President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a campaign rally at The Broadmoor World Arena, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020, in Colorado Springs, Colo. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Trump or no Trump, US evangelicals aren't custodians of the world's gospel witness

(RNS) — When President Donald Trump touches down in India this week for a state visit, he'll find himself in a nation that is only 2.3% Christian, yet counts 28 million adherents to the faith on an Asian continent that is already home to 350 million Christians — on its way to 450 million by 2025.

These figures put into perspective the recent editorial in Christianity Today that called on America's evangelical Christian voters to support Trump’s removal from office in his impeachment trial. The article by outgoing editor Mark Galli went viral and prompted a new round of handwringing over whether evangelicals in the United States should have voted for a man who doesn't appear to live up to Christian values.

Evangelicals' loyalty to President Trump, the editorial alleged, will “crash down on the reputation of evangelical religion and on the world’s understanding of the gospel.”

Largely missing from the conversation was the voice of those Christians from the "global south" who represent 60% of the world’s evangelical population. The assumption is that evangelical Americans are the custodians of global evangelical witness, a notion that is, plainly put, ethnocentric. 

Church historians have long known that the topography of the Christian religion, including evangelicalism, has shifted dramatically over the past century. While America and Europe are increasingly secular, Christianity has spread exponentially across Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and South and East Asia and is in fact thriving in many countries despite facing severe persecution and opposition.

For many of us, the time American evangelicals risked endangering the witness of the gospel was the Iraq War, which was urged on us by President Bush, unlike Trump, a self-professed evangelical. At one point Bush argued — astonishingly — that his view on the war was “not primarily from a political-science perspective; frankly, it's more of a theological perspective.” Many former Bush administration “neocons,” ironically, have made it their pastime to attack the current president on moral grounds.

Most of us around the world are bemused by the myriad ironies in American politics. We certainly do not worry that they will affect our witness, because people make their minds up about Christianity based on the witness they see locally and personally.

President Donald Trump speaks at the "March for Life" rally, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020, on the National Mall in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Even the massive loss of life caused by the Iraq War and the turmoil it unleashed did not prevent gospel witness. Certainly, it did not make friends for America, and across the Middle East it had a negative impact on the relationship between Muslims and Christians, allowing tribal and ethnic tensions that had long been fermenting to explode into the open. The war played a role in the emergence of ISIS, whose brutal terrorist campaign against religious minorities such as Christians and Yazidis reached near-genocidal levels.

But through all of this, thousands in the region have embraced Jesus Christ in the past two decades. There are more Jesus movements of a 1000 or more people blossoming in the Muslim world now than there have been in several centuries, according  to David Garrison who has researched the emergence of such movements.

This doesn’t mean the Iraq War wasn’t morally reprehensible or that the horrible violence this conflict unleashed is somehow acceptable, but it shows that the witness of the gospel can thrive regardless of the political decisions Americans make.

From a global evangelical perspective, furthermore, the Trump administration has embraced a religious freedom agenda that has materially benefited Christians of all traditions, as well as the victims of other faiths who are being persecuted. The president’s recent appearance at the March for Life and his consistent pro-life stance, meanwhile, inspire faith communities around the world, including India Christians deeply concerned about large-scale female feticide. If the president’s stand on life was influenced by the American evangelical community, should we not celebrate it?

In the "global south," we often find it peculiar when some Christians demand absolute moral purity in American politics. In many of our countries, Christians hardly have the luxury of demanding leaders of unimpeachable Christian character, or even Christian leaders at all. It would be impractical, if not impossible, to impose Christian values on most societies in the world. There never is an election, or a political process, where we aren’t picking between various imperfect choices.

We pray and, as best we can, vote for men and women who we believe will lead our nations with righteousness, compassion, justice and freedom. We look at policies more than individual politicians who will likely never meet our moral standards. Politics is never a zero-sum game where most of us live. An unrighteous leader can make righteous decisions for the good of society.

Our Christian witness depends not on those we support politically but on the love and grace we show toward others. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another,” Jesus told his disciples. 

From this perspective, calling for the removal of President Trump was unwarranted and unnecessarily polarizing. But then, that’s for Americans to decide. As for the rest of us, we’ll be just fine.

(The Rev. Joseph D’Souza is archbishop of the Anglican Good Shepherd Church of India and president of the All India Christian Council. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.) 

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