During the campaign, Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, was one Christian conservative who stood up for actual religious values (humility, kindness, honesty, tolerance, etc.) and regularly denounced Donald Trump. Like many voters at the end of a grueling campaign, he believes that “no matter what our differences politically or religiously, surely we can all agree that this campaign has been demoralizing and even traumatizing for most of the country.”
Moore is a man without a political party for now. “The sort of conservatism that many of us had hoped for — a multiethnic, constitutionally-anchored, forward-looking conservatism — has been replaced in the Republican Party by something else,” he writes. “On the one hand, there’s a European-style ethno-nationalist populism, opposed by an increasingly leftward progressive movement within the Democratic Party. In both of these movements, moral concerns — certainly personal character and family stability questions — are marginalized.”
An entirely secularized, materialistic narcissist will be in the White House for four years, so Moore’s encouragement of prayer is compelling. He also wants evangelicals to “promote the common good and to resist injustice. … We can pray and honor our leaders, work with them when we can, while preparing to oppose them when needed. We do not need the influence that comes from being a political bloc.”
There is no shortage of good causes to support or injustices to right, but there are two, we would suggest, in which evangelicals can play a critical moral role. Having supported Trump in huge numbers, they can now use their influence for good.
That means private philanthropy and public advocacy on behalf of the weakest — the poor, the addicted, the mentally ill. At a time the political class is pronouncing radical and mean-spirited messages, evangelicals have to be the voice of restraint. We are not going to round up 11 million to 12 million people and break up families. We are not going to scapegoat an entire religion based upon the beliefs of radical jihadists. We are not going to accentuate the gap between rich and poor. That’s the message evangelicals can carry — for the good of their brothers and sisters and also for the sake of repairing their image. Do they crave power and influence, or do they aspire to something else?
In one policy realm in particular, evangelicals can provide a counterweight to the angry voice of the mob, the nativists who want to recede from the world and leave violent, poor and unstable regions to their own devices. That sure doesn’t sound like the way to affirm that all lives have meaning, that all of us are created in God’s image. In short, evangelicals can implore us to look beyond our shores to support global development at a time when political sentiment tells us to abandon it.
Conservative groups such as the Consensus for Development Reform understand that “America is a force for good in the world and that our development policy is most successful when it projects our core American values of economic opportunity, accountable government, and respect for democracy and human dignity.” CDR and others argue that “reformed, more innovative, and more accountable foreign assistance will yield better results for those we help and will more faithfully serve U.S. national and economic interests.” At a time when xenophobia and rampant nationalism have captured attention, there must be voices for constructive internationalism, humanitarian assistance and human rights:
Bringing our nation’s generosity, know-how, and compassion to bear on global humanitarian challenges has been a defining aspect of America’s global leadership for seventy years. The United States must continue to lead the global fight against poverty and disease, and to bring hope and opportunity to those in greatest need. Republicans built a legacy of leadership on foreign assistance during President George W. Bush’s Administration through the creation of bold and innovative programs such as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). Maintaining and building on this legacy is essential for our continued global leadership.
Too often this election seemed like scream therapy for the beleaguered white middle- and lower-class Americans convinced that they were helpless victims. That’s how many rationalized their support for a demagogue and authoritarian huckster. (Blow it up! Tear it down! We’ve been betrayed!) However, people of faith generally understand that their highest obligation is to the neediest and the weakest in the United States and around the globe. If evangelical leaders want to show they really are values voters, they must demonstrate it through public advocacy and private service to others. They must stop buying into grievance-mongering, resentment and tribal identity and refuse to stand idly by when the political class abandons or wreaks havoc on the lives of the most vulnerable.