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Members of the activist group Rise and Resist gather for a demonstration in Manhattan on Oct. 31. ( Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

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Citizens and pilgrims in an election season

How evangelicals can prepare for whatever results an election week brings

On the Sunday morning before Election Day, the bulletin of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., included a solemn reminder: “We believe that the end of the world is approaching.”

The statement wasn’t an anticipation of this week’s election, but an affirmation of Christian doctrine in the church’s statement of faith: On the last day, God’s work of judgment and salvation will culminate when Christ returns. 

An eternal perspective is helpful at the beginning of an election week. Political outcomes are weighty, but not ultimate. For many evangelicals, though, this election cycle has proven both weighty and divisive. Respectable leaders have disagreed. 

Theologian and author John Piper recently wrote about his concerns over moral character and why he didn’t intend to vote for either of the two major presidential candidates. Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, didn’t support President Donald Trump in 2016 because of concerns over Trump’s character, but he recently explained why policy concerns have motivated him to vote for Trump’s reelection this year.

Meanwhile, voter expectations are high. A recent poll of Wisconsin voters showed that 80 percent of Trump’s supporters in the state believe he’ll win. Eighty percent of Democrat Joe Biden’s supporters there believe Biden will prevail. 

That suggests a sizable chunk of American voters will be disappointed this week, assuming we know results right away. And depending on the outcome, at least some portion of evangelicals will feel disappointment too—whether they voted for Trump, Biden, or neither candidate. 

How can we prepare to respond? I put that question to Jonathan Leeman, editorial director of 9Marks ministry and author of How the Nations Rage. He offered this counsel:

If your candidate wins: “I think you, as a Christian, need to show empathy and compassion towards those fellow believers whose candidate lost, and who may be feeling a significant degree of apprehension and fear and anxiety. … You cannot lose sight of the fundamental gospel unity that we share, and the call to love those who are genuinely upset.”

If your candidate loses: “We still need to take confidence in the fact that God is on His throne, and that Jesus’ vindication and victory are certain. God is not caught off guard.” 

None of this diminishes the importance of the election, Leeman added: “It’s just to say that the gospel itself and the kingdom of Christ is that much more important. So contested outcome or no, civic unrest or no, put not your trust in horses and chariots.”

Adam Mabry, pastor of Aletheia Church in Boston, Mass., writes about the importance of truth and the anxiety over politics in a chapter of his recently released book Stop Taking Sides. Mabry doesn’t argue for diminishing truth or disengaging from politics, but he does offer a helpful reminder:

“While the world may lose their collective marbles when an election goes ‘wrong,’ may it never be so for the church of Jesus Christ.”

Mabry continues: “When you feel the nagging draw of anxiety on election night, remember your King is on the throne already. While the outcome may change the moment, it changes neither the mission nor eternity. The world is desperate for a people who are secure enough in grace that they can flourish under Caesar, whoever he or she may be”

This year, of course, isn’t the first time Christians have disagreed over a course of action. 

Four hundred years ago this month, some 100 passengers aboard the Mayflower spotted the coast of Cape Cod, Mass., after a miserable two-month voyage from England. A miserable winter awaited them, and they were already disagreeing about their next steps.

The travelers did sign an agreement on board the ship: The Mayflower Compact expressed their desire “for the glory of God and advancement of the Christian faith and honor of our king and country.” 

Many of the ship’s passengers knew they wanted religious freedom to worship according to the Scriptures, but they also knew what fellow passenger William Bradford later wrote about the Christians on board: “They knew they were pilgrims.”

It’s a phrase worth remembering this week. The 2020 contest is important, and elections have consequences. But Christ’s kingdom is ultimate, and as Leeman reminds us: “God is not caught off guard.”

Indeed, even when we forget, He knows we are pilgrims.

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AP Photo/Steven Senne

An early voting polling place in Wellesley, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

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Election season’s final lap

The Senate in the balance, Biden in the dock, and Barrett in the court

After months of one of the most unusual presidential campaigns in modern history, we’re less than one week away from Election Day. Here’s a grab-bag of stories to watch as the week unfolds.

Senate showdown

While the top of the ticket is grabbing the most attention, GOP senators remain locked in a grueling battle to hang on to their majority—and to prevent a Democratic sweep of the White House and both chambers of Congress. 

Some Republican senators seemed to brace for a potential wipeout: Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., will likely keep his Senate seat, but he’s clearly worried about down-ballot disasters in swing states. Sasse slammed President Donald Trump’s leadership during a recent campaign call with constituents, and he warned of a “Republican bloodbath” in the Senate if Trump loses. 

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, blamed Democrats for holding up a new coronavirus stimulus package, but he worried about a similar scenario: He told CNBC that if voters are angry and depressed on Election Day, the GOP could face “a bloodbath of Watergate proportions.”

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., avoided talk of bloodbaths in his swing state re-election bid, and he told reporters he thought Trump could win. But he also added a pragmatic note: “The best check on a Biden presidency is for Republicans to have a majority in the Senate.”

