Commentary: Evangelicals and the Republican Reformation

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Let’s set aside political positions for a moment and step back to look at an analogy being played out during the 2016 presidential campaign.

eric black150Eric BlackAs I’ve watched the race the last couple of weeks, I’ve been amazed at two things: Donald Trump’s popularity and the Republican reaction. During the post-Super Tuesday news frenzy, I overheard a conversation regarding the difference between Republican and Democratic voters in this election cycle.

According to this conversation, many Republicans, and especially the “Republican establishment,” are scrambling to find a way to defeat Donald Trump. Democrats, on the other hand and in the words of one commentator, will be happy to vote for whoever is the Democratic nominee in November. The contrast couldn’t be more stark.

Splintering party

We are watching a dominant political party splinter, with each faction blasting the others as either American heretics or betrayers of Republican ideals. In the splintering, I see an echo of the 500-year-old Protestant Reformation.

One result of the Protestant Reformation was an explosion in Christian denominations (positively spun) or factions (negatively spun). As if the splintering of Christianity writ large were not tragic enough, once set in motion, the splintering continues. Brother betrays brother, and fathers and sons turn against one another (Matthew 10:21, Luke 12:53). We have seen this “out there” among Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans and Episcopalians, and we have seen it close to home in the Southern Baptist Convention and even closer among Texas Baptists.

Now we see a new reformation, a Republican Reformation.

The Republican establishment is apoplectic about Trump, a bombastic and self-proclaimed Messiah figure. The Republican establishment does not want a newly and self-titled Republican in the White House in the form of Donald Trump, nor does it want a Democrat in the form of Hillary Clinton. What is a left is the fracturing of a once-united political party, a reality sending chills up and down the collective spines of Republicans.

On the Democratic side, however, all seems well. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders periodically spar in good-natured debates. The larger Democratic party is not in disarray, and at least one news commentator describes the Democratic base as perfectly happy to vote for either candidate in November.

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Stark contrast

No, the contrast between the parties could not be more stark, and the comparison between the current state of the Republican party and the long history of evangelicalism could not be more chilling.

It seems Republicans, ever cozy with evangelicals, have learned from recent evangelical history, displaying discord for all the world to see. Although many evangelicals currently disavow Democratic candidates and politicians, might they learn something from Democrats’ cohesion? Although evangelicals taught Republicans how to break apart, might evangelicals learn something life-giving from the infighting and bickering, the factionalism and fear seen among those same Republicans?

If so, evangelicals may once again come to know what they don’t want to be like, what they don’t want to display for all the world to see, and instead learn how to come together again in and under the one name of Jesus Christ.

Eric Black is pastor of First Baptist Church in Covington, Texas.

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