Theologian Wayne Grudem’s recent article entitled, “Why Voting for Trump is a Morally Good Choice,” has sparked a firestorm of controversy. He has touched a nerve, particularly along a fault line within the Evangelical world. Grudem asserts there is a moral high ground for the Evangelical to choose Donald Trump for President. Apparently that “high ground” is actually to choose the lesser of two evils. Trouble is, Grudem’s expertise as a theologian has led him to the slippery hubris of believing he is now also an expert in politics. Jonathan Merritt, Religion News (July 3, 2016) cries foul in his op ed piece, Wayne Grudem, Donald Trump, and admitting when you’re not an expert. My aim in this response is to appeal to voters in the United States, especially Millennials, to put the current political mess into context, to see the proverbial forest through the trees.
Matt Emerson questions Grudem’s support for Trump with his article #NeverTrump – Responding to Wayne Grudem (JULY 30, 2016). Emerson concedes that Grudem and any Evangelical has the right to choose which candidate and which moral high ground they wish to stand on when voting. However, Emerson then contradicts his own advice and becomes an expert at character assessment. He argues that Trump’s character is worse than Hillary’s, and he chastises Evangelicals who questioned Bill Clinton’s moral authority to lead: “If ‘character matters’ applied to Bill Clinton, then surely it applies to Donald Trump.”
Careful Matt, President Clinton’s impeachment wasn’t about character; it was about lying under oath and the rule of law. We must be careful, especially in this “dumpster fire” of a campaign season, not to conflate personal or religious views with legal and political views.
Amy Gannett’s personal blog post, Why Evangelicals are Losing an Entire Generation, has me more concerned than the others. I’m glad this younger Evangelical has added something to this discussion. I too am an Evangelical. I also hold to Evangelical theology. And I have attended two Evangelical schools, including Fuller Theological Seminary where I received an MA in Global Leadership. However I must admit I do not know Grudem. I do know that Grudem supports a conservative complementarian view, which I oppose because it precludes women from specific functions of ministry within the Church. For that issue alone, I will not be in any hurry to read his work. But rather than get into that doctrinal quagmire, I hope to appeal to my Millennial friends who follow Christ to gain some perspective by listening to those of us from an older generation.
Gannett comes from the perspective of the Millennial generation, those born 1990 and beyond. I have high hopes for Millennials. The Millennials are the generation that, according to Strauss and Howe’s Generational Theory, Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069, are “smart, organized, and preparing to do their duty.” And it’s true that many are stepping up to make a difference.
This generational cycle is a “Crisis era,” in which the War on Terror is our generation’s secular crisis which tends to influence Millennials to emphasize community, the over-protective nurture of children, and less risk-taking. But the crisis the Millennials are facing is not like the crises of previous generations. Many Millennials are responding or preparing to respond to crises by establishing institutions to protect and preserve the next generation. They are a generation that concerns itself with the “common good.” For example, Millennials respond to calls from Bono to help in the global HIV/AIDS crisis, however a significant portion have yet to get involved beyond clicking “Like” on a social campaign.
Granted, Millennials are a mixed group. Some have always had internet devices, while the earlier group did not. That said, Millennials have all had access to instant information when they sought it, access no other generation has had the privilege to enjoy. However access to information does not make a person an authority on a subject. In fact, that instantaneous access gives a person a false impression of “knowing.”
While Gannett’s post was thoughtful, she has exposed a tendency I have witnessed among Millennials. Not all, but many Millennials present themselves very confidently, as if they “know” better than those who came before them. Confidence is good, except when it leads a person to make judgments that betrays their ignorance. Gannett admits to a limited perspective, but then she oversteps with her summation of the years before Millennials came of age. She writes, “We haven’t known the days of peace and tranquility that older generations reminisce about and desire to return to.”
Gannett has bought the narrative of the New Democratic Party, on several points.
I’m glad Gannett is concerned about traditional moral concerns of Evangelicals. But she argues that Millennials are concerned about more than the rights of the unborn, that concern for life should be demonstrated in every sector. Agreed. Gannett apparently writes on behalf of all Millennials with her concern that Evangelicals may be losing that entire voter block that missed out on the “days of peace and tranquility.”
However she argues against Grudem’s moral hierarchy. Then she declared her own moral hierarchy and that of her generation. This is a problem that needs further discussion. There may be different hierarchies of moralisms, however moralisms in our democratic republic are inherently political. And there are primary moral issues that reasonably become moral imperatives for the Evangelical community.
Moralisms in the public square are inherently based on an ambiguous moral value that emerges from a changing social consensus. Some argue that their moralism is more important than another’s. But who decides which social justice concern is more important than another? And how is that justice imposed? That is by definition politics, and political discourse.
