This past week an overwhelming majority of America’s Christians went to the polls to vote in a candidate whose campaign targeted women, Muslims, minorities and people with disabilities as scapegoats, and whose televised rallies brimmed with hate language and bullying antics that until now my children had thought were not allowed on the playground (but apparently are in the White House, with the blessing of most Christian voters).
The Christian-Trump Ticket
To what extent my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ went to the polls for Trump with at least some doubt or second-guessing remains unclear. What is clear, however, is that many Christians publicly invoked their Christian confession as the reason for their support of Trump, praying in Jesus’ name (and for others to overhear) that Donald Trump would become the next president, and preaching from the pulpit about God-ordained catastrophe if that didn’t happen.
From various corners, they predicted in apocalyptic tones that any outcome other than President Trump would mean our nation had stepped over the precipice as “Nation Beyond Repair.” In no uncertain tones, these Christians implicitly told me that genuine Christian witness equaled a vote for Trump. There was no “biblically faithful” alternative.
And this week the great majority of America’s Christians got what they hoped and prayed for in Jesus’ name. Catholics, Protestants, and Trump’s biggest and most loyal cheerleaders — white evangelicals, both men and women, who reportedly were instrumental in propelling Trump to victory — prayed into office the most openly racist and mysogynistic presidential candidate of our time, and then anointed that result with prayers of thanksgiving for “God’s grace,” in the form of victory exclamations like that of Vice President-Elect Mike Pence.
Some Exceptions to the Christian-Trump Ticket
In the lead-up to the election, a small handful of Christians sought to challenge and critique this disturbing marriage between evangelicals and Trump. Christianity Today editor Andy Crouch’s warning that “strategy [regarding issues like Supreme Court appointments] becomes its own form of idolatry” was one case in point. Popular Christian author Philip Yancey’s frank bafflement, in an article in The Huffington Post, was another.
The influential evangelical teacher, Beth Moore, courageously called out the obvious and latent mysogynism of evangelicals’ all-too-comfortable endorsement of a Trump presidency: “Try to absorb how acceptable the disesteem and objectifying of women has been when some Christian leaders don’t think it’s that big a deal,” she was quoted as saying by CNN.
From outside the Christian camp, the happy marriage of evangelicals and Donald Trump drew mockery that, however offensive, was also bitingly incisive. A case in point? Bill Maher thanking Trump for exposing evangelicals as “shameless hypocrites.”
What’s to Mourn – The Tragedy of Trump in Jesus’ Name
In the aftermath of this election, my husband, children and I, our neighbors, school, and community, as well as many in our local church family, have been in a state of shock and mourning over the message this election has sent, both to us and to the rest of the world. For some of us, it has been a gut-wrenching grief probably best encapsulated by the following observation in a recent article in The Atlantic: “White, conservative Christians may have thought they were just casting a vote for president, but some of their brothers and sisters in the church see their choice as a direct and personal assault.”
And from a place of painful dislocation, many of us now struggle to see a place for ourselves within an expression of Christianity we want only to run away from. It is an expression of Christianity that now (once again) has implicitly told me, a woman once ordained for Christian ministry, that I should know my place in subjection to men who can objectify, mistreat and rule over women both at home and in the workplace without accountability — and with respect to the last case, even in the rare but real and tragic circumstances where a pregnancy could endanger our health and life. It is an expression of Christianity that turns a blind eye to the bullying of an authoritarian strongman for the sake of political expediency, and as a convenient outlet for eight years of pent-up racist and reactionary anger towards a president pejoratively dubbed by some of the very same Christians as not American by birthright and a closet Muslim.
But the wounds of Christians who don’t just feel “left behind” by a Trump-Christian ticket, but are repulsed and feel assaulted by it, pale in comparison to what I suspect is the greater tragedy at play: as one mostly solid voting bloc in favor of Trump, Christians traded in God’s mission of radical hospitality to the world (which necessarily is not about us) for a fearful and elusive grab at power in the form of a political messiah. Jesus’ words to Peter when Peter fell into a similar trap — “Get behind me Satan,” Jesus commanded, in response to the suggestion He wear the mantle of a political messiah — here come to mind.
