This is the cover over Keith Green’s 1978 album “No Compromise.” I love the freedom the guy is exercising by not bowing. This album rocked my world. I was 18 at the time.
We don’t venture into political or cultural commentary here as a rule, so this will be an exception. This Presidential election process was so divisive and exhausting, I couldn’t wait until Wednesday morning, Nov. 9, for it to be over. I looked forward to listening to election-free news! I was wrong. It’s not over. As I write, the results continue to manifest how polarized and fragmented we are. Not a few Trump supporters (the racists among them) sense themselves empowered and emboldened to vent their hatred. Given the nature of this empowering relationship they derive from Trump’s victory, I can’t imagine such violent racism will subside at all. Why should they? They have seized their time, their hour. Reciprocal examples of such violence on the losing side are so exceptional as to not be worth mentioning.
My interest in sharing my own feelings at this point is purely selfish – I’m thinking through my own ecclesiology, and writing is partly how I process and discover. What really is the Church? How really is the Church to exist in a fallen world? Not new questions by any means. There’s a single answer to both: the Church just is a particular way of being (in the fallen world). This election cycle and its consequences have me pondering that “way of being” relative to the world in which I (and my evangelical siblings) live, i.e., the American world – constitutional freedoms, rule of law, representative government, democratic process, etc.
Let me just rant for a bit by reworking some comments I recently made in a conversation about all this, then I’ll end by sharing a couple of conclusions.
The ‘Cyrus’ argument in favor of Trump is already old. Cyrus the Great was the 6th century (BCE) King of Persia, a pagan idolater, who was nevertheless used by God to end Israel’s Babylonian captivity and restore them to their homeland. Fair enough. I get that. God is always at work providentially to bring good out of the selfish and evil agendas around us. White evangelicals who view Trump in such terms, as I’m reading this line of defense, trust that God will work providentially to bring blessing on the Church and build God’s Kingdom by raising Trump up to secure anti-abortion Justices, forestall the pro-LGBT cultural agenda, perhaps protect the tax-exempt status that faith communities and their institutions enjoy. Other evangelicals who voted for Trump say the verdict is still out on whether Trump will be a Cyrus or just another Babylonian king who is bad news for religious believers.
This is where I struggle. It seems to me that:
- IF God can use Trump in spite of Trump’s being an evil, racist, womanizing, bigoted, misogynist,
- THEN why can’t God do the same with Hillary?
How is divine providence in this case a reason either to have voted for Trump or an explanation of his victory any more than it would be a reason to vote for Hillary or an explanation of her victory had she won (and she did win the popular vote by the way)?
In other words:
- IF God can make a racist, bigoted, vile, misogynist, greedy, gluttonous, self-consumed, narcissistic philanderer like Trump a providential instrument of his purposes,
- THEN God should be able to do the same with a lying, cheating, power-hungry, pro-abortion, tax-and-spend democrat like Hillary.
God’s sovereign, right? The ‘Cyrus’ argument works for Hillary as much as for Trump, which just means it’s not an argument for why God raised up Trump “instead” of Hillary.
These options bring me to an alternative biblical perspective on the election. I suggest Rom 1 (which I suspect evangelicals would be quoting had Hillary won) instead of passages about Cyrus the pagan setting God’s people free. Providence also gives us what we deserve as a form of judgment. And there’s no need to suppose both Hillary and Trump didn’t represent God “giving us over” (Ps 81.12; Rm 1.24-29) to what we have become (evangelicals included).
But aren’t we exercising our right and freedom when we vote? Aren’t we being guided in our choice by our values? Doesn’t that mean one of available choices represents God’s blessing and the good fortune and well-being of the Church?
No. None of those things follows. The fact that we had a choice between Hillary and Trump seems to me like King David getting to choose which particular form judgment God would send upon Israel (2Sam 24.13). You know the story. God is going to judge Israel. It’s not going to be pretty. But he gives David a few options and lets David choose which judgment it’s to be. Just because you have a choice, and your choice is in some measure good because it’s guided by your values, doesn’t mean it’s not ‘judgment’ – whatever you choose. There’s every reason to mourn when you get what you choose in such cases. That’s what we have here. Hillary would have brought it in one form. Trump will bring it in another.
Think about it: 4 out of 5 white evangelicals voted for Trump. I think that’s the news, not that Trump actually won. Given the high morals and values that evangelicals claim guide them, it’s interesting to note that 41% of white evangelicals thought Trump was “a good role model” and 67% of them thought he was “honest.”
