I have to admit that I am angry, hurt, and exhausted.
Today is my 28th anniversary. The sad truth is that for the first time ever, I forgot my anniversary. When I was walking out the door to spend the day in my office and studio to try and catch up with some work my wife said, “Happy Anniversary” and handed me a gift. I felt terrible.
Thankfully, she is understanding. She, herself, is very busy. Plus, she has seen me fighting through the fog induced by COVID and American politics. 2019 was a very hard year for my family, privately, and 2020 has, very publicly, been a hard year for the nation and world. Also, I have worked hard over the last 28 years to not be “that husband.” You know the one who always forgets every anniversary and shows no care. So today, my wife grants me grace. I am thankful.
Shortly after I left the house, she posted to social media about the media calling the election for Biden and how that is a great anniversary present. She is right. I should feel better. I don’t.
I actually intentionally put off grading some tests this week because they were mostly essay answers and I didn’t think it was fair for me to be grading them when I was so angry. I find the fact that we even got to this point to be very disturbing. While Biden is having a historic victory with more ballots cast with his name on them and for anyone else in history and likely a significant electoral college victory, it is still troubling how close this was. After four years of incompetence and hate, more people voted for Trump than had voted for any president prior to this year.
Trump has essentially given up on fighting a pandemic which has claimed almost a quarter of a million American lives. Rather than Americans being grieved by this devastating national loss, they are concerned about mask mandates.
I spent the summer demonstrating for a confederate monument to hate to be moved to a museum. We lost, at least for now, and our opponents were largely Trump flag-waving folks, often shouting hate.
My county went 77% for Trump. But, it is more than that. On election day, there were people on a busy intersection corner waving Trump flags. I’ve never seen this kind of devotion to a president in my life, and the president who has inspired it is the vilest president of my life.
When I went to bed Tuesday night I thought there was a good chance Trump would serve a second term. By Wednesday morning, I believed that he wouldn’t. But, I was still angry. It was still incomprehensible to me the type of support he has. Four years ago was heartbreaking. But, at least people could say they weren’t 100% sure about how bad his character is. Today they can’t.
Despite today’s powerful, historic victory, we still have to contend with the reality that about 70 million people cast a vote which was either explicitly for hate or at the very least didn’t mind the hate all that much.
Oh, and I see all over social media, even from people I know that this victory is illegitimate. There is no evidence of this, but Trump is amplifying the idea… let’s be real… he started the idea even before a single vote was cast. We have a would-be dictator who essentially says, “this election is only legitimate if I win,” and 70 million Americans think, “that’s my guy.”
Yes. I am still angry.
I grew up in the Church. Some of my earliest memories are in Church. We were there pretty much every time the doors opened not because of some legalistic rule but because it was the center of our lives.
I’ve led youth groups, I’ve taught Sunday school. I’ve taught small groups. I have taught at four different religious institutions, three of them evangelical. My artwork is based on my faith. My scholarship is grounded in my faith. There is no way for me to separate my faith from my personal or professional life. It is, in a very real sense, who I am.
And still, I can barely even recognize my faith tradition. The forms of worship are the same but the tenor and spirit have eroded. I see pastors who preach love and scriptural fidelity on Sunday mornings spreading falsehoods and hate on social media. I have a former pastor who I respected, I spent seven years under his teaching, but I could not attend his church today. He was incredibly gospel-focused at the time. But, while he may not have fully lost the plot it is certainly shrouded through a vail of MAGAism.
I’ve seen a deacon at the church I was raised in, the son of my Mom’s best friend, argue, at a prayer breakfast, for tough love, by which he meant a conception of love which was in no way related to the love illuminated in Scripture. A love that is patient, kind, humble, content, civil, selfless, cheerful, even-tempered, forgiving, truth-loving. A love that protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres. That is the love I was taught in the small country Baptist church in which I was raised and baptized. That is the love I was taught in the Manhattan church I attended. That is the love I see in scripture and in the life of my savior. But, that is not the love I see proclaimed by the vast majority of the visible church today.
I realized in a conversation with a previous pastor that he believed and taught a gospel-based on the judgment of God while I believe in a gospel-based on the grace of God. I believe in a God who came to seek and to find because he loves us. I believe in a Christ who came to save not condemn because we are already living in condemnation and that is not what he wants for those he loves, his joint-heirs.
I am heartbroken
I was taught to honor scripture and I have what in theology is called a high view of scripture. I believe it is true. I believe it is God speaking to us through the authors he inspired. I do not believe it is riddled with errors nor anachronistic. I believe it shares with us God’s heart, God’s priorities.
