Wednesday morning I woke up to learn that Donald Trump will be our next commander in chief. It seems like just yesterday he announced his intentions to run for president and the country collectively burst into laughter. “This has to be just another publicity stunt, right? Surely this smug billionaire-turned-reality-tv-star doesn’t really think he’s remotely qualified for the country’s highest office, right?” No one gave Donald Trump a chance. Shoot, Trump didn’t seem to give Trump a chance. But after a dismal voter showing at the polls, a big white working class push, and overwhelming support from the evangelical community, Donald Trump edged Hillary Clinton as the next president elect. My mind has been spinning all week. How did we get here? How did this happen? And what does it mean for the church? Now that it’s been a few days, I want to offer a few pastoral thoughts on the other side of this crazy election:
1. Whether inside or outside the church, elitism eventually catches up.
What has becoming increasingly clear is that one of the primary reasons Hillary lost the election (when it was all but assumed that she’d win) was that she ignored the working class. This may sound ridiculous considering who the working class elected in her place (a billionaire from New York City), but Trump made a concerted effort to listen to working class folks who have felt overlooked for decades. At best, Hillary seemed to treat them as a rather unimportant voting block. At worst, she described them as “deplorables” without really realizing who “they” were and why “they” were siding with her competition. Hillary seriously underestimated the value and potential of ordinary people living in ordinary places, resulting in both her and media progressives shell-shocked by the result.
Christians pastors and leaders need to take note here. There has been a narrative that has emerged in the American church in recent years that in order to really have an impact and affect culture, one must be doing ministry in large metropolitan areas. The result has been a centralizing of churches, planters and resources in large cities. I fear the unintended result is an increasingly unreached rural America. We must remember the Galilean peasant who started a global revolution on the rural and cultural margins. We must remember the one who intentionally launched his movement with blue collar fisherman, not educated progressives or the politically powerful.
Those of us in Christian leadership must be careful to never make the same mistake the Democratic Party made in this election. We must be vigilant in purging elitism from our ministries and churches. We must be careful not to undervalue the beautiful kingdom work of serving in uncelebrated ways those the world would suggest are less important. We serve a God who has a special place in his heart for the poor, the marginalized, the overlooked, the powerless, the outsider. Perhaps this is why the church is so often at its best on the margins. There is power there. It is fertile soil for the kingdom of God to bloom. May we never make the mistake of judging people the way the world does; and may we never underestimate what God can do in the oft-overlooked margins of society and culture.
2. Many Christian pastors and leaders aren’t sure what to do with the overwhelming pressure to keep quiet.
As a pastor, I will admit it is tough to know how to do this well. Where are the boundaries? What is appropriate? What is helpful? How much of my personal conviction is subjective and how much is a result of my desire to honor God and reflect his character? Some days I’m not so sure.
This week I spoke with a friend who pastors in the Philadelphia area. This election season he was careful not to use the pulpit to push any political agenda. However, when he vocalized why he could not possibly support Donald Trump on his personal Facebook page, he was overwhelmed with comments and private messages condemning him for vocalizing his political opinion as a pastor. Each election season there are some who even suggest that churches ought to lose their tax exempt status if a pastor vocalizes support for one candidate over another.
It seems that many pastors and Christians leaders are having a hard time navigating how to do this well. This is evidenced by the great disparity between the votes of Evangelical leaders and those they lead. A pre-election survey cited that over 60% of evangelical leaders opposed Donald Trump as a presidential candidate. However, on Election Day over 80% of evangelicals voted him into office. While this may be evidence of a discipleship issue, I think it also suggests that many pastors and Christian leaders are hesitant to boldly speak up. (Even when we do decide to take a stand, it often seems too late.) This is something we are going to have to figure out.
3. Those of us in Christian leadership need to do a better job of helping our people think, live and vote in kingdom ways.
Throughout this voting season I heard many accusations from both Hillary and Trump supporters. I’m not sure this changed many minds along the way as much as it simply helped voters justify their political persuasion through a moral lens. Interestingly, I don’t recall a single conversation with a Trump supporter who spoke positively and confidently about Trump’s intelligence, character, qualification or ability to be president. Instead, most of those conversations were dominated by “Killary” rhetoric and the like. To be fair, the same was often true of the #NeverTrump crowd as well.
