January 30, 2016 by J. Truett Glen
I had already written the first two paragraphs of this post when I saw the Christianity Today article, Why Donald Trump Threatens to Trump the Gospel by Mark Galli. I haven’t read it yet, but I suspect it says something similar to what I’m getting at here. Go check it out after reading this article if you have not done so already:
You can also read Rachel Held Evan’s post, Donald Trump and a Tale of Two Gospels, which (despite our significant differences in perspective) is a biblically valid, and accurate assessment of Donald Trump’s rhetoric. I align with her assessment of Trump, but I believe that she takes an inaccurate shot at Liberty University’s long history of nurturing students to love Christ. Our friends Wil and Kendra Graham, and Jonathan Merritt went there, as well as others like Anthony Evans, Jr., Michael Tait, Gabe Lyons, Deborah Yow, and Ed Stetzer. I could go on and on. Many can give you a testimony of the God honoring and Kingdom loving staff and professors that invested in their lives. I’m highly concerned about news coming out of Liberty, and probably need to confront that in another post.
Also check out Trevin Wax’s post, When the Cause Replaces the Cross, which came out after I sat on 95% of my blog post for 3 more days. I know, I struggle with finishing things these days…but seriously, check out his post. His warning about the “activist gospel” is akin to the points I am making within this post.
And, lastly, you can read my friend Alan Noble’s perspective on How Trump Happened.
So, after much delay, let me begin!
Personal Observations and Reflection:
This is what I’ve been hearing from some brothers and sisters in Christ:
“Faith doesn’t feed hungry mouths!”
“Faith doesn’t build fences!”
“Faith doesn’t protect the America that our forefather’s fought for!”
“We have to protect the ‘faith of our father’ by electing the sort of man that is willing to make the hard decisions.”
These are the sorts of thoughts, if not comments, coming from the mouths of the “faithful.” I, along with a good many others, have been amazed by comments of fellow Christians who have gravitated toward Trump. Some were sold on him before he even started catching fire in the polls. They are our neighbors, friends, and family members. They are greatly concerned about the future of this nation. They want a future that looks like the past. They want hamburger drive-ins, and Sherriff Taylor to greet them on the street on their way to get their latte at Starbucks; a Starbucks that celebrates Christmas with marketing that clearly identifies with the religious holiday. They want prayer at football games to continue or come back to schools all over America. They want politicians to thank God again for blessing the best nation in the world. They want the ability to feel safe again in their neighborhoods, and downtowns. They want the freedom to look sexy and feel sexy without gender twisting and homosexuality intruding upon the modest sexual tension that has always been present in American society. They want to maintain a world where boys and girls, and men and women still go to their separate restrooms without the chance of a cosmetically or surgically altered person of the opposite sex being present. They want the right people to have guns in the schools, and for “The People” to be able to grab assault rifles to defend their freedoms if necessary. They want AMERICA!
I can’t argue against a lot of the stated desires above. I, too, have great concerns about the direction that this nation is headed in. I, too, want many of the things listed above. We are in troubled waters, and have been for quite some time. I can relate with the desperate feeling that comes upon a person that simply wants to raise their children in a safe culture, but looks to the sky and sees storm clouds approaching. Something wicked this way does come…. but it has always been coming. Wickedness is coming, has come, and remains among us. As Christians, however, we know that wickedness has already been dealt with in the spiritual realm, but we also know that the consequences still play out in this life. We have seen damage done in our own lives, and the lives of those we love. I know the strong desire to attempt to vote those circumstances out of our lives.
