How Evangelicals are Losing an Entire Generation

This morning I want to throw in the towel.

The morning hustle began as it always does on Friday mornings. I walked the dog, drank the coffee, cleaned the kitchen, and headed for the shower. My phone in my hand, I checked Twitter (you know, because I’m current and all). Usually, my Twitter feed is a conglomeration of Trinitarian debates, quotes by dead theologians, and cute dog pictures. But not this morning. This morning, I had no more than opened the app on my phone and there it was: Wayne Grudem’s endorsement of Donald Trump.

Maybe you’re unfamiliar with Grudem, but most church leaders and many Christians are not. He wrote the basic systemic theology that has not only been touted among evangelicals as the primary source of Christian systematic theology for the modern day, but it is the 1200-page book that I was required to read in Bible school and seminary – not once, not twice, but three times. Grudem is the head of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, a gathering of Christian leaders that believe in a particular model of gender roles that we call conservative Complementarianism, and work to see that vision come to life in homes, churches, and society. A leader among leaders, he is the Evangelical trump card (pun intended). And this morning he released an article titled, “Why Voting for Trump is a Morally Good Choice.”

Listen, I have been fairly silent on this site about my political views, but here they are: I was raised in a Republican home by politically-aware but not politically-obsessed parents. I was raised to believe that voting was a moral decision but to put my trust and hope ultimately in God and His coming Kingdom. Through college, I, like most, wavered between the social justice of the left and the conservatism of the right. Now, I’m just somewhere in between. I’m not politically passionate, though I’m learning to take interest in local politics. I would consider myself like my parents: politically-aware but not politically-obsessed. Seem fair?

This election has brought people like me, particularly millennials, out of the woodwork. We thought Trump was a bit of a harmless joke at first. With “you’re fired” still ringing in our ears, we thought his presence on the screen would be much shorter lived than his show, The Apprentice. I kept waiting for him to trail off, but he didn’t. In fact, he somehow, mysteriously to me, gained momentum and endorsements. Despite his racial generalizations and telling women they look good on their knees, he only grew in popularity. I moved from disappointed to shocked to disgusted as he garnered the approval of Republican and Evangelical leaders.

Over the last several months, I have lost respect for the Republican party, and I honestly thought that would be the biggest tragedy of this election. But the disappointing truth is this: I’m losing faith in Evangelicals.

And this is frightening. I am an Evangelical. I hold to Evangelical theology. I have attended not one, but two Evangelical schools. But I fear that we’re going to lose an entire generation because of the actions, words, and teachings of some Evangelicals. Including Wayne Grudem.

Different hierarchies of moralism

I have watched many Evangelicals endorse Donald Trump. But Grudem did not give an endorsement. No, he gave a moral imperative. 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 effectively does, then, is sets 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.

I know he is not alone in this hierarchical approach to morality. We all have things that we prioritize over others for no reason other than the way they effect and affect our lives. But Grudem has chosen to be old guard, predominantly upholding political issues that are less felt by our generation. Now, please don’t misunderstand, it’s not that we don’t think these things are important, but we are currently grappling with other moral imperatives that infiltrate the ebb and flow of our daily lives. Yes, we value the rights of the unborn, but we want leaders that are pro-life in all areas of society. 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). My generation will not identify with this. 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. Because Grudem (and others) are making this hierarchy of morality intrinsically related to the Christian life and theology, we will not stand with them.

The “Good old days” vs. our days

Evangelicals are endorsing Trump by and large because he promises to return our nation to the “good old days.” Trump promises to bring back steel and coal, to return our country to an immigrant-free land, and, with gusto, he promises to make America the world super power it used to be. His campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” has deeply resonated with leaders across the spectrum.

But our generation doesn’t quite know what that means. Don’t forget, we grew up during war times. On September 11th, 2001, I was in eighth grade. When the war in Iraq started, I was in high school. Graduation came and many of my high school friends enlisted. I can still remember my friend, Kyle, telling me he had enlisted and feeling this overwhelming sense that we were far too young for all of this. These are the days in which we have grown up. We haven’t known the days of peace and tranquility that older generations reminisce about and desire to return to. It’s not that we don’t think things should change, it’s just that we don’t know a different way.

