I felt whiplashed by passionate but conflicting appeals for me to be afraid. I was reading the book We Will Not Be Silenced by the noted pastor emeritus of The Moody Church, Edwin Lutzer. His opening sentence is, “The secular left does not believe that America can be fixed; they say it must be destroyed.” He goes on to say that the political left “despises Christianity” and consequently, “This is not the time to surrender to the radicals.”

Lutzer then attacks socialism and claims that climate change legislation is a way to give government more control over our lives. He is for free speech and against what he considers the cancel culture of Critical Race Theory (see my 3-31-21 blog at bobfryling.com), but he also believes Critical Race Theory should be cancelled.

In a similar vein, the Florida state legislature is debating a bill that would prohibit schools from making white students “feel discomfort” in talking about past discriminations in our country such as slavery or Jim Crow laws. Humorist Alexandria Petri suggests that if the purpose of laws is to keep students from feeling discomfort, then algebra and physical education should be banned for middle school students!

Lutzer’s message is clear: Christians need to be deeply afraid of the political left or we will lose our freedom of religion and the primacy of Christian values like the sanctity of marriage in our culture. Therefore, the church needs to urgently “own the libs” and speak out against the tyranny of socialism, racial divisiveness, and any efforts to legitimize the LGBTQ+ agenda.

But on the Other Hand…

While reading Lutzer’s book, I also read Democratic congressman Adam Schiff’s book, Midnight in Washington, and watched a CNN documentary by the highly respected journalist Fareed Zakaria called “The Fight to Save American Democracy.” They too had a message of what we need to fear but with a very different perspective and narrative.

Schiff writes about the decay of political norms and ethics during the Trump administration, leading up to the insurrection of January 6 and the perpetuation of the “Big Lie” that the election was stolen from Trump. Schiff’s fear is not the ideological pronouncements from some on the left. Instead, he fears the personality cult of Trumpism that is restricting voting laws in state legislatures and politicizing the process of who gets to count and authorize votes.

In the CNN documentary, Zakaria goes back in history to look at how Hitler rose to power—not through a leftist agenda but through democratic elections in which the majority of German voters chose to follow a white nationalist autocrat who blamed the Jewish minority for their country’s economic problems. The German church was supportive in electing a racist authoritarian leader.  Zakaria raises the specter that this may be happening in our country today.

A Primal Human Emotion

Lutzer, Schiff, and Zakaria all utilized the emotion of fear to magnify their opinions, knowing that fear is extremely persuasive at a primal level. It is a natural part of our human experience. Fear motivates us to drive carefully and to lock our doors at night. It is an instinctive and protective emotion. And as Jonathan Haidt writes in The Righteous Mind, our emotions largely control our decisions.

Yet fear is also a great enemy of reason. In fact, our Founding Fathers chose a representative democracy as our form of government instead of a direct democracy because they knew that the fears perpetuated by a demagogue on a general populace could overwhelm the reasoned thought of “a well-informed citizenry.”

Fear may be powerful, but it is not always right. This is especially true in our politics and raises significant questions like:

Should ideological convictions alone drive our fears, or should we fear evil wherever it manifests itself along the political spectrum?

Should we be more fearful of the scattered protests of those on the radical left or of the violent threats of hundreds of white supremacist organizations?

Should we be more afraid of those who speak about social and economic justice or those who dismiss such concerns as a trojan horse for socialism?

Should we be more afraid of pro-abortion activists or anti-vaccine activists who both declare that we should be able to control our own bodies?

Or should we have any fears at all? The psalmist David testifies that even though he walks through the shadow of death, he “will fear no evil.” Jesus taught, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Matthew 10:28).

Whom then should we fear: the right or the left or both or no one? Is it spiritually legitimate to channel our fears into political activity or do we alleviate our fears by disengaging from political opinions because “this world is not our home”?

I don’t have a simple answer to these questions. There is no doubt that the pervasive message of God in the Bible is to “fear not” even amid fears. Mary was afraid of the angel Gabriel. The shepherds were afraid of the angels on the night of Christ’s birth. The early Christians were afraid of the Jews. Fear was not deemed to be wrong but a precursor to faith. It often came before a surrendered trust in the power and presence of God.

In addition to the message of “fear not,” though, is the biblical exhortation to “fear God.” One application of this reverence for the Almighty is that “the fear of the Lord is to hate evil” (Proverbs 8:13).

When my faith is dependent on a political party, it is easy to be fearful of the opposing party, especially if it is in power. But when my faith—and fear—is dependent on God, my calling is to hate evil, wherever it comes from. It is to pray and act for God’s Kingdom to come “on earth as it is in heaven.” This is not a passive stance but one of reasoned and faithful obedience.

In light of this calling to hate evil, what are some of the political evils we see today that we should hate?

Fear of the Evil of Lying: From the Old Testament commandment against lying to the declaration of Jesus that the devil is the father of lies, lying is a foundational sin that undermines all human relationships. Lying, disinformation, and false accusations are all too often the weapons of politicians, commentators, and social media trolls determined to hinder any reasoned and humble discussion of widely established facts.

We see this particularly in the “Big Lie” about the 2020 election and the many lies about COVID vaccinations that are dividing our country. We also see this in the rejection of truths about our country’s history. How do we combat all of these deceptions in social media that so often lead to arguments in families and churches and among those we thought were friends?

One easy answer is not to fight fire with fire. Anger and argumentation over such emotional issues of personal and political identity rarely brings agreement. But denying or avoiding the truth doesn’t enhance our understanding of the issues or of each other either. Silence distances us from each other and keeps us isolated with only those who reinforce our own predispositions. Selective online research often has the same effect!

I believe that the best answer is to follow the biblical teaching of “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). This means doing our homework by listening to historians, journalists, and commentators who have a well-vetted reputation for honesty and professional integrity. But it also means having an attitude and perspective of love and respect for others even if they don’t return the favor because “love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). Careful, respectful dialogue may not change minds quickly but it will be an example of engaging others with both truth and grace.

Fear of the Evil of Racial Injustice: Hatred and attitudes of supremacy toward anyone because of their race is worthy of our fear for them and for our country. Such evil manifests itself in white nationalism and in the acceptance of prejudice toward immigrants, hate speech toward people of color, and racial biases in voting laws and edits of history in school curriculums. May that fear motivate us in how we vote, pray, and act. (A good new book on this topic is Jemar Tisby’s How to Fight Racism: Courageous Christianity and the Journey toward Racial Justice.)

Fear of the Evil of Violence:We can be afraid of an exploding culture of gun violence and hate crimes. Recent attacks against police, airline attendants, school board members, and public health officials all reflect a loss of civility in public behavior and discourse that is essential to a well-functioning society. Equally alarming according to a poll by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute is that 30 percent of Republicans and 11 percent of Democrats believe that “true American patriots may have to resort to violence to save our democracy.”

Violence is not only physically dangerous but it often reflects an idolatry of individualism and a complete loss of caring for one’s neighbor. We saw this in the January 6 attack on the Capitol, where Christian slogans and symbols were flying even though the insurgents’ actions reflected anything but biblical values. The call to Christians is not to attack but to love even our enemies.

Fear of the Evil of Sexual Immorality: I believe we should also have a deep fear of compromising sexual moral standards in our society, our homes, and our churches. Adultery, promiscuity, pornography, abortion on demand, and sexual deviancy destroy families, faith communities, and ultimately cultures.

