November 8, 2016 was a spiritual turning point for me – the date that my country, a nation founded on the principle that we are all created equal, elected as its president a man who promotes bigotry. The election outcome was the catalyst for some deep soul-searching on my part. I am one of the 19% of white evangelicals who voted against Trump because his self-centered and meanspirited message is antithetical to the gospel. That voting statistic alone makes me question the purpose of American evangelism. But the election also shed light on my own purpose and need for spiritual growth in a way that only something really dark can do.
When I think about how soul-changing this election is for me, I am reminded of another important date in my spiritual journey – April 20, 1999. That was the day that two high school seniors massacred twelve students and a teacher at Columbine High School. It shook me to the core. Safe and secure in my suburban oasis, I had not attended church in years. Columbine reminded me how much darkness and evil there is in the world and reawakened my desire to “walk in the light, as he is in the light.” An unimaginable tragedy renewed my faith in God and reaffirmed whose side I am on.
The presidential election also shook me to the core. My prayers were not answered, but my faith was strengthened. The election showed me how significantly politics and propaganda have corrupted American evangelism over the past few decades, but also confirmed my purpose as a wholehearted disciple of Jesus: to love my neighbor as myself. I sought and found comfort and courage from others who share my sorrow and my desire to make the world a kinder, more loving place to those who don’t know Jesus.
In trying to figure out where to go from here, reflecting on my desire for social justice, I find myself drawn to the words of the prophet Micah:
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8, NIV)
My sorrow at Trump’s election stems from empathy for my neighbors – not just the ones in my mostly white, upwardly mobile neighborhood. To love your neighbor as you love yourself requires the ability to see with the eyes of another, hear with the ears of another and feel with the heart of another. Empathy is the ability to step outside of your own emotions, out of your own self-centered point of view, and to see things from the perspective of another.
For me, the seeds of empathy were sown when I was a child living in poverty in a small town in the Midwest. I was ashamed when people in our community looked down on me and my family because we were poor, especially when we lived on public assistance after my parents’ divorce. My shyness made me feel even more socially inadequate. I felt like there was something wrong with me because I didn’t open up to people or make friends easily. I understood what it feels like to be marginalized because people don’t think you are good enough.
By loving me for who I am, by forgiving my sins, by providing everything I need, God showed me what is good – love and mercy. He showed me my inherent worth and the worth of all human beings. He planted a seed of empathy in my heart.
I did not realize how deeply the seed of empathy had been planted in me and how well God had watered it until I started thinking about the social issues that face our country today. Like Martin Luther King, Jr., I believe that we should be judged based on the content of our character and not the color of our skin. I believe in the American Dream, that we should all have the opportunity to reach our God-given potential regardless of the circumstances of our birth. I am concerned about income inequality because I have seen how corporate America takes care of those at the top, even if they don’t perform. I feel for Muslims and others who might face religious discrimination because I believe in the freedom to choose what to believe. The LGBT community deserves to be treated with compassion because we are all human beings, regardless of sexual orientation or marital status.
The founding fathers of my country recognized that we are all created equal. They wrote that our Creator gave us certain unalienable rights, rights that should not be restrained by human laws – rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Unfortunately, our founders were fallible human beings who did not extend these rights to everyone. Others had to fight for social justice.
To be merciful is to be forgiving and compassionate and to not give people what they deserve. Most of us want mercy because we are imperfect and we make mistakes. We want a second chance. We want the benefit of the doubt. But while we want mercy for ourselves, we tend to want justice when others do wrong. We think they should have to pay for what they did. But you can’t have it both ways. If you want mercy, in all fairness, you must be merciful yourself.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy (Matthew 5:7, NIV). It is easy for me to be compassionate towards people I like but Jesus set a much higher standard. He said, love your enemies, even pray for them. He said “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful (Luke 6:36, NIV). God is kind to the ungrateful and to the wicked. He makes his sun shine on both the evil and the good. He sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:44-45).
After the election, when I shared my grief on Facebook, my uncle told me to consider the points of view of people who are distressed about the direction the country is going. He said that millions of people prayed for divine intervention and that when we pray that God’s will be done, we must accept it. The implication was that since Trump won, he is God’s answer to what ails America. Although I believe that God does have a plan for mankind and his plan includes letting the wicked rule nations, I would caution anyone who assumes that Trump has God’s blessing. Read the Sermon on the Mount. Read the parable of The Good Shepherd. Read the parable of the sheep and the goats.
While I empathize with those who worry about the economy, sexual immorality, terrorism, and other issues, I do not believe that God wants this nation to put its trust in a selfish con man. No matter how hard I try, I can’t understand how good people can put their trust in a man who promotes hatred against the “others.” Donald Trump showed me the kind of man he is with every careless word out of his mouth. Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. Jesus said that a wicked man brings evil out of the evil stored up in him. I have no reason to believe that Donald Trump will suddenly become a righteous man who does good things just because evangelicals voted for him.
Those of us who mourned the results of the election have been told to shut up, suck it up, stop throwing stones at sinners, stop using all those words (bigot, misogynist, racist, xenophobic, etc.) that describe Donald Trump to a T. These words just divide us, they say. The truth is, these words make Trump’s supporters uncomfortable. By attempting to silence those of us who reveal Trump for what he is, they are doing what they can to try to reduce that psychological tension known as cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is the discomfort we feel when our beliefs or behaviors conflict with each other. So they tell themselves that a conservative Supreme court nominee is more important than any of the unrighteous things Donald Trump has said and done. They tell themselves that the fiscal deficit is more important than Christian values. They tell themselves that everything will be okay if Trump just surrounds himself with good advisors. They tell themselves that Hillary Clinton is the most corrupt politician that ever lived.
I will never understand how Trump’s supporters, especially the Christians, were able to strike a political bargain with an evil man. You give me X, I’ll ignore that command to love your neighbor as yourself. But I can understand the power of deception. We were bombarded with more propaganda and outright deception during this campaign than ever before. And I understand the power of confirmation bias. We are prone to disregard facts that conflict with our preconceived notions.
What does the Lord require of me?
For many of us, Trump’s victory was a call to justice, a call to stand up for the oppressed and the marginalized. I don’t yet know what this will look like for me but I am praying that God will put my compassion into action. I certainly never imagined myself as an activist but maybe that is why God gave me the courage to quit my meaningless job just a month before the election.
The discomfort of the good people who voted for Trump has shown me that I need to be merciful to them. I don’t know what they are struggling with or how they were able to come to a decision that I could never make. I do know that no good will come from constantly criticizing their decision. What is done is done. I will give them the benefit of the doubt. I will pray for them because I believe they will eventually realize that they made a huge mistake.
And as much as I don’t want to, I will pray for the wicked man who will soon occupy the most powerful position in this country. He doesn’t know my Lord but I want him to be a good leader. I want him to be a good man. I want him to walk humbly with my God. My God is merciful to the wicked and the unrighteous and that’s what he requires of me.