Hagar Moment

July 26, 2016

Election 2016: Evangelicals Face a “Hagar Moment”

The 2016 presidential elections present a “Hagar Moment” for white self-identified Evangelicals. By that I mean we face a similar conundrum faced by Abraham, who undermined God’s will because he lacked faith that God would provide for him in a challenging situation. Similarly, Evangelicals risk sacrificing their Christian witness by taking matters in their own hands for political expediency.

Pew Research Center released a poll on July 13 that showed white Evangelicals currently support Republican candidate Donald Trump even more strongly than they did Mitt Romney in 2012. Whether the candidate openly embraces misogyny and racism or Christian ethics fails to matter. If anything, making this tradeoff seems to increase popularity with Evangelicals.

Trump support among white evangelical voters on par with Romney in 2012; Clinton support among religious 'nones' on par with Obama

Yes, it’s true that electing a liberal like Hillary Clinton may have consequences for America in the future. It could mean a more liberal U.S. Supreme Court and the White House promoting liberal policies for another four years. But as people of faith, Evangelicals know that God can redeem even the most dire situation.

Christians must be careful not make an idol out of winning at politics. It is better to lose an election than to destroy the credibility of our social witness, especially when it is not clear the candidate Evangelicals seem to be backing is either more competent or “Christian” than the alternative.

Moreover, turning Donald Trump, or any candidate, into a political savior demonstrates a lack of faith in God to work His will in history for the good of His people. Whatever happens in the next four years, America will survive. Christianity and the Church will outlast the next American president. There are no easy answers, except that followers of Christ must maintain their faith in God to accomplish His purposes.

The 2016 presidential election hearkens back to a dilemma confronting the biblical patriarch Abraham. God promised to provide Abraham an heir. Yet faced with years of infertility, Israel’s forefather took matters into his own hands. He had a son named Ishmael through his wife’s servant Hagar in an effort to expedite God’s plan (see Genesis 16). The Lord eventually delivered on His promise by providing Isaac in His own time. But Abraham’s ill-advised decision created all kinds of problems, since the Ishmaelites and Israelites endured centuries of strife.

During the 2016 presidential election, Evangelicals, white Evangelicals in particular, face their own “Hagar Moment” similar to Abraham. It remains hard to see how God will work His ways in the future, and we experience temptation to accept a bad option instead of an ostensibly terrible one. But history proves that God provides.

Also, remember the absurdity of attempting to discern the future through the murky tides of politics. It usually proves impossible to tell how the American cultural and political landscape will shift in the coming years and decades.

For example, who could have envisioned at the time of Roe v. Wade the current rising pro-life tide in the United States, particularly among American youth? Persistently endeavoring to change the culture through prayer and advocacy has worked.

Thankfully, we can rely on God for the cultural and political future of America. Our job as Christians is to pray fervently and evangelize zealously. Christian organizations can redouble their advocacy efforts. In other words, we must keep the main thing the main thing, and do what we do best.

This election is a “Hagar Moment” for Evangelicals. Let’s not take the easy way out or compromise our social witness. Doing so will only produce bigger problems in the future. Instead, we need to have faith that God will provide while continuing serve Him faithfully.

16 Responses to Election 2016: Evangelicals Face a “Hagar Moment”

  1. Peter Schellhase says:

    Great article, Joe!

  2. Kent Dougall ﻦ says:

    What exactly are you suggesting we do? Stay home out of protest? Vote for Clinton? What good does that serve? Politics in this country are always about choosing the less flawed candidate, so you could draw this (very tenuous) parallel to any election.

    I don’t have any faith in Trump. He’s just a slightly different kind of snake oil salesman. At least with him, there is a chance he moderates his stances for political expediency. Elect Hillary and we will continue down the road that we’ve been on the last 8 years. The road that brought us gay marriage, self determined bathroom access, and government mandated abortion coverage by private organizations.

    Is God somehow more likely to change Hillary’s heart than Trump’s?

  3. Tom says:

    Trump is the most likely to allow us to worship our God unfettered.