Our fears, however, should not be directed at those who struggle with their sexual identity or who are living with the consequences of sexual sin but with those who flaunt the need for biblical sexual integrity and moral standards. It was said in awe of the early Christians that they shared everything except their marriage bed. May we today not only confront sexual sin but may our Christian reputation have that same witness and attractiveness of a healthy biblical sexuality.

Fear the Evil of Losing Our Democracy: This is perhaps the most complicated fear we face in politics today. Although the Church has survived and even thrived under all types of government, democracy is a wonderful ideal that not only supports freedom of religion but also gives dignity to all of its constituents. Our Constitution and our democracy are a combination of biblical principles and Enlightenment values that together recognize the beauty of humans created in the image of God along with the ugliness of human sinfulness.

Our democracy, though, is very fragile. We see this across the political spectrum. This is where it’s important to look beyond ideology to what is truly worth fearing in light of the biblical exhortation to hate evil. We can hate the efforts of Antifa to oppose democratic processes and governmental structures as well as the efforts of Donald Trump and his followers to overturn or deny the Constitutionally certified results of the 2020 election. Although democracy is not our highest allegiance, it is something worth fighting for in its legacy and potential to do good.


We may have legitimate political fears, but the overwhelming message of God to his people is to not be afraid. Even under Roman oppression, the Apostle Paul says to the Romans that “everyone should be subject to the governing authorities… because they have been established by God” (Romans 13:1). Paul’s call is for Christians to do what is right, such as paying taxes and loving your neighbor as yourself (Romans 13:6, 9).

Psalm 27 gives us insight into what it looks like to live without fear yet with a hatred of evil. In this psalm, David at first confidently proclaims that he is not afraid of his enemies because, “the Lord is my light and salvation” (verse 1). We too can be confident that the chaos, disorder, and dark places in both political parties cannot extinguish God’s purposes.

Yet, later in Psalm 27, David expresses his great need to seek the Lord and receive God’s mercy. He pleads for God not to hide his face from him or forsake him. He needs the Lord’s help to maintain a posture of faith and hope in his current circumstances. His conclusion is “to wait for the Lord, to be strong and to take heart” (verse 14).

When we wait in fear of the Lord, we can hate the evils of injustices, abuses of political power, and distortions of truth. Ultimately, as we wait, we need not fear what the world wants us to fear. We need not find ourselves swayed by shocking political commentary or fatalistic discourse. Instead, we can speak, act, and pray from a place of longing for things on earth to be as they are in heaven—to hate what God hates and to love the things he loves.

Over the last few years, many articles and books have analyzed the current state of evangelicalism in the United States. (See note below for examples.) The reason for all of this attention to a historically profound world-wide movement in Christianity is not only the 81 percent of white evangelicals who voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 election, but the continued support these evangelicals have given him despite his lack of faith, his continual distortion of truth, and his attempt to overthrow the 2020 election.

Commentators and people of all and no faiths wonder how evangelicals known for being so concerned about character can enthusiastically defend such a person who demonstrably lacks it. Many reasons have been given for this allegiance, such as Trump’s support for the anti-abortion movement, for promoting religious freedom, and for appointing conservative judges. These values were important to many Trump voters, but are they the whole story?

For instance, many white evangelicals have also been tremendously supportive of Trump’s harsh rhetoric and actions with respect to non-European immigrants. What causes evangelicals to dismiss biblical teachings about “welcoming the stranger” and the “foreigner”? Is it because of fear of “the other” and a concurrent loss of cultural dominance? Is it the unsettling feeling, as someone has said, that “we are no longer the home team”? Is Trump’s appeal to white nationalists overlapping with his appeal among white evangelicals?

Another reason people support Trump is his dismissal of science in combating climate change and the pandemic. Many evangelicals have been adamant in not getting vaccinated or wearing masks. But why have such behaviors seemed more Christian than loving one’s neighbors through good public health practices? Is this a further uncovering of an evangelical anti-intellectualism that Mark Noll addressed in his classic nineties book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind?

A Lost Identity

The result of this passionate support of Trump is that evangelicals have tragically lost their identity as people concerned about character and biblical principles. Former Republican governor of Tennessee, Bill Haslam, writes in his excellent new book, Faithful Presence: The Promise and the Peril of Faith in the Public Square, that “the term evangelical is more likely to be identified as a voting block than a description of someone who desires to share the good news of grace found in the Gospels.” Fellow Republican and evangelical commentator, David French, similarly questions whether the term evangelical carries any “true religious meaning any longer.”

In addition, many local churches (as well as parachurch groups) are fracturing because they include members with strong and conflicting political identities that have not been refined by either personal humility or a greater allegiance to biblical values. Pastors and other leaders are exhausted trying to withstand these competing political pressures in their churches and ministries.

One common response to this spiritual unsettledness is to decide one can’t talk about political or social issues in church. I sympathize with this pragmatic choice, but it can ultimately diminish our active witness in a decaying and darkening world. If we can’t talk about differences in our churches and Christian organizations, how can we talk meaningfully with those outside the household of faith?

An Evangelical Past and Future

I write these comments with great sadness as I have been an evangelical all of my life. Beginning with my home church when I was growing up, I have experienced an evangelicalism that takes the authority of the Bible seriously. I have fully embraced the words of John R. W. Stott that “God has not revealed his truth in such a way as to leave us free at our pleasure to believe or disbelieve it, to obey or disobey it.”

The evangelicalism I have experienced in many congregations with faithful pastors, has proclaimed and demonstrated the whole gospel (the evangel) to the whole person. It cared about worshipping God, spiritual formation of the soul, the life of the mind, social and racial justice, and the international mission of the church.

Fortunately, many evangelicals, churches, and institutions still embrace these values. Nineteen percent of white evangelicals and the strong majority of Black, Asian, Hispanic, and Native evangelicals did not vote for Trump even though they also care about pro-life and religious freedom issues.

So, is there a future for evangelicalism? Probably as a public identity, yes. As long as pollsters keep it alive, it will be hard to get rid of the terminology. Also, so many groups and churches have evangelical in their name or description, such as the National Association of Evangelicals and the Evangelical Free Church, that major changes are difficult to imagine (although Evangelicals for Social Action did recently change their name to Christians for Social Action).

We also simply don’t yet have a better terminology to describe what has been a vibrant subgroup within Christianity. Many prefer now to avoid the evangelical label and just say, “I’m a Christ-follower.” That term might help on an interpersonal level in avoiding the stigma of an evangelical political identity—but will it hinder us from embracing a spiritually coherent vision for a biblical evangelicalism that is a faithful witness of salt and light in the world?

New Approaches to Eternal Truths

The answer may lie with a developing evangelical “tribe” made up of those across church, denominational, and ministry lines who embrace a broader coalition of spiritual convictions to supplement the traditional pillars of evangelicalism: belief in the Bible, belief in salvation through Jesus Christ, and belief in the importance of evangelism. This growing informal coalition has at least the following elements.