Please don’t misunderstand me. As an Evangelical, I’m not against concerns of social justice, racism, human trafficking, or legal immigration. However, I believe it is better for the Evangelical community to emphasize concern for the justice due the Lord, which is more apt to produce justice for all, and not a particular group. Moral imperatives are best presented to a moral community.
Best to acknowledge that the sphere of governance is different than the sphere of church or religion. Best to stay in your lane when referring to religious or political issues. Best for the political discourse to follow the second amendment of the Constitution, which states that:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Gannett seems to have accepted the left wing talking points. She has mischaracterized Evangelicals and the generation that preceded the Millennials. Evangelicals are not monolithic and they are certainly not the robust political group they were in the ‘80s. Gannett writes, “These are the days in which we have grown up. We haven’t known the days of peace and tranquility that older generations reminisce about and desire to return to.” As one of those from the “older generations,” I can’t say I desire to return to those days.
During the Carter years, Soviet aggression advanced into four sovereign states, including Mozambique, Angola, Nicaragua, and Afghanistan. Nobody was very optimistic about a job or making a living. In other worlds, life before 1990 was not easier.
Gannett’s litany of “benefits” of the era before the Millennial generation is way off. Liberals have equated the traditionalist view with the modern conservative platform. Simply untrue. Not at any time during my 58 years have I heard the meme that “Women were in the home raising the children without complaint”, unless it was as an Archie Bunker punch line on the ’70’s sitcom All in the Family.
I am a late member of the Boomer generation. As a grade school student in southern California, we had fire drills and nuclear attack drills. Like others in the “older generations,” I witnessed Reagan’s long road to the Presidency, from his early involvement in the ‘60s to his eventual nomination in 1980. I was not a Christian, nor an Evangelical, until after I graduated from college, and after Reagan became our 40th President. It was then that I gave my life to Christ, but I still had no idea what an “Evangelical” was. And I have never signed a card or taken a pledge to be an “Evangelical.”
Unlike Millennials, my generation faced double digit inflation and interest rates. Prime reached 21%. I got an economics minor, and I witnessed Reagan’s GOP opponent in the primary and eventual running mate, George H.W. Bush, label his plan so dangerous it was “Voodoo Economics.”
Reagan was considered even more dangerous to our national security. He called out the Soviet Union as an “Evil Empire,” setting on edge the entire “Give Peace a Chance” movement, which includes most of the modern Democratic Party today.
Millennials really don’t know all that they think they know. Life after 1990 had some of the fastest economic growth in modern history. We have lived in relative peace, with the vast portion of the population enjoying rapid advances in technology with increasing access to conveniences, comforts, and entertainment. Despite the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, for the most part, only military families have made any real sacrifices.
No, there were no “good old days”. Despite Trump’s “Make America great again” campaign slogan, Evangelicals and “older generations” do not look back at the days prior to 1990 with longing. We do not wish to keep women barefoot and pregnant. Ms. Gannett admits, “our generation doesn’t quite know what that [make America great again] means.” She muses about how Millennials “look back” and “see how far our society has come.” Yes, we have come a long way baby. How do people think progress has happened?
Progress, not progressivism, has been the result of multiple generations of Evangelical leaders making a difference with Religious Freedom, Abolition, Women’s Suffrage, and Civil Rights.
Millennials have had extraordinary advantages over previous generations. It’s true they have been exposed to greater diversity and international travel. However, just like digital access, physical access to people and places does not make a person an expert. I’m not an expert on diversity, even after 30 years of working with friends and colleagues from over 50 countries. I am an American who celebrates diversity and my family has hosted internationals including Saudi Arabian students in my home.
I am grateful for the rights, freedoms, and protections afforded as an American. However, I understand those freedoms and rights do not come from our Constitution; they come from God. It was primarily Evangelicals who framed the Constitution. Virtually all the Amendments to the Constitution have been an outworking of the genius and the foundational values of that original document. Sadly, I have observed the forgetfulness of modern Evangelicals from all generations. Boomers should not be exalting the United States as some kind of replacement of Israel. And Millennials should not forget the Evangelical foundations that continue to endure in this nation. However, rejecting nationalism, especially when conflated with religion, is not wrong.
When Gannett complains that “Evangelical leaders are going to lose an entire generation of Christians,” she may be making an honest appeal for “older generations” to “win us back.” I don’t reject the challenge Gannett has made to decry the “evils that…are supported by Trump.” However, I make a similar challenge to Gannett and her Millennial generation: Learn what this nation represents to the world. Recognize that making America great again is not an appeal to some by-gone days. Instead, it is an appeal to the values, the vision, and the veracity of the Evangelical message. Rather than present yourself as an expert and calling on everyone else to win your entire generation back, humble yourself and join the work that has been going on for centuries before you.