  4. Phil Griffin says:

    Maybe it’s best that IRD refrain from taking sides in the political race. “It is better to lose an election than to destroy the credibility of our social witness, especially when it is not clear the candidate Evangelicals seem to be backing is either more competent or “Christian” than the alternative.” Clearly a #nevertrump endorsement by Mr Rossell. There are many issues and pro/cons of each candidate. The more “Christian” candidate is yes, unclear. Is it more Christian to be pro choice or pro life? Pro business (create jobs) or pro regulation? Which candidate is more trustworthy? Honest? Whose children are a good reflection of their parent? Who is more honest? Who is more authentic? Has a track record of helping others? Many character issues to consider other than who is “nicer”.

  5. Joan Watson says:

    A while back I heard a quote attributed to Martin Luther; it was along the lines that when it came to leadership it is better to have a smart Turk than a dumb Christian. I have kept my distance from most the rhetoric surrounding this election–but things filtered through. I agreed that the choice seemed impossible–a hardnosed business man vs a screaming liberal Christian. I had read a couple of essays on why Trump was worse than Hilary–one them being Mark Tooley’s–and I so respect his viewpoint on things. Overall , I was trying to convince myself that it would be OK to vote for Hilary Clinton; I had pretty much decided that I would make my decision when I walked into vote. I was paying zero attention to the Republican Convention; I had no clue a candidate for VP had been chosen until, in scrolling through the channels my husband paused at the Pence’s acceptance speech; we looked at each other and both wished he was running for President. Out of curiosity I made sure we heard Trump’s speech the next night. I was not prepared for how much I resonated with most of what he said. At the end of his speech, my husband and I both knew we were going to vote for him. At the top of my list of reasons why is I believe he can lift our collective focus from this social justice minutia we have spiraled down into. I loved the fact that, as one commentator put it, he spoke in hyperboles–can he do everything he said–maybe not but I would sure love to give him a crack at it. I loved that when he walked on stage he quickly changed the chant from Trump, Trump, Trump to USA, USA, USA. He’s not stupid–he is where he is because he is a product of American democracy. In fact he is the type of leader that the American government was designed for; a concerned citizen. I love the fact that the commentators could not put him in a box. I loved the energy he exuded–one commentator said the energy in the room went all the way up to the nosebleed section–something that evidently does not happen often at these conventions. I love the fact that he pointed out the dark side of illegal immigrants. I could go on, but most of all I believe that God can raise up unlikely leaders; so for better or worse I am voting Trump and I hope he whups Hilary Clinton big time. Because of the reasons he said he chose Pence, I believe he is not going to go this alone–he is going to assemble a well qualified team. Several days later I asked a young friend if she had heard Trump’s speech–she got a sheepish look on her face and said “Don’t tell anybody, but I am so voting for that man”. She went on to say that she has heard that the sale of red, white and blue patriotic items has been on the rise since Trump’s emergence as a likely candidate for President and that is not a bad thing–even for Christians. And I agree with Tom’s response: he is the most likely candidate to create an atmosphere in which Christianity can flourish.

  6. Skipper says:

    So, how do you know “America will survive?” From a Christian perspective, it’s in need of Life Support right now! Also, note that a United Israel didn’t survive – God Himself spit it in two because it had turned away. Even the two remaining parts did not survive after they turned away – Israel and Judea. Those who said “Everything will be o.k.” were carried away as slaves.

    We have a responsibility to support the lesser of the two evils. Yes, God is still in control, but would you have us support one who unsettled the Middle East with war, increased racial tension at home, and judges that favor same sex marriage? Waiting on God to change your diaper is not faith. You have to be willing to something on your part.