  1. The first is the tremendous interest in spiritual formation that is providing abundant resources and opportunities for pastors and lay leaders to pay attention to their souls and not just their beliefs. Organizations such as Renovaré, The Transforming Center, Leadership Transformations, Fuller Formation, and a host of spiritual direction programs, retreat centers, and books are leading the way to this deeper spirituality.
  2. A second development is a renewed passion for loving God with our minds and speaking God’s truths in the public arena. Major evangelical organizations such as BioLogos, The Trinity Forum, The Veritas Forum, Christianity Today, The Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, multiple study centers, and segments of Christian publishing seek to elevate thoughtful engagement with current world issues. It is striking now to read evangelical writers in The Atlantic, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. It is also encouraging to know of thousands of professors and graduate students in Christian and secular colleges and universities through ministries like InterVarsity Christian Fellowship who are living out their faith within and beyond their academic disciplines. Being a faithful presence in the world is a deep spiritual and professional calling that is gaining traction.
  3. A third dynamic is the significant number of social justice ministries, such as Christians for Social Action, Sojourners, International Justice Mission, World Relief and many newer ministries. These agencies are articulating and practicing biblical values of compassion, mercy, and justice in our culture. They are engaged politically where necessary but also assist church congregations with resources and opportunities for involvement. Many local churches are leading the way in caring for the homeless, for unwed mothers, and for racial justice in their communities. There is also a greater spiritual and relational connection (especially with many younger evangelicals) among white and ethnic minority church leaders in this country and throughout the world. An international and multiethnic church is becoming a compelling vision and reality rather than something to fear. Social justice is being rediscovered as a biblical calling integral to being a faithful witness.
  4. There is also a budding evangelical renaissance of the arts and the Christian imagination. This is happening through networks forged by groups and publications such as Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA), Ekstasis Magazine from Christianity Today, The Edge of Faith Magazine, and many outstanding programs at evangelical colleges and seminaries. What is striking about this initiative is not only its appreciation of art as an expression of God’s creative activity, but how it is becoming an important resource in the areas of spiritual formation, social justice, and the life of the mind. Ever since the Enlightenment and its values of unmitigated reason and individualism, Christians have been lured into believing that our faith is fundamentally left-brained and transactional rather than also being transformative. The development and integration of a right-brained faithful imagination with a left-brained faith of belief is a powerful force of knowledge and creativity that is a bright light for evangelicals in the future.

If there is to be a resurgence of a vibrant evangelicalism, might it come from such a confluence of these spiritual formation, intellectual, justice, and arts initiatives? The traditional trilogy of Bible study, evangelism, and missions sometimes seems to be sadly depleted of energy or of being coopted by political allegiances. We can’t lose these priorities of the Gospel, but we need new and varied on-ramps to incorporate them into a holistic practice of Christian faith.

Streams of Living Water

Nearly twenty-five years ago, Richard Foster wrote a significant book called Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of Christian Faith. Foster explores six spiritual traditions that have given shape to Christianity over the past two thousand years, including the Contemplative, Holiness, Charismatic, Social Justice, Evangelical, and Incarnational traditions.

Foster writes that these traditions all flow together with Jesus as the divine source. He notes both the strengths and limitations of each tradition functioning only by itself, suggesting that each stream can be enriched by receiving from the other streams.

But, as Foster notes, organizational and theological pride are like rocks that keep the streams from flowing freely together. It takes a true spirit of humility to welcome the value that each stream brings.

Maybe this is a time in history when the evangelical stream can be strengthened by receiving from the other streams and joining with them as a true expression of Christian unity.

The Great Commandments and the Great Commission

One shift in thinking that I believe might cultivate that spirit of humility is to more vigorously embrace Jesus’s teaching of the Great Commandments, to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind…[and] love your neighbor as yourself.” (See Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Matthew 22:35-40.)

The traditional evangelical mindset has often been focused more on the Great Commission: “Go and make disciples of all nations” (see Matthew 28:16-20) than on the Great Commandments. This discipling and missional impulse has been tremendously successful and is clearly foundational to our Christian calling. But perhaps it has been misappropriated in ways that have helped foster a worldly spirit of political triumphalism that is robbing us of our spiritual integrity.

Instead, we might focus more on a deeper love for God and neighbor that emanates from a place of humility, setting the stage for going into the world with all that Jesus taught us to obey, including the commandment to love one another. This would be a sharp contrast to being known for taking into the world a highly political and compromised faith.

An important part of recovering the true identity of evangelicalism is encouraging ministries that lead us in “paths of righteousness” and supporting pastors who courageously lead their congregations to think and act more biblically in the public arena. By collectively letting go of religious hubris and a longing for political power, we can better serve God and neighbor in ways that let the world “know we are Christians by our love.”

By God’s grace, that will be the future of evangelicalism.

Note: “What Is Evangelicalism?” by Bruce Hindmarsh, published in Christianity Today, provides an excellent summary of the evangelical movement. Another valuable contribution to the topic is the book Still Evangelical? Insiders Reconsider Political, Social, and Theological Meaning, edited by Mark Labberton. Still Evangelical? includes a rich diversity of perspectives from a number of writers, although Labberton’s comprehensive and carefully nuanced commentary in the seventeen-page introduction is in itself worth the price of the book.

I recently participated in a politically diverse group discussion about truth and lies—particularly the phrase, “The Big Lie.” Someone suggested that the term be applied to President Obama’s false promise in 2009 that under Obamacare you could choose your own doctor. Most others though understood its current usage to refer to the lie that Trump rather than Biden won the last presidential election.

But then someone mentioned that Adolf Hitler actually coined the term in his book, Mein Kampf. Hitler described the strategy of spreading a lie so “colossal” that people assumed it must be true because no one “could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.”

Hitler then used this strategy to falsely accuse the Jews of betraying Germany in the First World War. His words were crucial in setting the stage for the Holocaust two decades later, since by that point many Germans had come to believe that if it wasn’t for the Jewish people, Germany would have won the Great War.

This sobering historical precedent led to a discussion about the strikingly similar situation in our country today: Trump accusing Democrats of stealing the election and then lying that he won, despite the constitutionally certified results to the contrary.

Political deceit feeds on itself, as lies tend to do, leading House Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to say that no one was “questioning the legitimacy” of the 2020 election despite the fact that the former president, conservative media, and dozens of Republican-controlled state legislatures are doing exactly that on a daily basis.

Alongside the Big Lie associated with the election, many Trump supporters repeatedly state that there was no mob attack on the Capitol on January 6. Rather, according to Republican Representative Andrew Clyde, it “was just a normal tourist visit”—even though video shows Clyde helping to barricade the House floor from the rioters on that day.

Lying in politics of course is not new. It is well-developed blood-sport practiced by both Democrats and Republicans. But why is lying so acceptable now with seemingly no qualm of conscience not only by politicians but by so many others, including many Christians? Have we as a country become so immune to political leaders lying that we think it is okay for us to do the same, flaunting facts so wildly that we come to believe lies as truth for the sake of keeping or gaining power? Have we become like the ancient Israelites whom Jeremiah described as those who have “taught their tongues to lie” (see Jeremiah 9:5)? Is lying no longer a sin?

Let me the suggest the following reasons for our prevailing “culture of deceit.”

Personal and Political Insecurity

The noted historian Will Durant said, “To speak ill of others is a dishonest way of praising ourselves.” This need for self-adulation is a universal form of idolatry that is particularly obvious and odious in political leaders who depend on it for maintaining their political power.

It is this self-preservation instinct that leads Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and most Republican senators to publicly oppose anything that President Biden or Democrats might propose, no matter the issue—such as having an independent bipartisan commission investigate the January 6 insurrection.

Democrats of course are not innocent in their craving for the limelight or in criticizing their Republican opponents. Neither are we. I actually had the above Will Durant quote taped to my desk for many years. It was there to remind me of my selfish propensity to be very critical of others so that my ideas and subsequently my stature would be held in greater esteem. I struggled to learn the biblical truth that to think of others better than myself is the pathway to a much deeper and satisfying personal security rooted in loving God and neighbor.

