Advent Reflection: Four Areas of Possible Post-Election Agreement

Donald Trump will be the 45th President of the United States. Millions around the country are rejoicing, while millions of others are in deep lament. Christians, like Americans in general, were also divided about the choices we were presented with. I wonder if, despite the polarization of this election, there might be a few points upon which all Christians could find agreement.

First, As Christians living in a post-Christendom country, certainly we can all agree that our hope must transcend whoever occupies the Oval Office. Throughout history, Christianity has learned how to survive, and even thrive, under a wide array of political situations. Our faith was birthed in the context of the cruelty and paganism of the Roman Empire. It has also languished in the context of its full enshrinement by the State. I suspect that Christians will learn how to be Christians in our day, just as we have done throughout our storied history. I take even more comfort in that we are now linked by a global communion of believers from around the world who can give us perspective during this period in our history.

Both major candidates were deeply flawed. The challenges posed by a Clinton administration might have been different than those which will presented to us by a Trump administration, but we faced serious challenges with either scenario. We will thrive if we remember the source of our hope and that, in the end, Jesus Christ is Lord of history. America may be under God’s righteous judgment. If so, we can even learn from Jewish history how to thrive in the midst of Babylonian exile.

Second, it is vital that Christians find fresh ways to affirm God’s redemptive, sacrificial love for all people. There is no place for hate in the church, or in our society. There are particular sectors of our society who are fearful and the church needs to be a beacon of hope, love and refuge. Whether someone is a Muslim, a black, an immigrant, he or she needs to know that they are loved by the people of God. This is as basic as John 3:16: “For God so loved the world…” Christians can unambiguously affirm and embrace all people as bearers of the image of God, and objects of God’s sacrificial love. It is categorically wrong, for example, for someone to spray paint a woman’s car with a swastika and “KKK” because she wears a hijab. It is categorically wrong for a man to be beaten senseless because he was wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat. All Christians should affirm this, regularly and publicly. The church must be a voice of reconciliation. We must be a bridge of hope. We must be a light to the nation.

Third, it is also important to recognize that this election was a reaction against many cultural changes in our country which the vast majority of Christians here and around the world find discordant with historic Christian faith. Christians want the freedom to share the good news of Jesus Christ with our friends and neighbors. Christians want the freedom to believe that same sex marriage and gender reassignment are signs of cultural decline, not cultural advance, without being told that this is hate speech. Christians want the freedom to affirm traditional Christian marriage, even as we stand up for the dignity of those who disagree. Christians want to live in a culture where expressive liberty allows us to be genuine Christians, even in the midst of a pluralistic, multi-religious environment. I do not expect an increasingly pagan culture to affirm Christian values. I do not expect the wider culture to recognize the immoral, destructive abyss we are slipping into. But, I do want the freedom to express my faith on these, and many other points. I am not content to live in a culture where we must all give our full-throated approval of all these cultural changes, or we are dismissed as angry and dangerous demagogues. We should all be determined to live as authentic Christians in the midst of whatever cultural and political context we find ourselves in.

Fourth, we need a renaissance of civil public discourse. The uncivility of both sides of the political spectrum during this election cycle has been embarrassing and deeply abhorrent to Christian values. The emergence of “false news” and “position by Twitter” has degraded the necessary thoughtful exchange of ideas which is crucial to a healthy democracy. To caricature vast groups of Americans as “unredeemable deplorables” is no more acceptable than to castigate all those who work in Washington D.C. as a “cesspool of elitists.” We must move away from broad caricatures and 140 character twitters and, as Christians, engage in deep cultural and issues analysis. Christians must become known as the most thoughtful people in the country. People should turn to us for the most reflective analysis. Large sectors may disagree with us, but we should at least be known as those committed to respectful, thoughtful discourse.

Christians face several daunting challenges in our day. However, perhaps we can find some common ground and begin to create new culture in our day. After all, isn’t this the message of Advent? The world was broken and needed rescuing, and so we needed the first advent. The world is not moving towards a cultural utopia, but towards an apocalyptic rebellion against the rule and reign of God, therefore we long for the second Advent when Christ will return and set all things right. It us upon these two Advents that our hope finally rests.

