Editors’ note: This year’s election season clearly revealed what many have long suspected: America is a deeply divided nation. What has caused this division? What is the way forward? How can evangelicals respond in a way that leads to healing and increased unity? The Gospel Coalition invited several writers and observers to explore those and related questions for an online symposium on the State of Evangelicalism.
- What Persecuted Syrians Can Teach Us About American Politics (Mindy Belz)
- 4 Unique Perspectives on Politics (Mika Edmondson)
- Powerful Witness from a Position of Weakness (Bruce Ashford)
- Hope for America Despite Signs of Death (Greg Forster)
In the recent presidential election the evangelical church in America was philosophically divided in our approach to voting. Evangelicals who voted for either of the two main party candidates felt they had good reasons for their votes (or anti-votes). Similarly, those who took the write-in, abstention, or third-party options felt equal convictions about their choices. Each side appealed to a different perspective on the hierarchy of moral righteousness.
During the election I publicly expressed concern over voting for either Trump or Clinton. I much more loudly vocalized my misgivings with Trump than with Clinton, though, especially as I watched what I perceived to be evangelicals justifying Trump’s morality, as well as overlooking his demeaning words and actions toward ethnic minorities, immigrants, women, and persons with disabilities.
I have a different concern now that the election is over, since high emotional responses are manifesting themselves in the forms of protests. It seems evangelicals, as a whole, are missing opportunities for meaningful, Christ-honoring, charitable dialogue over philosophical disagreements—dialogue that could unite church members who hold different views rather than allow believers to settle into comfortable but unstated division. I am concerned especially for campuses training future ministry leaders and for congregations that have made strides toward becoming ethnically integrated in membership—even if such congregations, at this point in their journey, are diverse or multicultural in attendance only.
Talking to one another about our responses to the election is important if we want to be a church where all believers express the love of Christ toward one another. We have a great opportunity to grow in our ability to love our neighbors in the manner we love ourselves, so that the world might see the truth of Christ at work in us.
Below are four dialogue-building suggestions for leaders of such ministries—for Bible college and seminary professors, parachurch ministry directors, and pastoral/elder leadership in local congregations. The nuances of the applications will vary from setting to setting.
1. Consider the emotional toll on minorities that the fear of Trump policies brings.
If you’re a member of the majority culture, an election loss may not have exacted the same emotional toll on you as on someone in a minority community—a community more vulnerable to injustices at the hands of society at large, the government in general, and/or the ruling class.
If someone’s emotional response seems too great for you, consider that your emotional response may be too little for the situation. It may be that you’re not as personally or deeply touched as someone else who fears a loved one being deported, the borders being closed to a good friend, or increased racially insensitive mistreatment by the majority culture. I feel deeply about these things, especially as they relate to potential injustices toward African Americans. Many who sit under your leadership will serve other people who feel an emotional weight similar to or greater than mine in response to the election. It’s important for you to teach and model the need to weep with those who weep.
However, as one of my friends reminded me, weeping with those who weep and compassionately listening to those who fear or hurt also presupposes that you have meaningful relationships with those who are weeping and hurting.
2. Do not compare responses to this election to that of the previous election, especially if it involves comparing your response to Obama’s election to someone’s response to Trump’s election.
Your lack of tears, lack of need of a day to vent, or lack of need to protest an election does not nullify others’ needs. Remember, you are not the standard of emotional righteousness, and it is arrogant and insensitive to make yourself the measure of the proper emotional response. At the least, you will hurt or repel those who have different responses; at the worst, you will be labeled an insensitive racist because you are demeaning the first African American to hold our highest office.
In front of your members and students, remember Paul’s words: “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight” (Rom. 12:16).
3. Have conversations with fellow believers who were vocal about their misgivings with President-elect Trump.
Teach the disciple-makers and future servants in your care to talk charitably about disagreements, with Jesus Christ at the center. Listen to their concerns without providing pro-Trump and/or anti-Clinton arguments so that you can understand the other believer’s concerns. Also, do not dismiss someone’s discussion because he or she speaks with great passion, high volume, or fierce tones.
Passion does not represent anger or ignorance, just as dispassion and quiet discourse do not represent intelligence or peace. Your lack of outward passion might mask a disposition that is calmly passive-aggressive, apathetically uninformed, or numbly disinterested; or it may be misperceived as such. For many cultures, speaking with great passion is the norm.
Send a message to potential members and students that your congregation, school, or classroom will be a place in which they will not need to suppress their feelings or identities in order to be accepted as joint-heirs by those in Christ who differ from them politically, philosophically, economically, and ethnically.
4. Do not allow your disagreement with another’s vote, or another’s response to the election outcome, make you cynical toward those who voted for the other candidate.
Instead, exercise humility of speech and mind. No one has to have the same political position as you or the same theological reasoning as you in respect to being pro-life, being concerned for conservative judicial appointments, or desiring stronger immigration control. Part of our witness is to be open to reason and full of mercy (James 3:17).
Model Christ’s love for the future leaders who will live in increasingly multicultural settings. Demonstrate to them the openness needed for people of various minority groups to feel safe under your shepherding. Offer them an opportunity to see that in your care, gracious sharing of ideas is preferred to cultic-like indoctrination. Instead of erecting a standard, allow your hurting students to vent before other blood-bought sisters and brothers. That blood-bought relationship trumps all.
As my aforementioned friend also noted, the gospel of Jesus Christ should be a greater motivator to reach out to the hurting than indignation over a difference in politics, candidates, or responses to the election.