Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The idolatry of power

More than anything else, the election in 2016 has been a mirror, showing me what I naïve fool I've been.

I'm going to preface what I say next with three important statements...
I think it is possible to have voted for Donald Trump as a Christian.
I think it is possible to have voted for Hillary Clinton as a Christian.
I think it is possible to have voted for a third party candidate as a Christian.
My naïveté comes from expecting that the white, Christian, evangelical church* would live beyond politics--that is, biblically contextualize them within the Christian life [*note: the CRC is evangelical, a member of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE)].

I was a fool to think that the Church would be honest with its poorness of spirit and need for the gospel. I was a fool to think Christians would embrace the way Jesus turned human politics on its head. Evangelicals have demanded a modern Saul as their king [1 Samuel 8]. Saul is who they have received.

In past elections the "religious right" have voted for Mitt Romney due to their embrace of family values (likely because they were uncomfortable with the idea of a Mormon in the White House--considered by the CRC to be a cult). Family values means: opposed to rights for LGBTQ citizens and an anti-abortion stance.

Overwhelming support of Donald Trump by evangelicals (81%) is the most recent symptom. It is remarkable, that for so many "liking neither candidate" (a common refrain), they came out in record numbers for a Social Darwinist candidate. This is greater than support for Bush, McCain, or Romney--typical Christian-backed candidates.

I can't take the "liking neither candidate" statement seriously, because the truth is Christians voted for a man that denigrated minorities, women again & again, his fellow GOP hopefuls, the disabled, and military heroes.
Many had no problem calling a professed Methodist evil.
They might have honestly believed that, but I think the real reason is that faith in conservatism and liberalism shone through. Evangelical Christians trusted their parties and political ideology more than they did their Jesus and his message.

Many high-profile Christians did.
Some went as far as Wayne Grudem: "now that Trump has won the GOP nomination, I think voting for Trump is a morally good choice."
Pat Robertson dismissed Trump's comments about grabbing women as "macho talk".
Jerry Falwell Jr. endorsed Trump and said “Five years from now when we’re sitting here and we see all the Constitution being ripped apart by justices (appointed by Clinton), nobody is going to remember what horrible things Donald Trump said over a decade ago,” and in the same convocation, Ralph Reed pointed to abortion as the “defining moral issue of our time,” saying Trump is “running on the most pro-life platform in the history of the Republican Party.”
Franklin Graham has made comments that "the godless progressive agenda of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton likewise cannot be defended. I am not endorsing any candidates in this election" then goes on to say that the future Supreme Court appointees are the most important issue of the election.
James Dobson is a one issue voter: anti-abortion.

A prominent theologian, Miroslav Volf, did come out for Clinton (with reservations): "The best case to be made for Hillary Clinton is that on balance she better represents the convictions and character that should concern Christian citizens. No candidate is perfect."

Christianity Today polled a very curious number, which seems to explain the shift we saw: evangelicals shedding their concern with moral authority and Christian witness.
Q: Can elected officials behave ethically and fulfill their public duties even if they have committed immoral acts in their personal life?
30% of self-identified white evangelicals said yes in 2011
72% said yes in 2016
To move from 30% to 72% in four years is a remarkable pivot--a pivot that essentially supports conservatism, and an anti-abortion stance as the most important issue facing the world and the church.

Choosing to stake that claim on a candidate like Trump with a precarious position on abortion baffles me.

I understand that many Christians (and Americans in general) feel they weren't being listened to--the Democratic Party did an abysmal job of this: they catered to centrist, elitist, imperialist positions.

1) the Sanders campaign was shoved aside in favor of what party leadership wanted
2) the perspective of middle America (and perhaps evangelical America) was ignored: factory jobs lost due to globalization, facing stagnant wages

Clearly there was a gross failing in the Democratic party to reflect and represent its constituency (I wrote about my distaste for Clinton's position previously). It remains to be seen if the party will recover.

However...the fact that evangelicals are defending Donald Trump, or even happily joining the "Trump Train" still beguiles me. Christians are certainly meant to engage with politics, as citizens building God's kingdom now, but what that looks like allied with Trump is unclear.

As he fills cabinet positions, being praised by the alt-Right (literal neo-Nazis), I don't hear concern from conservative Christians. I don't hear anything at all [note: as of 2:30pm 22Nov16, Trump has disavowed "the alt-Right"].

What I have seen are Christians who I once thought respected me, label non-conservative Christians as "sad" people, and others claim victory for the church with a Trump win.
It's one thing to support a candidate--another entirely to be honest with who they are and the extent to which they deserve support and criticism.

I can't speak for anyone else, but for my own part I want the world to easily identify me as a Christian & kingdom builder, and wonder briefly about my politics. I don't intend to be a modern Sadducee.

I'll leave you with this out-shot to think about, from a post written four years ago in response to the Obama-Romney race:
Pastors will have to ensure congregations know right doctrine—a desperate need for this generation of Christians in any case. Individual Christian voters will need to distinguish, perhaps publicly, between their vote for the politician and their fierce disagreement with that politician's beliefs.
// Stephen Mansfield

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