Have Evangelicals Abandoned the Gospel This Political Season?

Jarvis Williams

By now, everyone in the U.S. should be well aware of the Access Hollywood tape recording Donald Trump and Billy Bush making lewd comments about women. On the tape, they also laugh about how Trump’s celebrity status grants him the privilege and the right to do whatever he wants to women.

In light of this tape, several Republicans have abandoned Trump’s political campaign, as they try to save their own political futures and races. Other Republicans continue to offer their support of Trump, some both stating they disagreed with his comments and that they want to focus on beating Hillary Clinton, whose actions have actually done more harm to women than Trump’s words.

Surprisingly, some of those who identify as evangelical likewise continue overtly to support Trump’s candidacy for the White House. To clarify, I personally think the term evangelical has lost its theologically distinctive meaning. The term evangelical is now another way of describing a secular person who offers a vague and non-committal assent to some version of Christianity, but not necessarily the version founded by the first century Jew named Jesus of Nazareth.

From prominent evangelical pastors of influential mega churches, and scholars who have written pieces as to why evangelicals should support Trump, and to non-church attending people who claim to care about God, guns, and country, several who identify with the evangelical movement have refused to forfeit their support of Trump in spite of the new recording, and in spite of his history of speaking and acting in ways that are inconsistent with the Christian gospel.

To justify their support of Trump, some evangelical supporters have argued that keeping Hillary Clinton out of the White House is more important than Trump’s words, that his words were simply lewd locker room talk, that they would rather have Trump be president who only talks about assaulting women versus Clinton who actually has done things to hurt women, that the Supreme Court Justice picks are more important than Trump’s indiscretions, or that we should remember that we are electing a president — not a Sunday school teacher.

As a Christian, I believe all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God. And Jesus forgives sinners. But even when Jesus forgives, we still must pay for the consequences of our transgressions in the real world when those transgressions dehumanize and or threaten the flourishing of human beings.

Additionally, I will neither vote for Trump nor Clinton in this election, for I’m not satisfied with either one of the two candidates. Evangelical efforts to support the unsupportable or to defend the indefensible during this election season has damaged the gospel of Jesus Christ. I want to discuss one reason and offer a warning to so-called evangelicals who turn away from the gospel during this political season.

1. Certain Evangelicals Value Political Identity More than Their Christian Identity

American Christians live in tension with many competing identities. Race, gender, age, economics, culture, or ethnicity can compete with and against the Christian identity. During election seasons, political identity adds another layer of competition to the already multi-faced identities working against our new identities in Christ.

Elections in general, and this election in particular, often make it abundantly clear that some who identify as an evangelical value their political identity more than their Christian identity. In fact, some have conflated political identity and Christian identity so that they believe to support one presidential candidate over another is a Christian duty.

The fact is it is NOT Christian’s duty to vote for any political candidate. As far as we know, Jesus never voted someone into political office. Instead, it is a Christian’s duty to be faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ in an increasing godless society, regardless of the political or cultural costs or climate. When so-called evangelicals support candidates who overtly dishonor Jesus and his gospel with both words and deeds, while yet arguing it’s morally right to vote for this candidate, these so-called evangelicals show they are more committed to their political identity than to their Christian identity.

  1. A Warning: Evangelicals Who Deny the Gospel Will Not Inherit the Kingdom of God

In Gal. 1:6-7, Paul expresses shock that the Galatians turn so quickly from the gospel of Jesus Christ to a false gospel. In Gal. 1:8-9, Paul discusses the superiority of his gospel over and against his opponents’ gospel by emphasizing the severe consequences of preaching another gospel besides his.

The emphatic nature of 1:8-9 is apparent by the adversative construction “but even” (alla kai) in 1:8, by his appeal to other missionaries in 1:8, by his appeal to an angel in 1:8, by his use of the curse formula in 1:8-9, and by his reiteration of 1:8 in 1:9. He asserts that even if he, other missionaries, or even an angel from heaven should preach a false gospel, may that person be accursed (1:8-9). Preaching another gospel expresses a turn from faithfulness to the true gospel (see Gal. 1:6-7).