Christianity and the Public Square

OK, the election is over. Take a deep breath. The sky has not fallen. God is still on the throne. What should we expect regarding the future of Christianity in North America? Let’s devote this blog article to thinking about this.

I grew up in a society which clearly favored and privileged the Judeo-Christian worldview in the public square. Christian views regarding morality, family, human sexuality and so forth were the default position of the wider society. Today, in a post-Christendom society, we are reminded daily that the Judeo-Christian worldview has been expunged from its long, privileged place in the public square. I, for one, do not grieve that, because Christendom tends to produce vast numbers of nominal Christians and domesticates the faith in terrifying ways. The mainline churches in North America are the best examples of the final fruit of compromised, domesticated faith in the throes of a dying Christendom.

The current climate it actually far better suited to produce vibrant, alive, and articulate Christians. Apparently, Christians allow their faith to get sloppy and weak unless there is a fire under our pants. The national election has proven, among many things, that public discourse which wrestles with facts and principled debate has gone the way of the now extinct Dodo bird.

The question before us is this: What does the future of the USA look like for those of us who are firmly standing within the sacred boundaries of historic Christian faith?

There are two options before us. The first is what is known as the Naked Public Square. This option means that no religious faith is allowed to say a single word in any public discourse. The public square is “naked” in the sense that all religions are run out like a horse running from a burning barn. In this vision, all religions are corrupting influences and should be banished from all public consideration on the grounds of the famous Jeffersonian “Wall” which separates church and state.

There are serious problems with the “naked” public square idea. First, Jefferson’s 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists in Connecticut where he referred to a “wall” between church and state was actually in the context of protecting the “free exercise of religion” from the overbearing abuse of the state, not the other way around as it is used today. No one who understands the meaning of English words could possible take Jefferson’s letter to mean that the State is now empowered to eliminate all religious considerations or voices from the public square.

Second, the triumph of the “naked” public square is really the triumph of secular, humanistic atheism. But, why would a pluralistic society—yes, even a religiously plural society—deprive Christianity of its solitary position only to give it to the atheistic humanists? In addition to that being a very bad trade, does it make sense to take away one privileged voice only to just give it to another single position? No—it makes no sense.

The second option is the Pluralistic Public Square. This vision of the public square invites any and all religions into spaces of public discourse and allows them room and space to influence or shape public policy. Are Christians prepared to accept this option? Well, this depends on what is meant by the “pluralistic public square” because this option actually comes in two flavors. The first is what I call the “pluralistic mush.” This view is that all religions are allowed into the public square, but once there, they can only say things which resonate with all the other religious voices in the square. There is this head long rush to “find common ground” so we can only say things which are agreeable to all others. The statements which finally get uttered are so weak, so bland, so lifeless, that they end up reflecting the living faith of no one.

It is really, to be blunt, the triumph of Ba’hai. Ba’hair is a global religion with over 5 million adherents. The vision of Ba’hai is to blend all the religions into one harmonious whole. But, once again, why should we remove privileged Christian discourse from the public square, only to replace it with “secular atheism” (Naked Public Square), or with Ba’hai (the pluralistic mush option). I know secular atheists and I even know a few Ba’hai, but why should they get the privileged seat in the public square?

Thankfully, there is a second version of the pluralistic public square which Christians can embrace and, indeed, welcome. It is what is known as the Expressive Liberty option. Expressive Liberty is a version of the pluralistic public square, but it allows each religion (or no religion) to fully advocate their positions in a way which reflects the actual, historic views of that faith. In other words, Muslims have the freedom to express and explain the distinctively Islamic view on whatever issue is being discussed. Likewise, the Christians, or Buddhists or Atheists can make their views known, but in the robust way which honors the integrity of their faith. In such a scenario, Christians will thrive and, indeed, prosper!

We need not fear the honest exchange of ideas. The current climate wants to either remove the Christian witness completely (naked public square), or make us say foolish things which no actual Christian in the history of the church would ever say or think (pluralistic mush square). So, brothers and sisters, let us joyfully move forward with “expressive liberty“ into the public square.