The Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Northern Ireland...
As America goes to the polls, Sam Hailes pens a letter to fellow evangelicals on the other side of the pond
I love your country. And I am praying for you today.
Having visited Christians all over your country and experienced incredible hospitality and generosity from them, it irks me when those in the UK Church mock “those crazy American evangelicals”. It’s true that UK and US evangelicals outwork their shared theology differently when it comes to politics but the Christians here who sneer at US evangelical culture have obviously never sat down and had a conversation with the people they speak of. If they were to do this, they’d discover people who truly love God and love people. Your example in this regard has often been deeply challenging to me, and caused me to want to live a more God-honouring life.
So much has already been written about this most unusual of elections. The time for arguing over candidates is over. Today, you vote. And in doing so, you can finally wave goodbye to an election cycle that has dragged on for months and often produced far more heat than light.
My hope is the following thoughts, written by a fellow evangelical on this, the other side of the pond, will be helpful and encouraging as you elect a new leader:
1. I'm not telling you who to vote for
You’ve had enough of that already! Besides, I don't remember US evangelicals lecturing us in the UK on how to vote in our EU referendum. And they certainly don't interfere in our general elections. It seems only fair that I return the favour.
2. God is in control...but you knew that already
In tension-filled times like these, some seek to roll out the "don't worry, God is in control" line. I wholeheartedly agree with this truth. But the sentiment behind these words fails to communicate the full story. If you're upset with the outcome of today’s election, that's OK. You aren't necessarily lacking in faith, you're just disappointed the man or woman you thought was best for the job didn't get elected. Don't let others use the “God is in control” phrase as a stick to beat you with when you express sadness at the outcome. You’re allowed to feel disappointed.
3. Good Christians can (and will) disagree on the best person to run the country
In order to maintain any kind of Christian unity following today, it is vital to admit (even if it’s hard to do so) that God-fearing Christians are voting in all directions. It's long been taken for granted in the UK that good Christians will vote for different parties. And it's helped us all stay sane and avoid shouting matches. You might find it hard to believe a real Christian could vote Hillary. But the fact is, some of them are. And the same is true of Christian Trump voters.
4. Third party is a legitimate option
As Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 4:12 “do not let anyone look down on you because you voted third party”. OK, so perhaps he didn't quite say that, but the point stands. Don't let anyone tell you a third party vote is a waste. God wants you to vote your conscience. And if that means voting third party because you can’t bring yourself to support either of the major two candidates, then so be it.
5. Christians must be free to vote. And to not vote.
You can believe in the importance of political engagement while also acknowledging the choice this year is so bad you have to sit it out. In other words, there's an exception that proves the rule. Refraining from voting should not be the norm. But this election is a very long way from normal. As long as you don't sit at home out of sheer laziness, not voting is a legitimate position this year. That said, you may wish to consider spoiling your ballot paper rather than just not turning up at the polling station. It's more fun that way. Scribbling all over a piece of paper helps get that pent up frustration out of your system. Trust me, I’ve done it!
6. We struggle to understand why you’d vote Trump, but we still love you
So you've opted for the Donald? Honestly, there aren't any major UK Evangelical leaders (to my knowledge) who think he’s the best option for your country. But it’s not our decision, it’s yours. And while I might personally disagree with voting for him, I'm not going to question your faith or write you off as unchristian. I understand this is a difficult decision for many of you and involves complexities such as the Supreme Court rather than Trump's personal morality or character. UK Christians need to stop making inflammatory statements such as "If you vote for Trump you’re not a Christian". We may not like it, but some Christians are voting for Trump. And last I checked, they still believe Jesus died on the cross for their sins.
7. Now might be a good time to rethink the evangelical label
There comes a time when words take on new meanings and need to be replaced or altered. Has the word ‘evangelical’ become so politicised it no longer means someone who believes in the authority of scripture but someone who always votes Republican? If so, it might be time to find a new word.
8. Well done on taking politics so seriously
In the UK it can be a struggle to engage evangelicals in the political world. We’re often far too cynical and think politics is a dirty game that Christians should avoid. The culture in the USA is arguably much healthier in this regard. You understand that it really matters who's leading the country. You want Christians to get involved in politics and governments. And you believe Christians shouldn’t duck away from a political process – even a messy one. We have a lot to learn from you.
9. See you on the other side
Tomorrow will arrive. So will the next day. As will the next day. Life will go on. Whoever ends up in the White House the chances are your day to day life – your family, your job, your church etc. – will not dramatically change. It’s going to be OK. There will be other elections and other debates. For now, hold and take a deep breath. The end of this cycle is in sight.
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