The political naivety of evangelical Christians – by Matthew Rhodes

President Donald Trump speaks during the National Prayer Breakfast, Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump speaks during the National Prayer Breakfast, Thursday, Feb. 2

‘Just watched and listened to President Trump speaking at the USA National Prayer Breakfast – has he become a Christian? Very God centred. Impressive. While some have been ranting – maybe others have fulfilled what is required of Christians – to pray for those in authority?’  Gerald Coates

Thus the charismatic church leader Gerald Coates commented on facebook. It provoked a torrent of responses – both in support and to disagree with the assumptions behind his comment.  He seemed genuinely shocked and surprised by the response. It reminded me of something Rev. Ken Leech once wrote:

‘All Christians are political, whether they recognize it or not. But especially when they don’t recognise it.’

I think this is something that Gerald hasn’t truly grasped.

Like Gerald, I too am an evangelical  Christian. But I found his comments on politics deeply troubling and I think they illustrate the political naivety which is being shown by so many Christians in response to Donald Trump.


For many “evangelicals”, especially in the US, right wing politics is a default position. But the irony is that Donald Trump isn’t even a conservative. He has co-opted the Republican Party in the same way that “his” party has co-opted the evangelical church over the last 3 decades.

And  given his tendency to duplicity and irascibility it is extraordinary that many Christian leaders are cosying up to him. It seems incredible to me that Christians who “take the Bible seriously” and love the Jesus who preached the Sermon on the Mount are so supportive of someone like Trump.

An over-emphasis on personal belief

The strength of evangelical Christianity is its emphasis on a personal faith – this is where it draws it dynamism and power. But when it comes to politics, this emphasis becomes a weakness. As with Coates’s comment ‘Has he become a Christian?’ there is an obsession with whether someone has ‘prayed the prayer’ of commitment or not – as if this makes all the difference in and of itself.

It is overly personalized emphasis to judge what is a public role. When faith is claimed there has to be at least some concomitant evidence of true repentance.

Trump is man who has said that he has no need of forgiveness – from anyone. His speech at the National Prayer Breakfast showed no sign of Christian doctrine whatsoever. I fear that his “conversion” is instrumentally convenient as he seeks to bed down his core support in his first year as President.

Cheap grace

I make no judgment on the man’s justification before God – that’s not my job.  But we must remember that although God’s grace is freely given, it is not in any way cheap. As US Christian, Ron Sider wrote:

“Cheap grace results when we reduce the gospel to forgiveness of sins; limit salvation to personal fire insurance against hell; misunderstand persons as primarily souls; at best, grasp only half of what the Bible says about sin; embrace the individualism, materialism and relativism of our current culture; lack a biblical understanding and practice of the church; and fail to teach a biblical worldview.”

So praying a simple prayer is never enough.  God’s salvation is both as simple as accepting Christ’s sacrifice and as complex as seeing a whole life utterly transformed. So the idea that we do not critique Trump, or treat him more generously on the basis of a prayer he may or may not have prayed is naïve and depressing. In fact, if we do believe that his Christian faith is real then we hold him to a higher standard.  His faith will be evidenced by the fruits of what he does.

Speaking truth to power

Gerald Coates is right – the Bible is clear that we should prayer for our leaders. But, it also contains many examples of people who stood up and spoke truth to political power (Moses, Nathan, Jeremiah, Amos, John the Baptist, Peter).  We should never limit our political engagement to an uncritical commitment to pray.

We live in dangerous times. All Christians, and especially Church leaders, need to think carefully about the role our faith is playing in our turbulent political context. What is the approach that Jesus would advocate? He came as the Servant King – and we need his commitment to speak and display God’s justice, love and compassion more than ever.

Matthew Rhodes is a Streatham-based Leeds United fan. Follow him on twitter @MatthewRhodes

Related on R&R: What Evangelicals have done to sin

11 thoughts on “The political naivety of evangelical Christians – by Matthew Rhodes”

  1. I agree – there’s something odd about people who are evangelical, yet switch their brains off to the bigger picture. What Jesus is looking for is disciples, not believers. It’s easy to look like a believer; less so to look like a disciple.