Biden in the dock

When it comes to a Biden presidency, Democratic nominee Joe Biden hasn’t answered questions about whether he would add more justices to the Supreme Court. The question gained urgency as Democrats objected to Republican plans to confirm a new justice before Election Day.

Republicans moved ahead: The Senate voted to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court on Monday evening, and she was officially sworn in on Tuesday. 

The ball is now in Biden’s court: With less than a week left before Election Day, will he say whether he intends to support packing the Supreme Court? In a town hall on Oct. 15, Biden said he’s “not a fan” of the idea, but he didn’t rule it out. A few days ago, he said he would convene a committee of scholars to study the courts if he’s elected, but he still didn’t answer queries about adding additional justices.

Biden’s running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., dodged a similar question in a debate with Vice President Mike Pence, but during her primary run for the presidency she told The New York Times she was “absolutely open” to the discussion of expanding the court. 

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., made her own demands clear in a Monday night tweet to her own party: “Expand the court.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., didn’t dismiss the idea in an appearance on MSNBC: “Should we expand the court? Well, let’s take a look and see.”

Meanwhile, another question remains unanswered: Biden has avoided queries about whether he intends to support eliminating the Senate filibuster and pave the way for most legislation to pass with a simple majority in the Senate. 

Biden also continues to face allegations regarding his involvement in the overseas business dealings of his son, Hunter Biden. The former vice president denies ever discussing overseas business with his son. Tony Bobulinksi, a former business associate of Hunter Biden, alleges that’s not true, and he says he met with both Bidens in May 2017.

Barrett in the court

Barrett’s new appointment means the conservative balance of the high court shifts to 6-3. But it also may mean more influence for one justice in particular: Clarence Thomas.

That’s because Chief Justice John Roberts sometimes votes with the more liberal side of the court in decisions that have come down 5-4. In those cases, Roberts has the authority to choose which justice writes the majority opinion, and he can assign the duty to himself.

But the new balance brings a new twist: If Roberts joins the liberal side of the court in some cases—and if Barrett joins the conservatives—the conservative side likely would prevail 5-4. With Roberts in the dissent, the authority to assign authorship of the majority opinion would fall to the most senior justice in the conservative majority. 

That would be Clarence Thomas.

Wall Street Journal opinion editor James Taranto considers the implications: “Justice Thomas is something of an anti-Roberts. His lone concurrences and dissents are usually not incremental but adventurous, urging colleagues to break new legal ground or rethink old precedents.” 

Taranto notes that in a dissent this summer, Thomas argued that “Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided and should be overturned—a position no other sitting justice has endorsed since Antonin Scalia died in 2016.” 

With a new court balance, Taranto says Thomas may be in a position to write majority opinions and to “induce the court to a bolder conclusion.” 

For now, Barrett joins the court just in time to face a request that she recuse herself from an election-related case. There wasn’t an immediate word on Barrett’s response, but she did make one election-related comment during a White House ceremony on Monday night: 

“My fellow Americans, even though we judges don’t face elections, we still work for you. It is your Constitution that establishes the rule of law and the judicial independence that is so central to it.

“The oath that I have solemnly taken tonight means, at its core, that I will do my job without any fear or favor, and that I will do so independently of both the political branches and of my own preferences.”

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AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

Protesters rally near the White House on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention on Thursday in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

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Protester disputes Metaxas account of RNC altercation

And a strange campaign season enters its next phase

UPDATED Thursday, Sept. 3: A man identifying himself as the protester in a video circulating on social media disputes Eric Metaxas’ account of an altercation on the streets of Washington, D.C., after the Republican National Convention last week. 

Metaxas claimed a protester on a bicycle came at him in a menacing way before a video appears to show him swinging at the protester. The protester says that isn’t true. In a note from the protester’s Instagram account, he wrote: “Bottom line, though, is he attacked me. I wasn’t threatening or intimidating them. Sure I was talking [profanity]. But I gave them no reason to attack me. He had to lunge at me to punch me from behind. Charges will be filed.” (The protester didn’t disclose his name in his response.)

Religion Unplugged reported on Thursday that Metaxas sent an email to executive editor Paul Glader, repeating his earlier claims about the protester, and saying that Metaxas did try to “knock him away.” Glader reported Metaxas wrote: “It just happened.”

Below is our earlier report:

Maryland pastor Harry Jackson had a close-up look at an incident Thursday night that has received broad social media attention: He says a protester confronting guests leaving President Donald Trump’s speech at the White House repeatedly rode his bicycle very close toward Eric Metaxas—a Christian author, radio host, and Trump supporter. And a video of the incident appears to show Metaxas taking a swing at the protester. 

Metaxas responded to WORLD’s inquiries about the incident on Monday morning via email, saying he had “chosen to go off social media till now and not to comment on any of this.” He added: “For context, just so you know, the guy came at me with his bike and was very menacing for a long time.” Metaxas said he had been escorting his wife and Maryland pastor Harry Jackson to an Uber ride. 