But war was not the only thing the separated the “good old days” from today in many leaders’ minds. There were many “benefits” of that by-gone era for those supporting a traditionalist view. Women were in the home raising the children without complaint, the Christian feminist movement hadn’t yet touched the churches and immensely inconvenienced pastors who had not had to grapple with these issues in a long time, and the notion of being politically correct wasn’t as demanding on conference speakers, writers, and preachers as it is today. When some Evangelicals look back, they see more tranquil days simply because these things were absent. But when millennials look back, we see how far our society has come. Evangelicals have warned us against the allure of progressivism, but I’m here to say that we actually like the progress. 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. So when you try to pull us back to the “good old days,” you’ll miss us.

Nationalism and Christian worship

I remember arguing with a dear Christian friend of mine in college over whether or not he should vote. At the time, I was the student body vice president and we were on a mission to register every student to vote for the coming election (2008). Most students didn’t think much of it, except for one student who really pushed back at the notion of voting. I pulled out my best lines, my most passionate pleas, until he hit me with a one-liner I will never forget: “I am not voting right now because I’m trying to figure out if a Christian can also be a nationalist.”

I remember turning his words over in my mind. It was a very good question to grapple with, and yet one I had never considered. Since leaving college, I find that many (if not most) millennial Christians have answered the question with a resounding “no.” Now, don’t mistake me: most of us, to my knowledge, do not believe that voting and nationalism go hand-in-hand as my college friend once did. But 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.

Evangelical leaders are not just supporting nationalism, but are elevating nationalism to a Christian virtue. Many point back to the founding fathers as Christian leaders in our nation and impress upon us that we must support the constitution and protect our country because it is a Christian thing to do. We have deeply muddied the language between serving our God and serving our country. Forget the martyrs of the faith around the world, posters show us that soldiers make the “ultimate sacrifice.” As Christian millennials, we just can’t buy this. We look over our shoulders at our nation’s history and wince a little. We don’t have a lot of national pride because we are waking up to the immense on-going racism that exists in our nation’s systems, the horrors of early American history, and the tragedies around the world that happen because every country has nationalists. So when you equate nationalism with Christian virtue, we’re out.

 

Evangelical leaders are going to lose an entire generation of Christians in the wake of our current political and social climate. This is not an article asking millennials to leave Evangelicalism because I believe it can’t be saved, nor is this article saying that Evangelicalism is dead. It also is not a proposal of a useful way forward in this “dumpster fire” of an election. It is a plea for reform. It is a big ask of Evangelical leaders to reevaluate the stakes they have put in the ground and ask if there could be a better, more truly Evangelical way. It’s a request to leaders in our communities to speak out against the evils that surround and are supported by Trump. Because you’re losing us, and we don’t want to be lost.

Win us back, and let’s complete the work ahead together.

 

*UPDATE: OCTOBER 9*

Grudem has rescinded his endorsement of Trump, following the release of the “Trump Tapes” in which Donal Trump brags about sexually assaulting women and making unwanted and unwelcome sexual advances towards married women. In an article posted on Town Hall, the same site on which Grudem previously offered a moral imperative for Evangelicals to vote for Trump, Grudem wrote the following:

“There is no morally good presidential candidate in this election. I previously called Donald Trump a ‘good candidate with flaws’ and a ‘flawed candidate’ but I now regret that I did not more strongly condemn his moral character. I cannot commend Trump’s moral character, and I strongly urge him to withdraw from the election.”

I applaud Grudem’s retraction of his endorsement, and believe many Evangelicals will and should follow his example. Statements like this take true humility. Later, Grudem continues:

“Some may criticize me for not discovering this material earlier, and I think they are right. I did not take the time to investigate earlier allegations in detail, and I now wish I had done so. If I had read or heard some of these materials earlier, I would not have written as positively as I did about Donald Trump. I am grateful that Townhall.com has agreed to remove my earlier statement.”

While I disagree with Grudem’s overall conclusion in this recent article, I am grateful that he has taken a stand against Trump and much of what Trump stands for. It is my deep desire that many Evangelical leaders will follow suit, and that we will soon start to see the Evangelical ship start turning around.

 

*UPDATE: OCTOBER 19*

This is getting a little silly.

