If I could have a word with my Christian friends

The year 2016 has revealed many surprising things. Cleveland can win championships! The Cubs can play baseball!

The most significant revelations, of course, have been cultural and political. The racial and geographic divides are even deeper than we knew. There do indeed appear to be two Americas (at least).

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Not surprisingly, I’ve taken some flack for my last blog post. I imagine some of the offense comes from my use of the word repent. As incendiary as it is, I chose that word because of its meaning to turn in the other direction. I believe the Bible when it says that it is never too late to change course.

Christian readers who voted for Trump may feel that I came down hard on them but let Clinton voters off easy. I did not, after all, call Clinton voters to repent even though they voted for (and thus endorsed) a candidate with abortion views more extreme than most of the country’s.

I think that is a fair criticism.  After I published the post and received push-back, I began to wonder if my own conscience is less concerned by Clinton not because she’s less troubling than Trump but because my conscience is less alert to abortion than it is to racism. Could it be that I have generational blinders? Abortion has been legal in the United States every day of my life and I likely have friends who have had one. I have been swimming in pro-choice waters my entire adult life, having attended a famously liberal college and lived only in “progressive” towns afterwards. Has my own conscience grown dull when it comes to the implications of a nation killing its own children?

Yes, I think it’s possible. Just as it’s likely that the consciences of the white members of my parents’ generation are less formed around issues of racism. Many of them travel in only white circles, and that has insulated them from the reality of racism in America. When you are white in America and you don’t have close friends of color, it is easy for race to simply be a theoretical concept.

This is not so easy for someone like me. Some of my closest friends are ethnic minorities. I have worshiped and lived alongside people of color and have sat under their leadership for years. In part because of these experiences, I cannot dismiss talk of racial justice as merely a political ploy. As I’ve written before, it can be very difficult to discern right and wrong when wrong is culturally normal. I’m realizing anew that sometimes it’s our generational culture that blinds us.

So, here’s my question for my Christian readers – is it possible that each generation has particular moral blinders? Could it be that there were two evil choices in this election….and we are upset because our fellow Christians simply chose a different one than we did?

If that is the heart of the matter, then we need to figure out a third way to vote. Perhaps we are not supposed to be comfortable with choosing “the lesser of two evils,” but should insist on not voting for evil of any kind. Was there a way to reject the binary choice of Trump vs. Clinton and yet still participate in our democracy? What if all those who were troubled by both choices had gone to the polls and voted on all the down-ballot races and issues, but had written in a third candidate for President? Yes, this would have handed the power to all the other voters, but it also would have spoken clearly if it had been done en masse. Imagine if the headline had been “81% of Evangelicals Reject Both Presidential Candidates.” What a different message that would have sent.

Voting decisions are complex. When to vote one’s conscience and when to vote pragmatically is not easy to discern. This past election decision was exceptionally challenging for many. I believe the American church needs to grow its vision of civic participation. We likely need to reject the binary choice that our two parties have given us, and follow the model of the new movement Public Faith.

Christian friends, could this be the way forward for our civic life? Better choices might appear in future elections if together we demanded it. This will only happen if large numbers call for it, not just a few.

©Laura Goetsch and Thinking About Such Things, 2016.

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5 thoughts on “If I could have a word with my Christian friends

    1. Brooke, that is something I have always believed, but it had never occurred to me that it also applied to voting options! Most of us have been so trapped in the framework of the binary choice that is has not occurred to ask what might happen if we tried something else.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Kristen Johnson

    Thought-provoking post, Laura. I appreciate your honest wrestling with these big issues. Reading this reminded me of a chapter I read about a month ago looking at evangelicals’ widening public policy participation (meaning that evangelicals now care about and contribute to a wide range of public issues, wider than public perception often acknowledges). Overall the author assessed that this was a good thing, but asked some questions about the cultural formation of younger evangelicals. His questions connect to some of the issues you are raising about generational blinders. Forgive the length, but I thought all of these parts of his chapter might be of interest to you:

    EXCERPT FROM David Ryden, “The Good Book as Policy Guide: Characteristics, Critiques, and Contributions of Evangelical Public Policy Participation,” in Is the Good Book Good Enough?, edited by David Ryden

    The point is not that Christians must disaffiliate from a party or avoid partisan politics. Given the predominant influence of parties on our politics, it is not unreasonable to conclude that one may wish to associate with one party or the other to have some practical influence on politics. But party affiliation should always be an uneasy alliance, where the evangelical Christian is never too comfortable with her partisan commitments. …

    So what is one to make of the broadening of the evangelical policy mind? Is it a positive sign of evangelical maturation? Or does it signify submission to the dominant cultural values and ethos? Walter Russell Mead undoubtedly is correct in observing that evangelicals are in the midst of an important developmental phase relative to public policy and politics. But whether this in fact reflects genuine intellectual growth and political maturation remains to be seen.

    ….The evolving policy views of younger evangelical Christians raise similar questions regarding their standing relative to the popular culture. A new generation of evangelicals is less susceptible to the partisan or ideological forms of co-optation described above; they are more inclined to deem their faith relevant to a wider range of issues. But it is not clear that their new-found policy awareness is not itself an expression of cultural co-optation. Younger evangelical Christians do not see themselves in the same light as their parents and grandparents. They do not consider themselves alien to the dominant cultural ethos; they have made their peace as full-fledged members of it. Society is not some lost cause or moribund vessel…Indeed, a key piece of their spiritual development is its application to the world; that includes public engagement on issues of poverty, race, and the environment. For them, the biblical imperatives include the betterment of their communities and the world.

    These more expansive policy views that are prevalent among young evangelicals are admirable. Yet their sources are not exactly clear, and consequently they present their own perils of co-optation. While older evangelicals have proven susceptible to partisan and political capture, they are to be credited for standing against the culture on important social issues. It remains to be seen whether younger evangelicals can do likewise when circumstances demand it. In becoming so comfortable within the broader culture and all that it entails, have they lost the ability to give prophetic voice to its morally troublesome aspects? The danger is that they never take a stand on anything that might put them in an adversarial stance to the culture. The confluence of Christianity and culture carries with it the temptation to dilute stances considered controversial or retrograde by the broader secular culture, lest one risk its antagonism or derision.

    …one wonders if they are simply yielding to the inexorable pressure from the outside world to be reasonable, moderate, centrist, forward thinking, and progressive….In contrast to Mead’s positive vision of a maturing evangelicalism, Spencer sees it in dire terms—a biblically illiterate evangelicalism ill prepared for an anti-Christian era in which evangelical Christianity is portrayed as hostile to the broader good of society. If evangelicals cannot offer a coherent articulation of the policy implications of scripture, they are unlikely to hold fast in the wake of that hostility.

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    1. Thank you, Kristen, for sharing this excerpt. Yes, this hits exactly what I was trying to get at. “The danger is that they never take a stand on anything that might put them in an adversarial stance to the culture.” This danger is high, indeed.

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  2. Pingback: My most-read posts of 2016 – Thinking about such things

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