HOLLAND – Keith Mannes gave his life to the Reformed Christian Church as a pastor for over 30 years. He did so happily and happily.
But on Sunday, October 11, Mannes delivered his final sermon and walked away from the ministry amid growing political tensions and divisions.
Simply put, he pulled out due to the CRC’s broad support for President Donald Trump.
While Mannes enjoys the congregation he served at the East Saugatuck CRC for the past four years, he says the church as a whole has “given up its role” of state conscience in favor of Trump, which led Mannes to withdraw.
“There is a quote from Martin Luther King where he said: ‘The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state'” , Mannes said. “It hit me hard because I think that, by and large, the white evangelical community in our country has given up on this role.
“The issue of the church in large part and how it works at this time has been really disturbing. It was disturbing enough that I had to expand everything.
A division within the faith
Mannes is not the only Christian to feel the tension. He said he knows several other pastors who feel the same way.
Moreover, polls show that while white Christians are still in favor of Trump, that support has waned.
In a survey conducted by Pew Research Center from September 30 to October 5, Christian support for Trump had waned since August.
In the poll released on October 13, 78% of white evangelical Protestants said they would vote for Trump or bend over to vote for Trump if the election was held that day. That’s down 83 percent in August.
White non-evangelical Protestants backed Trump 53% of the time in the latest poll, while White Catholics sat down at 52%, down 6 and 7 percentage points since August, respectively.
According to Pew, 44% of registered voters are white Christians, making them a key demographic in the vote.
Why the pressure on the faithful?
George Lundskow, a sociology professor at Grand Valley State University who studies the sociology of religion, said the support of the religious community is tied to how people perceive God.
Lundskow said that while some of the president’s actions may not align with Christian values, he has aligned himself with conservative Christians by acting the same way they see God – judging and punishing.
“(His actions) don’t sound very Christian, let alone conservative Christian,” Lundskow said. “I don’t think it’s about that. It is another thing about religion – whether you see God as punishing and judging or as the loving and forgiving version of God. It also shapes political opinions. “
Lundskow said this division between conservative and progressive Christians based on their view of God is a point of division within the faith in terms of political support.
The professor explained that those who see God as punitive tend to support Trump, saying they see him as a man determined for the way he attacks his opponents and “punishes” people for being poor. Lundskow added that Christians who view God as loving and forgiving tend to be more liberal and progressive, welcoming immigrants and “seeking social justice” for the poor.
Years in the making
Mannes feels a disconnect between the teachings of the church and the actions of the political candidate whom she has widely supported for years. It all started when Trump announced his campaign in June 2015 as he descended an escalator at Trump Tower.
“From the moment he got off the escalator,” Mannes said when he began to feel an internal struggle. “It has only been built since. From the start I thought there was something about this man and the instrument he is for a lot of things that just aren’t Jesus.
He said his church congregation had “saved (his) faith in many ways,” but what he saw of Christians nationwide challenged it.
This includes rallying white supremacists for a rally in Charlottesville, Va. In 2017 that left three dead and dozens injured, after which Trump said there were “great people on both sides.”
Mannes was one of a group of pastors who traveled 130 miles from Charlottesville to Washington, DC, in August, listening to the stories of the people there during the events of 2017.
He called the photo of Trump holding a Bible outside St. John’s Church in Washington in June, following the use of tear gas and riot control to drive protesters out of the area, a “huge violation of something deep and holy, ”and said it was a pivotal moment in his views.
“It upsets me how the people who go to church who read the Bible and sing the hymns can come to a rally (Trump) and do this deeply like an angry mob supporting these horrible things that are going out of his heart. and his spirit. It just started to bother me so much that I’m pastor in this big business. “
While some, like Mannes, may be put off by Trump’s actions, Lundskow said many look past them because they believe Trump was sent to be a representative of God.
“If I am someone who views Donald Trump as the representative chosen by God, the leader whom God has chosen to bring the country back in the right direction, I am willing to ignore his personal failures,” Lundskow explained. “(Christians think) if he’s good enough to be a representative of God, he’s good enough to be president.”
The decision to leave
As the tension in his heart and the world around him continued to grow, Mannes said his feelings began to show in his sermons, causing unease for some parishioners.
Trying to keep your thoughts internal has become more and more difficult over time.
“What he was really doing tore me apart,” he said. “I had to be very careful not to talk about these things directly with church members.
“It’s not just me, but a number of pastors I know are just like, ‘Is that it? All this preaching that we did about Jesus and there is a big lag? I think it’s a real burden on the hearts of many pastors. I love these people, I love God, I love Jesus, I love the church, but there’s something going on here.
Mannes sat down with his church elders in September to express the tensions he was feeling. After a long and moving reunion, they agreed it was time to go their separate ways.
“We got down on our knees, a lot of us cried. It was a really tough decision, ”Mannes said. “It was time for me to part with love and with great peace and great loss from the church. It was really overwhelming because I gave my life in church, and fortunately.
‘Be the conscience ‘
Mannes says he understands that many Christians will vote for Trump and that he will always love those who do, but implores them to think about what it means to be a Christian before making their choice.
“I just want to implore anyone who claims Christ to just look very seriously at the basic things that Jesus called us to do and be,” he said. “Do some serious soul-searching on who you serve and how you are trying to achieve that goal in the world.”
He calls on his fellow Christians to be the conscience of the president, whoever he is, and to force them to be better than the division that has become common.
“We are supposed to be the conscience of the president and we refused to do it,” Mannes said. “I don’t know that a church that believes in Jesus like us, can let go of its conscience and not say, ‘Mr. President, we call on you to do better than that and you must call on our nation to do better than that.
A few weeks before his last sermon, Mannes spoke with a member of the church, who asked him to reconsider his decision. The person asked him about his plans after he left, with no guarantee that the problem will persist even after polling day.
“He said, ‘What are you going to do? What are you going to have? ‘ », Remembers Mannes. “Well, at least my conscience.”