Like most people, I sat down early Tuesday evening, November 8, 2016, to watch election returns fully expecting that, by the time I went to bed, Hillary Clinton would be declared the country’s first female president.
Instead, I saw my home state of Pennsylvania fall to Trump, followed by the Clinton “firewall” states of Michigan and Wisconsin. I was shocked. I was saddened. I was angry. But my emotions were less about the new president-elect and more about the large number of my fellow evangelicals who voted for him.
Five days later–the Lord’s Day–I took my seat in the sanctuary of the central Pennsylvania megachurch where I had worshipped with my family for the last sixteen years. As I looked around at my fellow worshippers, I could not help thinking that there was a strong possibility, if the reports and polls were correct, that eight out of every ten people in that sanctuary–my brothers and sisters in my community of faith–had voted for the new president-elect. This seemed to reflect deep divisions in how we understand the world, and it was deeply distressing.
I still attend that church, but I have not visited in person since the outbreak of COVID-19. I wish I could say that COVID-19 is the only reason I haven’t returned. It’s been four years since that post-election Sunday and there are days when my anger and disappointment are still raw. This is not an indictment of the pastoral staff at my church or most of the members–past and present–of the church elder board. They are serious Christians who have been doing their best to navigate this season without dividing the church. I appreciate the work they are doing and I can tell when they are trying to bring biblical faith to bear on the times without naming names or “getting political.” I do not attend a pro-Trump church.
But I also get the sense that my church is keeping me at arms length. This is probably a smart move. I am a divisive figure. I have tried to use my voice and platform to criticize a morally corrupt President of the United States and the conservative media infrastructure, including the Christian media, that props him up.
Some of my fellow churchgoers have read Believe Me and have sent me wonderful notes of encouragement and support. Others have made it clear that I am a negative influence in the Christian community. When I taught a Sunday school class on Christianity and politics (a class in which I don’t think I ever mentioned Trump), I got a lot of positive feedback. I also got some pretty strong negative feedback.
Why am I bringing this all up right now?
Today I had an emotional conversation with a Christian I love. This person does not understand how friends, family, and fellow Christians can support Donald Trump. Tuesday night’s debate really set this person off. How could Christians vote for a man who refuses to condemn racism, lies endlessly, and lacks basic empathy? This person is considering giving-up on church and the Christian faith generally. She/he is trying to hold together her/his friendships with Trump supporters, but does not know how to do it and still be true to her/his deepest convictions.
We both had tears in our eyes. I didn’t know what kind of advice to give this person, but I certainly understood. Over the last four years I have had old friends cut me off because of my strong criticism of the president. I have had present friends pull back. I have had dozens and dozens of people tell me that they have stopped going to church (COVID-19 has become a convenient excuse). People who I have not communicated with in over thirty years have come out of the woodwork to condemn me in public forums.
I don’t want this person to give-up on Christianity. I encouraged this person to lean into our shared faith and not pull away. Current events have led me to read the Bible with new eyes, pray in different ways, and rethink how I live my Christian life. It is all a work of progress, but I feel like I have started a new spiritual journey of sorts. I shared all of this with this person. We must continue to live as people of hope and try not to let the anger overwhelm us. I hope this person believes this. Some days I am not even sure I do.
Many Americans do not see this as an ordinary election between two candidates committed to basic principles of decency, civility, truth, science, reason, and human dignity. This is not a choice between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama (2008) or Al Gore and George W. Bush (2000) or Bill Clinton and Bob Dole (1996). This is an election between one man who believes that the president should be a steward of democracy and another man who is a racist, nativist, and narcissist willing to undermine democracy with almost every word he speaks.
And the majority of white evangelicals, whether they love Trump or held their nose and voted for him, are complicit. I know that statement will anger a lot of people. But how long will evangelicals support–either directly or indirectly through their silence– this immoral president?
When Trump is gone, I hope and pray I will be ready to participate in the healing work that needs to be done. But right now the cancer at the heart of the republic must be cut out. Americans have the chance to do this on November 3rd. As I have said before at this blog, let’s remember that Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address (“bind up the nation’s wounds” and “achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace”) occurred after the Northern victory over the slave-holding Confederacy was all but secured.
UPDATE: I wish the President and First Lady well as they deal with COVID. I am praying for them and for all who are struggling with this terrible virus.