In the OT, the idea of a divine curse (anathema) is associated with God’s judgment (Judges 1:17). OT curses are plentiful (Gen. 3:14; 12:3; Deut. 27:15-28:19). In the NT, Paul asserts that he would wish himself to be accursed (anathema) from Christ for the sake of the salvation of the Jewish people if it were possible (Rom. 9:3). He prays that all who do not love the Lord Jesus Christ would be accursed (anathema) (1 Cor. 16:22).

In Gal. 1:8-9, the language of curse (anathema) refers to an apostolic curse pronouncement of God’s judgment placed upon those who reject Paul’s gospel. Paul wishes those who preach a different gospel would be set apart for God’s eschatological destruction. This analysis fits with Paul’s condemnation of Peter in Gal. 2:11 because he stopped walking in a straightforward manner in the truth of the gospel when he began to impose Jewish identity onto Gentile Christians and with Paul’s discussion of the curse of the law in Gal. 3:10.

In Gal. 1:9, Paul repeats his statement from 1:8 by identifying his gospel as the one that the Galatians received from him. With the words, “As we have said beforehand, also now again I say to you,” Paul likely recalls his previous mission in Galatia where he labored to help them understand the truth of his gospel (cf. Gal. 4:11). Paul received his gospel from Jesus Christ and God, the Father — not from men (1:1, 11-12). The Galatians received their gospel from Paul (1:9; 4:12-19). Thus, he warns if the Galatians turn away from what they received from Paul by receiving a false gospel, then they, along with the opponents who preach this false gospel, will be devoted to God’s destruction (cf. Deut. 13:1-18 with Gal. 3:10).

This curse of destruction results in the failure to inherit the kingdom of God (5:21) and failure to participate in new creation (6:15). The only acceptable gospel is a gospel received from God and Jesus, a gospel that focuses on the bloody cross, victorious resurrection, and Spirit-empowered living, and a gospel proclaimed as good news without the distortion of men, not a distorted gospel about national or political identity, received from men, and proclaimed to the assemblies of Galatia as a gospel from God.

Those so-called evangelicals who are genuinely saved have already received the true gospel and a new identity in Christ. But when they continue to defend the indefensible and embrace a political candidate or candidates that contradict and hate their gospel, they express that they are abandoning the true gospel of Jesus Christ by their deeds. And if their political and national identities are more important than their Christian identity and the Christian gospel, then they are in danger of not inheriting God’s future kingdom (Gal. 5:16-26, esp. 5:21), as a result of abandoning the true gospel of Jesus Christ.

7 thoughts on “Have Evangelicals Abandoned the Gospel This Political Season?

  1. William Leonhart

    Hey Bill,

    I respectfully disagree. You are correct that it is the local church that binds and looses. When evangelical leaders use their influence in the public square as leaders in the church to endorse a candidate, make excuses for him, publicly pray over him, and affirm his Christianity, they are treating society as though it were the church: publicly declaring who is and is not part of the church for the sake of influencing an election. I have nowhere advocated for individual voters, or even evangelical leaders, to enact some public form of church discipline on Trump. What I have argued is that such affirmations on the parts of Jerry Falwell, Jr., Paige Patterson, Robert Jeffress, and others serve as a public affirmation of Trump’s claims to be a Christian.

    I would call for them to cease and desist. They never had the authority to publicly declare this “so-called brother” a Christian. No one that I know of is calling for them to hold a public trial to put him out of the church. They just want these leading evangelicals to stop declaring him, or any political figure, a valid representation of the church. In doing so, they are the ones breaking with historic ecclesiology and compromising the church’s gospel witness.

    On the other hand, I don’t think anyone is compromising their gospel witness to vote for a heathen, whether he calls himself a Christian or not, in the privacy of his own voting both. The reason I’m not voting for Trump is that, as a political conservative, I am convinced he will destroy the credibility of the conservative movement and thus my children’s and grandchildren’s opportunity to see a conservative in the White House in their lifetimes. In that regard, I am convinced Trump will do more to harm the country than will Clinton.

  2. Bill Smith

    Lion, in regard to your argument:

    1. It is for the church to exercise discipline, not that portion of the electorate who happen to be evangelicals. It is a huge mistake to treat the political and societal realms as though they were the church.

