I have relayed this account before but it's an origin story and those tend to get told a great deal. When I was in college at Furman, I went to a Christian rock concert on campus. Over the course of the evening, the lead singer was doing what lead singers do: he was trying to pump up the crowd.
He followed the script that I had witnessed at many a Christian concert. He mentioned how great it was to be in Greenville, SC and got applause from the crowd. He made a reference to either Clemson or Carolina—obviously not realizing how divided loyalties were in the state—and reaped a mixture of cheers and boos. The lead singer course corrected and asked how many in the crowd had awesome youth groups; bigger cheers. Finally he reached what I had long believed to be the apex of the CRAG (Christian rock applause generation): "OUR GOD IS AWESOME!" Thunderous applause.
Yet later still, the lead singer expressed how grateful he was for then President George W. Bush and a deafening roar shot up. It was the loudest, most sustained applause of the evening. More than the city we were in. More than their churches. More than God. And it wasn't even close. That was the night when quiet questions about the relationship between evangelical Christianity and politics mutated into full-blown concern.
Growing up in the Bible Belt in the 80s and 90s, God was unquestionably Republican. The GOP were the ones who loved God and would make America a nation that followed Jesus. The tone wasn't as toxic as it can be now, but it was still assumed that no Christian would vote for a Democrat. Republicans were the ones who embodied morality and sought to honor God.
I eventually found out life was a bit more complicated than that. There were Republicans who wanted to honor God. There were Democrats who wanted to honor God. There were Third Partiers and apolitical people who wanted to honor God. There were politicians of all stripes who used God as a prop for personal gain. As I studied scripture, I discovered that faith was about more than "family values" (the buzzword of the day), but that there were matters of poverty, war, love of neighbor, and love of enemy to consider. All of which took me to a much grayer place between the Red Team/Blue Team dichotomy. I know that a lot of Christians my age have a similar story. We are wary of politics.
Here is my simple belief about the Christian faith and politics: no political party comes close to embodying how Jesus taught his followers to live. Republicans do not and Democrats do not either. Both sides have aspects that come close to touching various Christian ethics and both are a million miles off in many ways. Thus it is completely legitimate for a Christian to be a member of either of those parties or no party at all. I know wonderful people of faith scattered all along the political spectrum.
Even still, I recognize that there are many evangelical Christians who vote Republican because they believe it is the Christian thing to do. They believe their platforms or their candidates are the most God-honoring. I have long trusted this comes from a place of sincerity and not party-allegiance or fear.
All of which brings us to Donald Trump. To the incredulity of many, Trump has been the Republican frontrunner for months. He is crass. He is a bully. On the campaign trail, he has said demeaning things about women and immigrants. He has stoked the fires of Islamophobia and proposed banning all Muslims from entering our country. He is boastful, arrogant, and loves wealth. On the family values end of things, he has been married three times, owns casinos, and strip clubs.
He does not look like a person who follows Jesus. I am not saying he is not a Christian because that is between him and God and we are all screwed up. But he is not someone who embodies a Christlike ethic and seems fairly unapologetic about who he is. That's why Christians my age are paying attention. Most of us, even Republicans, are still positive he can't really get the nomination. But what if he does? How are evangelical Christians going to respond? Trump runs counter to the narrative that many of us have heard about the Republican party our whole entire lives. Trump seems concerned not with faith (beyond what it takes to appeal to a voting bloc) or morality, but with greatness. And all of us are wondering if the evangelical Christians we grew up around are going to follow.
You see, our deepest fear is not that you vote out of religious conviction but that you hide your political preference behind religious conviction (to be fair: I have that deep fear about many Democrats too). We worry that you have conflated scripture and the GOP platform to the point that you don't know where one begins and the other ends. We're terrified that you are so hellbent on defeating the Democrats (and let's be honest: Hillary), that you don't care who does it as long as they have a "R" beside their name. Passively getting in line behind a Trump nomination would confirm all of those fears. Endorsing and praising him as some in the evangelical world have already done would amplify them for the world.
We want to see how you respond. We want to see you fight, to call out bigotry, and push back when Trump (or anyone really) says things that are truly wrong. And if you vote for Trump—because I certainly don't want to be one of those people who say you can't be a Christian and vote for him—we don't want you to paint him as a sainted man of God or laud him as the most Christ-like candidate. Don't try to dress your decision up in Sunday clothes (unless that's your real conviction, in which case we will have to agree to vigorously disagree). Just give us the political reasons for your choice.
The Christians of my generation who are expatriates of the Red God 80s and 90s are watching closely. We want to believe that, even though we don't always see eye to eye, your faith trumps (sorry) politics. Don't let us down.