  7. P Johnston says:

    “Maybe it’s best that IRD refrain from taking sides in the political race.” Certainly better to do that than embarrass yourselves as James Dobson did last week in his endorsement of Donald Trump. He has written “Trump appears to be tender to things of the Spirit.” Really? The guy whose favorite verse is “an eye for an eye”? The guy who demonstrated his desire to take his revenge with a cease and desist order against the man who ghostwrote his “Art of the Deal” book because that writer criticized him? They guy who talked about setting up SuperPACs to defeat Ted Crux and John Kasich in their next election cycles because they didn’t endorse him by name?
    Dobson has written for years about the responsibility for fathers to model for their sons chivalrous treatment of women. How did Trump’s treatment of women reporters and Heidi Cruz demonstrate that?
    For years the “Religious right” excoriated the philandering Bill Clinton, arguing a man who cheated on his wife would cheat on the electorate and could not be trusted to keep his promises to the people. And yet Dobson seems to think admitted adulterer Trump can be trusted? (The usual phrase is “confessed adulterer,” but confession means admitting guilt, and there’s no sign Trump feels at all guilty about it.)
    Trump may claim he’s a good Christian and insinuate we don’t know much about Clinton’s faith, but this is at least disingenuous if not outright false. The pastor and people of Foundry United Methodist Church can testify to the integrity of her faith. Hillary may be a liberal Christian, but she is a faithful and devoted member of that worshiping community. This is not something she’s newly discovered in the heat of a campaign.
    I can understand being scared of Hillary and voting for Trump out of desperation. And it seems clear most of the evangelical support for Trump grows out of that kind of sentiment. And if Cyrus the Persian can be God’s anointed, then certainly Trump can also be God’s instrument. But it’s hard to understand on what basis people say more than that and call choosing Trump a good choice.

  8. Krissie Allen says:

    Couldn’t precisely the same argument be used in supporting Trump? I’m not clear how a Hillary Clinton vote somehow releases the power of God any better. I also think the author misunderstands the rationale of many Christians for supporting Trump. Trump is seen as a lesser threat than Clinton, not a savior by any means. Putting your head in the ground and pretending Clinton is not already absorbed in a culture of death is NOT putting your faith in God. For many of us, the choice between the two candidates is about weighing who seems most likely responsive to the overall good. Seems the author is over generalizing for reasons I do not understand.

    • P Johnston says:

      There is a big difference between supporting Trump as the best of a bad lot and supporting Trump as a well-qualified candidate who is “tender to the things of the Spirit.” Put another way, there’s a big difference between calling Trump a good choice and calling Trump the less bad choice.
      But opinion leaders know “Get out and do something not very bad” is not an effective rallying cry. People like to feel they’re doing something good, so opinion leaders feel the need to try to position Trump as a good choice, as someone who will help Christianity flourish. But that case can’t be made without walking back the principles that led those leaders to oppose Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
      I think that’s why people went along with the call to boo Ted Cruz at the Republican convention. He was calling on people to vote for someone who’ll defend the Constitution — a fairly standard secular conservative principle. Why did that deserve boos? Because in their heart of hearts, the delegates knew they were nominating someone who couldn’t be trusted to defend the constitution.
      Erick Erickson is right: “Republicans owe Bill Clinton an apology for impeaching him over lies and affairs while now embracing a pathological liar and womanizer. That apology will not be forthcoming.”

  9. Caroline Allen says:

    Of course having Hillary as president would have consequences and so would having Trump as president. But, how is it that when Clinton makes a mistake we are just supposed to leave it to God to fix. What about Trump? I honestly feel he will make a decent president and I don’t feel the same about Hillary. The argument, does in fact, work in both sides. And I would prefer to get out there and vote instead of sitting and waiting for things to fall into place.

    There is a story about a man who heard there was a flood coming. He went and sat on his roof and stayed because he knew God would save him. Eventually cars, helicopters, and boats came by to save him and he refused there help saying God would save him. He ended up drowning, and when he went to heaven he asked God why He didn’t save him. And God said that he gave him a car, boat, and helicopter.

    God doesn’t want us to sit around while things unfold. We were given candidates to support and we SHOULD support them to help our country and our selves.

  10. Tom says:

    So we vote for Hillary and have more dead babies than you have ever seen before as she promotes abortion with the full force of the federal government???

  11. Karen says:

    I am really missing the point of this blog post. I must be dim. Are you saying as a christian if I vote for trump it is idolatry? Are you saying vote for Hillary? Are you saying don’t vote at all? I’m blonde don’t get it. I appreciate Wayne Grudem’s recent article posted on Townhall. That one I understood.

  12. Karen McKim-Altman says:

    God gave us a brain to use. We look at options and allow God to lead us, based on our prayers, asking for wisdom, guidance and discernment. We do not know the future, but God does. He may bring blessings on this nation, or He may bring judgment. Right now God is leading me to vote for Trump.

  13. Dan Merrick says:

    Christians Voting for Trump is a Hagar Moment? I don’t think so.