Postmodern Influences and Distortions

A second reason for the propensity to believe lies today is the broader cultural environment that influences how, why, and what we think. For many decades, postmodernism has been a popular philosophy that describes much of how our culture approaches matters of truth. Postmodernity elevates one’s own individual and subjective claims to truth over the belief in any metanarrative or overarching objective truth.

Postmodernism asks: Why believe in any external truth if it contradicts your own predisposed opinion or your emotional inclinations? Did Biden win the election or does that depend on if you wanted him to win? Do masks protect people from COVID or does that depend on what political party you prefer?

It is so tempting to believe an explanation that feels right based on one’s predisposition that truth falls by the wayside. The “alternative facts” that Kellyanne Conway referenced so casually early in Trump’s presidency have come to define our post-truth culture. We have become comfortable accepting the “truth” we want to believe as long as it gives us power.

As Hitler wrote of human malleability: “In the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously…. Even though the facts which prove [that someone is distorting the truth] may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation.”

In other words, objective truth can easily cede its authority through deceitful appeals to our emotional susceptibility.

The First Big Lie

The biggest reason for our inclination to lie, though, has been with us since the Garden of Eden. The first lie in the Bible was when the serpent questioned the man and woman: “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’” (Genesis 3:1) Since God’s command was only with respect to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the serpent lied about God’s restrictiveness and thereby his goodness.

The second lie compounded the distortion of God’s character when the woman falsely told the man that they could not even touch the fruit, when God had only commanded them not to eat it. The final lie in this dialog was the serpent saying “you will not certainly die” (Genesis 3:4). And yet death did become the result of their sin.

This account not only illustrates our human propensity to distort the generous nature of God who wants us to enjoy his creation, but it also describes the fundamental character of Satan. Jesus described Satan as the “father of lies,” saying that when Satan lies, “he speaks his native language” (John 8:44).

By contrast, Jesus was “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14) and described himself as “the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). When we lie or repeat a lie even though we know it’s not true, we are not only giving into sin, we are siding with the enemy in a deep spiritual battle. What and who we choose to believe reflects not only our political loyalties but also our struggle with spiritual discernment.

How Should We Respond?

So how do we respond to our country’s political proclivities—and the deceptions of our own hearts—that are destroying meaningful civil discourse and undermining our democracy? Can we live together with any sense of shared purpose and trust, or will we embrace the lies of politicians for the sake of political power and a false sense of security in ourselves?

On a practical level, we can refer to neutral fact-checkers and get our news from a variety of sources with differing and well-formed opinions. Writers and interviewers who treat politicians with professional respect are more likely to present us with facts and honest news.

In addition, we can also ignore commentators and news anchors who yell frequently and consistently ridicule political opponents with unproven accusations. Discerning the integrity and character of our news sources is almost as important as discerning the character of our politicians.

But perhaps the most significant individual initiative we can take is to recognize with King David that the Lord “desires truth in our inward being” and then to respond with David, “create in me a pure heart, O God and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (See Psalm 51:6, 10.) When we are renewed internally, we can speak the truth in genuine love with our friends, neighbors, and family members, and by doing so we also speak into our culture.

But what if others don’t want to listen because they are so convinced of their own position? What about those who believe conspiracy theories because of Christian leaders and elected leaders who tell them to? What about those who don’t believe respected news sources but only believe their own narrow band of information? What if they honestly don’t know or accept that they are believing lies and especially the “Big Lie”? Do we verbally and aggressively fight them for what we think is right or do we resign ourselves to a passive avoidance or is there some other perspective?

In his excellent book, Reading the Times: A Literary and Theological Inquiry into the News, Jeffrey Bilbro quotes Paul J. Griffiths’s implications of Blaise Pascal’s sage advice on engaging in public controversies. Griffiths says we “should engage in controversy with a level of energy and commitment appropriate to the importance of the topic and to the degree of certitude [we] have about the truth of [our] preferred position on that topic.” And then in Pascal’s direct words, “It is not our task to secure the triumph of truth, but merely to fight on its behalf.” Pascal wisely and humbly acknowledges that the times are not exclusively in our hands.

But in his divine providence, God has entrusted to us the call to bear witness to the truth. To do so though with authenticity, we must genuinely long for truth in a way that goes beyond political identities or proving ourselves right. Pascal prophetically wrote, “Truth is so obscure in this time, and falsehood so established, that, unless we love the truth, we cannot know it.”


So, in facing our moral crisis of not always knowing either what or who to believe, we can tutor our affections to more fully embrace the great commandments and their implications of loving God and neighbor. We then may have a humbler discernment of what is really true.

The Big Lie is not just about who won the election. It is also the false belief that we can’t trust God’s goodness and sovereign love and instead we worship ourselves, our opinions, our politicians, and our political parties—and that’s the truth.

Critical Race Theory (CRT) is one of the most controversial issues today in not only the academic world but in our politics and personal conversations. Last fall, a presidential executive order banned CRT in diversity training in federal agencies. Just this past week, the state of Idaho cut off funding for the teaching of CRT at Boise State. At the same time, many other colleges and universities require CRT to be taught in various forums and classes.

So, the familiar battle lines are drawn. Conservatives see CRTas an un-American Marxist insurgency against our democracy while liberals see CRTas a way to better understand our racial tensions so we can improve our democracy. Which is it? Or is there a way to examine CRT that takes into account both its value and its weaknesses—and leads us back to God’s call to love one another?  

What is Critical Race Theory?

CRT is an application of Critical Theory developed in the Frankfurt School of social research nearly 100 years ago. Since then, Critical Theory has been used in a variety of disciplines such as law and history. In 1989, it was appropriated in the study of racism as Critical Race Theory.

CRT views our history and political judgments through a lens of race. It opens our eyes to how systemic racism from our country’s past affects the lives of people of color every day—from centuries of slavery, to the Homestead Act in 1862, to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, to Jim Crow laws in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, to Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s. CRT helps us see that while we might not have had a personal part in systemic racism in our past, we can be aware of how such laws have had a ripple effect throughout generations.

What Is Valuable about Critical Race Theory?

  1. Provides Valuable Research: A foundational value of CRT is its sympathetic research into the role of race in the laws and societal norms that invariably favor the majority culture. For instance, hundreds of studies show tremendous disparities between Whites and Blacks in health, education, hiring, income, criminal justice issues, and housing. Some might argue that these disparities are the result of more intact families, a stronger work ethic, or better money management skills among Whites. But suggesting that Whites are simply superior in these ways only furthers the assumptions that have led to these disparities over the centuries while ignoring the historical and present reasons for the inequalities. It also leads to a racist addiction to White Supremacy.
  2. Authenticates the Experience of People of Color: A second value of CRT is that it gives people of color an objective understanding of what they experience. They do not have to depend on “politically correct” sensitivities of others to establish that they are in fact being underrepresented and under-resourced in so many dimensions of our society. Just last week, for instance, it was reported that Black farmers received only 0.1 percent of the money from the economic stimulus bill known as the CARES Act last year, while White farmers received 99 percent of the funds even though they didn’t own 99 percent of the farms either by size or number. Whether this was intentional or not is not known but the result is the same. Race evidently made a huge difference in the amount of money our government distributed to White farmers versus Black farmers.
  3. Identifies Institutional as well as Individual Racism: CRT also shows us that racism is not just a matter of “a few bad apples,” but it has and continues to be systematized in many of our laws and organizational structures. We see in the current murder trials of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, for instance, how policing practices for Blacks are often different than for Whites. The efforts of so many Republican state legislatures to restrict or hamper voting among minorities (such as having fewer ballot boxes and voting locations in minority districts) is further evidence of institutional racism.

