As a Christian (and by “Christian” I mean someone who understands the gospel as a radical kingdom of people following Jesus on the way of the cross) I was at once mystified and unsurprised by the results of this year’s election. I am a Christian who finds participation in the power-system of this world’s political structures inherently anti-Christian; and so I have refrained from voting for many years (to the bewilderment and disgust of my “conservative” family). If Jesus’ kingdom is one which rejects the pursuit of power and the wielding of power through violence, then Jesus’ people ought to as well, in my opinion. Besides that, since coming to the conclusions I have about Christianity, I have yet to find a single politician who would support the policies I could really get behind, namely: dismantling the military (peace), blanket debt forgiveness (forgiveness), open borders (mercy), free health care (compassion), feeding those who hurt us (enemy-love), etc.
Yet, this year, I felt myself being pulled to participate. Though, for the past decade or more, I have found the Democrats to be just as consumeristic and violent as Republicans, this year I felt (and still feel) that the Republican nominee for President is a dangerous demagogue capable of all kinds of apocalyptic (in the popular sense) evils. Banning Muslims, border walls, aggressive violent campaigns…all of the misogynistic, insensitive rhetoric we’ve heard for over a year from that candidate—I found these things incomprehensibly evil. I can’t tell you how many Facebook friends I hid from my feed because I found their support of him so mystifying and disturbing. People I had once preached to about a gospel which is the exact opposite of his positions, a Savior who came preaching exactly the opposite of his message.
Yes, the Democratic alternative had problems as well (and, no, I refused to consider the “third party” alternatives: I found Gary Johnson about as compelling as Vermin Supreme). But even at her worst, I couldn’t compare the “email scandal” with the mildest of Trump’s controversies, much less her professed positions. Being “pro-life” just couldn’t convince me to do evil for the sake of good, as my good friend Paul often reminds me that the apostle bearing the same name taught us to reject.
In the end, the pull to participate couldn’t overcome my Anabaptist conviction about participation in the powers (although even then my practice is a departure from that of many of those in the Mennonite congregation I belong to). I did not vote. I did, however, watch with interest to see what would happen. And the result was discouraging. I watched as the majority of the population in state after state succumbed to the language of fear and (the way I see it) hate. I watched as a billionaire swindler game-show host spewing venom about women, Mexicans, Muslims, immigrants…the “other”…convinced a nation that he alone could drive out those who were causing their problems and kill their enemies.
I felt like I was watching history unfold. It was terrifying.
This morning we woke up my step-son early. I volunteered to do this because I did not want to leave my wife alone to manage his reaction. See, my step-son is autistic. He has a disability. And he is sensitive to the fact that people make fun of people with disabilities. They hurt them. Noah has a strong sense of justice for people who are traditionally treated poorly. He saw in Trump (rightly, I believe) a maniacal bully incapable of empathy for anyone who suffers. He found him disturbing. Today we had to tell him, “It seems like most people are ok with that, they want that kind of person in charge.” I’m sorry, Noah. I feel like you do about it.
All of that said…. Today at work friend of mine who tends to have more “conservative” ideas about these things started a conversation with me. I had intended not to get involved in conversations about it today, but I gave in. I’m afraid to say, I am certain my body language and tone was more reflective of my disgust than I had wanted it to be. The conversation, however, was civil. No raised voices or insults (a large credit to him, I’d add).
And it occurred to me as we talked just how very different my assumptions are about the way the world works and about the Kingdom of God. He was actually able to present a very calm reason for why he thinks this was the best possible result. And, from his perspective, I can see why he feels that way. He doesn’t share my assumptions about violence or about the other. Instead, he shares the assumption of the world: that violence is inevitable and it is better to kill the other than die yourself. His assumptions were perfectly reasonable from a position which is different from mine.
It made me realize (yet again) that for me to share my thoughts on this means going to the beginning of what I think is wrong with the world and the solution I think the Gospel presents for it. Not that Jesus died to satisfy an angry God who needs to punish you for offending him. But, instead, that Jesus died to reinstate a Kingdom of people willing to respond to violence with peace.
That a man like Trump (of whom I have said and thought violent things this year myself) can become president is not, in fact, surprising. It just proves what we already knew: that we live in a very broken world, a violent world, a retributive world. It proves that we live in a world shaped by fear and hatred. It proves that we live in a world of people who continue to think that responding to violence with violence is, someday, going to finally start working and who think that it is the cross which is naïve. It proves that we live in a world in which the poor and the oppressed will remain poor and oppressed because it is profitable that they remain so. It proves that progressivism and democracy, education and technology, despite all of the claims we’ve heard for two centuries, are false messiahs. It proves that even those who think of themselves as “saved by Jesus” are confused about what it means and have bought into a Jesus who looks like them rather than trying to shape themselves to look like Jesus.
Most of all, I think it proves that we live in a world that the apostle Paul told us about, a world in which some people think the cross of Christ is stupid and some just stumble over it altogether. In his case it was the Jews who stumbled over it and the Gentiles who rejected it as foolish. In our case it is those who claim to be “saved” who reject it and the secular world which dismisses it out of hand.
My friend…was actually kind to me about my opinions about the election. He said, “I really value your thoughts because they’re different from the norm.” And he even conceded a few points I made to him. After he left my office, I felt convicted. I sent him an email saying, “Hey, I apologize for coming off a little too cynically. I probably showed a less attractive side of myself. Let’s go get a beer together soon.” To which he replied, “No worries. I appreciate that you’re willing to open up and have dialogue. How about Friday?”
Time to get on the cross, I suppose. Time to remember Paul’s other statement: “They think it’s foolish and a stumbling block. But for those of us who are being saved: we know it as the way God fixes things.” If the cross is his method for peace, should we be so surprised at a new Caesar?