    This Hagar Moment article argues against the familiar lesser of two evils dispute – that the Christian ought not to make the better, or best, choice, when “bad vs. terrible” choices are the only options available – this is “especially [true] when it is not clear the candidate Evangelicals seem to be backing is either more competent or “Christian” than the alternative.” – Rossell. The main points of the article are that we ought to wait on God until He fulfills a promise to those who faithfully wait upon Him (His provisions), and that we “Christians must be careful not make an idol out of winning at politics” and not blow our social witness.

    However, what the particular promise is, or what the particular good choices are that we are waiting on as voting citizens, are not stated. Nor does the Hagar Moment say how “good (or not bad)” the Abraham promise we are waiting on ought to be? Are we looking for something that’s 25% not as bad as our current options? 50% not as bad? Or, are we waiting for the perfect choice (al la – the promise to Abraham for a son [Isaac]). These options are particularly challenging in a representative/republican democracy where we, fallen men, are electing other fallen men – who are the better or best available choices at any given time. You see, we are choosing – not waiting. Even if we were waiting (as what seems to be advocated by the author) it would only be to choose later – right? And who knows what our choice will be then, unlike Abraham who did know.

    Basically, the Hagar Moment says that we ought not do anything. The take-away from it is that we should not vote – not even vote our consciences (as Ted Cruz so famously stated) even though many of us “White Evangelicals” have interpreted our consciences to say “Vote Trump” even as a last resort. In voting Trump, we are being sinful (as was Abraham when he demonstrated his lack of faith by not waiting on God – what other conclusion can there be?). The best we “White Evangelicals” can do this Presidential election cycle, is to go about warning others of their folly (sin) and that they too should just sit this one out and let the chips fall where they may – for fear of blowing our social witness. Then, we can tuck ourselves into our beds at night with clear consciences knowing that – perhaps we didn’t do the right thing – but that we for sure didn’t do the wrong thing. Let me reiterate – that’s what the whole Never Trump debate rests on (in my humble opinion). It’s not about doing the right thing. It’s about NOT doing the wrong thing. Kind of a weird argument – I think.

    Also not stated, is who gets to judge (or set the standards) for what is bad or incompetent vs. what is good and competent when mere mortals are voting amongst themselves? Is there a sliding-scale that human badness or competence is measured on so as not to ruin “our social witness?” It all seems rather subjective and open to personal interpretation. What if a Trump voter kept their vote private? Will their social witness be okay then – undefiled?

    Finally, I do not think that the Abraham – Hagar comparison is a good one insofar as Abraham was not facing two choices. It’s not at all similar to the proverbial “lesser of two evils” scenario that’s raging around Trump. Abraham was waiting on a single promise and got impatient and subverted God’s will. Abraham wasn’t in a “Sophie’s Choice” situation (the memorable Meryl Streep movie). That’s what we “White Evangelical” voters (really all voters) are facing come this November 8th.

  14. Salvatore Anthony Luiso says:

    I read this article with special interest because before I knew of it I, too, had thought of the example of Abraham and Hagar with respect to how many evangelical Christians in America have decided to support Trump.

    Abraham impregnated Hagar with a good intention, but it was a wrong decision that had bad and unforeseen consequences.

    Similarly, many Christians in America support Trump with a good intention–but it is a wrong decision that has bad and both foreseen and unforeseen consequences–including harming the reputation of evangelical Christians.

    Thus I mainly agree with the article. I do not agree with the remark “Whatever happens in the next four years, America will survive”. I would not assume nor presume this. I say this based upon Proverbs 27:1, James 4:13-15, the Parable of the Rich Fool, which is recorded in Luke 12:13-21, and other passages of the Scriptures.

    It seems to me that many Americans think that in a presidential election our choices are limited to only two people, or to two people and the choice of not voting.

    We are NOT so limited.

    I would rather vote for a man or woman of principle and integrity who has no possibility of being elected than to vote for someone whom I think should not become president, e.g. Donald J. Trump and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

    Furthermore: Regardless of what we decide to do with respect to voting, we should not attempt to excuse the inexcusable and to ignore the unignorable.

    I heartily agree with, and recommend, this article by Dr. Russell Moore, which *Christianity Today* posted earlier this year:

    “Should Christians Vote for the Lesser of Two Evils?”
    “Even at the ballot box, morality is not relative.”
    Russell Moore

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