What Is Controversial about CRT?

  1. Marxist Influences: The most politically charged accusations against CRT are those of guilt by association. Some claim CRT is Marxist and contrary to capitalism and democratic principles. Others see it as just an academic justification for the excesses of the Black Lives Matter movement. Still others decry it as lacking and even contradicting a Christian philosophical foundation. There is some truth to all of these concerns. The original Critical Theorists were indeed engaged with Marxism but not without critique. They understood that although the Marxist view of life as a struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoise was too simplistic, much of the political life of a culture could be understood as a battle between majority and minority peoples. As Winston Churchill and others have said, “history is written by the victors,” but the same could be said of the present while history is being made.
  2. Misused to Create Divisions: Some of the more radical CRT proponents (and some in the Black Lives Matter organization) have been involved in weaponizing CRT to create destructive power conflicts between racial minorities and a White majority. It too easily can attribute everything to White privilege or focus on microaggressions that can quickly repel Whites from a deeper understanding of the issues. CRT as an ideology can be threatening and counterproductive in effectively dealing with racism.
  3. Avoids Spiritual Truths: It is also true that CRT does not have explicit Christian underpinnings. CRT does not deal with inherent or individual sin but focuses primarily on institutional racism as being the cause of many social problems. CRT is also not nearly as helpful in a prescriptive way as it is in a descriptive way. It has no spiritual framework of reconciliation through confession and forgiveness. Nor does it reflect the limitations of a completely racialized view of life. It is a sophisticated but at times very blunt instrument that cannot solve our great racial and political divisions.

The Bible and CRT

CRT is a divisive concept but not nearly as divisive as the racial realities it addresses. So how do we take what is valuable from this imperfect theory to love one another better?

The Old Testament prophet Isaiah quotes the Lord saying, “Come let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18). This welcoming invitation has often been used as a prelude to negotiations and conflict resolutions—it recognizes that there is a conflict but that there is also a possibility of reconciliation through reason and mutual respect.

This openness to resolution rather than resignation to continued enmity suggests a relational posture for us to take as we seek to heal the tremendous racial tensions in our country. We need all of the insight we can learn through CRT without idolizing or misconstruing any biases that might be part of it. We can recognize CRT’s limitations while also recognizing it as a resource that provides the opportunity to develop greater understanding and compassion.

With humility and reason, we can also acknowledge the many good things about the United States, our Founding Fathers, and our democracy, while simultaneously recognizing racism in past and current laws and attitudes. Awareness of our country’s weaknesses makes us no less American or patriotic; it can make us even more eager to see the United States truly offer “liberty and justice for all.”

It is also significant that in the context of Isaiah’s prophecy quoted above, the Lord is angry about the hypocrisy of the Jewish people on matters of social justice. He tells them that he hates their worship services and won’t listen to their prayers because of their “evil deeds” (Isaiah 1:16). Then, between his words of anger and his call to reconciliation, he urges his people to “seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow” (Isaiah 1:17). Pursuing social justice is a biblical mandate.

Responding to CRT

One of the common arguments against CRT or the idea of systemic racism in general is, “I wasn’t around at the time of slavery and had nothing to do with making these racist laws. Why should I feel guilty?” This may be a natural question to ask, but it’s also a question that consciously or unconsciously reveals an individualistic and inadequate approach to sin.

Although the Lord does not hold us personally accountable for the sins of others, we are affected by them—often for generations. God instructed Moses to make a provision of both sacrifice and forgiveness for unintentional communal sins (Numbers 15:22-26). Nehemiah obediently prayed in confession for the sins of his ancestral family (Nehemiah 1:6).

We also need to be aware of the sin of omission. The Apostle James says that if you know what to do and don’t do it, that is sin (James 4:17). Racism is an overt sin against all people created in the image of God. Ignoring racism is similar to what the two religious leaders did who walked by the desperate man in the story of the Good Samaritan. They did not beat the man themselves but they avoided or omitted doing anything about his condition. The primary issue then is not whether or not we are personally responsible for social injustices, but whether or not we recognize those injustices and engage with doing something about them.

Consequently, instead of either rejecting CRT carte blanche or using it as a cudgel against every racial injustice no matter how big nor how slight, we would do better to urgently reason together about what is racially unjust in our country and work to remedy those injustices with both individual and collective resolve. In other words, to make CRT a political football only relegates it to being a game. But to use CRT as even an imperfect prompt to respond to God’s command to seek justice is a way of loving others as ourselves.

We hear a lot about “cancel culture” in the media right now, but the term seems to mean very different things to different people. For instance, several weeks ago, the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) held their annual convention with the theme of “America Uncancelled” to proclaim that they were for free speech. Ironically, they cancelled Senator Mitt Romney from speaking at the conference because of his vote to impeach President Trump.

A few days later, Dr. Seuss’s estate put six of the beloved author’s books out of print for racial and ethnic stereotyping. This led to intense debate and accusations on social media of a liberal cancel culture going wild.  

Last week, Democratic New York governor Andrew Cuomo blamed “cancel culture” for his sudden political isolation after seven women came forward accusing him of sexual harassment and a federal investigation was launched due to allegations that Cuomo underreported COVID-19 deaths in nursing home.

These stories alone might lead us to ask, “Is ‘canceling’ something always bad? How do we balance the value of free speech with the value of respecting others? Most of all, how can we show love in our personal relationships when our opinions about what should or should not be ‘cancelled’ are so different?”

When Our Freedoms Conflict with Each Other

Many conservatives argue that cancel culture, particularly related to racial or gender issues, threatens free speech and religious liberty. Many with more liberal political views argue that silencing or calling out people and groups who exhibit prejudiced language is essential to our freedom of diversity and actually enriches our culture. Which is right or best?

To refer back to the Seuss controversy, it was Seuss’s estate—not the media nor the government—that chose to pull the six books that included images of such things as a White man whipping a man of color (To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street) and a White boy holding a gun while standing on the heads of three Asian men (If I Ran the Zoo). Though social media feeds suggest that many Christians are upset about these books being put out of print “for the sake of being politically correct,” it seems as if the estate’s sensitivity to racism in Seuss’s books is actually a reflection of Christian values, whether or not it was intended that way.

We can, of course, find a variety of accounts from across the political spectrum of people trying to cancel the cultural influence of others. The right wants to eliminate the teaching of Critical Race Theory in schools, while the left wants to remove statutes of presidents who were former slave holders. Colleges promote acceptance, freedom, and social justice even as they refuse to allow Christian student groups that have a traditional view of marriage to meet on campus.

“Cancel culture” has consequently become a term of derision attributed to political opponents but rarely to one’s own efforts to exert control and power over public discourse. Even the trendy term, “wokeness”—coined to describe greater social awareness—has become a symbol of divisiveness. Those who think they are “woke” look down on those who aren’t and vice versa.

Cancelled Cultures

Like so many ideas that seem new to a generation, “cancel culture” in practice if not as a defined term has actually been around for centuries in America. Our country has cancelled not just what people say but who people are.

The most obvious example of this broader understanding of cancel culture is the slave trade beginning in 1619. Our Constitution even specified that Black men were only three-fifths human. After the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, it took another hundred years before all African Americans were given the right to vote and even now there are numerous state efforts of voter suppression in African American neighborhoods and counties.