These are things I was taught and which I still believe. I hold a conservative hermeneutic and for the life of me, I cannot see how my brothers and sisters who claim to hold a similar hermeneutic come to the conclusions they do.
Evangelicalism, and conservative Catholicism, today seems to be dominated by opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage, both of which existed in Biblical times. But, they, at most, are mentioned in seven scriptural passages. At the same time, scripture is replete with passages about love, gentleness, honesty, humility, generosity, forgiveness, faithfulness, and caring for others. But, evangelicals have exchanged the greater part of scripture to focus on the lesser part. It isn’t just that we can’t see the forest through the trees. We are only willing to look at a couple of spindly trees while ignoring the grand sequoias of scripture standing next to them or the deep roots of the ancient oaks of the Christian faith.
I remember the heartbreak of watching the news as 81% of evangelicals vote for a thrice-married, adulterous, casino owning, strip club owning, mammon devoted, confessed perpetrator of sexual assault. I remember the turning pit in my stomach when I sat in church five days later knowing that most around me had voted for this man.
But still, maybe they made a mistake. Maybe they were so caught up in their hate for Hillary Clinton or their fears about abortion and same-sex marriage that they would come to their senses after watching his failed leadership, moral bankruptcy, and transparent dishonesty for four years. It seems not. All indications are that evangelicals supported Trump at about the same rate. The most encouraging reports have evangelical support for Trump down to the high 70s, about what it was for Bush Jr. But, other polls have it at a consistent 81%.
Evangelicals saw four years of hate and bigotry and either liked it or felt this abuse of others was ok if it got them what they wanted.
I feel lied to
I was raised to believe that the church was the moral soul of this nation. The argument has often been made that if, as a nation, we are going to return to our lost morality of yesteryear it will be the church that leads the way.
It is tragically true that this nostalgia for America past forgets, or doesn’t care, about slavery, Jim Crow, lynchings of Blacks and Hispanics, Japanese internment, the Chinese Exclusion Act, native American genocide, the Trail of Tears, abuses of women, and children. This nostalgia forgets the least of these. Christ said that what we do to them we are doing to Him. So, in reality, we should feel shame not pride for much of our past.
But, the rhetoric I have heard raised issues like same-sex marriage and abortion to the level of an unprecedented moral crisis. If that is true evangelicals are the most lackadaisical moral crusaders in history. Look at the way the Black Lives Matter movement took to the streets over the unjust deaths of a comparably small number of people. Or, go back a decade to the moral outrage of the Occupy Wall Street crowd over income inequality. If evangelicals truly believed that abortion is murdering tens of millions of people there is no reason we should not be out protesting day and night. Sure there are the occasional protests and walks for life but little more.
There have been somewhere around 60 million abortions in the United States since Roe v. Wade. Given evangelical arguments, that is ten times the amount of murders of babies than Jews killed by Hitler. Yet, almost all evangelicals spend more time vacationing than protesting.
The proof I was lied to
It isn’t just the fact that evangelicals show little to no outrage over Right-to-Life issues after a baby leaves the womb. It isn’t just that evangelicals seem to use a faux moral outrage about abortion to justify their selfish voting. It is that we are openly hypocritical.
Tennessee is the most evangelical state in the country. The Congressman from my district is Scott DesJarlais. He just defeated pro-life Democrat Christoper Hale two votes to one. Here is the thing though, DesJarlais is a Doctor who had affairs with his patients and PAID for an abortion for his mistress. He may say, “pro-life.” But, when push came to shove he shelled out the greenbacks to protect his comfort over the life of that child. He did the opposite of what all these evangelicals who voted for him say is moral. Yet, they still vote for him.
I’ve seen this in my personal life too. I know people who are adamantly anti-abortion both before and after they have an abortion or help someone else get an abortion simply because it made their life easier.
I saw an article this week that cited a study that showed quantitative support for the qualitative observations I have made over the years. This study, from 2016, quantified the top 15issues of importance for White Evangelicals. They are:
- National Security
- Government Corruption
- Social Security
- Health Care
- Budget Deficit
- Defense Spending
- Gun Control
- Race Relations
- Gay Marriage
I am not saying any of these concerns aren’t legitimate. But what I am saying is that the rhetoric that evangelical votes are centered on the moral issues of abortion and gay marriage is not the reality. For example, evangelicals care more about immigration (keeping them out) than abortion. They care more about race relations than about gay marriage. If that is true, judging by the evangelical response to the BLM movement, they actually care very little about gay marriage.
