Again, apologies. I know: I’m the movie guy. And trust me, next week, you’re going to get movie stuff. Thoughts on “Moana,” “Arrival” and possibly the return to the Harry Potter universe. Plus, my thoughts on some pop culture I’m thankful for and a fun new series just for the holidays that I’m extremely excited about. But this election rocked the church. So, indulge me, please.
Ever since the election, I’ve seen attempts by myself and friends to voice our concerns or anger tempered by people who say, “you need to calm down; remember, God’s in control.”
I understand the sentiment, and it is a good reminder. As a Christian, I believe that God places rulers (Romans 13:1). I believe that nothing happens outside God’s sovereignty (Psalm 115:3). I don’t think he’s in Heaven, wringing his hands or saying “I didn’t see this coming. What do I do now?” He is still God, and I can still trust that He works all things to the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28-30). In fact, because He’s in control, I believe God could even cause a change in the heart of Donald Trump (Proverbs 21:1).
That, however, is not the tone with which I’m be being told to remember God’s sovereignty. What seems to be in mind is more along the lines of “God is in control. So sit down, shut up, stop complaining and support the president.”
But, if God being in control means we should stop voicing complaints, what does that do to half of the Psalms? Is trust in God a passive thing where my action (and inaction) has no consequence because God will clean up the mess? If God places rulers, does that mean we give up our right to hold them accountable?
As I grapple with this tense time, I find that the Bible has commanded a few things. I am supposed to pray for our new president (1 Timothy 2:2). I am called to realize that Donald Trump would not have his new role had God not given it to him. I am called, when it doesn’t violate my conscience, to submit to the new president (Romans 13:1-7).
However, Christians also believe that our standing as Americans is subordinate to our identity in Christ. And where a leader violates the laws of God and allows harm to others, we have a duty to stand against them. I don’t believe the Bible condones violent protest (Matthew 26:52), but I believe nonviolent dissent is allowed (see the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego). There’s a biblical history of standing up to rulers and saying “you’re wrong” and calling them to account for their sin.
What the people who say “stop complaining; God’s in control” don’t realize is that the people angry about the incoming president are not just whining that their side lost. They are scared about more than just a shift in political power. A man has just been elected president who has no government experience and who appears to have been so convinced of his own inability to win the election that he didn’t even prepare for a transition. He is confused by the scope of the office he will hold. He has appointed a man who doesn’t even believe in climate change to head the Environmental Protection Agency.
Now, maybe those are areas to just agree to disagree on. After all, it seems like every election, people have opinions — often extreme — on the president. And while those on left might be terrified, those on the right might think the fears are exaggerated. I’d ask those who disagree not to shout me down, not to question my faith — I believe God is in control; I believe He also judges — and refrain from telling me to not get upset. After all, as I heard someone say, Jesus knew God was in control, but he still wept when Lazarus died. Believing in God’s control doesn’t mean I turn emotionless. I believe God remains sovereign. In his mercy, he may let us avoid the worst. But he’s under no obligation to do so.
Trusting God also doesn’t mean I remain passive. We have a responsibility to push back when we see others mistreated. Many who are upset believe harm not only has the potential to be done to others, but that it has already been threatened. Trump has threatened the rights of an entire religion with his promises to block Muslims from entering the country. He has encouraged violence to protesters. He has made racist, disparaging remarks about Latinos. He has appointed a man known for his racist, sexist rhetoric as his senior adviser. And he has stoked fires in many of his supporters that has emboldened them to unleash racist, hateful actions and words against people of all races and sexes. Just on day one, the tone turned ugly. This past week, I heard from a friend about an incident she and her husband personally experienced. I’ll let her tell it:
I was born an American citizen, grew up in Houston, the descendant of Mexican immigrants. Houston is one of the most diverse cities in the United States with a broad collection of ethnicity and people groups. My encounters with racist comments were limited to the little old ladies in our church who grew up in a whole different world, and one redneck football player in my high school.
