Dr. Robert Jeffress: Republican civil war – which side will evangelicals choose?

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Full disclosure: I do not identify as a Republican or Democrat, but as a Christian who votes according to my spiritual convictions. Nevertheless, like millions of evangelical and conservative Catholic believers, I tend to vote for Republican candidates because of the Republican party’s strong pro-life and pro-religious platform.    

Because I view politics as a pragmatic means to enact policies that are consistent with biblical principles, I am interested in who wins this predictable, post-election civil war that is raging between establishment Republicans and Donald Trump supporters for control of the GOP.     

It’s normal for any political party to perform a political autopsy after a loss like Republicans experienced in November. However, it is also common for political parties to draw exactly the wrong conclusion from an election loss – just as Republicans did in 2008 and 2012.    

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I hope the GOP will remember this important principle as they look forward: while having evangelical support doesn’t guarantee victory (think 2020), NOT having evangelical support guarantees defeat (think 2008 and 2012).     

Conservative Christians do not view all policies as equal. Some issues are matters of principle, while others are open to compromise and debate.  

For evangelical Christians who submit to the authority of the Bible, there are a few political issues that clearly rise to the level of first principles. Abortion is that kind of issue. It involves the death of an innocent human life. Therefore, political compromise is not possible without moral compromise.  

The same cannot be said for secondary matters like immigration policy, environmental regulation, tax rates or health care. These are areas that call for pragmatism – listening to evidence, sharing ideas and coming up with a workable compromise.  

But it seems like after every election cycle, establishment Republicans turn social conservatives like me into the enemy of the “big tent” needed for electoral victory. They want to distance the party from strong stands on social issues like abortion, religious liberty and marriage. At the same time, however, establishment Republicans remain rigidly uncompromising on what I would call secondary or debatable matters – issues like taxes or gun control or health care. The conventional wisdom supposedly teaches that you have to stay “flexible” on first principles in order to grow the coalition.   

Over the last few decades, evangelicals got tired of this. They were disappointed repeatedly by Republican candidates who failed to speak clearly about the most important moral issues facing our nation or forgot those principles once they gained office. Compromising establishment Republican candidates made many evangelicals feel homeless. We either voted begrudgingly for Republican candidates or simply stayed home as many did in 2012.    

President Trump reawakened evangelical political involvement because he signaled support for significant change on matters of first principles – especially the sanctity of life and religious liberty. Then, the Trump administration actually fulfilled their promises once elected through numerous judicial appointments, executive orders and legislation.      

President Trump’s unexpected victory in 2016 showed that an agenda that holds the line on social issues can win.

This not only gave conservative Christians a seat at the table, as President Reagan had first done in 1980, but importantly, President Trump embraced and implemented the values of tens of millions of Christians in our country. His agenda diverted in some places from the establishment Republican orthodoxy, but on the issues that mattered to social conservatives, it a home run.  

Before Donald Trump descended the golden escalator in 2015, the GOP was on its way to nominating another “flexible” establishment candidate like John McCain and Mitt Romney and lose another election. But Trump’s win in 2016 upended the establishment’s false narrative about “electability.”  

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President Trump’s unexpected victory in 2016 showed that an agenda that holds the line on social issues can win. The loss in 2020 showed that such an agenda alone does not guarantee a win.    

After less than two months we are now witnessing what happens when a presidential administration comes to Washington with an agenda that is openly hostile to Christian principles. In a few strokes of a pen, President Biden has reinvigorated the international abortion industry with federal tax dollars. He has instructed his administration to redefine gender, and to treat anyone who disagrees as hostile and unreasonable.     

These are matters clearly addressed in the Bible and millions of conservative Christians believe such policies will determine how God will ultimately judge our country.  

History reminds us that God is no respecter of people or nations. Any nation that obeys God will be blessed by God and any nation that rejects God will be rejected by God. As the psalmist declared, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 33:12). Any future GOP candidate desiring the support of conservative Christians must pledge to undo these dangerous and ungodly actions of the Biden administration.   

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Here’s the bottom line for sides in the Republican civil war: neither the establishment wing nor the Trump wing can win any future election without the support of evangelical Christians. If you want that support, you need to understand that our loyalty will always be conditional. 

It’s not about power or personalities, it’s about fidelity to those eternal and unchanging principles rooted in Scripture. 

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