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Untangling Faith and Love of Country

How one national security expert found freedom from fear by looking to Jesus.
November 1, 2020
Untangling Faith and Love of Country
President Donald Trump bows his head during a Easter blessing by Bishop Harry Jackson, senior pastor at Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Md., in the Oval Office of the White House on April 10, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Al Drago - Pool/Getty Images)

In August, I joined over 100 former Republican national security officials in explaining our security concerns with the current president. In my view, the president’s lapses and failures on matters of national security alone are sufficient to disqualify him from his role.

Coming to that understanding, however, led to months of wrestling with several key arguments that had swayed me to vote for Trump in 2016. Like many Christian Republican voters, I saw Trump primarily as a “lesser of two evils” vote against Hillary Clinton.

Since speaking out, I’ve been criticized by the anti-Trump coalition: “How could I have voted for him in the first place?” Christians, Republicans, and conservatives, including friends and those in the church, have all excoriated me—in reference to abortion they say I have blood on my hands. In their eyes, I’ve signed the death warrant of religious freedom.

But I have also heard from a third group: believers who have expressed gratitude that I spoke out. They, too, have felt a tug on their hearts that something isn’t right. They see a disconnect between what the Bible teaches and what their church leaders are supporting. They are scared to speak out because of the potential rejection from their community. They feel alone.

I write this not to justify my decision to the first two groups, but to share my journey in case it aids the third group in their wrestling.

Fearing the Loss of a “Christian Nation”

For decades, my faith community and the insistent mouthpieces of the right taught me to fear the loss of our most cherished freedoms. The narrative of fear coming from figures of authority and adamant commentators is compelling, comprehensive, and relentless. We are told that “they” are coming to take away our religious liberties and our ability to teach our children the way we think they should be taught; instead, “they” will be forcing agendas with which the church disagrees upon society.

We are exhorted further: moral decline is ruining our country; and, within our lifetime, pastors could be jailed for preaching historically orthodox Christianity, and perhaps our children will be punished for their faith.

If you are not an evangelical Christian familiar with this persecution narrative, I can understand how extreme this might seem. Understand that these arguments exploit a shared experience of real changes in our culture and the interpretation of law, which have occurred quickly and are fueled by statements and actions from the left.

While our current cultural shifts, increasing political intolerance to different viewpoints, and widespread breakdown of social trust are something to discuss, the use of fear to motivate voting for a political candidate is deeply rooted in a serious misunderstanding of Christianity. But the Bible is clear: The more we look to Christ, we find rest in Christ alone, and only in Him, we discover it easier to let go of the fear. We should never let our faith be co-opted by fear-driven, politicized narratives.

The truth is: America is not, was never intended to be a “Christian nation.” Historically speaking, the United States was founded by groups of people who held to Christian teachings—some more stringently than others. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, has written and spoken out to explain the misunderstandings among believers who may be confused about this and who might therefore start infusing nationalism into their spiritual or religious identity. Moore maintains that scripture does not support the notion that America, along with its people and its governmental institutions, have a special covenant relationship with God.

For those people who see their faith intricately tied with a belief that “America is a Christian Nation,” it becomes frightening and threatening to see laws and fellow citizens exhibit a moral code different from that of the Bible. They may even feel the need to fight—using the democratic process—to preserve their faith through governmental means. It then seems justifiable to choose the “lesser of two evils” because one side is campaigning on the promise to “protect Christianity.”

The good news for the believer is: Biblical faith is not dependent on the governments of this world. Jesus, standing before Pontius Pilate—a representative of the world government of the day—states clearly that His Kingdom “is not of this world.” (John 18:36) Jesus does not stop there. He points out that if it was of this world, His “servants would have been fighting, that [He] might not be delivered over. . .”

Now, this does not mean the believer cannot be politically active or involved in government. But it does make clear that we do not have to compromise the teachings of Scripture in order to vote for a man who claims to protect our faith.

Moore further explains in his book Onward that healthy Christianity should bring some friction with the culture:

Our call is to engaged alienation, a Christianity that preserves the distinctiveness of our gospel while not retreating from our callings as neighbors, and friends, and citizens. . . . The church now has the opportunity to bear witness in a culture that does not even pretend to share our “values.” That is not a tragedy since we were never given a mission to promote “values” in the first place, but to speak instead of sin and of righteousness and judgment, of Christ and his kingdom. . . . Our end goal is not a Christian America, either of the made-up past or the hoped-for future. Our end goal is the kingdom of Christ, made up of every tribe, tongue, nation, and language. [Italics in original, bold added for emphasis.]

In the context of 2,000 years of church history and Christians in other parts of the world today, believers in America are remarkably unpersecuted—and perhaps too comfortable.

Of course, I do not want my pastor to be censored by the state, nor do I desire the increasingly hostile cancel culture (which, despite what Christians and Republicans are told, is found on both sides of the aisle) for anyone who does not hold a mainstream view. But if the “worst-case scenarios” were to happen, our trust, as Christians, must remain in God—not in a man who says he will defend religious liberties, not in the institutions of our country, not even in the Constitution. Our trust, as Christians and believers, is in God.

Further, the best way to fight to protect religious liberties is a consistent moral witness for protecting all liberties and a shared commitment to constitutional norms. On this latter point, I have been convinced that my witness was tarnished by supporting President Trump, and fear blinded me from pausing and actually considering the injustices many are facing.

