Some of those folks out there are really arguing about Hillary, Trump, and the 2016 election, aren’t they? I’m so glad I’m not like those folks.
I’ve been amused recently in seeing posts denouncing political discussions. “It’s such a waste of time and I hate it.” There may be some truth in that, but without fail, those comments come from people who have lobbed bomb after bomb on post after post. I have dropped out of political discussions completely – about a dozen times. Then, “just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in.”
Is there any sort of path to peace, short of one side or the other just knuckling under? I don’t plan to stop opposing the two major party candidates and stating my contention that each is disqualified as a potential president. I’m not yielding on this – it is a deep conviction. I’m willing to have people angry at me, but I’m not voting Trump. I’ve been called a baby killer, but I’m not voting Trump. But is there a path where we can hold and express our opinions while still seeking to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace?” Is it hopeless?
Here are some facts that I think everyone will agree with.
1. We are more politically divided than we’ve ever been. Once, it was Liberals against Conservatives or Democrats against Republicans. But in this election, it is the evangelical church dividing and fighting over the candidacy of Donald Trump. There are several reasons for that. First, the GOP, which has been the de facto home of conservative Christians all my life, nominated a man whose profligate debauchery, extreme views that border on racism and xenophobia in some eyes, marriage history, vicious words, and many other issues have produced irreversibly split opinions. Some have supported him, others denounced him, and most have fallen somewhere in between. Second, there is such theological change in the evangelical church we don’t even know what an evangelical is! People who deny pretty much every doctrine we hold precious still self-identify as evangelical.
Social media has poured gasoline on the fire. Once, we could vent our opinions with family, friends, and co-workers. Now, anyone with a computer or smartphone can log on to Facebook or start a blog and fill cyberspace with his opinions, for good or ill. There are positives and negatives to this democratization of opinion formulation, but it clearly adds to the splintering of the evangelical world.
2. The divisions won’t magically go away after the election. This kind of bitterness is not going to magically disappear. Let’s face it, the horror is about 99% guaranteed – Hillary is going to win. Those of us who reject Trump say it was guaranteed when the GOP chose him. Others will blame us NeverTrump folks. But the animus of this election season won’t be gone on Wednesday morning after election day.
3. The election did not cause division, it revealed it. Some of the division is the result of bad behavior, poor communication, and over-exuberant social media posts, but by and large what this election revealed is a split that has been growing in evangelicalism. It is theological at root – the Christian’s relationship to his earthly government. A growing segment of the church is challenging the “God and Country” Americanism that has dominated the church in my lifetime. This divide is growing and that will not stop when Hillary takes office. There are significant generational, theological, methodological, and philosophical divides.
A Simple Proposal for Seeking Unity
I’m going to admit something right now. I’ve often been as much part of the problem as part of the solution. Since I first started blogging, I’ve admired David Rogers for his ability to state the same views I have in such a more patient and kind way. I tend to be a little more confrontational. But early on I felt a conviction that a Trump presidency was wrong and that I would stand against him and raise my voice against him. I’ve angered more than a few people as a result, but I do not intend to yield on that.
What I’ve noticed, though, is that both sides feel like victims. I’ve been attacked – “Hillary supporter!” I’ve heard that one 10,000 times. “Self-righteous” – that is a common theme. “How is it up on your high horse?” We NeverTrumpers must think we are better than those who support him. It’s an odd accusation for Christians to make, since standing on our convictions is foundational to our faith. “Don’t you care about abortion?” “There’s only two choices.” Jeffress called us “panty-waists” for not joining with him. The hits go on and on.
But Trump voters also claim to feel attacked as well. They feel judged for their decision to vote for Trump, as if they are denying the gospel by casting a vote for the GOP candidate. They feel that we are challenging their judgment, their sincerity, and their passion for Christ. I’m sure that has happened. I’m sure that in conversations, I’ve crossed the line – that’s the danger of Facebook and Twitter. You get in a convo and things get heated and suddenly you are overstating your position.
We likely are not going to close this gap, and the underlying theological issue of the relationship of Americanism and the Kingdom of God is going to take a lot of real biblical work. But there are some things we can do to do better, to live more peaceably as we work through some of these issues.
1. We need to work on our conversation skills.
I’ve had couples in my office with a wide variety of problems, but the root of almost every one is the failure to communicate well. We don’t speak accurately and for the love of all that is holy, we need to learn to listen.
A) We must learn to listen to what the other side is saying. I’ve come to the point where I just stopped conversing with people after I explained something two or three times and they continue with their self-deception. For instance, I’ve said that the quarrel we have is not with those who are reluctantly voting for Trump as the lesser of two evils, though I disagree with that choice. The problem is those who are publicly defending Trump, saying his behavior isn’t so bad, and generally justifying his actions. After I’ve explained that a couple of times, and someone continues to take offense as if our criticisms are leveled against everyone who decides to vote for Trump, I decide that conversation is useless. Again, I’m sure there is equally poor listening on my side.
We’ve just got to listen to one another, folks. Hear what the other is saying. Understand before you respond.
B) We must cease the absurdist responses. When I say I’m not supporting Trump and you say, “You must support baby-killing,” that is absurdist. I’m sure that a pro-Trump person could delineate equally absurd conclusions made about them because of their support for Trump. Trying to paint the opposition into an absurdist corner is bad form.
C) We need to avoid defining false options. I saw a tweet by Malcolm Yarnell yesterday. It said that there were three options in the race. Option 1 was to vote for Hillary’s despicable policies. Option 2 was to vote for Trump’s mixed policies. Option 3 was to waste your vote on someone else. That tweet is not giving options, it is telling us to vote Trump. He is accusing those of us who choose to vote for neither of the two main party candidates as “wasting” (a value judgment) our votes – it’s a pejorative, not simply defining options.
