Thursday, July 14, 2016

Evangelicals, Trump, and Clinton

Evangelicals, Trump, and Clinton
    (July 14, 2016)

This post is going to upset some people, and downright anger others. It is not an endorsement, although I can see how some might interpret it this way, and while I know some things I won't do in the upcoming elections, I am far from certain as to what I will do. But the following, in all fairness and consistency on my part, I believe has to be said.

We've got two major party candidates. One has repeatedly told their story, buttressed by the pastor in question, about how their interest and commitment to public service has come from youthful activity and involvement in their church and a youth minister's counsel and encouragement. This political candidate, however you feel about their particular causes and choices, has regularly been articulate and specific about citing Scripture and church history in how they've chosen certain paths. While encountering significant challenges in their marriage (in public, no less), they have worked to rebuild and maintain a strong relationship with that partner (whose faith and consistency I'm going to set aside for the moment).

The other candidate has struggled to say anything about their faith, other than often referring to a particular denominational label which is problematic, since the church this person's family attended during their upbringing wasn't of that tradition*, and it's unclear where -- if anywhere -- the candidate has attended in the last few decades, let alone been a member. But we'll overlook even that. This person cannot speak with any level of detail about their faith other than to say that they're pretty sure they don't need much forgiveness from God, even after bragging in print about pursuing married people as conquests, after two divorces and multiple break-ups from long-term relationships, and a career running casinos. Let me repeat that: the heart of the other candidate's rise to prominence is built on the construction of and management over large facilities for gambling.

And with all of that well-known and on the table, we see this: "Four-fifths of White Evangelical voters say they'll vote for Donald Trump." This is NOT to demonize Trump, it's to ask more specifically WHY tradition-minded Christians would choose in such numbers to support such a man? I've looked for surveys to ask how many are saying "I'm voting for neither," which would make a certain amount of sense, but I can't find that information in any form worth citing. I suspect that cohort exists, but they're small. More are saying something along the lines of "well, he's not who I would have picked as my candidate, but I'm gonna support him."

Again, WHY? With the incredible personal baggage he carries, and the huge impact I anticipate among the un-churched in seeing conservative Christians turn in such numbers to a choice they will not inaccurately call "hypocritical" (already a favorite stick to beat religious people with for many years), why is the tribe of the traditionalist, Anglo-/Caucasian/White, evangelical Christians plan to do such a thing?

There are answers, at least provisional ones. In my circles, I pick up on three, and I struggle with all of them. One, not as often discussed in general media as I think it warrants, is abortion. Hillary Rodham Clinton may be the most Methodist candidate the country has seen since Rutherford B. Hayes' wife Lucy, but she is -- and has not hesitated to emphasize -- a candidate supporting expanded access to abortion. Given that history and current affirmations, I suspect the bar has been set very low for an alternative to declare they are the pro-life candidate.

Trump has, barely, cleared that low bar. I fear that pro-life adherents are selling their sincere concerns for a mess of pottage (Genesis 25:34).

In matters of trade and employment, the globalist bias of the established party leadership on both sides (neither of which do I think is evil or even indifferent to the plight of American workers, but they've done a good job of looking like they are) has done an incredibly terrible job of explaining why, ultimately, full participation in the global economy is good for our children and grandchildren, even if it's not looking too good for us right now. I am to some degree enjoying the beating the party "elites" are taking, because these explanations are not that hard. It's not rocket science. It's understandable to the average Licking Countian or Rust Belter in general -- but you have to be a political leader willing to tell people things they don't want to hear. I thought John McCain would be that person, and he walked up to the edge (hat tip, Douglas Holtz-Eakin) and, in my opinion, flinched. It's not too late, but Hillary hasn't done much more than the standard drill which adds up to "just trust us, we know what we're doing." That's not what unemployed families want to hear.

Trump has claimed, without any specifics what-so-ever, he can fix this. Again, a low bar to appeal over, and he's cleared it. Not much of a leap, and he's going to fall into a pit if he gets over the last hurdle, but hold that thought.

The third factor is race. There is a major realignment going on around race and identity and politics, and it makes people nervous. The Democratic Party has enjoyed a certain intrinsic advantage on this subject since 1964, and has coasted on it, letting the counterpart assertion amp up of calling anyone who doesn't support all the societal changes going on right now "racists."

I think that's simplistic, overlooks major issues of "class" (which is why both parties talk incessantly of "middle-class" issues, and where Bernie had an opening, because he became quickly the only major voice talking about the lowest third or so of our society, the poor -- Hillary supporters, be quiet a moment, I know she throws bones, but it ain't much cooking in those bones), and in general is not how you build a coalition, anyhow. Yes, there is racism in America, and we're getting better, but have a long way to go. But you can only build so much of a plurality to reach a majority by calling another major segment of society "racist" over and over.

Trump affirms the concerns felt by those who wonder what is happening to assimilation, aspiration, and culture. The attempts to simply dismiss Trump and Trump supporters as "racists" is not going to do much more than satisfy the folks already voting against him, and I fear will have its own enduring backlash regardless of who wins in November.

