I sat for some time staring at my election ballot wondering, “are these really my only choices for America’s next president?” Neither Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump share my Christian worldview; both are narcissists and both have serious flaws in their character that make them distasteful.

So how did we get here? How did we arrive at this place where the two major party nominees are so ethically flawed? The answer, in short, is that Clinton and Trump reflect the character and moral decay of America as a whole. As more and more people have rejected Christianity in favor of a secular worldview, the expectations of our leaders to be men and women of integrity (at least as that word is defined by biblical Christianity) has fallen to the wayside. Pew Research has tracked this rise in what they call the “nones”.

Religious “nones” – a shorthand we use to refer to people who self-identify as atheists or agnostics, as well as those who say their religion is “nothing in particular” – now make up roughly 23% of the U.S. adult population. This is a stark increase from 2007, the last time a similar Pew Research study was conducted, when 16% of Americans were “nones.” (During this same time period, Christians have fallen from 78% to 71%.)

Overall, religiously unaffiliated people are more concentrated among young adults than other age groups – 35% of Millennials (those born 1981-1996) are “nones.” In addition, the unaffiliated as a whole are getting even younger. The median age of unaffiliated adults is now 36, down from 38 in 2007 and significantly younger than the overall median age of U.S. adults in 2014 (46).

But even among the 71% who call themselves Christian, only a small percentage actually participate in the life of the Church and are guided by Her teachings. As reported by Toni Ridgeway on ChurchLeaders.com.

According to the Hartford Institute of Religion Research, more than 40 percent of people say they go to church every week, but statistics show that fewer than 20 percent actually attend. More than 4,000 churches close their doors every year. Between 2010 and 2012, half of all churches in the U.S. did not add any new members. Each year 2.7 million church members fall into inactivity.

In recent decades, this shift away from Christianity has increased so that for every new believer, four others shift towards atheism or agnosticism. The NY Times reports the rise in the “nones” as follows,

Over all, the religiously unaffiliated number 56 million and represent 23 percent of adults, up from 36 million and 16 percent in 2007, Pew estimates. Nearly half of the growth was from atheists and agnostics, whose tallies nearly doubled to 7 percent of adults. The remainder of the unaffiliated, those who describe themselves as having “no particular religion,” were less likely to say that religion was an important part of their lives than eight years ago.

The radical drift toward pluralization and secularization has led not just to apathy toward people who hold to a vibrant Christan faith, but a marked increase in animus toward anyone who trusts in Jesus as their moral authority. Anyone who holds to a biblical moral standard is perceived by the culture as judgemental and hypocritical. The balkanization of society means our leaders are no longer expected to follow any one particular moral standard of conduct because there is no “one” moral standard. Elizabeth Drescher reports on the impact for the kinds of leaders America can expect,

Some of the effects of the decentering of religion in general and Christianity in particular are easily recognizable. In the political arena, for instance, religious background is less and less important. Indeed, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City has highlighted his spiritual-but-not-religious self-identification as a credential for working effectively with diverse religious groups as well as those not affiliated with institutional religions. Where being unreligious was once a political liability, in some political races being too religious can now be problematic. Similar shifts in the role of religion in culture have been playing out for decades in education, health care and popular media. But more subtle transitions are also under way, those associated with how religious idioms—symbols, rituals, artifacts, doctrines, holy figures, turns of phrase and, by no means least, sacred stories—circulate in the wider culture. It is here that what might be called the none-ing of the United States will likely have its most pervasive and enduring effects on ways of perceiving, interpreting and expressing our experiences of reality, which have for centuries been shaped extensively by Christian ideas and practices. The wellspring of Christian idioms is, of course, Scripture; and we can fairly wonder if and how the growing population of nones might continue to engage Scripture and how this might change Scripture itself.

Some see the decline in Christain influence as a good thing for America. One such person is Mary Elizabeth Williams, a self-described Roman Catholic who writes the following,

“The percentage of adults (ages 18 and older) who describe themselves as Christians has dropped by nearly eight percentage points in just seven years.” And as a practicing Catholic raising her children Catholic, I see this as cause for cheering.

Ms. Williams’ wish has been granted. Donald Trump is not the choice of “evangelical” Christians, but he is the poster-child of secular conservativism. As Neil Stevens concludes, “Evangelicals didn’t drive this car off the cliff. They’re just along for the ride, like the rest of us.”

So as I stare at my ballot and consider my vote for president, I realize that I am looking at two fundamentally flawed candidates; driven by the new religion of political ideology standing atop the corpse of Christian ethics. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump reflect the triumph of the new secular America. In the “new America” driven by the “nones”, Clinton and Trump are the shining examples of the new normal for our pluralistic society. Whoever wins this election, the moral agnosticism of the “nones” will be the guiding principle. The angry atheists have longed for the day when the Christian influence would decline, and election day 2016 reflects the future of our secular America.

The words of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in his commencement address at Harvard University on June 8, 1978 are prophetic of our 2016 election choices.

There are meaningful warnings which history gives a threatened or perishing society. Such are, for instance, the decadence of art, or a lack of great statesmen. There are open and evident warnings, too. The center of your democracy and of your culture is left without electric power for a few hours only, and all of a sudden crowds of American citizens start looting and creating havoc. The smooth surface film must be very thin, then, the social system quite unstable and unhealthy.

Who should Christians vote for? I don’t know. We will each make our own decision based on what we see as the greatest priority for the United States of America. But know this, whoever wins the US Presidency in 2016, their nomination and election are the fruit of secularism, not Christianity.

Updates From User Questions

Did more than 80% of Evangelicals really vote for Trump in 2016?

EDITORIAL NOTE: I have had a lot of questions about this on Twitter, so I wanted to address this statistic because most people cite it without any understanding of how statistics are abused in the populist media. Joe Carter on The Gospel Coalition website has done the research, so I will just point out a few highlights here. He writes, “using a more nuanced analysis we can reasonably estimate that somewhere between 35 percent and 45 percent of all evangelicals in America voted for Trump.” He also points out some other important flaws in this oft-cited number:

1. Exit polls do not capture the ‘evangelical’ vote, only the white evangelical vote. 2. The exit poll conflates ‘evangelical” and ‘born again.’ 3. Many cultural Christians who never go to church identify as ‘evangelical’ or ‘born again.’ 4. Exit polls only tell us about the people who voted.

Carter has a lot of good stuff to say which you can read on his post, but here is what he concludes, “we can make a rough estimate and conclude that the majority voted for Trump because they did not like Clinton. We can also assume that approximately only 1 in 5 of all evangelicals (about 18 percent) strongly favored Trump—about the same as the number that strongly favored Clinton (an estimated 19 percent).” 

Dr. J.R. Miller is a Professor of Applied Theology and Leadership & Dean of Online Learning at Southern California Seminary. Outside work, he is a church planter. Dr. Miller has a diverse educational background and authored multiple books on church history, biblical theology, and Leadership. Joe and his wife Suzanne enjoy the sun and surf with their 3 sons in San Diego, CA.

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