by Bob Vander Plaats
Many reports have come out of the meeting that faith leaders held in New York City on June 21 with presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump.
I was there, and I can assure you it was definitely big. Roughly 1,000 faith leaders from big churches and big ministries met in the Big Apple at the Marriott Hotel on Times Square. And, yes, there was Donald Trump in person. In Mr. Trump’s vernacular, “It was YUGE!”
Below are my impressions from this big meeting, but I want to stress at the outset my conclusion of the matter: No matter how big the stage, or the stakes, if the church confines its vision to Mr. Trump, then our vision is not big enough. The good news is … there is a bigger vision already laid out for us.
What happened in New York
The original intent of the New York City meeting was to be a free-flowing and unscripted dialogue with Mr. Trump. We wanted no media. We desired a safe environment that would lend itself to transparency, so Mr. Trump could see our heart and we could see his.
But Mr. Trump was given an extra layer of “safe environment” when Mike Huckabee, an open Trump supporter, moderated the interview. Then select questioners were provided typewritten questions. Many good things came out of the Big Apple, but I believe it could have been better with a neutral moderator and unscripted questions that allowed follow-up opportunities.
Still, allow me to report the good things that happened in New York.
First, 1,000 faith leaders journeyed from across the U.S. to discern how to lead our country at this crucial time. Their heart for wisdom and unity was truly encouraging. They politely welcomed Mr. Trump to a conversation, and Mr. Trump honored the faith leaders and their importance in the culture and this election by agreeing to meet. These kinds of conversations between faith leaders and national civic leaders are unique opportunities and a positive step.
Second, on the issues, Mr. Trump provided hope for these leaders as he spoke boldly for religious liberty, for ending the Johnson Amendment (which threatens churches that engage in politics with losing their tax-exempt status), for standing with Israel, for repealing Obamacare, and for insisting on the appointment of constitutionally minded Supreme Court justices. All of this is good news.
What came from New York
Reaction to the meeting spans the #Trump spectrum. Some faith leaders are readily embracing Trump’s candidacy. Some are in “wait and see” mode. And some are reluctant. In scriptural terms, it ranges from hot to lukewarm to cold. Any reports of a massive stamp of approval from faith leaders are greatly exaggerated.
My biggest concern after leaving this meeting, however, is witnessing brothers and sisters in Christ on both sides of the #Trump debate disparaging one another in the name of Christ. As big as this event was, and as big as this election is, I encourage all believers to think bigger. Tearing apart the church over #Trump is defeating the bigger vision for the sake of the smaller.
For our hope – the hope of the believer, the hope of the church, and even America’s best hope – is not in Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton nor the 2016 election nor any human instrument. Think bigger! Our true hope is not in a president or king, but in the King of Kings, and as Ronald Reagan rightly pointed out, “This country hungers for a spiritual revival.”
And the one institution that champions that true hope for revival is not a candidate or political party, but the church. The vision of the church is the vision bigger than even Donald Trump.
The best message that could come out of this meeting in New York is an overwhelming and united embrace of the belief that our true hope for America is in the Bride of Christ, the church. Simply put, America needs the church to be the church. Our pulpits must be enflamed with the righteousness Alexis de Tocqueville proclaimed makes America unique. The church, the body of Christ, must be willing to lead with humility and in prayer by seeking God’s heart and by authentically turning from our wicked and indifferent ways (2 Chronicles 7:14). We need revival, and nothing else and no one else will do.
Thus, I encourage all believers, no matter where you are on the #Trump spectrum, to think bigger and to encourage one another to keep the main thing the main thing – the church’s united mission to proclaim the Cross of Christ! Let us not allow our smaller vision of Donald Trump to so divide the Body of Christ that it compromises or disqualifies us from our true hope.