I spoke with Jackson Monday morning, and the pastor confirmed he had been with Metaxas and his wife that evening. Jackson said after they left Trump’s speech at the White House, they had walked down a D.C. street for about 10 minutes while protesters cursed at them. 

Jackson said they turned down a side street to meet their Uber driver, and a protester on a bicycle kept swerving close to Metaxas while cursing Trump and them. (Jackson described the encounter as the bicyclist “playing chicken” with Metaxas.)

Jackson said the encounter was intimidating enough that he wondered if he would need to use his walking cane to defend himself. He said the protester came within a few inches of Metaxas, but he didn’t know if he physically touched Metaxas. The video only shows about six seconds before Metaxas appears to hit the protester.

The protester posted the video on his Instagram account, showing officers detaining him on the side of the road after the encounter. He wrote: “I got punched by a member of the RNC and get detained by the Secret Service for absolutely nothing.” Another video shows the protester telling police he didn’t touch the man. 

The protester’s Instagram account identifies him by the handle antidote503, and with the location Portland, Ore. He posted a photo and video a few days earlier indicating he was traveling from Portland to D.C. for protests: “@portlandresistance and I have arrived! dc let’s get to it.” (UPDATE: Religion News Service [RNS] reported a man identifying himself as the protester disputed Metaxas’ account. He declined to give his name to RNS, but said: “He attacked me. I wasn't threatening or intimidating. I was on a rented bicycle! He clearly punched me from behind.”

The incident was a strange note in a chaotic night, as other videos showed crowds of protesters surrounding couples and individuals after they left the White House. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said he feared for the safety of his wife and himself as a crowd pressed in on them and the police officers around them, shouting at them. Paul called for an FBI investigation into what he called “interstate criminal traffic being paid for across state lines.”

The virus and the violence

Just two months remain before the Nov. 3 contest, and two issues may take center stage in the campaigns: the virus upending the world, and the violence upending some American cities.

Democratic nominee Joe Biden is making Trump’s response to the coronavirus a centerpiece of his campaign. One of Biden’s talking points: He would have handled it better than Trump. 

Hindsight does give clarity, but on Feb. 29—the day that news broke of the first coronavirus death in the U.S.—I stood shoulder-to-shoulder with other reporters in a Wofford College gym while Biden addressed a crowd of hundreds of people packed onto bleachers at a campaign rally. Two weeks later, the CDC advised against gatherings of more than 10 people.

It all happened fast, and Trump will have to defend his response—a poll in July showed 60 percent of Americans disapprove of how he’s handled the pandemic. But Biden may have more success at persuading voters that his plan going forward will be better than convincing them that he would have shaped a better outcome.

Meanwhile, Trump is making urban unrest a centerpiece of his reelection campaign. During his Thursday night speech, the president warned that Democrats would “demolish the suburbs” and “confiscate your guns.” 

Biden’s gun control plan doesn’t include confiscating all guns, but Democrats may have missed a moment during their own convention when it comes to violence: They rightly lamented some of the tragic deaths of black citizens during police encounters, but they didn’t respond to the violence gripping some cities in the wake of protests. 

Biden has pushed back on criticism that he hasn’t spoken out forcefully enough: He says he condemns all forms of violence. But the issue will continue to surface as the campaign continues. 

Agenda addition

We noted that Trump’s recently released second term agenda didn’t include priorities related to religious liberty, pro-life concerns, or judicial appointments. It seemed odd, given the importance of those issues to some conservatives.

Late last week, the list expanded with a section that includes priorities on life, religious liberty, appointing constitutionalist justices, and protecting Second Amendment rights.

I’ve asked the Trump campaign for comment on the new section (and the concerns that it wasn’t originally included), and we’ll report any response.

Republicans and religion

Vice President Mike Pence’s speech at the Republican National Convention raised some eyebrows on Wednesday night when he mixed Scripture and patriotic language. “Let’s run the race marked out for us,” he began. 

The phrase comes from the opening verses of Hebrews 12. But Pence continued, “Let’s fix our eyes on Old Glory and all that she represents.”  That’s not in the book of Hebrews—the New Testament passage says, “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.”

Pence added: “And let’s fix our eyes on the author and perfecter of our faith and freedom, and never forget that where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom—and that means freedom always wins.”

The second half of that remark partially echoes 2 Corinthians 3:17: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom.” 

Politicians invoking Biblical language isn’t new: President Ronald Reagan famously compared America to the “shining city on a hill” from Matthew 5. Two weeks ago, Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris said she was committed to “the word that teaches me to walk by faith, and not by sight.” 

As a writer, I sometimes fold Biblical phrases into news stories, but it does require care. When a listener is expecting to hear the word “Jesus” in a Biblical quote, it’s jolting to hear a reference to the American flag instead. It also risks mixing hope in an imperfect, finite nation with the Christian’s eternal hope in a perfect Savior of people from all nations. 

It’s a good reminder that during another tumultuous election season, fixing our eyes on Jesus is the one thing that can keep Christians grounded, even if they do find themselves sometimes divided.

Editor’s Note: WORLD has updated this story since its original posting.

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