Our country also cancelled Native American culture through the genocidal Trail of Tears, when Native Americans were forced to migrate from the southeast to Indian reservations in the west. A conspiracy-laden political party in the 1850s wanted to prohibit Catholics and immigrants from holding public office—a party known, ironically, as the “Know-Nothing Party.” And over the centuries, women have consistently been cancelled from leadership roles in government, business, and churches.

In other words, our history is laced with efforts to “cancel” other cultures. One significant difference now is that minority cultures have a voice that is being heard as well. This is threatening to a White majority culture and perhaps best explains the growing influence of White nationalists. They don’t like the feeling of White culture being challenged by the policies and pronouncements of those they see as liberal cultural elites in education, media, and government.

In recent decades, for example, it’s often conservative groups that want to keep certain young adult novels out of school libraries. Many Christian schools banned the Harry Potter series due to “witchcraft and sorcery.” Other books are challenged due to “revisionist history,” LGBTQ characters, and offensive language.

But when a children’s book is pulled from publication due to racist images, some jump to the conclusion that the government will soon be putting “other sacred texts such as the Bible” out of print. We are left with the uncomfortable reality that free speech is a two-edged sword.

In the next few decades, as we move to a non-majority racial country with greater wealth and education disparities, we can expect that these battles of who feels unjustly cancelled will greatly shape our political and social climate. But are we doomed to a never-ending family-splitting, church-splitting, country-splitting existence?

The political aspiration in our Pledge of Allegiance of “liberty and justice for all” is inspirational but not transformational. As broken people, can we be liberated and also be just? As Amanda Gorman asked in her profound poem at President Biden’s inauguration, “Where can we find light in this never-ending shade?”

The Illumination of Humility

Perhaps one of the most striking characteristics within our cancel culture debates is the sense of self-righteousness we are tempted to feel about our opinion. To use a straightforward example: “Cancelling a book for [my reason] is moral, right, and a reflection of biblical values. But cancelling a book for [your reason] is restrictive, oppressive, and even a bit silly.” This attitude leaves little room for listening to others.

By contrast, the word humility comes from the Latin word humus, which means, “fertile ground.” When we speak and act humbly, we help create fertile ground for relationship, for truth, and for godly freedom.

The prophet Micah tell us that the Lord requires the people of God to “act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). We would do well to filter our personal and collective opinions through the rubric of, “Am I acting justly? Am I acting mercifully? Am I practicing humility?”

This holy triad of values can also inform our decisions about what to “cancel” in our own lives, whether we are making business decisions or parenting choices or wondering whether or not we should speak up when a friend uses a derogatory term toward someone else.

Considering what should be “cancelled” or not is important because words, art, and media have a profound effect on our culture and the way we treat others. We may not have much control over politics or children’s literature or university policies, but we do encounter opportunities every day to speak both love and freedom. In a time that may feel dry and dusty, may we each find fertile ground in our relationships to love one another well.

After elections, many Christians admit they voted for someone who had no chance of winning, rather than voting for someone who at best was “the lesser of two evils.” Some also have done so as a personal protest against the two-party system. Such choices born out of frustration are understandable, but do they accomplish their purpose or are they actually counterproductive?

Statistically, a vote for someone other than the two major candidates is really a vote for whoever wins. For instance, in 1992 Ross Poirot ran the most successful third-party effort in the last 100 years and received a remarkable 19 percent of the popular vote. That still wasn’t enough to win and he likely took enough votes away from George H.W. Bush to give the election to Bill Clinton.

In the heavily contested election of 2000, Ralph Nader took enough votes away from Al Gore in Florida for George Bush to win. In 2016, Jill Stein of the Green Party probably took enough votes away from Hillary Clinton in states like Michigan and Wisconsin to give those electoral votes to Donald Trump. Are these the results third-party voters really wanted or did third-party voters unintentionally help their least favorite candidate win?

Others vote for individuals they wish were running. Some even make unusual choices like Maryland Republican governor, Larry Hogan, who recently said that he voted for Ronald Reagan in this year’s election. He now has political deniability no matter who wins but was his vote meaningful?

On the surface, third-party votes or what some criticize as throw-away votes suggest that we want to stick with our conscience rather than be a part of electing an imperfect person. The reality of course is that any person we vote for will be imperfect. Any vote we cast will involve compromise. But is voting for someone who could never win really the best compromise we can make? And what are we sacrificing when we make that choice?

Identity Politics

When I lived in Chicago, I experienced the tremendous rivalry between Chicago Cubs fans and Chicago White Sox fans. A perfect day for my neighbor was when the White Sox won and the Cubs lost! He found great identity and pride in being a White Sox fan for life.

Whether we follow sports or not, we all embrace certain identities. We might consider ourselves pro-life or pro-business or pro-gun control or pro-family. When we must choose between two opposing identities, we aren’t always sure how to choose and still maintain who we are.

In this year’s election, for instance, we must choose between Trump and his rampant dishonesty and divisiveness and Biden, who is pro-choice. Most Christians would say that we don’t identify with either of these men in those ways. So many of us, then, are tempted to come to the conclusion that we must vote for someone else, rather than compromise our integrity and identity.

The problem with this is that in choosing to “save” our conscience, we miss the opportunity to be a part of a decision that will affect millions of lives.

A vivid example of this is abortion, which I wrote about in my previous blog. As I indicated then, abortions trend downward under Democratic presidents more than under Republican presidents. Yet it can be hard for someone who is pro-life to vote for a pro-choice candidate even if the real goal is to lower the number of abortions. Identity, in this case, becomes consciously or unconsciously more important than the actual result.

Compromise for the Common Good

Catholic Social Teaching and various strands of Reformed theology speak of the “common good.” This refers to what is good not just for Christians but for society as a whole. The common good is what allows all peoples to “reach their fulfillment more easily.” It reflects the biblical theology that  everyone is created in the image of God and deserves to be treated with dignity and care in society.

Thinking of others in this context adds a necessary ingredient to our political decision-making beyond just our conscience and our identity. It reminds me of the Apostle Paul’s instructions to the Christians in Philippi, “in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.” (see Philippians 4:2)

In the Old Testament, Jeremiah instructed the captive Jews in Babylon to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (see Jeremiah. 29:7) Jeremiah did not say this because King Nebuchadnezzar was catering to them as a voting bloc, but because the people of God were called to be a witness among the nations. Seeking the common good is a political extension and expression of the Great Commandment of “loving your neighbor.”

With this perspective, we can look beyond identities we may be holding onto and ask, “In terms of biblical values, which candidate would best care for the poor? Who would be a better steward of the environment? Who would seek peace and unity rather than divisiveness? Who would more likely tell the truth and ‘act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God’?”


No candidate or political party or political system is perfect. Whoever we vote for will involve compromise. But not voting or voting for a third-party candidate is also an act of compromise and may actually be compromising our values more than we realize.

It is also good to remember that we are not marrying a candidate and we don’t need to make a moral or lasting commitment to support or defend them. Our vote does not make us supporters of all that candidate does or says and we must be free to criticize what we don’t agree with in terms of policies and practices.

Consequently, and in humility, we need to make the best choice we can in light of how likely each candidate is to promote biblical values and the common good for the country. In this way we can leave behind our fear of “identifying” with any one candidate or platform. Instead we can embrace our first identity as citizens of God’s Kingdom willing to make hard choices to live out that Kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.

Is it okay for a Christian to vote for a pro-choice candidate for president? This is the question I hear from many evangelical friends. Some say no because one is then complicit in supporting the evil of abortions. They believe that abortion should be the sole issue in voting for a president.