This world is not cut and dry. It’s a mess of complexities and moral ambiguities. Our political system is no different. I sat out of the system of representative government for 10 years. I was a poli-sci major at Texas A&M, and the VP of publicity for the College Republicans, when I had a radical shift happen in my life. In the midst of my pursuit of political and social power, God used the consequences of my sinful lifestyle to painfully awaken me to how ignorantly zealous I was. I did not adequately understand the depth of grace that God had imparted to me in Christ Jesus (not that any of us will in this life). Fear of the enemy political party, and a veiled/unveiled hatred for their champion once drove my perspective on politics. George H. W. Bush and Bob Dole were my candidates, not because they were good men, but because they were against the evil Bill Clinton. I was a Republican, and Republicans voted against Democrats…it’s that simple. When I returned my attention to Christ, my hard political heart was broken, and the fears of an evil Democrat no longer haunted me. However, I no longer had a clear compass for such things. I spent the next decade wrestling with whether to risk guilt by association by casting a vote for candidates who promoted war, abortion, monopolies, and embryonic stem cell research.
I have since stepped out of some of my fears on that other political extremity, but I remain determined to only cast a vote approved of by my Father, in line with all things that are to be done “in faith.” Yes, Paul corners us in his letter to the Christians in Rome, and grounds their freedom to the truth that anything “not from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). I bring this lesson of mine to your attention because there is a lie that has crept into the consciences of many Christians. This lie says that your devotion lies with success, with power, and with comfort. This lie pushes us towards decision-making processes that are foreign to men and women of faith; foreign to that great cloud of witnesses. Having taught business ethics several years, I have run across the “game” analogy that is pervasive in the business world. It’s easy for businessmen and businesswomen to sing the ancient song, “it’s not personal, it’s business,” because the lie of compartmentalization has long been at work in human hearts. Many of us decided a long time ago, that business is a game, and as we all know, any game worth playing is worth winning.
Compartmentalization has become the rule of life for much of the world. I’m not sure what came first, the compartmentalization of faith into its steeple-topped corner, or the slow carving-off of everything else in life. Either way, what is left are neat, safely packaged, worlds for every human endeavor. Each has its own moral code, but mostly they run on a utilitarian ethic…what wins is what rules the day.
“Politics is a game.“
“How else will we win, unless we elect the candidate from our side that has the best chance of winning?”
“We have a better chance of making this nation Christian again if we elect a Republican/Democrat even if they are not our ‘ideal’ candidate!”
I believe that there is a genuine lack of thought about the sovereignty of God in all areas of our lives. People have grown accustomed to treating business, politics, and even marriage like a game. Many now treat sporting events more seriously than we do our marriages. When life is parceled out into these compartments, it’s easier to lose the inherent meaning each activity/relationship revealed about the holistic nature of the human life. Once the deep meaning is suppressed and neutered, we can manage them with an ‘easier’ conscience. We can look at the game pieces on the various boards in our life, and make maneuvers that we would never resort to in our “religious life.” Of course, many do end up managing their religious life in the same manner, bouncing from church to church and from belief to belief, looking for the “winning” experience.
When winning/succeeding becomes the driving force in our compartmentalized life, we resort more frequently to the utilitarian “lesser of two evils” decision making process.
“I’ll go to this church because even though they both have bad preaching, the worship is better at the other church.”
“I had to manipulate the records at work! It was either that or get fired, and I can’t afford to get fired.”
“It’s either work here, or do manual labor, and I refuse to do manual labor.”
“No, I don’t think the Republican candidate is a very good man, but he’s the one that has the best chance of winning against the Democrats! If we lose this election, then this country is going to die!”
The Christian life is not about the lesser of two evils. If you live by that ideal, then you will always be tempted towards a utilitarian ethic that chooses the “winning” choice. If you live by the expectations of a two party system, and the guilt that your non-vote has elected the “wrong person,” or the “wrong party,” then your decision making process will always driven by the fear of losing, or the fear of death. If a man asks me to choose whether he kills my wife or my daughter, or he’ll kill both, I don’t have to make that decision. The devil’s work is on the devil. I don’t have to participate with him.
The Biblical Witness of Godly Character Trumps Trump, And Our Fears:
For my Christian friends who doubt the Biblical validity of what I’m saying, here are just a few scriptures, among many, that point to what type of leader we put our name behind when we have the opportunity to choose and follow a leader:
Psalm 78:72: “So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, and guided them with his skillful hands.”