Addressing Injustice in Pursuit of a Holistic Pro-Life Ethic

One of the more challenging aspects of my job these last three years was the necessity of looking into ideologies that promote hatred of the ‘other.’ The increase in the number of attacks by white supremacists and other right-wing extremist groups over the last six years forced me to look at an evil many of us thought was in the past.

It led me to personally reflect on how Christians should respond. Faced with the reality of overwhelming injustice the answer is we should be making every effort towards racial reconciliation. It’s clear in light of the “greatest commandments” in Matthew 22:34-40 that the way forward is through listening first, learning and understanding the systematic nature of racism, and then lamenting with those in pain.

But this is the opposite of how Republicans and Trump have responded—dismissing calls to address racial injustice. Trump, in particular, ignored the rising threat of domestic terrorists and has added fuel to the fire of extremism. Consider also how our country has been pulled towards a bigoted nativism that turns away immigrants and refugees seeking safe haven.

I am a counterterrorism expert and a longstanding security professional well aware of dangers posed by threat actors; and I want to properly vet those who want to enter our country to ensure they do not intend harm. But what has occurred in our culture and is reflected in the Trump administration’s policies—significant reductions of the refugee ceiling, travel restrictions which largely target underdeveloped countries, and using intentionally cruel family separations as a deterrent—is not about security. It is xenophobia and racism, rooted in fear.

The Bible teaches that all human beings are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27), equal in dignity, value, and worth. Throughout Scripture, God demonstrates His heart for the vulnerable and oppressed and calls His people to advocate for the immigrant, the refugee, and the poor. “Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow,” reads Deuteronomy 27:19, and “when a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong,” reads Leviticus 19:33-34.

This call to care for the vulnerable is so woven into God’s character that when the prophets are pronouncing judgment and calling for Israel to repent and return to God, one of the charges He lays against them, over and over, is that they oppressed the vulnerable.

Being a follower of Christ and demonstrating his grace means fighting against human trafficking, slavery, sexual abuse, domestic abuse, and racism, and caring for and protecting the unborn, the orphan, the poor, refugees, the migrant, the disabled, the sick, and the elderly.

The party with which I associated ignored major aspects of this call—choosing to focus on anti-abortion and the life of the unborn (conception-to-birth) rather than a holistic (conception-to-grave) pro-life ethic.

This is not to minimize the importance of anti-abortion efforts. It was by far, the most difficult issue with which I wrestled. I am much indebted to the teachings and writings of David French, Russell Moore, Tim Keller, Matt Chandler, John Piper, and Michael Gerson. If you are wrestling with this, I encourage you to consider their perspectives. I am not suggesting that they endorse where I ended up, but that their scholarship can help raise and answer questions that go deeper than the constant cycle of reactive political news.

I learned that abortions are at a historic low—lower than prior to the Roe decision. I also believe there is still much work to be done, and while we should advocate for federal policies that protect the unborn, I am convinced that work in your local community in a way that addresses the full needs of a vulnerable mother and her children is significantly more impactful than the role of the president.

As I was working through these issues, I came upon Keller’s framing that “most political positions are not matters of biblical command but of practical wisdom.” While Christians may disagree on the “how”—the best policies and programs to protect the vulnerable and seek justice—the calling to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8) is so clear, that for a Christian to deny it is to miss an important part of the Gospel.

Matt Chandler puts it this way: “The Gospel vertically reconciles us to God, that’s the hope of our calling, but then the Gospel begins to work horizontally reconciling us to men and women, reconciling the brokenness of the world around us. So that the Gospel doesn’t just reconcile me to God, but then begins to reconcile me to my brothers and sisters.”

Political Homelessness–Reclaiming my Sojourner Status

This wrestling experience led me to the conclusion that neither political party addresses our nation’s challenges in a manner consistent with Scripture’s teachings. Tim Keller makes a case that Scripture does not allow us to “withdraw and try to be apolitical,” but neither can we “assimilate and fully adopt one party’s whole package in order to have your place at the table.”

In 2020, I find myself with “The Spiritual Blessing of Political Homelessness,” and without a default box to check when I vote. I have concluded that I cannot vote for President Trump again—for the reasons explained in this article, as well as in others related to my concerns for our nation’s security. Having examined the character and competence of Joe Biden, I will be voting for him, knowing that I disagree with some of his policies.

Thoughtful Christians will wrestle and come to different conclusions. Christians do not believe in consequentialism and therefore do not have to choose “the lesser of two evils.” My husband chose to write in a candidate. We can disagree about for whom to vote and remain united in Christ and animated by a shared commitment to love and care for each other.

Wherever you end up in your wrestling and however the election turns out on Tuesday, be encouraged, Believer: Our hope is in Christ (I Peter 1:3); our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20), we are but sojourners here; God is sovereign and will never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).

Elizabeth Neumann

Elizabeth Neumann served on the inaugural Homeland Security Council staff in the Bush (43) White House under General John Gordon and Fran Townsend. Most recently, she served as Deputy Chief of Staff to Secretary Kelly and Assistant Secretary for Counterterrorism and Threat Prevention at the Department of Homeland Security.