WASHINGTON (Christian Examiner) – The knockdown, drag out 2016 presidential campaign is over and now Christian leaders who stepped into the fray both for and against Donald Trump are calling for unity. They are also issuing warnings to churchgoers not to trust in political power to save the nation.
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, who during the campaign repeatedly exchanged barbed tweets via social media with the New York billionaire – now president-elect – was among the first out of the gate.
Moore published an opinion editorial in the Washington Post that was conciliatory, but also cautious about how Christians should proceed after a "demoralizing" and "traumatizing" election for the country. He called on Christians, even those who had significant disagreements with Trump, to pray that he will lead the country with wisdom and justice.
Earlier in the campaign, Moore said Trump was peddling "reality television moral sewage" in his campaign for the highest office in the land – and the most important one in the free world.
Trump fired back at the denominational leader for his insistence that evangelicals pull back from supporting his campaign.
"Russell Moore is truly a terrible representative of Evangelicals and all of the good they stand for. A nasty guy with no heart!" Trump said. The comment was retweeted thousands of times.
Moore also openly criticized Trump's appearance at Liberty University, calling him a "golden calf" – a reference to Old Testament idolatry. He said conservative support of Trump is a betrayal of decades of conservative, principled opposition to social changes pushed by liberals.
That comment earned a response from Jerry Falwell Jr., president of the university and a Trump campaign surrogate. Falwell pondered on National Public Radio (NPR) whether Moore was conservative or a "closet liberal."
That is all now mostly water under the bridge, though Moore warned in the Washington Post that the type of conservatism that won the presidential election doesn't produce conservative, constitutional results. Instead, he argued, it is the type of conservatism represented by "a European-style ethno-nationalist populism, opposed by an increasingly leftward progressive movement within the Democratic Party."
"In both of these movements, moral concerns — certainly personal character and family stability questions — are marginalized. We now have a politics of sexual revolution across the board. This means that conservative evangelicals are politically homeless — whether they know it or not," Moore wrote.
The most important lesson we should learn is that the church must stand against the way politics has become a religion, and religion has become politics. We can hear this idolatrous pull even in the apocalyptic language used by many in this election — as we have seen in every election in recent years — that this election is our 'last chance.' We should be ready to pray and preach, to promote the common good and to resist injustice. We will pledge allegiance to the flag, but we will pledge a higher allegiance to the cross. We can pray and honor our leaders, work with them when we can, while preparing to oppose them when needed.
He called on the church to maintain its "prophetic clarity" as the conscience of government and work to reject the culture of abortion and divorce, racism and the sexual liberation movement. Still, he wrote:
"The most important lesson we should learn is that the church must stand against the way politics has become a religion, and religion has become politics. We can hear this idolatrous pull even in the apocalyptic language used by many in this election — as we have seen in every election in recent years —that this election is our 'last chance.'"
"We should be ready to pray and preach, to promote the common good and to resist injustice. We will pledge allegiance to the flag, but we will pledge a higher allegiance to the cross. We can pray and honor our leaders, work with them when we can, while preparing to oppose them when needed," Moore wrote.
Moore also said the church would need to guard religious freedom in the coming years, a thought shared by Family Research Council President Tony Perkins – though he was less concerned about how Trump would perform in office.
Perkins said in a Facebook post that religious freedom was more imperiled than ever after eight years under the administration of President Barack Obama.
Perkins also said the election was a "stunning rebuke of the political establishment" brought about by 81 percent of the evangelicals who voted (more than for Sen. John McCain in 2008 and Gov. Mitt Romney in 2012). They voted almost exclusively for Trump, in spite of their misgivings about his troubled character and misogynistic comments about women.
"It isn't that folks liked him more than previous candidates," Perkins wrote on social media. "Rather, they were mobilized by what is at stake and Trump's clear contrast with Hillary Clinton on life, specifically partial birth abortion."
