How do you approach church the Sunday after Trump? Eric Knox and I shared the pulpit yesterday, as an African American pastor and Latino pastor, processing this crisis moment in our nation and the voices of frustration, anger, and fear that are echoing in our homes, cities, and media, in the wake of the 2016 election.
I’m sure we didn’t do it perfectly, but here were some of the big points (you can listen to the full audio here):
The Power of Lament
Our country is divided. This week has exposed deep fractures and divisions in our society. The election didn’t create these divisions, but it revealed them. I’m struck by the philosopher Slavoj Zizek’s phrase, “the eruption of the real,” where things lingering beneath the surface are brought to light, erupting the real state of things into our public consciousness—and perhaps exacerbating them.
Our divisions are geographical (between urban and rural); they are racial (between whites and people of color); they involve class (between poor working-class and affluent elites). And there’s a pain this week to see this deep fracturing of our society come so boldly out into the open.
Lots of people are hurting, confused, or angry . . . some perhaps excited. As Americans, we have a tendency to want to “fix” it: how do we put a Band-aid over the chasm? Paste over it? Solve the divisions? We’re often not very good at being able to sit in the tension together, and communicate with one another.
This is where the power of “Lament” in the biblical tradition has been.
We can cry out together before God.
As a church today, the invitation together is not to a partisan lament, like “Donald Trump won, let’s be sad together!” But rather a broader lament, wherever you’re at on the political spectrum, over the deep division and fracturing in our society—and in the church.
Some are too quick to slap a “God’s on the throne” over our chasms, which can come across as because God’s on the throne we don’t need to lament. For the psalmists, however, as well as the book of Lamentations, and indeed the biblical tradition as a whole, it works in the opposite direction:
It’s not either God’s on the throne, or we lament.
It’s because God’s on the throne, we can lament.
We can create space to acknowledge the divisions, wherever we’re coming from, without needing to pretend they’re not there.
And what are these divisions? Well, we don’t have time to address all of them, but here’s two big ones–from opposite ends of the political spectrum.
Race & Class
Race was a major fault line in the election. For many minority communities, the issue is not that a Republican won instead of a Democrat–as if it were just a matter of politics or economics. Sure, you’re a little disappointed if your person doesn’t get in. But the bigger issue here is, rather, the platform that Trump ran on: the racism, the misogyny, the vitriol and disrespect.
It forced many minorities to say, Really? Is this where we’re at now?
So there’s a deep pain and confusion. What does this mean for me and my children? Indeed, we’ve heard stories this week of people of color being accosted, of minority children being called names by other children, of immigrants being told to get ready cause Trump’s going to send them home.
It unravels the illusion that we’ve become a post-racial society–it’s naïve for us to pretend those fault lines aren’t there. Don’t ignore the gravity of this tension.
We need to bring it before Jesus and cry out together.
“Class” was another major fault line—and this one moved in the other direction politically. Throughout the election, a major storyline was the poor, rural, working-class who feel abandoned, marginalized, condescended to, and left behind by the metropolitan, affluent, elites in our wealthy centers of power.
Facebook, Google, Amazon, Chase, and Goldman Sachs—symbols of West Coast and East Coast industries—have generated massive wealth and pulled it out of local communities. Simultaneously, the industrial economy of the Midwest has collapsed, leaving local communities in desperate straits.
Two family friends moved from Portland into rural communities this year, and have been shocked by the astronomical levels of heroin addiction, of poverty and violence, of children in desperate conditions, of the overwhelming sense of hopelessness. Studies have shown the white, rural, poor are the most pessimistic people group in society today.
Do we feel the pain in these chasms?
Both race and class share a narrative of dominance/marginalization. Looking through the “race” lens, one can view the dominant (white) culture protecting privilege against marginalized communities of color. Looking through the “class” lens, one can view the marginalized (poor) working-class rising up against the dominant culture of privileged urban power.
These are just two of many issues. Our goal here is not to try and solve these problems, to tie a pretty bow around them and pretend they’re all better, but to recognize them—to acknowledge the pain is real and lament is appropriate.
What Does it Mean to Be Evangelical?
Eighty percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump (though the actual number, upon closer examination, might be as low as 35%)—what do we do with that? During Bill Clinton’s sex scandal, we heard loud shouts of “character matters” with evangelical cries for impeachment. But those same quarters seemed to quickly shove character matters under the rug for Trump, as the increasingly heinous revelations of his sexual misconduct, blatant misogyny, and massive character deficiencies unfolded.
We need to own our hypocrisy.
I understand how some want to distance themselves from evangelicals, and some from the Church in general, and I get that. For my part, I’ve been inspired by the prophet Daniel, who owns his people’s sin, even if personally innocent, identifying with his people as a whole. Eric prefers to use the term Protestant rather than evangelical, to avoid some of the cultural baggage of the term.