Others who are also against abortion say yes because there are many other pro-life issues at stake. In fact, both Pope Benedict XVI and the Conference of Catholic Bishops permit a Catholic to vote for a pro-choice candidate. So even though the Catholic Church has been the strongest religious voice against abortions, no Catholic is bound to vote on the basis of abortion alone.

But many others are still undecided. Can a Christian in all good conscience vote for a pro-choice candidate without feeling they have lost or compromised their convictions and commitments to the sanctity of life? I think such a choice is possible due to the following factors.

The Bible

First, the Bible doesn’t mention abortion at all. Although abortion was common in the ancient world, neither Jesus nor the apostles say anything about it. David, though, had rich insights of how God was intimately involved in “knitting me together in my mother’s womb” (see Psalm 139:13), and Jeremiah records God’s words: “I formed you in the womb” (see Jeremiah 1:5). These verses speak poetically and theologically about God’s sovereign involvement in creating life even if they do not address all of the complex medical and ethical issues regarding abortion.

The Bible is also clear about murder being a sin, a commandment that lies at the heart of the abortion debate. Yet we grapple with perplexing questions: Should all abortions be considered murder or does it depend on the circumstances, such as incest or the life of the mother? Does the stage of pregnancy matter? Why does Ecclesiastes 6:4 describe a stillborn child as one that “comes without meaning and departs in darkness”? Why is the Bible so silent about abortion when we are so vocal?

Religious Convictions

Scripture doesn’t give us answers to these difficult questions, but abortion is such a significant issue that the people of God have wrestled with it for centuries. For instance, the early Church strongly believed in the sanctity of life and was against the killing of any human life through abortion. They cared so much about life that they also resisted serving in the military.  

The ancient priest and scholar, Jerome, however, distinguished between the formed and unformed fetus—a position that echoed early Rabbinic law. Augustine also made this distinction and confessed that he “couldn’t bring myself to either affirm or deny the final state of aborted babies.” These scholars and others wrestled with how human life developed and when the soul becomes alive. Chris Hall provides an extremely helpful commentary on the early Church discussions on abortion in his book, Living Wisely with the Church Fathers.

Today, most Christians are against abortions and especially late-term abortions. But many make exceptions for instances of rape, incest, and the life of the mother, arguing that taking life in these situations is similar to reasons for killing in self-defense.


A complicating factor in the abortion debates is that in recent decades, the passionate cry against abortion has become not just a moral issue but a political one. This has not always been the case.

Abortion became a key strategic issue of the Moral Majority to unify Republicans behind Ronald Reagan (who ironically had passed the most liberal abortion laws in the country when he was governor of California) against Democrat Jimmy Carter. This fault line between Republicans and Democrats over abortion has intensified since then, although there are still pro-life Democrats and pro-choice Republicans. The reality is that a candidate’s position on abortion today may be as much for reasons of political identity and power as it is for deep moral convictions.

We Can Use Our Vote for What Will Actually Make a Difference

A very practical question is whether the next president, whoever he is, will make any real difference in the rate of abortions in the country. Recently David French—a pro-life commentator who is theologically and politically conservative—wrote a provocative blog titled, “Do Pro-Lifers Who Reject Trump Have ‘Blood on their Hands’?”

This is a significant blog, as French presents statistics and historical facts that suggest that no matter who becomes president, the abortion rate will likely continue its downward slide from a level that now is actually below where it was when Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973.

In fact, history shows that the abortion rate has declined faster under Democratic presidents than under Republican presidents. It’s difficult to pinpoint whether that is the result of presidential policies or other influences. But with those numbers in mind, French argues that presidents are inconsequential to the rate of abortions despite the battle over Supreme Court nominations. Even if Roe v. Wade is overturned, abortion rates will largely be unaffected.

Michael Gerson is another pro-life, political and theological conservative who recently argued that abortion isn’t the only issue on the ballot to be considered. He believes that “persuasion will matter more than federal legislation” for the pro-life movement. He also asks the question, “Is it really in the long-term interest of the pro-life movement to associate itself with a form of right-wing populism that dehumanizes migrants, alienates minorities and slanders refugees?”

A recent meme quips: “Abortion: The only word that can make followers of Jesus vote against everything Jesus ever talked about because of one issue that Jesus never talked about.” Although this is clearly a generalization, there is truth to it. In voting for a candidate who claims to be pro-life, we could very well be failing to uphold the biblical call to care for the poor, to welcome the refugee, to seek justice and love mercy—all for the sake of the mis-understanding that voting for a pro-life candidate will necessarily reduce the number of abortions in this country.


I can’t decide for other Christians how to vote for president, especially with respect to such a difficult and serious issue like abortion. But I can offer these reflections for consideration.

  1. The Bible affirms the sanctity of life and condemns murder but is silent about abortion.
  2. The people of God have consistently stood against abortion as wrong and we should continue to persuade our culture to honor and preserve the sanctity of all human life.  
  3. Who we choose as president will not affect the rate of abortions in our country. We should feel the freedom to vote for other reasons without condemning ourselves or others.
  4. Who we choose as president, however, will affect other pro-life issues in the country, and the world, such as poverty, racial and economic justice, gun control, immigration reform, controlling the pandemic, and combating climate change.
  5. No matter who we vote for, we can speak to one another out of love, respect, and an understanding that we each have been created in God’s image. This is another way of being truly pro-life in all we do and say.

Bridget Phetasy, a podcaster who self-identifies as “politically homeless” is quoted in the Dispatch Weekly as saying, “If Trump wins, I reckon America will burn. If Trump loses, America will burn. Either way, I’m preparing for America to burn.”

Confirming these feelings, President Trump says that he “is the only thing standing between the American dream and total anarchy, madness and chaos.” He says that if he loses, “America is gone forever.” Not to be outdone, Democrats are fearful of losing our democracy if Trump wins. They also fear right-wing militias that threaten “we’re a trigger-pull away” from resisting government controls like mask mandates.

Looking at the election itself, President Trump stokes fears by claiming that millions of mail-in ballots will be fraudulent while Democrats fear that millions of mail-in ballots will be disqualified because of Republican interference.

Politicians, commentators, and Americans across the political spectrum are increasingly fearful for our country. It is a fear not only of the consequences of our presidential election but tragically it is also a fear of one another. We have become a tribalized society of identity politics. Some of us fear those who use their racial or sexual identity for political power while we don’t understand the inherent power of centuries of white and male privilege. Some of us fear the political influence of those who aren’t Christians while others fear the influence of those who are.

On top of all of these political fears are the continuing fears of the pandemic and our economic crisis. We have a low-grade fever of uncertainty and of fear that spikes with every new death projection from COVID 19 or when there is another police shooting of a black man with subsequent protests. If we are black, we fear constantly for our lives and if we are a small business owner we fear for our livelihood. And after months of COVID trauma and drama, we’ve come to fear even our fears.

Coping with Fears

It is tempting to dismiss these fears as just temporary or pre-election hype that will somehow go away like the virus is supposed to according to the president. But in our heart of hearts, we know that like the virus, our deep fears are real and will have lasting consequences.

We could deal with our fears by trying to be impervious to them, channeling the extreme confidence of those like Franklin Roosevelt who famously said, “there is nothing to fear but fear itself.” Courage and fortitude are great characteristics in the face of danger and fear, but they in themselves do not eliminate the reasons for fear. Without action, positive thinking can quickly become denial with debilitating results.