What I did NOT hear along the way was much in the way of kingdom-centered conversations. I don’t remember hearing many evangelicals ask the question, “How does the election of this candidate affect my neighbor?” or “How would a vote for him or her affect the marginalized, the under resourced and the vulnerable among us?” These are kingdom of God, heart of God, Great Commandment questions. For followers of Jesus, these should be the kinds of questions through which we increasingly make decisions, including who we vote for.
It is clear to me on the other side of this election that we have a long way to go in this regard, much further than I previously thought.
4. The future is going to look very different. Can the church make the changes necessary to be effective or are we watching the beginning of its unraveling?
Some may be tempted to dismiss me as being dramatic here, but this is a very serious question. If you don’t believe me, I challenge you to go have as many conversations as possible with the next generation. Ask them their unfiltered thoughts on this election. What you will find: theirs is a generation that sees the world very differently than their parents and grandparents.
This is a generation that is growing up in an increasingly “glocal,” connected, diverse world. Growing up in the rural Minnesota my best friends were Matt and Derek. Growing up in rural Nebraska our daughters’ best friends are Muhammad and Hasan. When we receive printed communication from their elementary school, it is printed in multiple languages.
This is their world. These are their friends.
Consider how different Tuesday’s election would have turned out if 18-25 year old’s determined the outcome. The results are represented in the image below.
While white evangelicals voted in a man who has repeatedly accused immigrants and non-white Americans of all kinds of awful things, even vowing to purge a number of them from our country and keep the rest out, the generation coming behind them rejected Trump outright.
I promise you, this is no small thing. There are long-term implications to this.
No matter how justified you may feel in voting for Trump as an evangelical, no matter how much you may identify with the classism narrative and rebelling against the elitist system of Capitol Hill, the next generation cannot and will not understand.
Our credibility in their eyes may be forever tarnished. They may never forgive us.
Perhaps Zach Hoag is right. Perhaps “What we just witnessed were the death throes, the last gasps, of an ideology that is passing away.” For my own part, I don’t know that I will be able to willingly associate myself with the word evangelical ever again. And if the marriage between the conservative political right and mainstream evangelicalism continues, I think it entirely fair for evangelical leaders and institutions to expect to be largely disregarded by the next generation of thinkers, influencers and laborers.
5. Now is a season in which we must not become passive, divided or jaded. There’s too much work to do.
There are a lot of hurting and anxious people in our midst right now. The future for them is full of questions and uncertainty. A man was just elected to our nation’s highest office who built his campaign on things like building a wall between us and Mexico, deporting illegal immigrants and banning Muslims from the country. I read an article just this morning that said on Wednesday in LHS’s English Language Learners class students were in tears. Their world is shaken. They are afraid. They fear that our soon-to-be president and the government he will command does not want them here. At Belmont Elementary Wednesday, a first-grade student raised her hand and asked the teacher, “How soon am I going to have to go back?”
This week I’ve received emails from evangelicals who feel displaced, skeptics who are struggling to understand what just happened, LGBT friends who love our church but who cannot bring themselves to walk through our doors right now, women who suddenly find themselves feeling afraid and disrespected, abuse victims who no longer feel safe in their own home.
There is hurt all around us right now. We need to recognize that.
For those who voted for Trump, it would be tempting to spend a lot of energy justifying yourself. Please don’t. You may have great reasons for making the choice that you did, but right now that doesn’t help. Now is a time for listening, for seeking to understand, and for assuring our friends of all races, religion, gender and sexual orientation that we love them and will do everything we can to protect them from unjust systems and anyone who would seek to do them harm.
For those who did not vote for Trump, it would be tempting to fall into anger or jadedness. To settle for finger pointing and apathy would be easy right now, and to some of us it might even feel justified. But we must resist this with everything we are. There is fear and anxiousness and hurt all around us right now, which means there are opportunities everywhere to step in with the loving presence of our Heavenly Father.
Don’t get sucked into all of the negativity. Don’t pick up the sword of insults and spite and graceless words. That is not what the world needs right now.
Let’s pray for our new president. Let’s work against systems that propagate injustice. Let’s own our call to be ministers of reconciliation in a divided world. Let’s love our neighbors until it hurts.
Let’s show the world an altogether different way.
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;where there is hatred, let me sow love;where there is injury, pardon;where there is doubt, faith;where there is despair, hope;where there is darkness, light;and where there is sadness, joy.O Divine Master,grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;to be understood, as to understand;to be loved, as to love;for it is in giving that we receive,it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.Amen.”
Saint Francis of Asisi