Last time I wrote, I told you that I was preparing my imagination for the various election scenarios ahead. As I said, the election of Donald Trump was the scariest of two scary scenarios for me. I simply do not trust him for political reasons, temperament reasons, and experience reasons. I find him frightening.
But he is my president. Or he will be, after Inauguration Day. As such, he is my president. I’m called to pray for him and the wisdom he needs to do a very difficult job. I really and sincerely hope that he far exceeds my expectations. I’m working on the state of my heart to be a good citizen both of the Kingdom and of this country. As I heard one person say, being a fearful, bitter person who speaks ill of the president at all times does not make me part of a better future for my country. I have become a part of the problem. I can be joyfully submissive to the person God has appointed, even as I push back when needed. I can show my children that trust in God is not merely an intellectual exercise, but a disposition of the heart. And that includes my attitudes towards my government.
I do need to say at greater length, though, that my fears for the state of the American Church are much, much deeper than any of my fears that I had politically for either candidate. I am deeply, deeply concerned for us as a missionary people. Set aside the political objectives. Let us look at missional objectives.
First off, it is very public information that white evangelicals voted for Trump. We can argue about definitions and all that, but this information was talked about in every context I can recall reading or viewing election information on. White evangelicals went out for Trump. This is very true of my own anecdotal social media experience. I’m not here to talk about why or if you should or anything like that. I’m just saying I know it, the world knows it.
Voting may not have come with our whole-hearted approval, but, increasingly, many people do not hear from people of the opposing political spectrum. So your vote may be known, but the reservations may not be heard.
And what have we seen? We have seen that Donald Trump has a history of saying terrible things about women. I don’t need to link to this, right? This is well-known beyond that one audio recording. And evangelicals have been seen to vote for this man who says those things. When you pair this with the willingness to believe that evangelical theology is intrinsically misogynistic (I trust this charge is not new to you either, dear reader), Trump’s election seems to be confirmation: Evangelicals are misogynists.
I don’t agree with this conclusion. Well, not entirely. I think there’s a lot of data missing in that conclusion. But you can see the simple case that people can and will make.
We have also seen Trump play on racial mistrust. My last name is Rodriguez, so maybe I’ve been more sensitive to it, but he hasn’t said great stuff about Hispanics. He’s shown remarkable insensitivity to Black Lives Matter complaints. It is well-known that white nationalists and the alt-right love Trump. Don’t believe me? Just google “white nationalist” and “Trump” and see the scores of stories about this phenomenon. And evangelicals backed this man, passed on calling him out on this foolishness. It’s not very hard to find the conclusion from people: evangelicals are racists.
Again, I don’t agree with this conclusion (entirely). I think racial bias is often unconscious and people are sick of PC culture and on and on and on. But it appears to be a problem that the evangelical world allied itself with the choice of the KKK without making known its strong disapproval of these elements.
These are just two areas I’d highlight that are real problems for us, missionally.
Again, I’m not here to tell the evangelical world that we’re all misogynistic racists. I don’t think that analysis is correct. I think there are some of those in our number, but I don’t think they’re the majority.
The problem is: our country might increasingly believe it is true.
This is a problem for us. It is a problem if people do not believe that, in Jesus, all distinctions based on race and class are erased. It’s a problem if people do not believe that we know that sin is pervasive and systemic, and that includes race.
Look, I’m not saying that these conclusions are right or even that we should expect a fair hearing on anything. But I am saying that, if we are not very careful about where we are right now, we are throwing up significant barriers to making sure the Gospel gets a hearing with our country that will only grow more and more brown/black as older white faces pass away.
We are in a precarious place because of the allies we have chosen.
This is not to say that concerns about abortion or religious freedom or illegitimate. I’m not going to tell you what your political strategy should be. God bless you in your creativity in that realm. But I’m just saying that there are consequences to decisions like these. I have many thoughts about how to deal with these consequences but my simplest suggestion is this:
We need to open our ears. We need to find our voice.
No party should expect unalloyed allegiance without criticism from us, the Church. We need to be sharply critical of all those elements that are antithetical to the Gospel. Racism is abhorrent and it is more widespread than we like to admit. We need to listen to the Church both here and abroad who will tell us this readily. We need to root out any belief that women lesser, “impossibly emotional” beings who do no image God.
Here I must cop to some growing frustration. I keep seeing, in long-form writing and on social media, out and out refusal to countenance the possibility that women and minorities have any legitimate reason to feel concerned about a Donald Trump presidency. The distaste for PC culture (which I understand) has predetermined that their stories will not be heard. Evangelical men refuse to believe the many women who say they are routinely, inappropriately spoken to on the street no matter what they wear (as if what they wear would in any way legitimize being spoken to like a sexual object). Evangelical white men patronizingly shush people of color, telling them that racism has been institutionally eradicated with Civil Rights legislation in the 60’s, as if generations of white people legally owning and abusing other non-white peoples will have no long-term effect. Evangelicals are choosing and will choose to ignore the sudden flare-up of stories of people using this cultural moment to express their racial disdain, feeling liberated by the space opened up for them by the way Trump ran his candidacy. All of these things are “liberal conspiracies.” As if people of color are too stupid to recount their own stories.
The world is watching an evangelical Christian world that cast their votes at an 80% clip for Donald Trump (albeit, for many of those votes, begrudgingly and disgustedly) and then absolutely refuse to hear the fears of those who did not feel it was possible to vote for a man they were terrified of, no matter their investment in similar social/moral issues. We have to change course to some degree. We have to listen to our brothers and sister in Christ about why they did not vote for this man like we did. We have to listen to why they are so afraid and, at least for a moment, stop and ask if they are so afraid for reasons other than “the media made them this way.”
And we need to speak prophetically to politicians. We should not be tweeting their hashtags and singing their praises without also calling them to account for their actions. If you found it necessary to vote for Donald Trump, you must also find it necessary to hold him to the Biblical wisdom he says he admires. And, yes, more politically liberal believers must do the same with their politicians.
There is no unspoiled political party, no absolutely pure heart. We cannot, for the sake of power, give up the divine charge to love our neighbors, care for the weak among us, and call people to repentance.
So, Church, are we ready? Are we ready to clear our throats and bring prophetic charges against the ungodly rulers of our day? Are we willing to hear the voices of those who are afraid even if it makes us uncomfortable, even if it complicates our political strategy? Will we see beyond political labels and execute that prophetic office for all of those public officials to whom we are called to submit? For the sake of the reputation of the Church, will we make clear what we love most?
For the sake of the Gospel, our allegiances must be clear. We have to, in our daily lives, make it easy for our friends to believe that we do not approve of some of the things we see and hear. Have to be known, not for our voting records or our defense of politicians, but for our love for Jesus, our love for our neighbors. The degree to which we fail to love God and love our neighbors is the degree to which we fail the commandments.
So the question is now this: Will we be good lovers? The question of who will you vote for is over. The eternal question is brought back to the forefront. Do we love God above everyone and everything? And do we love our neighbors as ourselves? On these things, may our reputation rise and fall.