There is also the temptation to spiritualize our fears and “just trust God,” but that is likely the right answer to a different question. The different question is “Who do we trust?” as if there is any doubt of whether we should put our trust in God or in politicians. There is no contest! The Psalmist says, “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.” (see Psalm 118:9). Our faith in God is our ultimate security and should not be second to any earthly competition.

A right question in this situation, though, is, “How do we trust God?” in a democracy where we have the freedom not only to vote but to use our votes and political involvement to be “salt and light” in the world. Do we trust God by dismissing our responsibilities as citizens and not voting because there isn’t a perfect candidate? Do we trust God by avoiding biblical issues of justice? Or, do we trust God to give us spiritual discernment to make political choices that would best reflect Christian values and most benefit the common good?

Election Fears

It is commonplace to say that this election is a great inflection point in American history. In a highly polarized electorate, it is also true that Christians are right at that inflection point of influencing which way the country goes. Many evangelicals lean toward reelecting a deeply flawed president in order to maintain their cultural influence on issues like abortion, human sexuality, and religious freedom. Their fear of losing power is greater than their fear of compromising their moral convictions.

Many other Christians lean toward choosing Biden as a compassionate leader who seeks to bring people together. They see him as someone who cares deeply about biblical issues like immigration, racial and economic justice, and environmental stewardship. They are willing to take the risk that the number of abortions and matters of religious liberty would not change much, if at all, with a change of administrations.

In the next eight weeks before the election, it is vitally important that Christians wrestle with these competing convictions in a thoughtful and humble way. Someone who does this well is Ron Sider, who is a pro-life theological conservative. Ron recently posted “Why I Will Vote for Joe Biden,” which sets a high bar for careful reasoning and spiritual discernment that is worth reading and considering. You can read his post here.

But how does thoughtful reasoning like Sider’s help us deal with our fears for our country? It doesn’t take away the reasons for our fears but it does provide careful and knowledgeable insights into the issues we are facing. We often are more afraid of what we don’t know than what we do. We like doctors to give us an accurate diagnosis. We want to know the risks associated with certain occupations or travel decisions. Naming our fears helps us cope with them and Sider helps us to articulate the issues at stake. I highly encourage you to read his words as you wrestle with your own fears and decisions for the upcoming election.

An Antidote to Fear

Finally, I want to point to the words of the Apostle John, who says that “perfect love casts out fear” (see 1 John 4:18). Unfortunately, a biblical love that is “patient and kind, not boastful and not proud, that doesn’t dishonor others or is self-seeking, or easily angered…but rejoices with the truth” (see 1 Corinthians 13) is a rare commodity in contemporary political discussions. Anger, deceit, and ridicule are more often the weapons of political debate.

However, if we as Christians would speak and vote out of love for others rather than out of fear of others or fear of losing what we consider to be power, we would be a winsome witness to a very fearful nation and world. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “Because we love something else more than this world, we love even this world better than those who know no other.”

In my previous blogs, I wrote about two predispositions for wise decision-making. One was the virtue of feeling conflicted about the complexities of an issue so we can arrive at a meaningful conclusion. Right now, for example, parents and schools across the country face tremendous complexities about how to handle the upcoming academic year. If we don’t feel conflicted about the best way to manage the medical, mental, and social health of our children and teachers, we probably are not fully understanding the issues at stake.

The other predisposition for decision-making was the courage it takes to be moderate in our relationships with others. We may have strong convictions about certain issues but that does not justify a demonization or rejection of those who disagree with us. The fruit of the Spirit includes attributes such as gentleness, patience, and peacefulness, not argumentation or ridicule of others.

But even if we desire to approach difficult political choices with thoughtfulness and kindness, how do we discern what may or may not be right for any given situation or issue? Can we practice godly discernment that transcends political parties, personalities, and talking points?

I find it helpful to go back nearly three hundred years to a comprehensive framework for discernment developed by the English theologian John Wesley. It came to be known as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral because Wesley taught that there were four inter-connected principles for spiritual discernment. Although Wesley was applying his principles mainly to church and individual matters, I think that they are helpful for political decision-making as well.


The first and foundational principle for discernment is the teaching of the Bible for moral clarity and direction. Wesley believed that understanding the Bible in its context and straightforward meaning was essential for discerning God’s truth. He strongly affirmed that “all Scripture is useful for teaching…and for training in righteousness” (see 2 Timothy 3:16).

When I was a staff member among college students with InterVarsity, I used to meet regularly with a student leader who always had a list of questions to discuss, each one beginning with, “What does the Bible say about…?”

That kind of reflexive submission to the authority of Scripture is what I think Wesley had in mind. The Bible’s commandments against sins such as lying, stealing, and adultery set boundaries for how we are to live. The positive commands of Scripture, such as loving others by caring for the poor and for foreigners, are also all directives for us to follow. So, when we start discussing controversial issues like immigration or racial justice or leadership character, we should first of all ask that student’s question: “What does the bible say about…?”


But not all political issues can be solved by a direct application of Bible verses. For example, the Bible doesn’t talk about the size of government or capitalism or even abortion. We need additional help. Wesley’s second principle is that we need to listen to the traditional teachings of the church. He agreed with the Apostle Peter that we cannot depend on our own private interpretations of Scripture (see 2 Peter 1:20, 21).

Wesley was primarily referring to the tradition of the early church councils. But I think that the value of learning from the broader counsel of other Christian communities is a wise extension of Wesley’s principle. For instance, Protestants can learn much from the valuable teaching on social and political engagement developed by Catholics. White Christians can learn about racial justice issues from people of color. Listening to the broader Christian community helps us constantly add to the wisdom of our traditions.


Wesley’s third principle of discernment is that of reason, which is one of the great gifts of being created in the image of God. Reason provides illumination and, in the words of Wesley, “It is the candle of the Lord.”

As we apply reason in the political realm, we draw conclusions from available facts and allow those conclusions to shape our opinions and actions. Currently, for instance, we can learn from numerous scientific studies that wearing a mask does hinder the spread of COVID 19. Our reasonable interpretation of those facts, more than our political affiliation, should guide our mask-wearing behavior.  

But spiritual reason goes beyond facts. Our rational processes grow into wisdom when they integrate a moral consciousness. Our choice to wear masks may be based on the advice of experts, but it is also an expression of the biblical command to love others. In other words, we bring together facts and our rational processes into a spiritual submission to God’s purposes. Reason then becomes a practical expression of loving God and neighbor with one’s mind.


The fourth principle, that was unique to Wesley at the time, is listening to our spiritual experiences. Wesley believed that God speaks not only through Scripture, church tradition, and our reason, but also through our personal experiences with God. He referred to an “objective internal knowing” guided by the promptings and filling of the Holy Spirit.

The early Church practiced this when they made a spiritual and political decision regarding what requirements should be placed on Gentile converts for them to be fully included with the Jews as the people of God. After lengthy debate over Scripture and tradition, they came to an agreement on community requirements, saying, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15:28).

The British politician William Wilberforce is another good example of spiritual discernment in the political realm. Wilberforce devoted decades of his political life to ending the slave trade. His passion to do this came not only from his biblical convictions about human dignity but from God guiding his experience to witness how cruel the bondage of slavery really was. His friend, former slave trader John Newton, also had a divine transforming experience, equipping him to write that remarkable hymn, “Amazing Grace.”


In Wesley’s Quadrilateral, he suggests that we need to study and apply the Scriptures as foundational to all matters of discernment. We also need to listen to the historical (and contemporary) community of believers and apply our minds and experiences as led by the Spirit to properly discern what is right in any given situation.