Just before Christmas in 2019, Mark Galli, the chief editor of Christianity Today, the mainstream Evangelical magazine Billy Graham founded, published a scorching editorial piece decrying Trump’s immoral character and calling for his removal from office. While tempted to give my commentary on the actual article, I’m more interested in exploring why so many Christians are caught up in the goings-on at Caesar’s palace the very week our heart and minds should be making their way toward Bethlehem’s manger.
Shortly after the article was published, the Christianity Today website actually “crashed” because of all the traffic coming to read a critique of a human president of a temporary nation-state. On the evening of the release of the latest Star Wars movie, Christianity Today surpassed Star Wars on Twitter as the #1 trending topic. Again, as Trump realized in 2016, the Evangelical population is a very formidable demographic—large enough to get him elected then and large enough to crash websites and top Twitter when he is challenged by an Evangelical critic.
Now, I am one of many Evangelical Christian leaders weary of my Evangelical brothers and sisters who blindly accept the clunky red and blue boxes that American politics has chosen to lump all people into. I have a perspective that doesn’t get much air time and I hope it makes people think about things from a different perspective. You won’t hear this on CNN or FOX. And I’m not a Democrat or Republican. I’m an ambassador of a “Kingdom not of this world” (John 18:36).
For Christians, the world isn’t divided into liberal and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans. It’s divided into those who pledge allegiance and align their lives with Jesus’ teachings, his character and politics, and those who do not. It’s divided into people who pursue integrity and godly character, and those who don’t because the political ends apparently justify the means. It’s divided into Christians who believe Jesus’ message only pertains to personal salvation and the afterlife, and Christians (like me) who believe Jesus’ left his church with the job of establishing local beachheads of His Kingdom here and now “on earth as it is in Heaven.” Yes, Jesus has a ton to say about politics, social issues, the poor, worldly power, justice, etc.—though he won’t be squeezed into either right or left box. So why should his followers fit into these boxes?
There’s a massive, silent tribe of Evangelical moderates and centrists who are distancing themselves from both the political left and the political right in this country. They don’t agree with the liberal agenda, yet they abhor Trump’s conduct and think many conservative Evangelicals have traded Jesus’ Kingdom values and politics for a version of American conservatism. This is Franklin Graham and friends. Blindly accepting a “liberals vs. conservatives” worldview, he assumes anyone who critiques the President must therefore be a liberal. This is plain ignorance and stupidity. When the magazine his father started published this piece, his narrow view of reality led him to conclude Christianity Today has now gone over to the liberals! Let me speak for so many moderate Evangelical independents out there and say: Just because some think Trump’s character and behavior is beneath the dignity of the office of the President of the United States, and he’s unfit for office, does not mean they are on the political left. It means they still hold to the moral standards and traditional ethics that conservatives used to be known for — as recently as 1998 when Evangelicals raged over Clinton’s immorality.
For Christians, it’s dangerous to get too caught up in an “America first” platform when our baptism and confession of faith bestows on us a new transnational citizenship made up of believers from every nation, and an obligation to seek Jesus’ Kingdom and international priorities first — yes, even above American self-interest. Christianity 101 should teach we’re no longer patriots of any earthly nation, but “our citizenship is in Heaven” (Phil 3:20). Christians trained up in His Kingdom will bristle at any self-interested agenda, because we serve a King who calls us to “deny ourselves” (Matt 16:24) and “consider others more important than ourselves” (Phil 2:3). Following Jesus requires we put “the other” first, not ourselves. Following Jesus, for example, requires us to “welcome the foreigner” with threat of eternal perdition for not doing so (see Matt 25:31-46). (See my piece on immigration.) And on and on.
Mainly, I’m just disturbed why Christianity Today’s website has never crashed before, despite publishing articles daily on the beauty of the Kingdom we are called to advance and the politics and values of the King we are called to serve and represent. Yet, one article focused on a one unsavory human king whose life is but a vapor and whose kingdom shall someday pass away drew millions of Christian eyes and stirred up intense emotion. I would give anything to see Christ’s base of supporters as committed and emotionally invested in furthering his platform (e.g., Sermon on the Mount) as either the American Right or Left.
So, let me close by reminding us all of the intensely political nature of the Christmas story. Nearly 2,000 years ago all eyes were on the political intrigues of Caesar in the capital city of Rome. If Caesar had a Twitter account, he would have had as many followers as Trump. The Christmas story begins not with angels but a census to determine how many men could serve in Caesar’s military. As the super-power of the day, Rome had a wildly successful propaganda campaign known by the slogan Pax Romana, which boasted that Caesar and Rome were the hope of the world and bringers of justice and peace. Caesar had coins minted with his image and the words, “Son of God” and “Savior.” No joke.
But now listen to how Luke tells the story. He starts with a brief nod to the political happenings on Capitol Hill in Rome, but quickly shifts the camera to where the real world-changing action is about to take place: some shepherds in a field outside a lowly village of Bethlehem.
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world… [Meanwhile] there were shepherds living out in the fields [near Bethlehem], keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the True Caesar. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2 My paraphrase)
Likewise, this week in America most eyes will be glued to CNN or FOX, watching and debating the fate of another earthly Caesar. Moving into another election year, many will be duped into thinking the hopes of the world somehow are wrapped up in the political maneuverings of today’s great earthly super-power. People will continue taking sides and dividing up the population into liberals and conservatives, Pro-Trumpers and anti-Trumpers, so-called Patriots and so-called anti-American socialists, etc. Tragically, many Christians will also get caught up in the affairs of this earthly kingdom and spend far less time pursuing, propagating and representing the beauty of Jesus’ upside-down Kingdom that will have no end.
I’m challenging all who will listen to stop crashing websites over Trump, and crash the manger instead. Let’s stop letting FOX or CNN be our daily devotional reading and discipleship hub, and start reading the Gospels instead. Let’s pray for the day when “#Jesus is Lord” is the number one trending topic on Twitter. Christian, as you worship this Christmas Eve remember which King and Kingdom you serve.