A Theology of Election Trauma
To my Evangelical friends, a plea:
A common refrain at my Evangelical university yesterday was to melodramatically say “oh, well, no matter who wins God is still in control.” And I laughed a bit then, because they are right, but now that we see the results, this idea means so much more than I anticipated. America has spoken — or rather, the xenophobic alt-right conspiracy theory underbelly of America has spoken.
Yet even in a philandering, casino and strip club owning, adulterous, undignifiable, hyper-materialist fool, God will act. Maybe this is the judgement social conservatives for years have been proclaiming will fall on America?
No matter who won today, we see a great loss ahead for personal liberty, for international economic freedom, for social and political justice and for global peacekeeping efforts (so, everything?). Yet even still, He uses our worst circumstances to advance the opposite of what those people had intended.
Consider this remark from Joseph after reuniting with the brothers who sold him into slavery:
“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Genesis 50:20
Or consider the prayer of the Apostles in early Acts when discussing Jesus’s death:
“They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.” Acts 4:28
In both, we see that God’s total authority over the earth extends to acts of evil, working through and around and within them to achieve whatever good may lay ahead.
I’m shocked. I really am. Not in the failure of public polling or the betting markets to predict the outcome. I know enough about statistics to recognize margin of error and vote trending tabulation when I see it.
I’m shocked that, 17 months after his campaign started, in the whole time that anyone else could have been chosen — and there were many other Republican options — 48% of America went with him.
I’ve got a lot to say about Christian engagement in the public and political realms. About the electoral college. About the social media clickbait effect. About racial inequality. In time I will say those things.
But for now, all I can say is that we will need prayer and action, and both for two reasons each.
-We need prayer because through it God affects circumstances and makes actual change in the world. I believe it works.
-We need prayer because in it God realigns our will with his, he motivates us to action, he checks out double standards and biases, and refocuses our attention.
-We need action because it is the process, in that strange way that God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility overlap, where God works through us to affect change in the world.
-We need action to demonstrate that Evangelicals only marginally preferred Trump. We must be the thorn in his side that Bernie had promised to be in Hillary’s side. May we never offer what we cannot give: our unconditional approval.
Let’s not choose between prayer and action. Let’s defy the Evangelical Right leaders who endorsed Trump, who will now call for us to pray, but will shun those who act. Likewise, let us defy those who act without the power of the Holy Spirit via prayer.
The Christian is called to submit to governing authorities and to pray for and honor the king. In one sense this gets flipped in a popular sovereignty system, because we are the king, and in another sense Paul lived in an empire, so his points may need minor adjustment to be applied today.
Nonetheless, we pray. For the reasons above, we pray. Mostly because we know that America needs it, we pray. Trump certainly needs it.
We have as president-elect a man who, for all I can tell, has falsely claimed to be a follower of Christ. This is a mockery of the gospel, and honoring the king comes second in my priorities to the purity of the message.
82% of Evangelicals voted for Trump. This can mean many things, like that Evangelical as a term is far too inclusive, or that Evangelicalism is actually just a proxy for in-group social ties and has little to do with the gospel, or that Evangelical voters stand for nothing.
All three are probably true to some extent, and all three dampen the witness of the gospel in society. Evangelicals: now that the election is over, can we stop being the moral relativists we so passionately denounced 10 years ago? (Russell Moore quote). Let’s stop thinking on the margin and let’s denounce Trump as the moral degenerate and foe of the gospel he is. Sure, you can argue Hillary is too, but Trump also is, and now that the election is over, marginal preferences are irrelevant. Let’s return to absolute morality.
In the Providence of God we see the potential for American destruction at the hands of a demagogue, or American success and prosperity at the hands of a demagogue. But notice, a demagogue nonetheless.
We will pray for Trump, we ultimately will obey whatever rulings he and his inane congressional counterparts issue, and we will civically and vocally denounce anything that hinders the purity of the gospel message.