Evangelicals Consider Whether God Really Cares How They Vote Many U.S. Christians have struggled this year with what faith means when it comes time to make political choices, and even whether faith and politics should mix.

Evangelicals Consider Whether God Really Cares How They Vote

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For conservative Christians, religious and political beliefs often go together. Some say their faith obligates them to support one candidate over another. But that's not so clear-cut in this year's presidential race. In fact, people who say faith is important to them don't show strong support for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. As NPR's Tom Gjelten reports, the race has some conservative Christians wondering whether faith and politics should be so tightly connected.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: Fifty years ago, it was liberals who mixed religion and politics. Church leaders, black and white, were in the forefront of the civil rights movement. Conservative Christians first took a big interest in politics in 1980, supporting Ronald Reagan. From then on, they aligned with the Republican Party. Evangelical leader Russell Moore recalls a religious right group passing out voting guides at his church outlining the Christian position on various issues.

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RUSSELL MOORE: And even as a teenager, I could recognize that the issues chosen just happened to be the same as that year's talking points from the Republican National Committee.

GJELTEN: Moore, who heads the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said this last week in a lecture he titled "Can The Religious Right Be Saved?" Christian political outreach, he recalled, had gone beyond simple matters of faith.

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MOORE: Why was there a Christian position outlined on congressional term limits and a balanced budget amendment and the line item veto?

GJELTEN: Though a conservative himself, Morris says some Christians are again taking their pro-Republican position too far by lining up behind Donald Trump. He cites Trump's questionable behavior and divisive rhetoric. Some pro-Trump evangelicals see him as the lesser evil in this election, figuring he'd be more likely than Hillary Clinton to appoint Supreme Court justices who will restrict abortion and defend religious freedom. The popular Christian author Eric Metaxas, writing in The Wall Street Journal, said not voting will have a consequence. God, Metaxas said, will not hold us guiltless. But that suggestion, that God wants Christians to vote a certain way, got Metaxas in hot water with other Christian leaders.

ERIC METAXAS: I have been horribly misunderstood. And it's really damaged my reputation just because I put this thing out there. And sometimes you're too clever by half, which is a nice way of saying you're stupid. When I put that out there, I didn't realize most people aren't going to get the joke, so to speak.

GJELTEN: Metaxas said he was actually quoting the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who said God would not hold Germans guiltless for appeasing Hitler - silence in the face of evil is itself evil.

METAXAS: And what he meant by that - the point of the quote is that you can't say, oh, I'm not going to vote. You have to make a sober, difficult choice because people are depending on you.

GJELTEN: Well, do you think God favors one candidate over the other?

METAXAS: Well, you know, when you put it that way, it can be misleading.

GJELTEN: God does have a will for this country, Metaxas argues, but works in mysterious ways. A recent survey found 72 percent of white evangelical Protestants think immoral behavior does not disqualify someone from holding public office. Five years ago, only 30 percent said that. But there are conservative Christians for whom this year's choice has them reassessing the connection between their faith and their politics.

Jenifer Sarver is a lifelong Republican who served under President George W. Bush. Now running a PR firm in Texas, Sarver is supporting Hillary Clinton even while disagreeing with her on abortion. Some of her Christian friends are dismayed, but in a blog post that went viral, Sarver defended her position as a Christian.

JENIFER SARVER: I evangelize by trying to live my life in a way that would honor and respect my savior. And I think that if more Christians lived their lives trying to walk in Jesus' footprints and not trying to tell people how to vote, we'd have a better society.

GJELTEN: Indeed, there's one Bible verse that's getting a lot of attention this fall in pulpits around the country. It includes these words from Jesus.

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DUKE KWON: He said, my kingdom is not of this world.

GJELTEN: Pastor Duke Kwon preaching last week at Grace Meridian Hill church in Washington, D.C. to a diverse urban congregation. His message - Jesus' teaching doesn't fit neatly in political categories.

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KWON: Why should we be surprised when he doesn't just sign off on a whole party's single platform? Why should we be surprised when someone that really follows Jesus might be a person that sort of confounds people, keeps them guessing - you don't seem to fit? And the answer can be, well, my savior didn't fit either.

GJELTEN: Kwon says Christians' faith should guide their politics. But in an interview, he clarifies not so much in elections but in mundane ways - on their own block, in their own neighborhoods. Moreover, even if Scripture suggests a correct Christian position on one issue - the sanctity of life, for example - what about the Christian position on other issues - caring for the poor, the foreigner or the planet?

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KWON: There's a sense in which you ought to be split across different party platforms and different candidates because hey, well, these four issues I find embodied in this person and these two in this other person.

GJELTEN: All of which means the idea that evangelical Christians should base their voting on their faith is more challenging than it once seemed. Tom Gjelten, NPR News.

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