The reality is that abortion and gay marriage are not driving the evangelical vote. They are a cover. When deeply religious challengers bring up the inconsistency of the policies held by Trump or a number of other candidates they simply wave their magic abortion wand and feel as if they have claimed the moral high ground. They voted for Trump because of what they think he will do for them, not because of how they felt he would help others, especially not the most vulnerable.
I am exhausted
I came to work today to get things done. But, I am still struggling to concentrate. I’ve spent more time on the catharsis of writing than on grading, or researching art, or working in the studio.
I should feel happy. I should be cheering in the streets like they are in Philadelphia and New York or any number of other cities. But, I live in a small Southern town so I might be out there alone.
More importantly, though, I don’t feel like cheering. Biden wasn’t my first choice. He wasn’t my second. To be honest, he was well down the list. So for me, this wasn’t an election about moving our country forward. We had driven off the road and were stuck in the mud. This was an election about just getting back on the road. It was an election about choosing decency over depravity. It was about basic humanity and empathy. It still took four days to decide. It was that close.
Basic decency barely held off the worst parts of our nature. That is depressing.
There are loud voices, including Trump’s, claiming that this isn’t done and, defying all evidence, they claim that it was rigged. The peaceful transfer of power is in question. That is depressing.
When I go to the store three-quarters of my fellow shoppers, in this deeply religious town, chose brokenness over healing. That is depressing.
We are so far from where we need to be. I’m not talking about nuances. I am talking about basic right and wrong. That is depressing.
But, so many don’t see it. So many religious people don’t see it. And I don’t know how to show it to them. How do you teach a nation to recognize good and reject evil? On social media this week, I told an acquaintance, “if you can’t see this I don’t know if I can explain to you why orange is orange.” That is how I feel. I don’t know how to explain that right is right. I don’t know how to explain that wrong is wrong. I don’t know how to explain that orange is orange. The idea of that is exhausting. The idea that I may spend the rest of my life involved in those conversations is exhausting.
The Will & Rightness
Maybe I should add a little explanation to this point since I am a professor.
The reality is that I do know how to teach these things. I just don’t know how to teach them to someone who doesn’t want to learn.
About a decade ago, I started saying, “Belief is a function of the will.” No one will ever come to believe that which they are committed to not believing. Around the same time, I had a student say, “You can’t hold a conversation with someone who thinks everything they do is right.”
There is no way to teach a person who has no desire to know anything different and who thinks they are 100% right. It can’t be done. But, that is the world we live in. Facts are suspect. Fact-checkers and experts are the least trusted people from some groups. What they know to be right and true is self-evidently right and true and there is no way to change that.
A City on a Hill?
In the Sermon on the Mount, just after the Beatitudes, Jesus uses two analogies to refer to believers- Salt and Light.
Salt is a mineral that both preserves and brings out the flavor. That is what the church should do for the broader culture.
Christ says we are also the light of the world comparing us to a city set on a hill that cannot be hidden. We are to let our light shine so that the world can see our good works and via our light, see Christ’s light.
Are we doing that? Are we preserving, flavoring, illuminating the world?
In this election where we had a choice between decency and brokenness, the church chose brokenness and the world saw. They saw when we made that choice four years ago and saw again when we doubled down on it.
I know too many people who refuse to go to church or raise their children in church because they believe in Truth, Goodness, and Love. They believe in the things that should draw them to God and because of that, they are repulsed by the Church. We are not a city on the hill, a beacon of hope to the world. We are a dumpster fire in the back alley. Something respectable people know they shouldn’t relish in watching but which is too disturbingly compelling to turn away.
Christ said, “if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” I lived in NYC for seven years. I always appreciated the salt that was thrown on the icy sidewalks. It kept me from slipping and hurting myself. By dissolving into nothingness it kept me safe.
Another one of my sayings is, “The Church is not the Church.” By that, I mean that the visible church that we see is not the Ecclesia, the Church which is called by Christ. The visible Church has certainly lost its savor and is only now useful when tossed out.
The Ecclesia, the Church called by Christ, is still the light, the city on the hill. We need now, more than ever, to let our light shine as a beacon to the God of love. The God who sacrificed himself for us. The God who called us to care for the least of these. The God, our father in heaven, who receives glory through our good works, not through our power, cultural influence, and political machinations.
I am angry, hurt, and exhausted. But, I know that God is good, all the time, even when the clanging symbols and noisy gongs who loudly proclaim His name profoundly demonstrate that they have no love. Love endures, perseveres through every circumstance. Father forgive us for we do not know what we do.