"And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare."
Disclaimer: I am making no attempt at a political “statement” here. This blog really is for everyone. No matter who you voted for.
During the campaign, I was not private about my considerable distaste for Donald Trump. Since his election I have tried to take a less vocally outraged, and a more introspectively contemplative approach. Whether you support “The Donald” or not, we’ve haven’t had a president with this much baggage, at least in my life time. With Bill Clinton there were plenty of rumors and accusations circulating his fidelity to Hillary for years before those rumors were proven to be true. But I’ve never seen a president with as much controversy as Donald Trump. American Christians today have never been in this situation before. Our president has been divorced two times, both times due to adultery on his part. He has encouraged acts of violence to be committed at his rallies. He has bragged about sexual assault. He has boldly proclaimed rhetoric that specifically targeted entire races and religions within our country. And again, whether or not you like him, none of these attributes are even remotely reflective of the astonishing love of Jesus. In my life time it was a high value for our American leaders put on a public persona that encouraged American citizens to model a charitable and gracious posture, and we were so quick to crucify any leader, foreign or domestic, who didn’t display this persona. Today, we have an elected official in the highest office in the land in the most powerful country on earth who, up to this point, has put no effort in modeling a spirit of grace and dignity. I am convinced, being a Christian in Trumps America will bring on a whole new set of challenges and opportunities.
As I’ve pondered this, my most aching question has been “how will the people of God respond?” I believe there are primarily four ways we will see the American church respond to Trumps presidency. I believe being able to identify these directions the church will take can allow us to navigate our own selves, and be the community most aligned with the message of Jesus. Keep in mind, this is a drastic over simplification, and there are many Christians who will respond in ways not mentioned here, or in some strange cluster of the ways mentioned here. Regardless, here they are.
1. The Complicit Church
The members of this church are most likely the ones who believed Trump was a Christian even when James Dobson went on the record saying, “I don’t know if he is saved.” These churches hold The Donald up as a messianic figure for America, a man who will de-fund Planned Parenthood, encourage us to say “merry Christmas,” and reverse Roe vs. Wade. These are also churches whose members don’t have much, if any, friends that think differently than they do. They sequester themselves into their Holy Huddles, making it easier for them to participate in xenophobia, homophobia, systemic racism and Islamophobia; some without even knowing, others proudly aware of it. These are the people who will follow this Commander and Chief to their graves. They will support any policy passed and any war waged. If Donald tells them to spy on their Muslim neighbors, these followers will do it.
Primary Value in a Political Context: To see the culture of America turned into their interpretation of a Christian nation. Their interpretation sees cultural standards demonstrating homosexuality, alternative religions, foreigners, and any semblance of progressive liberalism discouraged and shamed by any means necessary. They want gay marriage illegal, abortion illegal, prayer back in school, the bible taught in science class, Hillary in jail, and total and complete access to any firearm of their choosing.
2. The Personal Church
This is where I think most American churches will find themselves. These are the churches that will avoid speaking of anything even remotely related to politics. They will seek to teach their congregants about a thriving. personal relationship with God. In doing so, they may avoid all the aspects of the Bible that speak of a responsibility to our neighbors, or, they prefer interpretations of the Scriptures that don't put as much burden on the verses about loving and serving our neighbors. Anyone with a PhD can make the Bible say whatever they want it to say.
Primary Value in a Political Context: To be completely free of controversy. They say taking a stand that seems to lean politically left or right will diminish their witness, and though they may not say it, they will almost always lean right. This is the majority who voted for Donald Trump shamed into silence by progressives . Their interpretation of the Gospel effects mostly the individual, emphasizing personal salvation, personal sin, and negating the biblical mandate to protect the planet, advocate for the vulnerable, and commit to self-sacrificial service in the community.
3. The Church in Tension
This is the church that won’t avoid the tough subjects, and will try to hold it all in tension. They will affirm Black Lives Matter and outrage over the murder of police officers. They will attempt to create a conversational environment where every voice is heard. These churches can very from theologically conservative to theologically progressive. They will speak of personal salvation and communal responsibility.
Primary Value in a Political Context: To create an atmosphere where every voice and opinion is taken into an account and weighed out, even at the risk of appearing squishy on one issue or another. They value diversity and refuse to let it be a cause of division. They want everyone to feel like they belong at the communion table, and will work hard to do it.
4. The Resisting Church
These churches will actively resist every policy by Donald Trump that is directed at the vulnerable in society. When they hear “Muslim registry,” they rally the troops to register as Muslims, hoping to make it impossible for the government to keep track of every Muslim. When they hear “deportation,” will turn their church buildings and houses into sanctuaries for immigrants. When they hear the government is repealing environment protection laws, they are the ones encouraging everyone to buy environmentally friendly supplies. These churches put a huge emphasis on advocacy for the vulnerable, and may even argue that it is in the work of God that you discover the salvation of God.
Primary Value in a Political Context: To see the culture of America turned into their interpretation of a Christian nation. They want America ran in a way that levels the financial playing field for impoverished people, they want systemically racist policies revoked, they want everyone the freedom of personal liberty.
So now the challenge, to you the reader, and to me the writer… What church will we be, and how do we figure out the right way to go about it? I could wrote an entire blog on this alone, but for now I’ll leave us with these three tools to ponder.
1. Read and Midrash.
Read the scriptures, especially the Gospels, since the church is called to be “the body of Christ.” We cannot be the body of Christ unless we know thoroughly the life and teachings of Christ. Midrash is an ancient Hebrew tradition that implies a dance with scripture. Talk to other people about your readings, talk to people who disagree with you. Engage your readings and find what you believe to be the most accurate interpretation of the text.
2. Reason and Discuss.
God has given you experiences that form your reasoning, honor those experiences by applying that reasoning to your searching. Discuss the reasoning of others. Test what you think you know.
3. Pray and Wait.
Pray the Lord’s Prayer, pray the Psalms. Find prayers in the Prophetic books and pray those. Pray the stirrings of your heart. Then wait as Holy Spirit ministers the direction you are to take.
For me, I definitely fall into one of these groups, and have an objective belief that a mixture of a couple of them is the most Gospel way, and it probably isn't hard for you to guess what those ones are. But that isn't the point of this blog. I want us all to be thinking about this.
Whether you find the most accurate way to follow Jesus in the The Complicit Church or the Resisting Church, or in something entirely different, we are all in this together and not all of us will end up navigating the same spaces. We can take solace that the cry of Jesus in the garden was that we be united, not uniform. Our differences are beautiful and scary and true, and none of them surprise our Creator. Wherever you see yourself in any of these churches, may the Spirit of God lead you to a life and community and political expression as deep and as rich as that of Jesus Christ Himself.