Today, Wayne Grudem published an article on Town Hall in which he calls, once again, for Christians to vote for Trump. I find this troubling, embarrassing, and just a little humorous. Grudem admits his trust in Trump to resurrect a conservative Supreme Count (or, to bring back the “good ol’ days”) and diminishes the accusation of Trump’s victims in light of this trust.

It profoundly saddens me that Grudem has equated Trump’s braggadocios admittance of committing sexual assault to adultery. How do we even begin to unpack the portentous difference between the two? How far have we come as a people of God to call an unwanted, aggressive sexual advancement on women the same situation as a man who enters into an extramarital affair with a willing sexual partner?

Friends, this kind of gross neglect of addressing key sin issues in our world today is precisely the reason I fear Evangelicals are losing Millennials.

I seems to me that Grudem writes from a place of fear. This is fear that I resonate with, but fear that I believe is also misplaced. We have nothing to fear, sisters. We have nothing to fear. There is Christian hope this election season. Not in the candidates, but in God’s enduring faithfulness to build His church through seasons of persecution and plenty. He will care for His Bride in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health. In His unchanging character we hope, and lay our heads to rest at night.

 

Comments

  1. A good article. I like her perseverance at the end: “This is not an article asking millennials to leave Evangelicalism because I believe it can be saved, nor is this article saying that Evangelicalism is dead.” She is right. Evangelicalism isn’t owned by any subgroup. I believe it is dynamic and will evolve. “Evangelical” means gospel-based (“evangel”)–a good thing!!! Lindsey Brown gave an excellent explanation in Cape Town in 2010 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LqdHRNwPg_I

  2. Great article. It isn’t JUST millennials who feel this way…not by a long shot. I’m 56 years old. I LOVE the progress we have made and continue to make, and only wish it could come faster and more peacefully. I do NOT long for the good old days (I’ve known war, and peace, and peace had its price, too). I don’t want the blatant bigotry of the past. Yes, we have it now and it is shameful. But I think MOST of us KNOW it is shameful now. That’s important. I don’t want to see women forced back into the home. Trump’s mysogeny repulses me.

    This election seems to be about lowering the bar, on both sides. We had good choices on both sides, but we went for the bottom-feeders in the end. I’m sick about this.

    Amy’s greatest point of resonance with me is the current confusion between Christianity and nationalism. America is not “God’s Favorite.” I will NOT pray for the best for my nation over the best for others. I don’t believe God cares about our political borders.

    • I’m 61 and agree wholeheartedly with Amy. And I find it incomprehensible that any of my fellow believers are planning to vote for Donald Trump.

      • Amy Gannett, excellent article! I’m 64 and agree with you. So glad that we’ve been working on equality and mutual respect among genders and races. And, no, I’m not being sarcastic. Little by little, things are improving in those areas.
        Voting for Trump is a vote for moving backwards.
        Anthony James, I completely agree.

  3. Wow powerful article! I myself am non religious but I strongly believe it is the young people who see that being Christian means empathy for the plight of all and a believe that we must all stand with all the downtrodden! Thank you just when I ran out of hope for our country you brought it back!

  4. First of all, the word evangelical does not mean conservative, though it has been taken over by conservative Christians. It means to be willing to share the good news of Jesus Christ and live his teachings. Unfortunately, too many Christians, conservative and liberal pay lip-service to Christ and seem to only remember his teachings when they go to church. To be a Christian is to literally live the example of Jesus’s love in the world. I am a liberal evangelical. That’s not a contradiction in terms if you accept the original meaning of both evangelical and Christian.

  5. Thank you for saying what I have been trying to articulate for quite some time now! I myself am a Bible college graduate who had to read Grudem in my theological studies. The thing that is the most damaging to me in this election isn’t the Trump or Hillary back & forth it’s that Christian leaders are willing not just endorse, but also speak positively about Donald Trump when he has clearly shown anything but qualifications for the office of President.

    Grudem would have no problem saying Donald Trump is unfit to lead in his or any other church, so why should he be fit to lead our country? It’s a double-standard that he’s not willing to address. Gal. 5:22-23 speaks about the Fruit of the Spirit, and I see ZERO of that in Donald Trump’s life, and more so I see Trump speaking out AGAINST these qualities as “weak.” It’s disturbing that a noted Theologian like Grudem would go to such great lengths to explain away such qualities.

