One of the most frustrating things about American politics is the connection between conservative evangelicalism and the Republican party. What began with the fight against legalized abortion expanded to gay rights, gun control, immigration reform and eventually fiscal policy. To be considered an upstanding Christian you needed to toe the party line on these and a host of ever emerging issues. Nuanced discussions with room for dissenting opinions were smothered by the bullhorn of Republican politicians who loved God and hated abortion, taxes, limits on automatic weapons and citizenship for “illegal aliens”.
And then came Donald Trump. Trump, love him or hate him, he has changed the political conversation in America. It is impossible to label Trump a conservative evangelical. He brags of multiple sexual conquests, belittles anyone he considers an enemy, says that he’s never asked for forgiveness and eschews any hint of humility. Trumps eternal destiny is between he and God; his non-adherence to traditional conservative religious values is obvious to anyone who looks.
Trump also strays from the norms of mainstream Republicanism. He praises the work of Planned Parenthood, he derides free trade and he has only been a registered Republican for four years. He has even supported Democrats, including Hilary Clinton, in previous elections. Republican leaders embrace him only as the presumptive nominee, very few see him as embodying traditional Republican values. Trump is many things, but he is not your momma’s Republican.
What Donald Trump provides is a chance for Evangelicals to finally distance themselves from both parties. Rather than riding along on whatever bandwagon Republican leaders put together, we can think hard about how our understanding of scripture informs our beliefs on caring for the poor, protecting the innocent and welcoming the marginalized. We can choose to compromise some values and vote Democratic, compromise other values and vote Republican or opt for another course based on our deeply felt beliefs. This year there is no obvious choice for conservative Christians.
Hopefully, freed from the yoke of right wing politics, we can return to proclaiming the Gospel and sincerely voting our conscience. While we may disagree vehemently what that vote should be, I think we can agree neither party is a perfect fit for a conservative Christian. For that, Mr Trump, I am thankful.