Is Trump Hysteria Driving Millennials Away from Evangelicalism?

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

It is no secret that many faithful Christians have struggled to support Donald Trump. Yet some, most notably the Bible scholar Wayne Grudem, have not only endorsed the Republican nominee, but declared it a “moral imperative” to do so.

In “How Evangelicals are Losing an Entire Generation,” lifestyle theology blogger Amy Gannett explains why the increasing worship of Trump among Christian leaders is alienating many in the millennial generation. She strongly identifies as an evangelical, but she warns, “I fear that we’re going to lose an entire generation because of the actions, words, and teachings of some evangelicals. Including Wayne Grudem.”

Gannett points out that millennials and Baby Boomers have more than a generation gap — they have a morality gap.

Grudem’s article argues that it is morally constraining on the Christian person to vote for Donald Trump, particularly citing things like Trump’s upholding of religious rights for Christian schools and businesses, support of traditional marriage, and pro-life support of the rights of the unborn. Grudem dismisses accusations of Trump being a racist, anti-(legal) immigrant, and misogynistic. He feels Trump has been misunderstood, quoted out of context, and the victim of an unfair media.

What Grudem does, then, is sets [sic] up a hierarchy of morality. He is willing to hold some moral values (religious rights for Christian schools and businesses, support of traditional marriage, and pro-life notions) above others (the equality of races, genders, and ethnicities). All are moral concepts, all require a moral stance, and Grudem has chosen which he prefers over others.

Gannett acknowledges that most people have moral hierarchies — this is not unique to Grudem. But he “has chosen to be old guard, predominantly upholding political issues that are less felt by our generation.”

The lifestyle theology blogger does not reject these moral issues — such as the rights of the unborn — but she explains that millennials prioritize other issues as well. “Millennials feel the daily pangs of racial tension, a deep desire for equality for all, and a propensity toward the social justice issues surrounding the refugee crisis.”

“Evangelical leaders like Grudem are using their political and social weight on issues close to their generation, and are neglecting the moral imperatives to seek justice, peace, and equality for the Black community, the immigrant community, and the refugee community (and a slew of others),” Gannett declares. Neglecting these issues is suicide for millennial outreach.

“We cannot call a candidate ‘good,’ as Grudem does with Trump, who has made racist remarks. We will not call a candidate ‘good’ who has demoralized and dehumanized women on national television. We will not buy into the hierarchy of Grudem’s proposed morals over others,” she writes. This millennial emphasis on racial diversity can partially be explained by liberal indoctrination in school, but it should not just be dismissed because of that.

The Christian message — and the American ideal, for that matter — is not limited to any particular race or nation. The Gospel is for all people, and by allying with Trump’s apparent racism and misogyny, Christian leaders weaken their witness to the many who consider The Donald’s campaign bigoted. This is a serious concern, not to be dismissed by considering anti-Trump millennials or racial minorities or women a lost cause. Trump will come and go, but these groups can have long memories.

Gannett also notes another age gap on attitudes to “progress.” She notes that evangelical leaders warn against progressivism, but she responds that “we actually like the progress.” She praises changes like these: “We actually like that women are on their way to equal pay, we like that you can’t make a racist comment as a public figure and go unnoticed, and we like that there are more female theologians and teachers and professors than ever before in American history.”

There are many problems with the “equal pay” argument, but Gannett has a strong point here. There are social changes that millennials like (for good or ill). Christians should be willing to praise some changes while still standing by a biblical and scientific understanding of humanity (on issues like homosexuality and transgenderism). Unfortunately, the political correctness she mentions as positive has also had bad consequences — which is one of the driving factors of Trump’s campaign.

Next Page: Can a Christian also be a nationalist?

Even discounting the cries of racism and misogyny, and accusations that The Donald’s campaign wishes to bring back so-called bigoted “good old days,” Trump inescapably represents nationalism. Gannett argues that millennial Christians have decided that a Christian cannot also be a nationalist.

You will be hard pressed to find a millennial nationalist outside of the Republican intern pool. Perhaps it is that international travel is more available to our generation, or that we are living in more diverse communities that celebrate that diversity, but we don’t think America is the only great country, and we certainly don’t think that America is a Christian country.

By contrast, Gannett alleges that evangelical leaders “are elevating nationalism to a Christian virtue,” by pointing to the founders’ faith and backing the Constitution. This is indeed a stretch. Romans 13 encourages Christians to submit themselves to the ruling authorities, but the notion that America is an “almost chosen people” may go too far. The United States indeed pioneered a unique view of freedom, but it is not God’s chosen nation.

“Forget the martyrs of the faith around the world, posters show us that soldiers make the ‘ultimate sacrifice,'” Gannett quips — and she has a point. We need to honor our troops and their sacrifice, but there is a more noble calling.

When Gannett goes on to add, “We look over our shoulders at our nation’s history and wince a little,” mentioning the “immense on-going racism,” the “horrors of early American history,” and the “tragedies around the world that happen because every country has nationalists,” she isn’t entirely off-base.

I believe millennials have been misled about the evils of America’s past. Evil though they were, they were hardly unique in history, while the ideas of equality and freedom which led us to eventually reject them are more unique. That said, no country on earth is the New Jerusalem, and every nation — and even every Christian church — is marred by sin.

As a conservative millennial, I disagree with many of Gannett’s points, but I think she is correct about my generation. Young people mistrust, dislike, and are even disgusted by Donald Trump, and it’s not because they like Hillary Clinton any better. Evangelical Protestant leaders are not doing themselves any favors among millennials when they go out of their way to back Trump as some kind of savior of the church.

Rather than praising The Donald and declaring a moral imperative to vote for him, I would point to Russell Moore as an exemplar — or, if you must support Donald Trump, Eric Metaxas. Moore has taken a firm stand against Trump, and The Donald attacked him viciously for it. Metaxas has endorsed The Donald, but not without reservations, and for specific reasons that do not verge upon hero worship.

The Gospel message which forms the core of evangelical Protestantism is emphatically open to everyone — millennials very much included. The church should welcome them with open arms, showing them that it cares about the issues they care about — within the confines of biblical doctrine of course.

There are conservative evangelicals who care deeply about racial issues, who prioritize the Gospel over America, and who are hesitant to lend their full backing to Donald Trump. There is no reason why the church should lose this new generation over one political figure, no matter how bombastic.