  6. This is what happens when clergy and churches get into politics and government. As a pastor I tell my people to vote their conscience. Jesus never endorsed any form of government or economic system. Jesus calls us to obey authority unless our conscience deems us to not follow ungodly dictates from the government. We are told to pray for all of our government officials, no matter their party of view. Our member see faults and strengths in all candidates and can use their faith to oppose or to support the vast majority of candidates and they are encouraged to do so. We remember that we live under two Kingdoms, the Kingdom of the left or this world and its government and the Kingdom of the right or God’s eternal Kingdom and we serve God in both realms. Maybe this will help clear up some confusion.

  7. One comment…”What’s wrong with Nationalism? What’s wrong with having pride in one’s country? Doesn’t seem to be a problem in the Olympics??? Our schools text books are full of discussions pointing to Nationalism as the source of World conflict, but it isn’t !! Why? The World’s Globalists are working to establish a World Government and they have to eliminate nation states and borders to get there. They are using schools textbooks to gradually teach our children to their ideology and I see it in this article .

  8. I was appalled when I read the article by Grudem.
    Also very saddened. Evangelicals aren’t just losing your generation….I am close to 60 and have become so disillusioned by what has happened in our church and country. We need to walk as Jesus did. We need to love our neighbor as ourselves…..ALL of our neighbors.
    My heart aches. I pray that we would turn from our wicked ways and love our lord God with all our hearts..and love all nations, all races, the poor the refugee and the broken hearted.

  9. Hmm, I think more careful attention is needed in seeing what Grudem was saying and what he wasn’t saying. And I think ‘millenials’ need to Stop seeing themselves as some kind of special breed. Every generation, without exception, has to grapple with the past to understand their context and to understand what others are saying.

  10. You say you value diversity and yet you knock “supporting the Constitution?” The founders of this country, through the clear separation of powers between states and the federal government, gave us the most perfect form of government as yet developed to enable a society of diverse peoples to unite and flourish. Evangelicals have typically advocated supporting the Constitution not because it was the “Christian” thing to do, but because they viewed a limited government as being the best assurance that the various religious, ideological, social and ethnic groups we have in our country would be able to order their own affairs as they each saw fit with a minimum of intereference or discrimination.

  11. Unfortunately you all are missing the point because you have a very limited view of this election. This is not about Trump or Hillary. This is about the Supreme Court. If you want to retain your freedom from persecution as a Christian in this nation, you had better come to terms with the fact that that starts with this next appointment. Hillary hates Christians and hates what we stand for. She’s for social justice, but the warped kind that allows for the murder of 300,000 babies a year. leave it to millennial to misunderstand the bigger picture. A non vote is a vote for Hillary and is something you will regret if she is elected.

  12. This election should be easy for millennials: If you think it is wrong to steal from poor, suffering earthquake victims in Haiti, then do not vote for Hillary Clinton! I assume people who care about the poor, will not vote for someone like Hillary, who steals from orphans in Haiti to make herself richer. I assume someone who cares about the poor will not cast a vote for Hillary, who makes deals with 3rd world dictators who employee child soldiers to make herself richer. I assume people who care about the poor will not make themselves hypocrites by voting for Hillary Clinton. It’s not about Trump anymore.

  13. This is one of the most thoughtful and insightful articles I’ve read during this entire election cycle. I’m not an evangelical, but my interest curiosity to better understand the evangelical life has definitely been piqued. It is really wonderful to find that right now. No aggression. No attack. Just plain old someone speaking their personal truth. Thank you for writing this. I will share.

  14. First of all, please understand that millennials are not the only generation that has known and been deeply affected by war. I was well aware from a young age that my grandfathers both served in WWI (one was a blacksmith), my parents were both pilots in WWII, and both my uncles served also. My generation is composed of a lot of hippies, but Vietnam and the cold war left indelible imprints on us all. (My high school classmates and friends were among those who were killed, injured, or returned with PTSD.) Followed by the Cold War, Desert Storm, 911, Operation Iraqi Freedom……seems like it will never end.

    I applaud the Millenials, who are using the brains God gave them, and thinking for themselves. That’s what the Canaanite woman did when she bested Jesus the only time he lost an argument (discussion). And don’t forget, more than one Old Testament figure argued with God. We must be conscientious and thorough, but we must also understand the parameters of our own individual theology – not just rote recitation.

