Monday, February 10, 2020

Choosing Not To Die

Over the years of this blog - both in the salad days when I posted 100+ times per year and the more recent lean years (in which you, gentle reader, were lucky if I posted 10 times in 365 days) - I've written sporadically about politics. The majority of those posts were calls for civility and Biblical wisdom... decrying the focus on demonizing your political opponent and holding out hope for meaningful ways for faith & politics to intersect & coexist.

I've avoided (for the most part) making public statements for or against any particular political candidate, while encouraging followers of Christ to treat politicians they disagree with in the light of the fruit of the Spirit rather than based on the braying of the loudest members of their political tribe. As a pastor of a church, I worked to keep my political opinions to myself in order to be able to reach people of different backgrounds and political allegiances.

I am no longer a vocational pastor - I left full-time congregational ministry in 2013 (just over 7 years ago). I continue to attend a Southern Baptist church (albeit one that our wonderful pastor describes as "Southern Baptist but we're not very good at it"). Though I would recoil at being called a fundamentalist because of the negative connotations that are now Super-Glued to that word, I can easily subscribe to what used to be called the fundamentals of the Christian faith:
  • the deity of Christ
  • the trustworthiness of the Bible
  • the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ
  • the complete inadequacy of our works to make up for our sinful choices and behaviors
  • the role of followers of Christ to share Biblical truth with love and grace
As well, I am a life-long member of the Republican Party and a consistent voter for Republican candidates...

...until 2016.

I chose for a variety of reasons to vote for a conservative third party candidate rather than for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. I wore the "Never Trump" badge with pride... and kept hoping that the Republican establishment and voter base would come to their senses. I thought attacking a Gold Star family would do it. I was wrong. I thought that the Access Hollywood tape with the "locker room talk" would doom his candidacy. Again, I was wrong.

The past three years have validated my concerns about his temperament, his lack of discernment, his willingness to lie, his reflexive instinct to bully & name-call... and his specific ignorance of the U.S. Constitution and general ignorance about civics and civil society.

I am - sadly - not surprised by the behavior of the President. This is the guy who followed his second divorce by saying "Well if you have to work at it then maybe it’s not worth having...I have to work at everything else in my life. I just think a marriage should be easy, not hard"... and let Reuters know back in 2017 that being President is "...more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.”

Alexander Hamilton wrote a description of the kind of man who would seek higher office that echoes the actions of President Trump (letter from August 1792):
"When a man unprincipled in private life desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper, possessed of considerable talents, having the advantage of military habits—despotic in his ordinary demeanour—known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty—when such a man is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity—to join in the cry of danger to liberty—to take every opportunity of embarrassing the General Government & bringing it under suspicion—to flatter and fall in with all the non sense of the zealots of the day—It may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion that he may “ride the storm and direct the whirlwind.”"
What I was surprised by was the hypocrisy of Republicans who had castigated President Clinton for his obvious moral failings (lying, adultery, etc.) and yet excused similar behaviors in President Trump. Members of the House and Senate took turns excusing and/or avoiding comment on a myriad of egregious behaviors... culminating in the sickening display of partisanship that has been the preparation for and execution of the Senate impeachment trial. 

I have been no less surprised by the number of followers of Christ who have been willing to excuse the behavior of the President ("sh**hole countries", "grab 'em by the p****", "it was all bulls***", etc.) as a trade for political access and power. His display of disdain for loving your enemies at the National Prayer Breakfast last week was excused and applauded by those who know the Sermon on the Mount... but are willing to let it slide in order to maintain their access. I understand that the Democratic Party and its candidates (both in 2016 and 2020) seem hell-bent on ignoring the concerns of evangelical voters... but I am reminded of the following quote from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's Nobel acceptance speech:
The simple act of an ordinary brave man is not to participate in lies, not to support false actions! His rule: Let that come into the world, let it even reign supreme—only not through me. (emphasis mine)
That said, I am leaving the Republican party - not because my beliefs about political issues have changed, but because I cannot support a callous disregard for objective truth and the unwillingness to hold the President (and others) responsible for their destructive ways of governing. I am registering as an Independent... because, while I admire the way congressional Democrats have spoken truth to power in the last few months, I continue to be frustrated by their lack of concern for religious freedom (Christian or otherwise) and the clueless pursuit of political positions farther and farther from the center.


I am still an evangelical - though I believe that many of my "tribe" need to carefully examine the Scriptures to see where they have conflated it with nationalist leanings that run counter to Galatians 3:28 (Phillips):
Gone is the distinction between Jew and Greek, slave and free man, male and female—you are all one in Christ Jesus.
My role - even as a layperson without a pulpit - is to continue to "speaking the truth in love [in all things—both our speech and our lives expressing His truth]" (Ephesian 4:15, Amplified) and scolding "the rebels who devote their lives to wreaking havoc." (1 Thessalonians 5:14, Voice) In an evangelical culture that seems hellbent on excusing the worst excesses of political behavior in the futile quest for proximity and earthly power, I know that speaking out will have the tendency to rub some fellow followers of Christ the wrong way. 