    2. No Christian I know of is in the name of grace justifying the sins of Clinton or Trump. Christians who are part of the electorate in a secular republic are making a choice between two extraordinarily flawed candidates, one of whom will be POTUS. Part of that decision is applying perspective to the sins of each.

    3, There are very big assumptions here. The big flaw is to treat society as though it were the church and Christians in the public square as though they were acting a the officers of that church. We share the public square with all sorts of people – saved and unsaved, Muslim, Hindu, liberal Christians, Roman Catholics, agnostics, atheists, etc. We are choosing whom we think will be best, or least bad, for the republic at this time.

    Throughout you make the mistake of treating secular society as the church and evangelical Christians as though they had disciplinary power in that church.

  3. William Leonhart


    I would hope no one is saying that. How someone votes in any election is between him / her and God. There are understandable reasons why many have decided for vote for Trump. I obviously don’t believe they are good reasons, or I would be voting for him. The problem is when Christians, in the face of an unbelieving world, seek to justify their vote by whitewashing Trump’s terrible sinful and blasphemous behavior. Many would agree that his behavior is sinful, but some might not understand how blasphemous of an individual he is. When a person claims the name of Christ while living in open, unrepentant sin, by definition he is taking the Lord’s name in vain. Blasphemy is a lifestyle for both Trump and Clinton. I might understand why a Christian might vote for him, but to make excuses for him is reprehensible. I hope that makes sense.

  4. Desiree Thomason

    Are you saying that a Christian who votes for Trump will actually lose his/her salvation? I’m thinking of voting for Trump as the lesser of two evils. But if this will mean that I will lose my salvation and go to Hell then I’ll have to reconsider.

  5. William Leonhart


    This election is certainly about the gospel. Let me explain:

    1) Both Clinton and Trump claim the name of Christ. Trump claims to be a Presbyterian and does photo-ops praying with well-known televangelists (many of whom are flat out heretics). He also spoke at Liberty University and bragged about how much he loves the Bible, especially “Two Corinthians.” Clinton and her husband famously broke with the Southern Baptist Convention, along with former President Carter, to form a more liberal Baptist denomination that allows for them to still support the murder of babies and the redefinition of marriage. Now, we are told in 1 Corinthians 5 not to judge outsiders. Paul does mandate, however, that we have nothing to do with so-called brothers who name Christ and then bring a reproach upon His name (vv. 9-13). They not only break the third commandment but, because of their deeds, the world also blasphemes God.

    2. This issue is impacts the gospel in that, when Christians in the name of grace are seen openly justifying what even heathens condemn, we bring a reproach upon the gospel we preach. “It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife. You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst,” (1Cor. 5:1-2; NASB). Some are claiming moral superiority in supporting Trump, because he isn’t for the murder of babies (as of five minutes ago). Others are claiming moral superiority in supporting Clinton, because she is not using the racism and xenophobia of many Americans to earn political brownie points. Both are wrong. There is no moral high ground in supporting either of these so-called Christians. In fact justifying their unrepentant sins, as many Evangelical leaders are currently doing, brings a reproach upon Christ’s gospel.

    3. When we justify the sins of others, or dismiss them as insignificant, we weaken the law, which is the tutor we hope will bring people in our society to Christ (Gal. 3:24-25). Thus, Christians cannot be silent about morality in the public square. When we are, we render our evangelism ineffective on account of the lack of conviction of sin.

  6. g

    “even Barnabas (the sheep) was led astray by their (Peter, the Undershepard and followers) hypocrisy”. Man, Dr. Williams, it seems like the delusion is so strong now that the prophecy “even the elect if it were possible” is coming true before our very eyes. We have been warned for many years that the threat was “them”. Who knew our own deception would come from us. Without the complete gospel of Jesus preached by Paul, a Peter practicing the sin described in James chapter 2 will lead many more astray. Thanks for showing a kind of courage that is in Paul. I pray that God continue to protect, provide and teach you as you teach us a “more prefect way”. Thank you for one of the rare, yet more complete gospel explanations. What a gift from God to the church you are; evidence to those with “eyes to see and ears to hear” that He has not been slack in providing us light in the dark. Praise His name. Praying for us now.

  7. Bill Smith

    It’s not about the Gospel.

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