Proverbs 16:12: “It is an abomination for kings to commit wicked acts, for a throne is established on righteousness.”
Proverbs 29:2: “When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, But when a wicked man rules, people groan.”
Proverbs 29:4: “The king gives stability to the land by justice, but a man who takes bribes overthrows it.”
If I listed every applicable verse, we’d be here all day. Read the Bible! It’s amazing how it actually speaks to every aspect of our lives.
Jethro Gives Wise Advice on Choosing Leadership:
In Exodus 18, we see some of the most utilitarian leadership advice in the Bible, and yet Jethro’s advice to Moses still conforms to a pattern that seeks to honor God above the anxiety and burdens that plague Moses. Jethro’s advice to Moses is very informative for our current political dilemma:
“You shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens.”
I find no passage in the Bible that says that followers of Christ should be in the business of making sure their side wins politically. I find no place in the Bible that gives us clear instructions for compartmentalizing our lives. All I find are pictures of wholesale abandonment to submitting our lives to Christ, and orienting everything we do according to the Spirit of God. The resounding prescriptive passages I read in the text are those that tell us to praise CHARACTER, character that moves out from the image of Christ within us. There are those that reject Christ and suppress the truth, and thus suppress the image of God within them, and instead raise their own image as a god to worship. It would have been easy for Jethro to feed the narcissistic temptations that Moses most certainly had to confront in his life. It would have been easy for Moses to only pick men who took on the role of the placater and enabler. But this is not what our Lord wants. He wants men and women of character to be approved of by men and women of character. Of course we can’t make a perfect world with perfect representatives, it’s not our job or even within our ability. It’s our role to bear witness to, and act upon, the good that flows out of the presence of the Spirit, the Son, and the Father.
Demonization and Polarization:
When we compartmentalize our lives and decide that winning is more important than being “legalistic” about virtue, the utilitarian mindset that takes control of us, much like a demon, then tells us we are validated in demonizing the other. It tells us that the other is PURE EVIL, and that because they are pure evil, we have every right to destroy them with our mouths, pens, and keyboards. In some places and times throughout history, various people professing Christ have gone so far as to fight “pure evil” by murdering them. Cases in point: the murder of Anabaptists by Roman Catholics and Reformers; the murder of Reformers by Roman Catholics; the murder of the Jews by Roman Catholics and Protestants; the murder of homosexuals by cultural Christians; and numerous other examples. Of course I’m not justifying the heretical positions of some of the aforementioned victims, but the way of Christ isn’t fueled or maintained by socio-political fear mongering. There is a hardness of heart that develops in the heart of a Christian, or Christian community, when they give themselves over to compartmentalization, utilitarian decision-making, and the demonization of others. I’ll say it again; the devil’s work is on the devil. We don’t have to participate with him.
Our Lord is master of sea; settling the waves at will. The Spirit empowers the voice of the saints, the voice of the martyrs, not because they backed the strongest match on our political dating profile, but because they stand in and on the character of Christ, and proclaim his name in their voice and actions…and in their vote. We dishonor the grace that God has poured upon us when we turn away from him and vote out of fear. We grieve the Spirit of Christ within us, when we look at the enemies and gnash our teeth. I should know, I’ve felt the grief of the Spirit within me when I’ve stumbled back into the darkness of my heart.
The voting booths are upon us. The fear mongers are grabbing our ears. The powers and principalities of the air are laughing at our anxiety and bitterness. Let us stand up and cast a vote for proven character. Perfection will not be found, but true god honoring character can be seen throughout the life of a man or woman. Put your name behind a candidate because of the hope that you have within, not because of fears that are driven by demons, who fire darts at your soul with their dying breath. Christ’s admonition to be a city on a hill is certainly pointing to the communal and individual lives of Christians…to the body of Christ, but because of this it is pointing to every gathering of Christians meant to display that which is good, holy, just, gracious, hopeful, and faithful. A city on a hill is bright because of the cumulative lightings of countless individual candles. Every decision, action, and vote you cast is meant to be a light among millions.