Stephen Mattson, writing last week in Sojourners Magazine, raised a passionate warning for white evangelicals, saying that while we sing worship songs about keeping “eyes above the waves,” we’ve elected a president who rejects refugees who have passed through those same waves. We’re “refusing shelter and opportunity to some of the world’s most helpless and oppressed people,” he adds.
Our hypocrisy is thick and rancid, says Mattson. Whereas Christ has called us to aid “the poor, oppressed, maligned, mistreated, sick, and those most in need of help,” conservative policies instead encourage “xenophobia, misogyny, racism, hatred, corruption and fear.”
And who did we just vote for? Blogger Zack Hunt notes that during the campaign, Trump declared his “personal motto is ‘eye for an eye.’” He admitted that he never asked for forgiveness, he “pathologically lied,” he spoke of his own daughter in a creepy way and he bragged about sexually assaulting women — among other un-Christ-like behavior.
Late in the primaries I wrote a little e-book entitled The Trump Bible: Why No Christian Should Vote for Donald Trump. (And echoed some of my arguments here.) After Clinton became the only alternative, I lacked the heart to promote that booklet. But I sympathize with my liberal brothers and sisters. Witnessing so many fellow Christians’ glee at Trump’s election must be, for them, like getting on a bus and finding your fellow passengers wearing prison uniforms and sporting tattoos of Las Vegas show girls. “What? Did I catch the right bus?”
But before our liberal brothers and sisters in Christ jump off the bus, let us try to understand one another better.
Not Most Christians’ First Choice
First, liberals should know that Donald Trump was not the first choice for most conservative Christians.
In the month before the election, I drove around the United States speaking about a book I had more heart to promote (Jesus is No Myth). Over and over again I heard, “I am deeply concerned about Trump’s character. But Hillary is just as dishonest and even more crooked. And I cannot support someone who willingly allows the deaths of unborn children.”
Christians on the left and the right agree it is a Christian’s duty to care for “the least of these.” Many feel this must begin with the unborn.
Christianity Isn’t Such a Failure After All
Second, there is reason to believe American Christianity has not utterly failed when it comes to following the example of Jesus.
In his book Who Really Cares, sociologist Arthur Brooks points out that devout American believers, left and right, tend to give about the same amount to charity, more than three times more than those who seldom attend religious services. Committed believers even give far more blood than nonbelievers. And Americans are vastly more personally forthcoming with funds than Europeans. So has American Christianity failed? Not at making Americans Christians among the most generous people in the world. (Tom Gilson gives examples from his own church, here — and I see evidence of the same in every church where I speak.)
Who Is Our Neighbor?
But what about refugees drowning beneath waves while we sing songs?
Right and Left do face one another across a deep philosophical divide. Our assumptions about economics, just warfare, and even human nature often seem starkly at odds. Yet our common agreed starting point should be “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
How does that apply, say, to Trump’s partial ban on immigrants from some Muslim countries?
Liberals may understandably reply:
“When asked ‘Who is my neighbor?’ Jesus told of a ‘Good Samaritan.’ He could have been talking about Syrian refugees! How dense can ‘Christians’ be not to see that nationalistic conservatives are the Pharisees who ‘pass by on the other side,’ voting for a man who denies entrance to needy and abused refugees!”
But a Trump supporter could respond with equal heat:
“Did the Good Samaritan take the mugging victim into his own home? What if he had a daughter, and this traveler had a bad reputation with women? Safe zones — which Senator McCain called for — would be a closer parallel to the inn. After all, not even the early Church allowed people who failed to share its values to join.
“And shouldn’t we also show compassion for blue collar workers whose jobs are put at risk, for women in England and Germany who have been abused by immigrants, or for the victims at the Boston Marathon? Peace and prosperity have been insured for the past 70 years by a strong America holding largely to Judeo-Christian values. That may change, if America accepts all Muslims who wish to come.”
Wisdom Regarding Islam
Loving Middle Eastern Muslims is certainly part of Jesus’ calling. But his first command also includes loving God with our minds. This means acting with wisdom as well as compassion. If we are to love Muslims, we must honestly recognize the nature of the ideology to which they subscribe.
Islam is an inherently aggressive belief system whose pretensions are as universal as those of communism. Islamic law prescribes death for those who convert out. As historian Bernard Lewis notes, Islam has never birthed movements for the liberation of women, slaves or unbelievers.
Building Fences Can Be an Act of Love
Love sometimes means building fences. A cell is a community of chemicals protected by a cell wall. An organ is a co-op of cells protected by a membrane. A body is a community of organs inside skin. Families and schools are protected by walls, locks and fences.
Nations also define themselves in part by rivers, mountains and Great Walls. Yes, love may emerge in rich ways at higher levels of organization, but the integrity of the community must also be guarded, by means of membrane, skin, skulls, brick, Homeland Security, the FBI.
I have welcomed foreigners to America, but in one case endangered loved ones in the process, through failing to understand how much culture and religion matter, especially in treatment of women. Nothing bad came of that error (involving a young Muslim man), thankfully, because our trust remained guarded.
Jesus said “Love God, love your neighbors as yourself.” He did not promise that understanding how best to do so would be easy, or that everyone would agree on the same solutions.
So let followers of Christ dialogue in humility, wisdom and genuine compassion. Let’s recognize the complexities of life. And let’s not indulge ourselves in any form of easy self-righteousness towards those with whom we disagree. (For more from the author of “Are Trump Voters Heretics?” please click HERE)