There are at least 5 options I can think of:
- Vote Hillary
- Vote Trump
- Vote 3rd Party (there are several options)
- Vote write-in
- Don’t vote
If anyone tries to tell you there are less than five options, they are trying to keep you from fully considering your options and making your own choice. They are attempting to control your decision by limiting your options. That really needs to stop.
D) In general, we need to tone down the rhetoric with one another. Politics is not an excuse to ignore biblical injunctions to be gentle with one another, to honor one another, and to demonstrate love. My guess is that we have all violated this if we’ve engaged in much political debate at all.
2. We need to accept that voting is a matter of conscience under the Lordship of Christ.
I wrote a post a couple of weeks ago which didn’t get much play, but which I consider one of the most important things I’ve written, “Lordship, Liberty, and License: Making Decisions that Honor Our Lord.” Based on Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8-10, I argue that many issues are left to the conscience of the Christian under the Lordship of Christ. We err when we try to force our individual convictions on these issues.
- A committed, gospel-centered, Christ-loving Christian should be able to decide not to vote for the GOP nominee without his or her faith and wisdom being called into question.
- A committed, gospel-centered, Christ-loving Christian should be able to decide to vote for the GOP nominee without his or her faith and wisdom being called into question.
- A committed, gospel-centered, Christ-loving Christian may decide to vote 3rd party, or write in a name, or not to vote at all, without having his or her faith and wisdom being called into question.
A man or woman should be able to make that decision as they see fit without being villified by other believers. There is no biblical command to vote. There is no direct biblical command how to vote. We might disagree with one another and even challenge one another’s logic and biblical reasoning, but in the end, there should never be a sense that voting a certain way is a test of faith.
Jesus died to be Lord of all and sent the Spirit to indwell each believer. When I try to be your Lord or you try to be mine, we err and we sin.
3. A plea from a Never-Trumper
I am not going to apologize for my opposition to Trump, because I believe real issues, significant issues, yes, even gospel issues are at stake. But I want to make it clear that when I speak against Trump and against his supporters, it is not against the person who has decided relunctantly that he or she has to cast a vote and Trump is less horrid than Hillary. I disagree with that calculation, but I understand it and I respect your right to make it. However, I would make this plea:
My criticisms are against the Trump apologists and justifiers, not against everyone who votes for Trump.
I don’t speak for the entire NeverTrump movement, but I think that most of us would agree with that. We don’t understand your decision to support Trump at the ballot box, but that is your choice. However, those who publicly support him, the Falwell, Jrs, the Robert Jeffresses, the James Dobsons, the Robert Reeds, Mike Huckabees, Ben Carsons, and others – these are the ones I have in mind with my critiques.
- Do I think you should vote for Trump? No, I don’t. But that’s your business.
- But when someone says, “Trump’s advocacy of sexual predation is no big deal” – that is a big problem.
- When people who once preached, “Character matters” because a Democrat was in the Oval Office and was misbehaving are suddenly changing their tuen and saying “God uses evil men” because an evil man is trying to get elected from THEIR party, I am offended. I see that as putting politics ahead of truth and conviction. It is pure hypocrisy.
But please, hear me – I am not calling every person who votes for Trump a hypocrite. I am calling out those who publicly flack for Trump, who use their status as Christian leaders to make it seem like Trump is a good Christian man. No doubt, Jerry, Jr. is the worst – I will never support Liberty University again as long as he is president unless he repents. Never. I am adamant and unapologetic. But that has NOTHING to do with you if you are simply a “lesser of two evils” voter. I may argue against that, but I believe that is your choice under the Lordship of Christ.
Please understand that. If you are a simple “Trump is better than Hillary” voter, don’t take every criticism of the NeverTrumpers as if it is a personal attack against you. It is not!
4. There are issues worth discussing.
The answer is not to just stop talking about politics. These are real issues, biblical issues. They touch on the gospel, the nature of the church, our purpose in this world – many key topics. We need to talk these things out. We just need to each do a better job than we’ve done. We shouldn’t be bullied into silence any more than we should be bulliers in our conversation.
5. Lean more on argument and less on memes.
Memes are cute and funny, but they almost never give the full story. After Trump’s recent scandal over his comments, this meme appeared quickly all over my friends’ Facebook feeds – a “Candidates Misdeed Comparison.” It was popular because it gave Trump a pass in that his crime was only that he “said mean things” while Hillary did much worse.
But this meme, like most, fails in many ways. It reduces Trump’s words to “saying mean things” and cheapens the impact of them to nothing more than hurt feelings. Beth Moore had a powerful tweet refuting this kind of weak response.
“I’m one among many women sexually abused, misused, stared down, heckled, talked naughty to. Like we liked it. We didn’t. We’re tired of it. Try to absorb how acceptable the disesteem and objectifying of women has been when some Christian leaders don’t think it’s that big a deal.”
There are thoughtful, pointed and powerful articles being written on all sides. Share those. Cause people to think. But be very careful about posting memes that reduce complex issues to simplistic platitudes. They seldom really give the truth. They tend to feed the prejudice of those who agree and offend those who don’t. They do not aid in the process of building unity.
Memes are not inherently wrong, but when we use memes to try to make our arguments, we are being intellectually and spiritually lazy and are likely adding to the division.
I realize that as a NeverTrumper my perspective may be slanted, but I think the advice is sound. We need to listen to one another, guard our conversation about one another, and seek to understand one another. We need to be careful to recognize the Lordship of Christ over the decision to vote.