I do think there’s some nuance, however, to the common perception of an evangelical machine that galvanized and organized mass support for Trump. From what I saw, most prominent white evangelical leaders on an institutional level loudly, vocally, and publicly denounced Trump. You had:
Russell Moore, the most prominent voice of the Southern Baptist movement; alongside
Beth Moore, the best-selling author and speaker; with
Andy Crouch, the head of Christianity Today; and
a broad plethora of others boldly and loudly denouncing and opposing Trump in the public square.
There were exceptions, like Falwell and Metaxas, but on an institutional level the most prominent evangelical leaders I know of opposed Trump.
On the level of cultural Christianity, however, if we go back to “class” for a minute, the reality is a lot of poor, working-class, rural America identifies with faith, whereas most of the urban progressive elite does not. I think this nuances things a bit, looking less like: We love Jesus, let’s vote Trump! and more like other issues were driving the train.
Eric rightly pushes back, however, that there is still an evangelical machine. The Moral Majority is real, and it has money, power, and influence. He also observes, however, that for those who might want a tradition that can identify with being theologically conservative and politically liberal, who’ve been able to do that well—it’s black people! Get with black and Latino Christians and they can help you navigate that cultural space.
How Does the Gospel Inform This Moment?
Zooming out to the 50,000-foot level, how do we view all this through a theological, gospel lens. The early church had a saying, “God gives a society the leaders they deserve.” Whether or not you believe this was true back then, you kind of can’t get away from it in a democracy. This is what we as a society have chosen.
God is giving us what we want.
One of God’s greatest forms of judgment in Scripture is giving us what we want. Romans 1 uses the language of “the wrath of God” for this, not in the sense of “if you do these things, God’s wrath will arise against you” (though that language shows up elsewhere too), but rather as “when you do these things, God’s wrath is being revealed against you.”
I see this with both Trump and Hillary. They both seem to reflect back some of our worst characteristics as a society. With Trump, the sexual immorality, greed, and idolatry. With Clinton, the deception, pursuit of power at any cost, and two-facedness. They’re not the exception, so much as a mirror reflecting us back to ourselves as a people.
This reminds me of 1 Chronicles 13, where David messes things up, and he’s king so it’s going to have a massive impact on society. So God gives him a choice between three judgments: There’s these three great judgments, they’re all pretty bad, and you get to pick which one. That’s what this election has felt like, with Trump and Hillary, like God is going:
You’ve got a choice: there’s these two great judgments, and you’ve got to pick which one.
I’m not saying this necessarily means they’re equal—that’s where the debate lies. But I don’t know anyone on either side who’s saying, “This is our ideal candidate!” For most folks, I think it’s felt more like, “You’ve got to pick the lesser of two evils.”
And I think we need to create space for people’s consciences in this. I know some people who’ve truly felt like Trump’s character issues are horrific, worse than Hillary’s, yet on policy issues like the Supreme Court or the economy felt they couldn’t in good conscience vote otherwise. Or others who for matters of conscience voted third party, or not at all. Whether or not one agrees, we need to make space within the body of Christ for each other’s consciences in the difficulties of voting in this election year.
Jumping back out to a theological lens, however, Eric reminds us that Israel wanted to be like the nations; they wanted a king. (1 Samuel 8) So God said, Alright, you’re getting someone who’s flawed. They set up a king, and it became their idol. Similarly, many on both sides of the partisan spectrum have set up politics as our idol–displacing God as the supreme source and horizon of our hope.
Within the body of Christ, we need to resist this idolatry.
And as we zoom out to the 50,000-foot level, I believe part of our lament before God should involve this sense of God giving us over to what we want, what we deserve; lamenting the fact that: Man, it feels like we are a society increasingly under the wrath of God.
Christ—Divided, Fractured, and Broken—For Us
We don’t want to wrap this up with a pretty bow and pretend the divisions are gone because we talked about them. Next week, we want to look at “unity”–what it means to move forward together. But this week, we want to create space for lament, to bring our grief, pain, and confusion together before Christ.
And as we come to Christ, through the table of his body broken and blood shed, we come to the One who was fractured and divided on our behalf, who came into our midst and allowed himself to be dehumanized, torn apart, and crushed by the rebelliousness of our humanity.
He was broken by the empire, and fractured by the people of God. So we’re invited to bring the division we see in our society, the fragmentation we feel within the Church, and the heartache we carry in our own personal lives.
Jesus is not a King who sits abstract and distant and far away. He has entered into our full condition, felt the full grief and weight and pain of our travail, and is not far off or unfamiliar with our suffering and confusion. We want to bring the fullness of where we’re at before the fullness of who He is. We bring the tension we feel, and long to experience His presence in the midst of that tension.
And we pray that his Spirit, the very presence of God, might make us a different kind of family, a different kind of people, a signpost of his kingdom amidst the empires of the world.
We come seeking Christ, bringing our brokenness to the table in order to receive the One who was fractured and broken for us, that ultimately through the power of God we might be made whole.