  2. I think we have to be really careful about mixing politics and religion in this sense: Jesus was noted for working across all political boundaries and with all types of people – remember the disciple who was a Zealot? Or the disciple that was a tax collector? Could be good candidates for business and right wing types? Also the early church would not have been possible with Paul being supported by wealthy individuals. Yes Religion is easy and discipleship is hard BUT you cannot have discipleship without first accepting the religion.


  3. Thank you for your insightful article. Just right on the button I should say. What I find troubling is what lies behind those evangelicals who applaud Trump: stopping people coming to America from Muslim backgrounds? Against Gays? Against Black people? Against abortion? What does that say about Christianity? What would Jesus do in these situations? Would he not be sitting with those who have the least? Those who are being targeted with racist overtones? I find the current support for Trump both in America and here deeply troubling. Naive? Indeed. Or is it more of a blindness and unwillingness to ask some very serious questions about such profession of faith? I do know that my black friends and relations are deeply troubled and fearful about this man and what he says on the one hand and does on the other. They are also deeply fearful of what kind of world such a man will engender. Having chief advisors with links to the Klu Klux Klan should, in my opinion, lead us to ask some questions of Mr Trump and those in his circle of advisors. Thank you so much Mr Rhodes for your article.


  4. Back in the 1970s I was challenged to make a personal commitment to Christ when I was a university student and I will always be grateful to my fellow students who brought me to that place and who then nurtured me in the faith. Back then I happily called myself an evangelical and in respect of a deep respect for the bible I still do. What I gained from those years was the strength that comes from a commitment. The same holds true from having made my marriage vows. And in all my reflection I dialogue with the bible. I realised over the years that my reading of the bible began to mean that I could not remain with certain evangelical absolutes such as biblical inerrancy, and on abortion and homosexual relationships. On the one hand those absolutist positions seemed wrong in themselves because the overall tenor of the bible seems to be both inclusive and pluralist and there seemed to be a narrowing of focus onto certain slogans and issues that ignored the whole witness of the bible (as you show in your Ronald Sider quote). This narrowing does seem to make evangelicals far too easy to manipulate. Slogans don’t help you to think! And there is history in such naivety. Back in the 1930s Frank Buchman’s Oxford Group sought after meeting with Adolf Hitler and came away convinced that he had “prayed the prayer”. The Holocaust was yet to come.


  5. Thank you for writing this it’s actually exactly what I have been trying to get across to my many Facebook friends around the world …it’s been very time consuming and frustrating so now I will save time and just give them a link to this page.


      1. Your blog is sooooo worth it!
        A. Reader.
        And, how prescient of Mr Rhodes to write and you to include this contribution.
        Looking genius right now …….


  6. A thought provoking peace. In practice, I think the work of Christians in Politics and others in the UK is important precisely because all political movements and figures have a policy mix and set of instincts that are a mixture, and need reform.

    The church is at its biggest risk of manipulation when it gets behind a single or small number of issues as a swing issue. Being pro-life is one such issue, which can lead to incredible compromise when a pro-life is mixed with an otherwise destructive policy platform.

    There is nonetheless a great tradition of people of faith legislating debt forgiveness, against human trafficking and slavery, for rights and assistance for the vulnerable and marginalised. There will be no wholly ‘christian’ platform to agree with. The question is what tradeoffs do we accept? Care for the poor vs care for the unborn for example. That said, whilst a personal faith profession is an easy lie to tell, it hints at an important dimension – to whom will this leader receive correction from? Who will play the rule of the prophet for them? What is harder to know I’d whether they will be a David or a Saul.


  7. It always really annoys me that Christianity has become associated with the right, when much of what Jesus preaches is fundamentally communitarian and Socialist. People have been allowed to forget how much Christianity played in the development of the Education Act, the Labour Party, trade unions, the Welfare Statem council housing and the NHS. Of course it is to the advantage of the MSM corporate media to always associate it with the US far right, TV evangelists, pray to Jesus and ‘get a new car’ brigade. It really puts people off Christianity, which serves the purpose of secular globalists. But as we all know that is a massive distortion.


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