So, aware of the response I'm likely to find, let me start anyway.


In the fall of 2018, I ran into John Fea's excellent book entitled Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump. It was incredibly heartening to read an evangelical historian writing thoughtfully and well-documented commentary about the current political situation - someone from someone "inside the fold" thinking historically and Biblically about politics and faith.

I'm aware that some of my gentle readers are not interested in reading an entire book that questions the wisdom or motivation of their vote/support of the President... so I'll give you the paragraph that that floored me.

We are operating more out of fear than out of trust in God. We are afraid, and there is no good result from engaging the world from a place of fear. . . . It causes us to trust in the wrong people and the wrong things to protect us. I see it in us. We are turning to the wrong saviors. We think our salvation lies somewhere where it does not. [We are] grasping at power in our current cultural atmosphere and trying to maintain influence. By the way, that’s not the way to get influence—to continue grasping at it desperately. . . . The person who is afraid long enough will always turn angry. Fear never leads to peace. Fear never leads to joy. It always leads to anger, usually anger at those who are not like you.
And I still think you should read the book - especially if you think you'll disagree with it.


It is past time for us as evangelicals to turn from fear to trust, from callow and casual lies to sharp-edged truth. It is past time for us to allow a single issue (abortion) to be the ring in the nose that allows cynical politicians to lead wherever they want us to go. (Note: I am profoundly pro-life... but Biblically that has to encompass more than just opposition to abortion.)

It is past time for us as evangelicals to stop demonizing those who disagree with our beliefs or morals. It is past time for us to cease from spreading rumors and ignorant memes that run counter to the wisdom of Scripture in Proverbs 26:18-19 (NIV): 

Like a maniac shooting flaming arrows of death is one who deceives their neighbor and says, “I was only joking!” 
It is past time for us as evangelicals to avoid loving our enemies by hiring someone to hate for us. (Please read David French's incredible column on this...)

It is past time for evangelical leaders to stop excusing the president's clear immoral conduct with a list of all the stuff he's done for Christians. This would be the Biblical equivalent of justifying Solomon's multiple wives & concubines (and the building of shrines to their various gods) by pointing at Solomon's Temple.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote that...
It is not because the truth is too difficult to see that we make mistakes... we make mistakes because the easiest and most comfortable course for us is to seek insight where it accords with our emotions - especially selfish ones.
I long to be the "ordinary brave man" Solzhenitsyn spoke about... not reclining in my self-centered emotional preferences but standing in the bracing and sometimes painful light of Biblical truth. I don't want to die inside because I live in fear of what speaking the truth in love may cost.
A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice. A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true. (Martin Luther King, Jr.)
I choose not to die. I choose to stand.


Michele said...

Bravo, Mark. I appreciate your writing this. You echo many of the thoughts I've been having but haven't been able to say it as succinctly.

Sandy Duke said...

Good to know I'm not alone.

Daniel Brown said...

Thanks Mark. Very well written. We share many of the same observations and conclusions. God bless you.

Clay B. said...

Mark, I am in a similar position. "Evangelical" (for lack of a better word) Christian, pro-life, socially conservative, but more moderate on some issues (taxes, environment) and never one to just check the box for every Republican. I thought Trump was terrible from the beginning of his candidacy, and still think he is terrible. I disagree with his personal behavior, most of his policies, his constant misrepresentation of the truth and stoking of the flames of division, his vindictiveness, and his disregard for the systems, institutions, and procedures of government, and of the way he goes with his gut feeling over sound advice or expert opinion. I can't see how "conservatives" can say they are for freedom of religion and vote for someone who campaigned for a "Muslim ban". I can kinda/sorta see how conservatives/Christians who didn't like Hilary Clinton's policies might have voted for Trump as the best of a bad choice, but it BOGGLES MY MIND how the Republicans in Congress have supported him like faithful lapdogs (with few exceptions), and that there are no credible Republican challengers. His foreign policy is a train wreck from his fawning over dictators and rolling over to Putin on Ukraine, to his threatening of almost every international institution we are part of. Whenever I post something against him or his policies on Facebook (and I try to reserve it for the most egregious things), I generally get a bunch of conservatives criticizing me for believing to fake news. (I've pretty much given up on trying to say anything there.) I used to think it was just a matter of time until he did something so outrageous he would lose his support, but now I can't imagine what it would have to be for that to happen. Here in Alabama, every Republican politician is trying to outdo each other in how much they support him (even Jeff Sessions, who I respected for recusing himself in the Russia investigation and who got nothing but grief from the President). I will never vote for Trump, and I will likely never vote for any Republican who is a supporter of him. I hope one day the party finds its direction again, or a new one arises, but until then I am not holding my breath. So I guess I said all that to say I appreciate your thoughts and I support your stand.