I moved to Lynchburg, Virginia, home of the late Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. Contrary to what most people believe, Lynchburg is NOT named for lynching, but after a person’s name. It is traditionally the reddest dot of conservative politics in the state of Virginia. It has not been unusual this election year to see Trump signs, shirts, hats, etc. everywhere.
I married a Lynchburg native, born from the small town heritage, heritage of old wealthy historic homes in this old city. He’s white, I’m not. My ethnicity has been the source of my humor in my nine years here, as the coloration of this area is primarily black and white with very little cinnamon in the pot.
One week after the election, my husband and I went to a local specialty grocery store to gather a few things for dinner. A lady in a Trump t-shirt and Disney hoodie arrived with us and gave me a glare. We wound up in the same checkout lane. As my husband and I were discussing politicians in general, this woman butted into our conversation and told my husband she’d buy him a ticket to Africa. She then looked at me and said ‘you can go to Mexico,’ rather spitefully. He told her that he’d be happy to take the money instead of a ticket – trying to make light of an awkward situation which was about to get much more tense. I spoke up and told her that I was born in the United States, thank you. Her response was ‘So was I, but I don’t need you people here.’ The cashiers just looked at us dumbfounded. My husband and I were so stunned we could not respond.
On leaving, we saw the middle-aged lady climb into a Lexus SUV emblazoned with a sticker from the local Baptist church that boasts the largest attendance in the area – and connected to Liberty University. My heart broke as I realized someone who would consider themselves a “Christian” is spreading this kind of vitriolic racist ignorance.
Again, this didn’t happen in backwater Alabama or some out-of-touch Kentucky village. It happened in the same area that is home to Thomas Road Baptist Church, Liberty University and the heart of American evangelicalism.
I do not agree with violent protests. But I do stand with the people standing against hate. I do understand and share their worry. I do not think there is an option to stand to the sidelines. It is not unpatriotic to protest policies that will harm our citizens, it is not un-American to shout down hate, and it is not un-Christian to say “we will not accept this.” I’ve seen several people share quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King and others. But because this is largely a pop culture blog, I think I can get away with one from Captain America:
“Doesn’t matter what the press says. Doesn’t matter what the politicians or the mobs say. Doesn’t matter if the whole country decides that something wrong is something right. This nation was founded on one principle above all else: The requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the odds or the consequences. When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world — ‘No, YOU move.’”
The same goes of Christians. Historically, the church has been a champion for the underrepresented and oppressed, and at the forefront of social change. Christians believe that all men and women bear the image of God; damaging or maligning that image is offensive. We welcome the refugee and stranger because our religion has a history of displacement, and we follow a homeless savior. We love our enemies because we serve a God who pursued and loved us even in our enmity. We are condemned from feigning ignorance or failing to protect those in harm’s way (Proverbs 24:11-12). Republican or Democrat, if you see racism, hatred and violence, it is your duty to stand up to it.
Estimates say that 81% of white evangelicals vote for Donald Trump. Now, that may not be entirely accurate, and I know not everyone who voted for him did so wholeheartedly. But the perception in our country stands: it was Christians who put Trump into office. And when people hear the words “evangelical” or “Christian” now, it brings to mind racism, greed and power at all costs. It doesn’t matter if that’s correct: that’s what people picture when they hear the word. As people concerned with the glory and esteem of God, that should deeply trouble us.
Christians must prove that this is not who God or his followers are. If you’re angry, protest your dissent. Stand up when your conscience is violated, when our leaders don’t protect their citizens and when people are treated unjustly. We can protest without being jerks. We can disagree and remain civil. Trust in God’s control does not encourage passivity but fuels action. Because I trust God and believe He makes all things right and uses the Church as his instrument in doing so, I should be emboldened to stand and speak (or write) for the hurting and mistreated.
For those who believe the fear is unwarranted? Realize the reputation the Church has right now, and commit to showing that this is not what Christianity looks like. You don’t have to change your politics. But if you see mistreatment, step in. If you see injustice, push back. If you see hatred, combat it with love. Trust in God and realize that even if you have to speak out against those you’re aligned with, it will be for your good and God’s glory.