Please just think about that for a moment: 41% of white evangelicals think Donald Trump is “a good role model.” Don’t race by that fact on your way to turn it into some defense of what evangelicalism really is. Those opinions are what we evangelicals (as a movement) really are. That is what we’ve become. Let it sink in. Own it. When you have, you’ll begin to ponder new answers to the question – What really is the Church and how is it really to exist in the world?
I can only guess why 4 out of 5 white evangelicals voted for Trump. It’s because whereas white evangelicals are dispositionally inclined to share Trump’s sins (racism, narcissism, lack of empathy for minorities, greed, to name a few) they are constitutionally averse to Hillary’s sins (giving LGBT folk the legal right to marry, being pro-abortion, taxing the wealthy to help the poor, to name a few) because, after all, as we all know, gay sex trumps all other Republican sins combined. No imaginable sin can be as horrible as loving someone of the same sex. You can subjugate, discriminate against, and objectify the already born, but not the unborn. You can systemically confine those living to a kind of living death, but you can’t systemically prevent the unborn from their opportunity to be as miserable, trapped, and objectified as their parents. After all, unborn blacks have every right to grow up in the world of white privilege their parents exist in.
I’m not suggesting that a vote for Hillary doesn’t implicate one in her failures. Where Hillary supporters call upon God and gospel to defend her as “the” Christian vote, the same marriage of faith and State exists. But let’s not flatter ourselves; we are after all simply choosing the flavor of our judgment.
I suppose I’m mostly grieved over evangelicals’ failure to perceive how completely irrelevant and vacuous their moral voice has become in American society. In terms of being a prophetic voice of conscience to the world, evangelicals have no moral credibility.
Let me end by sharing a couple of convictions that appear clearer to me as a result of this election season:
First, I think Christian believers who vote at all are necessarily complicit in the sins and failures of those they vote for (whomever they vote for). To participate (even democratically) in a political system by definition implicates you systemically in that system – for good and for evil. When you pick up a stick, you pick up both ends. I don’t know where I’ll come out on this, but I’m contemplating the effects upon faith of such participation at all. I don’t see how we live fully within the redeeming power of our truest identity as Christ’s Body in the world and then forge alliances between that identity and any State. I’m not convinced such participation doesn’t necessarily erode our faith, compromise our identity, and undermine our mission.
This means something has to be said about ‘how’ the Church speaks prophetically and morally about systemic injustice, racism, poverty, how we present a ‘way of being’ in the world that is ‘the world to come’. I’m considering the possibility that this ‘way of being’ precludes (for me) participation in those structures, at least participation that reduces my ‘way of being’ to a binary choice between options which that system determines, and that this is just another way to say the Church doesn’t require the State or its apparatuses to be who and what Christ calls the Church to be. ‘Voting’ is apparently one way of contributing your “voice.” Perhaps there are other ways to speaking, ways of being a “voice” which are better than (and in the end compromised by) filling in the State’s ballot. I think by and large evangelicals just view the State (reforming it, cleansing it, legislating it righteously) as their “Temple,” believe they are its priests, and – now – see Trump is their Cyrus. That’s not a viable way to be the Church in the world for me.
Second, I can’t in good conscience put my hand over my heart and pledge my allegiance to the Republic. I’m coming to see that part of the ‘way of being’ in the world which I understand the Church to be involves certain exclusive allegiances to Christ which are impossibly collapsed into any political agenda or platform. There’s so much to say here about the “already-not yet” nature of God’s re-creation of the cosmos in Christ, and the Church’s role in that. I can’t say much here, but I don’t see how my pledging my allegiance to the State is compatible with properly pledging my allegiance to Christ. Does that mean I don’t value constitutional freedoms? Not at all. I do value worshiping, believing, and speaking my mind freely. Does it mean I wouldn’t sacrifice to protect or secure those freedom? Not at all. Do I not love and appreciate a State that recognizes those freedoms? I do. Will I ‘pledge my allegiance’ to that State? Well, what’s meant by such allegiance? What’s involved in it? Here’s what I’ll pledge: I pledge to love, serve and remind the world in which I live of one thing – Christ is Kyrios (Lord) and allegiance to him trumps (no pun intended) all other allegiances. If the State is OK with that, we’re good. Unfortunately it is the nature of the State to be intolerant of such arrangements.