    I am an Episcopalian, and we treasure our “three-legged stool” that serves as the standard to which we compare our beliefs: Scripture, Tradition (biblical and church), and Reason. Often, we disagree, but we trust God to guide us when we are wrong. We seem to have lost critical thinking skills in this country, but I am hopeful they are making a comeback with your generation.

  15. Thank you so much Amy for your insightful writing.
    I think we quickly forget that Pre-WWII Germany History is screaming out Bonhoeffer’s words:
    “Politics are not the task of a Christian.”
    – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
    James 1:19: “let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak”.
    I think that evangelical leaders are jumping quickly to the political forest without taking the time to wait for the tree to give fruit.

  16. rump is an embarrassment and Grudem has weighed up the moral arguments and decided to back his run for President. Grudem’s credentials as a Christian thinker are well documented and he has influenced evangelical theology in his generation. It is still a moral choice to vote your conscience before God, and Grudem I am sure would not dispute that.

    Your article was an excellent look into the confusion regarding the changing world in which evangelicals now live. Fundamentalism suffered its demise when the “moral majority” of the 1980’s made itself a political target. Evangelicals were happy to fill the void and now are becoming a political pawn and are in danger of going the same way of the fundamentalists. Both their demises (evangelicals may still rebound) do not necessarily suggest that their theology is flawed, but that the world has rejected Christ.

    The world is coming after the church seems like a fatalistic and paranoid statement. I make this statement not in fear or to fear monger but in the knowledge that Christ has set me free. It is very possible that religious freedoms in America can erode and the persecution of followers of Christ will ensue. This loss of influence and position may goad those who remember the honored status of the church in society to vote for Trump and bring back good old days. But those who follow Christ should remember that voting for Trump may bring back the political position and influence of Christianity, but it will come with a cost of more division and violence. And the pendulum will eventually swing back harder.

    So choose your poison a slow constriction of religious freedom under a Clinton presidency or a short term win with Trump only for the tide to turn when his rhetoric becomes too hard to palate and the evangelicals go down with the ship. Can Trump truly stem the tide? If he could he would be a greater president than Lincoln.

    It is good that your generation never knew this paradigm of a positive Christian political influence and perhaps that is why you don’t understand Grudem. Following Christ does not conform to the world, but like the fundamentalists before me and the evangelicals I now stand with who spoke out for holiness in a fallen world, every follower of Christ must work out their own salvation. So if your generation of believer’s parts with evangelicals over Trump remember when you make your stand for Christ and the world is coming for you, you are holy and free.

  17. Your post is insightful, and you have some great lines in it. Let’s be clear, though: “evangelical” simply means “good news” and refers to the good news of Jesus. It is not a doctrinal interpretation but a life of discipleship, Despite what the religious right would claim, one can be conservative evangelical or liberal evangelical or progressive evangelical or moderate evangelical. You don’t have to leave evangelicalism just because you leave conservatism. I am 20-25 years older than you, and I left conservative evangelicalism and the Reformed tradition during the “evangelicals on the Canterbury trail” era. I began my seminary education at RTS and finished it at Sewanee. I also left the GOP around 18-20 years ago for some of the very reasons you are mentioning. Only it has gotten worse, much worse, especially with this election cycle. In 2000 the GOP would have never nominated a person with the character, personal morality, or temperament of Trump, and the religious right certainly would never have endorsed him. Being a former conservative, I’ve watched from the sidelines as first the GOP and now the religious right are endorsing him, and I am appalled. What conservative evangelicals don’t get, or at least don’t want to admit, is that while their voice is loud, they aren’t by far the only Christian group or Christian perspective in this country. Trump stands against virtually everything Jesus taught and died for. Making a political decision to vote for him is one thing, and I have friends and family who will make that choice, But endorsing Trump as somehow the Christian moral choice is dangerous. Christians outside their movement see them as selling their soul: they’ve thrown out Jesus and his teachings and crowned Trump and his teachings in his place. The religious right needs to read through the hr Gospels. I would recommend beginning with Matthew (esp. Mt 25).
    Great post.

  18. Wow! I had no idea my little-known blog would get such attention and response! I’m humbled.

    Due to the heavy comment traffic and my inability to field and/or respond to each, I’m going to close comments at this time. Thanks for engaging!

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