Three Difficult Tasks Facing Christians
And just to be clear, I would have written the following even if Hillary had won.
(1) Drop the mocking spirit; instead, turn away anger.
Rising anger across in America – left and right, Democrat and Republican – has contributed to our country’s uncivil, graceless, and derisive political rhetoric. This has been normative during 2016 in the blogosphere and social media, on talk radio, in campaign ads, and even from our presidential candidates and many of their leading supporters.
Sadly, many Christians – to call out those in my own faith – have taken their rhetorical cues from these sources. I was on the receiving end of this earlier this year, when a Christian looked me in the face and said, “If you don’t vote for Trump, it’s a vote for the enemy,” after I told her I couldn’t vote for Trump. Well. I did not vote for Hillary Clinton either, but not because I saw her as my enemy (I abhor some of her political positions, as I do some of Trump’s). More recently, I heard the malicious ill will from a Christian woman who asked me in a Facebook comment if I had heard the latest news about “Killery.”
These are just private examples. Public examples abound in the above-mentioned sources, so well known that they need no mention here.
I don’t know why the Bible comes down so hard on mockers. Maybe it’s because mockers are said to have attitudes and actions that smack of pride and discord (Proverbs 21:24; 14:9). Maybe it’s because they get marque billing alongside fools, who hate knowledge, and even alongside the wicked (Proverbs 1:22; Psalm 1:1). Maybe it’s because they have become so angry that they “stir up a city,” rather than being like the wise, who “turn away anger” (Proverbs 29:8). But that’s not all:
“Penalties are prepared for mockers, and beatings for the backs of fools” (Proverbs 19:29; see also Proverbs 9:11 and Isaiah 29:20).
The Lord “mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble” (Proverbs 3:34).
“Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers” (Psalm 1:1).
“How long will you simple ones love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery?” (Proverbs 1:22). Yes. How long? How long will the poison of a mocking spirit continue to corrupt the political community our country?
Right or left, Republican or Democrat, from sea to shining sea, Christians, of all citizens, should be leading the way to stop this decay of our national body. What way is that? The answer is also in the Bible.
“Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6)
“Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers” (Ephesians 4:29).
In other words, let us no longer take our cues (or our cures) from the political rhetoric; instead, let us speak wisely: stop stirring up the city; instead be wise and start turning away the anger (Proverbs 29:8). There will be no flourishing political community in America if we do not repent of our mocking spirt and humbly seek God, praying to become vessels of civility, grace, and hope – to everyone.
(2) Recognize that America is not exceptional or indispensable.
The 2016 campaign season was also a time when the question of America’s greatness gave rise to all sorts of punditry surrounding the assertion that “America is an exceptional nation.” For some, this is a cruel joke; others tout it as a valued and trusted trope. The general impression I get is that you couldn’t even get elected dog catcher in this country if you didn’t believe it.
So it surprised me when Donald Trump said he dislikes the term. But if you read between the lines of what he said, he seems to be saying that if America were truly exceptional – if so many nations weren’t “eating our lunch” – he wouldn’t mind applauding the phrase. On the other hand, at the end of August, Hillary Clinton was in Cincinnati at the American Legion’s national convention giving a speech that lauded America exceptionalism and attacked Trump’s dislike of the term.
Personally, I think America is a great nation that has in recent decades gone down some roads that aren’t great. But is America “exceptional?” In other words, is America “inherently different” than other nations and does it have a “unique” role to transform the world. This is the question we must answer truthfully. Words have to mean things. And the words “American exceptionalism” mean that America is inherently different than other nations, unique among nations.
But that fact is that America is like other nations. If it were not, it would not be a nation. It would be some other kind of entity and unsuited to be numbered among 194 other nations of the world. What kind of entity that might be, I don’t know. But if America were unique, it would be a stand-alone something. And it’s not that. It certainly is not, for instance, a school, or a church, or a business. It is a nation among nations.
There has been only one unique nation in the history of the world, exceptional because its founding began with the revelation of God – beginning with the call of Abram:
“The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing’” (Genesis 12:1-2),
and continuing with the mission of Moses:
“The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 7:7-8).
America had no revelatory founding.
In 1776 (not 1620), the nation certainly began unlike other nations extant in the eighteenth century in that it was not birthed as a monarchy or as an extension of some other kind of dynastic line of rulers. The legal founding of the nation galvanized around what we could call a synthesis of big ideas such as Puritan Calvinism, Enlightenment rationalism, and Virginia deism (to be brief about it). But this beginning was not a revelatory founding.
This ought to make us not only humble but also fearful and prayerful about the future of America as a nation. Every time I hear a politician claim that America is “indispensable,” I cringe. This descriptive for our nation began with President Bill Clinton, as far as I can determine, and it was afterward noised about by his secretary of state Madeleine Albright. Hillary Clinton affirmed it, at length, as an essential feature of America’s role in the world in her speech to the American Legion.
This political hubris (see Clinton’s speech) ought to frighten us. If ancient Israel was uniquely and exceptionally founded, let us remember that, except for its prophets, it also believed it was indispensable. But it wasn’t. Brothers and sisters, where do we get off believing that the United States of America is? Let us stop falling prey to this lie and start looking more biblically at our nation. As the theologian John Peck taught many of us: “If you start from an unbiblical position in your analysis of a problem, you’re not going to come up with a biblical way ahead.”
(3) Admit that America is under judgment.
As an American who is also a Christian, this has been hard for me to swallow. It’s put me in a place of great dislocation. Well, no, that’s not quite right. It’s more accurate to say that it is the only explanation that has, at least for me, sufficiently explained the confusion, if not the famine, of answers attendant to American reality. We used to call it a collective worldview crisis. Call it what you will.
I had been thinking for some time that perhaps this may indeed the case with our country, although I quickly add that when this was on my mind I trotted out theological arguments to counter it. But after the number of presidential candidates dropped to two in 2016, I suddenly found myself without any theological defenses against the “judgment” narrative. As a professor once said, “If the facts don’t fit your theology, change your theology.” This is why I have plucked up my nerve to say I now believe that: (1) America has been under some kind of strange judgment for many years; (2) we ended up with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as our presidential candidates as part of that judgment (evidence: the unprecedented large number of people who concluded that both were horrible candidates); (3) it did not matter who got elected; the judgment continues. If so, the path that our country is traveling is going to get more perilous as we head to January 29, inauguration day, and into the new year.
I hope I am wrong, but it seems to me that this is the deep crisis of our nation. I have been in grief over this and haven’t a clue about how we get out from under it. It seems like it is not enough to say: Let us seek the Lord. Public action is also required. As much as possible let us strive to be vessels of civility, grace, and hope during this period of disorientation and dislocation. Who do we think we are, anyway? Who do we think God is?
“Who has understood the mind of the Lord, or instructed him as his counselor? Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge or showed him the path to understanding? Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust… Before him all the nations are as nothing; they are regarded by him as worthless and less than nothing” (Isaiah 40:13-17).
©2016 by Charles Strohmer
All images, permission via creative commons.
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