03 October 2018

Confession Regarding an Election

Saint Martins Saint Francis Episcopal Church, Rockport, Wash.
I grew up in the warm glow of Ronald Reagan's optimism. Or that's how I remember it.

The shock on Mom's face when Reagan was shot etched itself into my memory...along with the relief when he survived.

We listened to James Dobson. We subscribed to World magazine. We read biographies of Jonathan Edwards, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington Carver.

We found in American history a precedent for Christian activism. We saw ourselves as heirs to a religious heritage that shaped the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. And we believed both traditions taught us to see slavery and segregation—no less than abortion—as blots on our national conscience.

We also had the sense that Christians were losing their cultural influence

In “A Christian Manifesto,” published in 1981, Francis Schaeffer wrote, “The basic problem of the Christians in this country in the last eighty years or so is that they have seen things in bits and pieces instead of totals. They have gradually become disturbed over permissiveness, pornography, the public schools, the breakdown of the family, and abortion. But they have failed to see this shift away from a worldview that was at least vaguely Christian toward a worldview based upon the idea that final reality is impersonal matter or energy....”

That sense of decline and Schaeffer's diagnosis, though I read it later, defined the attraction of conservatism.

I remember running across the backyard on election night, 1994, pumping my fists, “G-O-P, G-O-P.”  Quietly...so as not to disturb.

I worked phones for Ellen Craswell's gubernatorial campaign in 1996. I listened to Rush Limbaugh while working on the farm. I donated to George W. Bush's election campaign, and most of the people I worked and worshiped with in Oklahoma are Republicans.

That seems like a long time ago.

The battle Hobby Lobby fought over the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate and fears the supreme court's 2015 ruling on gay marriage might marginalize those holding a historic Christian view of marriageconcerns laid out by David Harsanyi—intensified many voters' distrust of Clinton.

As Clinton supporter, Joan Williams wrote in the Harvard Business Review, Clinton...
epitomizes the dorky arrogance and smugness of the professional elite. The dorkiness: the pantsuits. The arrogance: the email server. The smugness: the basket of deplorables.” 

Some voted for Trump...or Clinton...out of a two-party risk assessment, believing one or the other would do less damage. Some chose not to vote.

Many went well beyond risk assessment.

The Trump supporters—primary voters and social media apologists—I talked to seemed to want a strongman, someone “who could win,” someone who would “fight fire with fire."

Jerry Falwell Jr justified his continued support for Trump on the grounds that voters are electing a president, not a pastor, which sounds a lot like a campaign promise to appoint a certain kind of supreme court justices...somehow compensates for cheating building contractors and bragging about sexual assault.

Some tried to distance themselves from Trump's personal morality and still support his presidential campaign because his “worldview” was “closer to scripture,” as John MacArthur put it. MacArthur also made an argument based on the risk of Clinton winning the election, but he left unclear how "the art of the deal" fits into the biblical narrative.

An over reliance on great individuals has grown up around presidential politics—perhaps understandable, given Reagan's and Obama's stature and recent presidents' use of powerand this idolatry has now reached full flower. 

In his speech at the Republican National Convention, Trump dispensed entirely with modesty and said, “I am your voice. I alone can fix it.”

There were other voices. 

World magazine called for Trump to step aside as it did for Bill Clinton in 1998. New York Times columnist and Catholic Ross Douthat pointed out "An Election Is Not a Suicide Mission." President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary R. Albert Mohler Jr. laid out exactly what was at stake in this "excruciating moment." Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, drew fire from Trump and other evangelicals

As far back as the end of the 1992 campaign, the idea of journalistic objectivity had crumbled to the point New Republic's Fred Barnes could argue “an important line was crossed.”

Evidence—and accusations—of media bias have grown since then. But as conservatives turned to talk show hosts and bloggers, and as the Fox News Channel started up in 1996, objections focused less on fairness—or even civility—and more on discrediting the other side.

In the last 10 years, social media algorithms increasingly surrounded us with voices similar to our own, and pundits on both sides have hurled whatever came to hand across growing divides. Everyone the left doesn't like ends up with Hitler's mustache, and everyone the right doesn't like's a socialist or worse.

But this isn't the media or social media or fake news stories doing this to us. Those things take the shape they do because we lean that way to start with. 

Mutually assured radicalization.

The first problem with any political agenda is that it's political, and those tend to become about the power and the tribe. 

But compromising moral credibility for an agenda undermines our moral stand on everything, including the agenda.

If we accept, as William Blackstone wrote, those rights granted to humankind by God are inalienable, and if we hold the Declaration's “pursuit of happiness” to include the right to support one's family, then undocumented workers from Latin America are guilty of something more like exceeding the speed limit than robbing a house and don't deserve to have their families torn apart.If we hold religious freedom an inalienable human right, then national security might be one good reason to regulate immigration, but it does not justify the imposition of a religious test for Muslim immigration or free movement.

It's possible to argue various ways these ideas might work out in policy, but asserting the human rights protected by the Constitution only apply to Americans is nationalism, not Christianity.

The other problem with a political agenda is that it's an agenda.

Agendas allow us to salve our consciences by voting for—or condemning in blog posts—this candidate or that party without knowing our neighbors. We can imagine ourselves pro-life without doing anything to help young women in crisis, without dealing with the fallout of sexual assault, without experiencing a loved one's long, slow deterioration, without extending hospitality to immigrants or refugees...without loving our neighbors in any number of less dramatic ways.

I don't recognize the party or the movement I grew up in. And I'm angered...that misogyny and nativism will now be so strongly associated with conservative Christianity, that it will likely be harder to express an orthodox Christian view of human sexuality, that it will be harder to engage with thosefellow believers, like Jemar Tisbywho feel betrayed.

And somewhere in that statement lies my idolatry—my faith in politics or in the groups I belong to—and my failure to love my neighbor

This is my confession...taken from the "Book of Common Prayer"...

Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against thee
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved thee with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of thy Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in thy will,
and walk in thy ways,
to the glory of thy Name.


  1. First, a (relatively) small thing. The church Jamar Tisby refers to that was burned in Mississippi was actually burned by a member of their own congregation.

    Second, we had no choices in this election. It was the devil you know versus the devil you don't know. Many (most) evangelical Christians opted for the devil they didn't know. And I suspect that more than a few voted for Trump not because they wanted a strong man who would make them feel safe in their churches but because of the acceleration of societal decay that's happened over the last eight years. I seriously doubt Trump can stop that, but that's where many people were.

    1. Greetings, Glynn, and thank you for your comment. I think I agree with you about the difficulty of the choices we had. There's a useful distinction, in my mind at least, between Trump voters and Trump supporters—the latter being those who became Trump apologists in one way or another. But compromises were made for the sake of winning or voting for a candidate that had a chance of winning or preventing Clinton from winning. A great deal of moral credibility was lost in this last election, moral credibility needed if we are to have a conversation about societal decay.

  2. Wow. Good thoughts, Loren! Grateful for your perspective and ability to communicate it.