So I struggle brokenheartedly to identify even one way in which an overwhelming display of political allegiance to Trump serves as either a winning form of Christian evangelism or as a life-giving expression of God’s mission to the world. And, I suspect, this Faustian compromise (if there ever was one) has damaged the integrity of Christian public witness (or at least what was left of it) for years to come.
If what the late Archbishop William Temple once said is true — “that the church is the only organization that does not exist for itself, but for those who live outside it,” then Christians have made a tragic deal in return for a Trump residency in the White House. We have traded in our raison d’etre as “church,” “the only organization that exists for those who live outside it,” for one idolatrous and elusive grab at power. We have circled the wagons and tacitly proclaimed that we, the church, only really exist for ourselves and our own political agenda — and to hell with those “who live outside” us, who thanks to this election are an only growing circle of hapless outsiders.
Looking for Jesus – the One Who Binds Wounds
Where was Jesus during the past 18 months? Was Jesus in the prayers of church leaders who laid hands on Trump praying against the forces of evil that would keep him from becoming president? Was Jesus in the dark and fear-laden emails I received telling me my faith meant a Trump vote? And where is this Jesus now? Is He in the confident cheers of a God-ordained “mandate” for our country? Is He in the public thanksgiving for “God’s grace” in the form of a Trump victory?
Such questions have caused me to wonder where I belong … and if I have to choose, it would be with the rest of you asking the same questions.
We’re a messy and imperfect bunch.
We’re saints and sinners, Christians and non-Christians, men and women, people of all races, religions and doubts.
We’re “spiritual but not religious.”
We’re also atheists and agnostics, Jews and Muslims, gay and straight.
We’ve got wounds and disabilities of the kind Trump has no patience for.
We’ve got issues and “preexisting conditions” (in the words of Bill Maher above) that need more than a political savior to heal.
And many of us long to relate to a God who is altogether different from a heavenly bully and authoritarian strongman dispensing punishments to those who fall short of a list of very narrow criteria for “righteousness” and inclusion. The God of our understanding and the God we catch holy glimpses of — this God of beauty and truth, freedom and light, gentleness and compassion, whom we seek to know better precisely because this God is the only God we can relate to — is One who also freely invites us into a joy-filled relationship that is predicated first on the assurance of our unconditional and equal mutual belonging as those made in God’s image. “We shall love God because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
Appeals to Scripture aside … who among us can fall in love with or love a God who wants our belief and moral obedience before our most basic human belonging? Yet the God behind a Donald Trump presidency would seem to assert this very thing — and it sounds like a loud, clanging cymbal.
This Sunday my family and I will be skipping church to take a healing hike in the woods. And in the weeks to come, I’ll be seeking solace in the following Good News: that the only One in human history who could ever be justified in commanding a bully pulpit rejected that platform, choosing instead to draw near to us in the form of a baby in a manger and then a cross. This God is the only One who ultimately can “bind” these “wounds of division” that a Trump-Christian ticket has opened up, and humorously, with little trace of self-irony, now says it aims to lance.
This same God tells those who mourn they are “blessed.”
Where is Jesus now? Jesus is with all those who mourn, whatever their vote, in the aftermath of a campaign victory that ultimately sent the message to “those who live outside [the church]” (as well as to some of us in it) that God’s economy is one of scarcity and exclusion, in which lies, anger, hatred and ruthless domination are the only way to win, and a Trump political victory — the sign of favor and grace upon God’s people.
In the meantime, empires and political strongmen will come and go. They will fall on their own tin swords.
But Jesus comes to those in need of a Redeemer, and that mission, like the gentle dawning of a new day in all its blooming splendor, will not be thwarted — even by God’s people.