I’ve said before that the stain of Donald Trump will hang around the necks of white evangelicals for a long time to come. Whatever they say about Jesus won’t matter because we saw how they acted when they had power. They neglected the poor, mocked the sick and perpetuated a pandemic, turned away refugees, accepted lie after lie after lie — and for what? Judges. Proximity to power. A relationship with Israel that fewer and fewer young believers care about.
It raises an interesting question: What does all that mean for evangelical Christian leaders who didn’t participate in the right-wing politics of the past few years?
Emma Green of The Atlantic spoke with Pastor Andy Stanley, the leader of North Point Community Church in Atlanta who closed his church and its satellite campuses when the pandemic began and pledged not to open them until next year. That’s good. That’s not courageous or interesting. That’s what he should’ve done.
He also didn’t use his platform to promote the GOP’s agenda over the past few years. He stayed out of politics as much as anyone really can. He thought that was the right approach. Despite all that, he wonders if he’ll be lumped in with Trump and Trumpism because of what his peers have been doing during this administration.
Stanley declined to join his friends in ministry on the Trump train, waving them off when they texted selfies from Trump Tower. But neither has he joined the evangelical resistance, remaining notably quiet at times when other prominent conservative Christian leaders have spoken out, including after the deadly 2017 white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville and on the issue of family separation. He maintains that he doesn’t want to be a “headline-news preacher” and comments selectively on current events — this summer, he crafted a message focused on the killing of George Floyd. “It’s not that I don’t have opinions. It’s more that people don’t come to church to hear my opinions.”
… The question for evangelicals, now, is whether the undeniable association between Trump and their version of Christianity will make that work harder. “Has this group of people who have somehow become ‘evangelical leaders’” aligned with Trump “hurt the church’s ability to reach people outside the church? Absolutely,” Stanley said. But he’s not overly worried: A year or two from now, he said, “all that goes away.” New leaders will rise up. The Trump era of evangelical history will fade. Stanley chuckled. “And this will just be, for a lot of people, a bad dream.”
Here’s where I lose all sympathy for Stanley. While he didn’t join the Trump train, his silence spoke volumes. While the nation was being destroyed, often with the blessing of Christian leaders, Stanley avoided stirring the pot. He could’ve used his pulpit to denounce what Trump was doing — without running afoul of the Johnson Amendment — but he basically avoided the subject altogether.
If a leader has nothing to say about the biggest concerns facing our country, why would anyone consider him an authority on anything? Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, a progressive Christian leader, had the courage to make sure his actions matched his preaching. You can’t accuse that guy of hypocrisy. But Stanley acted like politics was a side issue, distracting from faith, rather than a direct outgrowth of what his faith teaches believers.
For example, if evangelical churches teach people that abortion is some kind of moral travesty — without ever doing anything to address the underlying issues that lead women to seek out the procedure — let’s not be surprised when they become single-issue voters who ignore actual atrocities as long as a president pledges to stop abortions and appoints judges who’ll do the same. Those people don’t have principles; they’ve been brainwashed into thinking one issue matters and everything else is secondary at best. Leaders who don’t correct that kind of thinking deserve to be blamed.
Stanley says he knows most of his congregation “leans Republican” — but what does that tell us about Stanley? Either he’s never seriously challenged their moral bankruptcy or much of his congregation doesn’t listen to him. If Stanley’s church is drawing in a largely Republican crowd, then he doesn’t get to complain when the rest of us judge him for it. As the saying goes, a man is judged by the company he keeps, and Stanley doesn’t seem to have any qualms about a congregation that isn’t revolted by this administration and the Republican Party at large.
He spends his entire life trying to put people on a righteous, moral path… and yet we have very clear evidence they don’t give a shit about anything Jesus taught.
Case in point: When asked about his own politics, Stanley “wouldn’t say who he voted for in the past two elections, but he volunteered that he’s a conservative guy with conservative values.”
He just failed the easiest one-question exam ever.
(Update: Apparently, Stanley voted for Trump in 2016:)
North Point church pastor Andy Stanley tells group he voted for #trump but says his vote was for Supreme Court
— Ashley Thompson (@AshleyCBS46) February 27, 2017
The same pastor who teaches people to recognize when the Devil is tempting them down the wrong path can’t see evil when it’s staring him in the face. How little does Stanley care about racism, sexism, sexual assault, bigotry, corruption, etc. that he stood on one of the largest platforms any Christian has in this country — while the president of the United States used his colleagues to advance his awful agenda — and chose not to get “political”?
History reflects poorly on people who stand on the sidelines. Stanley thinks it’ll all go away in a few years. It’s our job to make sure that doesn’t happen. These conservative Christians should always be remembered for embracing Trump. It should always be held against them and their faith.
(Screenshot via YouTube)