9 min. to read.
In the days following the recent election, I saw a graph that stunned me. I cannot get it out of my head.
It showed a statistical breakdown of who voted for which candidate from exit poll data, suggesting that 76% of this particular group voted to re-elect the incumbent. 76%. Numbers that high mean that Donald Trump is unquestionably the man for this group. They see him as representing them and their interests. They align with him.
Seeing this number the first time, I felt a visceral reaction, a kick in the gut. The demographic? People who identify as White Evangelical or White born-again Christians. I knew some in this group would vote this way, but 76%?
I posted on Twitter, “This photo and I are having a deeply painful, existential conversation about me, my beliefs, my future, and my hope for the world. I have nothing glib to say about it, and I don’t know what’s the outcome will be…”
The image came from a New York Times report on the exit polls. (You can see it here) I have since learned that other exit polls peg the number higher, as high as 81%. Why the painful reaction? Because in many ways, these are my people. They are certainly the people who raised me.
It was these people who taught me the importance of honesty and humility. They told me that morality matters. They warned me away from sexual impropriety. They taught me that it’s not just evil acts that are to be avoided, but even the appearance of evil! These are the people who drilled into me that character matters and that if you compromise your integrity, you will rot your soul.
I cannot for the life of me reconcile how I was raised with what I see in our public conversation. How is it possible that those who taught me these lessons about character seem to think, with an overwhelming consensus, that this man, his way of leading, and the administration he has assembled, is the right way forward for our country?
Some, I know, have voted while holding their nose. They don’t like Trump as a person. They see him as a lesser of two evils, a necessary means to an end. I’ve heard people say, “We weren’t electing a pastor; we were electing a president. And this is a president who knows how to run a business, and more than that, he’s pro-life.”
Hold on! Even if those things are true (which I don’t think the evidence supports), this is consequentialism! This argument suggests that the end is so important that any means are justified. But that is also one of the things I was taught to avoid! The way you go about something is as important as the result you seek. In fact, the way you do something is more important because the way is the means becoming. The way reveals your character. If you compromise the way, the results will inevitably be corrupted and compromised—even if you get what you think you want.
This fruit from that tree?
This disconnect with my heritage is disorienting, but there’s something even worse gnawing at my insides. Not only were these the people who taught me the value of character, but these were also the people who led me to Jesus and his other-centered co-suffering way.
Church school, and at church camp, and a thousand sermons formed me. God’s invitation to us, I was told, is to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly. At the end of all things, they said, the Judge of all the Earth would measure us by how we cared for those our society considered least. We sang about Jesus’ love for all the children of the earth in their full array of colors. We poured over ancient laws that forbade exploitative money lending, allowed poor people to get what they needed directly from the fields of the rich, and forgave debts every fifty years so that no family could be permanently evicted from their land.
I learned those lessons and came to love these ancient scriptures. I embraced their values for myself. Seeing those same people voting for an administration enacting policies that are explicitly anti-immigrant, arguably racist, and that undermine regulations meant to impede exploitation of the earth and people? It feels like betrayal. How did this fruit come from that tree? Did they lie to me? Or did they really not understand the implications of Jesus’ way?
No political party is perfect, and The United State’s two-party system is particularly flawed. Our salvation is not to be found in any policy or human leader. I know all of that. And—full disclosure—if a Democratic administration takes the helm, there will still be important issues the church will need to speak out on.
And yet, I’m stunned that such a large majority of the folks I consider extended family can reconcile their vote with what they taught me about God. I am deeply worried, not just for the future of our country, but more importantly, for the future of the church. Oh, I trust God. God has carried the church through every manner of difficult circumstance. I’m fearful for the hearts and souls of many Christians today.
Looking at that 76% and the arguments that justify it, I suspect that we are trying to protect ourselves, our position, and our privilege, and we are doing it at the cost of our character. This is already hurting our ability to be salt and light in the world, and I suspect things will get a lot worse. Already, I’ve had several conversations with people in my world who are ready to shut the door on faith, Christianity, even Jesus, just because of what they have seen and heard these past four years.
Even after you saw it, you did not repent!
Amid this mental turmoil, I came across one of Jesus’ little stories. I’ll share it here, so you don’t have to go looking for it:
“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. “Then, the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go. “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”
“The first,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.”
As I read this little story (recorded in Matthew 21:28-32) I was stunned and challenged. I wondered about where my extended family of American Christians and I see ourselves in this story? We’re so sure we’re on God’s path but are we?
The way of Jesus is an other-centered, life-laid-down, co-suffering path that offers grace and welcome. When Jesus spoke in terms of judgment, he was generally addressing those who exploited, those who self-righteously justified their behavior. The people he condemned were convinced they were doing the right thing but were just looking out for themselves. Where are we in the story?
There are many out there who are literally doing the things Jesus said to do. They are feeding the poor, protecting and caring for the sick (wear your mask, people!), and seeking the liberation of the oppressed, and many of them are not Christian! Not only are they not Christian, but it’s Christians who attack them and their work, derogatorily calling them “Social Justice Warriors” or deluded “cultural Marxists.”
Instead of doing what Jesus said to do, we in the church seem to want to spend our time, energy, and dollars fighting for our right to get together in public and sing Jesus-songs, declaring that we (of all people) are persecuted, and even going so far as to say that these kinds of causes (like the work of fighting for racial injustice) are wrong or get in the way of our Gospel mission. My soul aches with grief and confusion.
I have a lot of self-evaluation to do. I’m not sure that I can wear some of the labels I’ve worn in the past anymore. I’m not even sure what label would be accurate. Today, as my heart and mind roil, I have no idea where to find myself in relationship to the 76%. I sense a long road ahead as I sort out what all of this means.
And yet, I love Jesus. I believe Jesus’ way is embodied in communities that live out his good news. I believe his way is other-centered co-suffering love. For myself, and perhaps for you, I’m going to restate Jesus’ challenge, and this will be intentionally provocative. If that troubles you, then you’ve never really read Jesus’ parables well. They are all deliberately provocative, and it’s only familiarity and cultural distance that has made them tame. Let this parable be a wake-up call, my friends.
“Truly I tell you, the Black Lives Matter Protesters and the Antifa Mutual Care Workers and Native American Community Organizers are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you…and even after you saw this, you did not repent.”
As Jesus often said, “Let the person who has ears to hear get what I’m throwing down.”