. Some of us may disagree, but I can understand this sentiment.
Saint Augustine famously wrote that Christians inhabit two cities: the City of God and the City of Man. These two realms will always be in conflict — Cromartie openly declared that “we can never claim that we have won the culture.” Our primary loyalty as Christians is to the City of God, and if we elevate earthly politics to the level of spiritual salvation, we are committing a form of idolatry.
Next Page: Why Christians must be involved in politics, even though we don’t put our ultimate trust in princes.
But this does not mean we cease to care about the earthly city — we just need to have a more realistic approach to the challenges of our culture. Jeremiah 29:7 advises us to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” Augustine echoes this, saying that we should seek peace in the City of Man, even while we seek salvation and ultimate meaning in the City of God.
This world will always be against us, to some degree. Jesus promised as much. There have been times when communities come together to be a “shining city on a hill,” and those efforts are to be lauded — so long as they are free expressions of piety. But the United States is not that shining city, not in terms of faith or Christianity, anyway.
America’s peace, rather than the glory or the godliness of the United States, is to be our foremost concern. Good governance, the protection of fundamental rights, the ability of people to live in our society without needing to violate their consciences — these are the goals we should have. Europe’s history is chocked full of warnings about what happens when we try to make one form of Christianity the centerpiece of national governance.
At the same time, it is vital to defend our history and heritage. Placards of the Ten Commandments in public, teaching the Bible and church history at school, are not examples of making Christianity the state religion, but of accepting where our values came from and delving into what they mean. America is not a Christian nation, but our ideas of liberty have Christian roots, and denying those is as unscientific as it is insulting.
Conservative Christians have to find ways to present our ideas and heritage without making it seem like we want to turn America’s government into a church service. This was the greatest weakness of Ted Cruz — his speeches sounded like Southern Baptist sermons, which can grate on the ears of many, even conservative Christians.
Today in politics, conservative Christians are without a spokesperson. This is a good thing — it reminds us of our exile and encourages us to approach politics in new ways. We need a message that doesn’t just energize our own, but appeals to non-Christians. We need not fight a battle in the culture wars, so much as defend the walls of our own communities, so we can have the freedom to live by our beliefs in a pluralistic world. All the same, we must be Christian realists and not Christian cynics, never fully withdrawing into our own communities.
So thank you, Donald Trump. You taught us a lesson we very much needed to hear. Conservative Christians are resident alien citizens in this world, and we need to seek the peace of the city without putting our ultimate hope in it. That’s as good a sermon as anything Ted Cruz preached on the stump.