Several ministers, including David Jeremiah, Robert Jeffress and Franklin Graham – all members of Trump's advisory council on faith – called on Christians to pray for Trump as he entered office.
Jeremiah said the election should remind Christians where their allegiance lies. Christians belong first and foremost to Christ's kingdom, he said.
"While we love America, as Christians we are sojourners and pilgrims, and like the heroes of our faith, we are looking for a better country beyond this earthly one, to the heavenly city God has prepared for us. Let us then continue walking by faith, not by sight, placing our trust in God's eternal promises and not in the fleeting machinations of men," Jeremiah wrote.
"We commit to pray for the new Trump administration. We pray that God might have mercy on our nation and that our leaders might know and fear Him, for as the Scriptures say, blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord. This is a time when we must hold fast to our calling to be good citizens and to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, pointing those around us toward our hope in Christ and breathing life wherever there is despair. Presidents come and go, but our God remains forever and he will be on his throne on November 9 as he was on November 8 and as he will be for all of eternity."
Graham, son of famed evangelist Billy Graham and president of Samaritan's Purse, wrote on social media the election was "the biggest political upset of our lifetime" and congratulated the president- and vice-president elect. While he acknowledged that the campaign was divisive, he called for unity and for help in fulfilling the spiritual needs of the country.
"We cannot ignore his hand and His supreme authority," Graham wrote. "One thing is for sure, we need to pray for our new president, vice president, and our other leaders every day – whether we agree with them or not. They need God's help and direction. It is my prayer that we will truly be 'one nation under God.'"
Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Dallas and an ardent defender of Trump who called Christians who refused to vote for the candidate "hypocrites" and "fools," said voters had made their opinions known in the election.
"America has spoken," Jeffress said in a video statement. "In his first letter to Timothy, Paul made it clear that we are supposed to prayer for all those in authority, and no matter how you feel about the outcome of this election, I hope you'll join me in praying for my friend, President-Elect Donald Trump.
Jeffress said those who are afraid of a Trump presidency shouldn't be because God put Trump in the White House.
"For those who didn't chose to vote for President-Elect Trump, and may carry a measure of uncertainty about the future, there's no reason to fear and no reason to be discouraged," Jeffress said. "In Daniel 2, it is clear that God alone establishes our leaders. As Christians, our hope does not reside in kings, presidents or any authority, but in God and God alone. So let's fulfill our mandate from Jesus to be salt and light."
Across the ocean at the Vatican, Roman Catholic officials expressed the need to pray for the president-elect and to ask that he promote peace in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said on Vatican Radio the church had taken note "with respect the will of the American people in this exercise of democracy."
Parolin cited the large turnout of votes and congratulated Trump on the victory. He also said churchgoers should ask God to "illuminate him and sustain him in the service of his homeland, naturally, but also of the peace and wellbeing of the world."
"I believe that today it is needed for everyone to work to change the global situation, which is a situation of serious laceration and grave conflict," Parolin said.
Closer to home, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued a statement calling for Americans to move forward together for "the common good of all citizens."
"Let us not see each other in the divisive light of Democrat or Republican or any other political party, but rather, let us see the face of Christ in our neighbors, especially the suffering or those with whom we may disagree," Kurtz wrote.
Kurtz said the church could work with Trump to strengthen families and also to protect human life from conception until "its natural end" – a clear rejection of the abortion industry and the burgeoning physician suicide plans already afoot in some states. He also wrote that Trump should focus on the immigration crisis to welcome refugees humanely without sacrificing security.
Of particular concern for the bishops is religious liberty. Kurtz said he hopes the new administration's domestic agenda includes protections on religious liberty, such as the right to "proclaim and shape our lives around the truth about man and woman, and the unique bond of marriage that they can form."
"Every election brings a new beginning. Some may wonder whether the country can reconcile, work together and fulfill the promise of a more perfect union. Through the hope Christ offers, I believe God will give us the strength to heal and unite," Kurtz wrote in his statement.