09 November 2016

you don't have to explain this one

"Come now, let us settle the matter," says the LORD. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool."

Isaiah 1:18

In the overnight hours the news came that our nation had elected our next President, thus bringing to a close another election cycle that had long grown weary and tired. To some degree or another, every election season wears on the American people and brings families, friends, and communities to feverish debate over which candidate will be the best in moving forward. This year the election is being called historic, for the presidency has gone to someone with no prior political or governing or military experience, and who has defied the odds put up by those who thought he had no legitimate chance of winning.

There have been fifty-eight presidential elections in our nation's history, and this is not the first time scandal, corruption, and immoral behavior have tainted the candidates. I am not a historian enough to know if these items have ever before been such a considerable factor for both candidates throughout the process, but at least in my lifetime this is unique. As a Christian pastor I have spent a considerable amount of time considering, speaking about, and listening to the moral issues that have surrounded this election and the persons involved. And I have had many conversations with Christian men and women who have labored and thought and prayed over how best to handle the choice between these two. From my finger-in-the-water sense of it, this has not been an easy road for many.

And now that it is over we are entering into the post-election onslaught of second-guessing, lamenting, and even moralizing. Let me say that I understand the general sense of frustration and uncertainty that presently exists, and even that there are some who are taking the results of this election rather personally. What is more, I have seen enough to know that such reactions are part and parcel for the days and weeks after an election (then it usually gets 'back to normal' after that). As we stand at this particular point of our history, however, the nature of the questionable moral character of the President-Elect has made for some very sharp criticism of him, and for those who voted for him.

There are many levels of this aspect of the election that need to be examined, but this post will only be able to deal with one in particular: the moral superiority of many Christians who are choosing to be overly critical of other Christians who voted for Donald Trump. Of course, there are many self-identified Christians in our country who aren't particularly serious about their faith, or who aren't necessarily 'biblical' in their worldview. Perhaps we can set this sub-group to the side for a moment. But, based on the statistics, there are many men and women of biblical faith who have cast their votes for the President-Elect.

And now the questioning has been set loose on all the country: Why? How could you? What are you thinking? Do you not even care about what the Bible says? These are some of the sentiments that have been running across my social media feeds throughout the day. The vast majority of these comments are not intended to hear and understand, but to express disappointment and frustration. I have rolled right on by most of these because they are emotive reactions. There have been, however, a couple of times today where I have the statement that evangelicals who cast their vote for Trump "have some explaining to do."

I am beside myself that some self-appointed moral authority has decided to call out other believers to justify their choice, as though we answer to some national spiritual parental presence. Even still, this is not the language of understanding, but of accusation for doing something that is so clearly in the wrong – this coupled with the conclusion that just over half of our nation has gone off the rails in that they would even think of voting this way in the first place. This is not the language of reason, and it is a fundamental truth that one cannot reason with emotion. However, you can respond, and that is what I feel I need to do here.

Rather than passing judgment from one believer to another, let us reason together what happens when there is a choice between two people (no, third party candidates are not viable to this election and very few were under the impression that they were). The Republican primary cycle was quite interesting, for a few reasons. One of the more fascinating pieces is that Trump won states that had 'open' primaries (in which people from any party could vote on the Republican ticket), and did not win states that held 'closed' primaries (where only registered Republicans could participate in the vote). American Evangelicals, for the most part, tend to be socially and politically conservative, and so their role in the primary process is worth considering. Without getting into a sea of nuance and overly-justifying every statement, suffice it so say that conservative evangelicals in large part were not in overwhelming support of Trump. This warming-up to the Republican nominee started to happen when other viable candidates had fallen by the wayside.

Where I live, the primary race was decided before we had a chance to cast our ballots. And so, between those who voted for another person in the primary or who had no choice to cast a meaningful vote in the primary, there were a good number of American Evangelicals who were left between two people with whom they had serious issues of moral and political leadership and character. But – and this is important – November 8 came anyway, and these were the names before our country. This is where the prayer and consideration really hits hard: some will say 'Never Hillary' and I can understand that as a reason; some will say 'Never Trump' and I can understand that as a reason; some will find some virtue in her and in him and, though I strongly question this, I can understand this as a reason; some will refrain from voting for either, and I can understand this as a reason.

Add to this the social and political climate that has been over the past six months, not only among the candidates themselves, with their brash talk and manipulative speech. I find it fascinating that the moralizing voices that are calling fellow believers to explain themselves and their choices, that any attempt to have a serious discussion about these candidates up to this point has been met with dismissive attitudes and demeaning response. It is hard to have a reasonable conversation about issues and candidates when the very mention of either candidate brings eye-rolling, scoffs, and an overall dismissive response. Speaking politics in the realm of the church community has become tense and fearful and divisive. Believers have allowed modern politics to divide the church quite easily, and our fellow brothers and sisters who struggled with how to live out their faith in this election might very well have appreciated a place where we could edify one another instead of looking down upon those with whom we disagree.

Now is the time for these to offer explanation? No. Within the church community the time to hear one another every day. And those who are stunned by this election and who cannot comprehend why so-called evangelicals could cast their votes en masse for Donald Trump are simply not hearing the frustration with the issues that is plaguing the church today. You see, this is not a simple issue of checking-a-box – a great many of our fellow believers struggled with this through and through. I know that I have wrestled with this election each time it has crossed my television, radio, mailbox, and conversation.

The Christian knows that we live before Almighty God, who sees into the human heart. When we are right and when we are wrong he knows our thoughts and our motives. He understands our struggles and our entanglements, and he loves us just as we are. And our Creator is the only one who can rightly judge the individual for what has been done, thus making him the only one who ever requires explanation. All other attempts to push this issue are simply the feeble acts of moral superiority that strip us of our humility in all of this and attempt to give us the role of examiner.

No, you need not explain yourself for any of the votes you cast on any level of your ballot. This is not only the virtue of the American system, but also the moral reality that is before Almighty God. But you do need to live your life tomorrow, the next day, and every day that he gives you breath, and you do need to walk in a way that honors the rightful king of the universe. Elections are neither the problem nor the solution – they are events that can reflect and affect the climate of our culture. As for what we do with them as believers, this begins with the simple truth that we will never find political answers to spiritual problems. Electing the "right person" will never achieve that which is given to the church as a daily exercise in making disciples of all nations with the continuing presence of Christ Jesus.

Perhaps once we have begun to truly rely on his kingship, beyond the snarky internet memes, we will stop the over-dramatizing of fear and loathing and dread that make us all look like a hopeless lot. Fear drove both of these campaigns, and believers were wrong to get swept up in it. Fear is now driving a lot of the response to who won (it would have been the same from the other side), and believers are wrong to get swept up in it. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:18)

Let us as a church not betray the love that we have experienced because we have disagreed with many of our brothers and sisters in how they voted – either direction. If we cannot work in genuine love, devoid of self-aggrandizement and backhanded moralizing, then we have surrendered the unity of the Holy Spirit to the empty shell of political power. "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:35)

It will be an incredible experience for the American Christian to realize that he really isn't surrounded by bad or stupid people – it's just that evangelicalism seems to be hurting from what we've allowed our church experience to become. And there is so much more when we all surrender everything we hold dear – even our candidates and elections – to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord, to which all else is abandoned to the dustbin of eternity.

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