Xenophobia has long been a challenge for Americans. We are, most of us, a long way from places where the majority-language isn't English; we have oceans between us and other truly different places. We valorize the homogeneity that's never really been true about us as a nation; we've embraced and included differences for centuries (ask Walt Whitman), but we have our own way of doing it. It's not cosmopolitan, and it's not European (whatever that's going to mean in a few years). We need a leader who can affirm the value of tradition and rootedness and continuity, while also showing us a path to sustainable prosperity in a world grown small, biologically, demographically, and economically.

I don't see Hillary working hard at that last. She has liabilities, of which her husband is certainly one. I have to say for the two of them, and for Trump, that both major party candidates seem to be good parents. That's not nothing.

But Trump seems unambiguously to be a moody, impetuous, and capricious person. I disagree with a large number of unambiguous policy stands Hillary is taking, but I'm not actively frightened by how I think she would handle a day with three widely separated crises and ongoing challenges that have worn the officeholder down already over the previous few weeks to a burnt nubbin.

And I think, based on clear and compelling evidence, that her faith would be present in her heart when using her head to make hard immediate decisions. Her opponent has done an excellent job of convincing me there's nothing more than expedience in his heart, based on what he's clearly and consistently said.

I have not "made up my mind." But unless new and solid information about those two hearts and minds comes to light, or is presented over time as a new or changed vision, I'm not in doubt about what I will do. And I will pray.


* He keeps saying he's "a Presbyterian," and if he could show he's taking regular counsel from Tim Keller, who after all is a Presby preacher in Manhattan, I would indeed be favorably impressed. But his parents went to Marble Collegiate, Norman Vincent Peale's church, and one of Trump's weddings was there, and they are Dutch Reformed. If Trump said "I'm Dutch Reformed, but not a very good one," I'd be favorably impressed. But he just keep saying "I'm a Presbyterian" without any indication of where or how that's the case.

Link mentioned in post:

Monday, July 11, 2016

Faith Works 7-16-16

Faith Works 7-16-16
Jeff Gill

Shadows can be long as the sun rises

Many of us in the preaching role for congregations all across the United States found themselves in a challenging situation last weekend.

Columnists, who often are working weeks in advance, have an out when it comes to timeliness and current events commentary, but when you step into a pulpit and stand before a gathering on a Sunday, there's no avoiding a certain amount of context.

We may have timeless truths we want to address and a sermon series planned weeks or months before, but there are times when the news and circumstance require that we say something about the lived reality of our communities.

No one likes to be pulled over by a car behind us with flashing lights, to see a uniformed officer walking up to our window. It is an uneasy experience at the best.

To the best of my recollection, I've been pulled over five times in almost forty years of driving. Four times I was speeding, three times I've gotten tickets, and once my car was identical in make and model and color to a vehicle that had just been reported as stolen. In each occasion, I remembered what my dad taught me, my driver's ed teacher pounded into our class, and what I've emphasized to my son: hands atop the wheel, don't dig for anything in the glove compartment or back seat until you and officer have a clear understanding and his consent, and it's "Yes, sir/ma'am; no, sir/ma'am" until they tell you it's time to pull back out into traffic, and no matter what their mood seems to be, stay calm and be polite.

And I'm a tall short-haired white guy, as is my son. But when I have a police cruiser ride my tail all the way through a town, as recently happened, I feel nervous, anxious, and it can morph into a certain amount of resentment (cf. note: guy, white, short-haired, etc.). Then I think how this same situation must feel to . . . someone else.

I have a friend and colleague, African American, who has been pulled over many more times in Ohio than I have, yet he has fewer tickets to show for it. He just gets pulled over. He laughs about it, but I hear the edge, and to the extent that I can, I understand it and respect that the edge is not harder, sharper.

And he said something recently that was making me think harder even before these last few parlous weeks in America. He says, that "one of the greatest gifts that I have to offer our largely white/Anglo church is the gift of my blackness.” I think the church has struggled with receiving the uniqueness of the gift of his experience.

Blackness as a gift, especially to a church community that still has not come to grips with some of the outright hate and veiled racism that marks our denominational history right through the twentieth century . . . and still today.

Blackness as a role and a reality that, like being Appalachian or Irish, as a powerful place of seeing in a society that tries not to see you sometimes, needs to be noticed. Just as women and children and single persons can also feel invisible, and find little understanding about that experience in the life of the congregation, so does "Blackness" point us all to a way of seeing events and institutions and yes, faith as a transformative power in this world.

In our denomination, where my colleague is a pastoral leader, we have an ongoing priority and effort built around the twin strains of "anti-racism" and "pro-reconciling" ministries. We have a long way to go, in part because we have not yet taken stock, clearly and honestly, in where it is we're coming from.

And I think we may not find the courage to take an unflinching look at our past without a full measure of the sort of blackness my friend is talking about, that he is living out. It was said online last week "if the church modeled racial unity in Christ, people would be turning to us now for answers. But we don't. So they don't."

Of all the social institutions I know, though, I think we could be the ones to model racial unity. Not to tell others what they're doing wrong, but simply to show them in how we live our common life together how to do it right.  And if we do, the curious will come.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County. Tell him about what you see rightly modeled for just living, and where you've seen it at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.