I rubbed tiredness from my eyes as they tapped red and blue-smattered digital maps and now and then cued the dramatic music for the next incoming projection. A yellow checkmark shone beside the beaming candidate’s triumphal face, claiming another state, another trove of electoral votes. There was disbelief, conjecture, and momentum towards an outcome radically different than expected.
When it ended I slipped into bed beside my sleeping husband, waking him.
“What? You’re joking. No way.”
“Yep. Hillary conceded. He’s going to be our President.”
Then we lay in silence.
Tears came readily, for me, a pro-life Christian conservative. Yes, when the power seemed to fall in my peoples’ laps. The tears weren’t for Hillary, though I did feel sad for her own grief, having worked so hard. I did not want her as my President, but I felt for her loss and frustration. I grieved for the people whose hearts felt hope because of her support for the marginalized; I grieved for their fear. You don’t have to agree to feel. You can look into the eyes of those with whom you experience profound disagreement and feel compassion for their hurt, their disappointed hopes, their suffering.
No, I didn’t grieve for Clinton; I grieved for the Church.
History has taught me to grieve this; I cannot ignore it. The government may or may not be improved with Christian morality legislated; this is complex and hard to quantify especially because Christian morality itself is interpreted so differently among Christians! Is it Christian to execute criminals? Is it Christian to initiate war? Is it Christian to tell non-Christians whom they can form a civil union with? And clearly there are certain things that an effectively self-sustaining government must be ready to do that a good Christian could never do; we are constrained by the laws of another Kingdom which are incompatible with any earthly one. How does a country operate in global relations if its beliefs include loving your enemy, blessing those who hurt you, turning the other cheek, loving your neighbor as you love yourself, not thinking only of your own interests, denying yourself, overcoming evil with good, welcoming the sojourners (immigrants and refugees), honoring them and caring for their needs without qualification? History shows us that those who have attempted a Christian theocracy have either split their lives into two parts (public life and private life), or they have ignored the merciful and radically-loving commandments and used the Christian name to incite fervor and unity into their subjects. Both distort Christianity. When the Church and power hold hands, the Church loses, it loses its very heart and medicine.
Christianity is the path, the way, the hospital where our sin sickness is diagnosed and healed. It is where we encounter Him, Christ, our very life. Trying to make people behave like Christians through legislation ignores how each of us really experiences transformational change. I would argue that we are changed by love, by humility, by joy, by good examples, by beauty, by heroes, by music, by art, by godly grandmothers’ prayers and the lives they led before us, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit’s work within us; not from top-down laws that govern our bodies but not our hearts.
Of course I want abortion to end, but I also don’t fool myself into thinking that true change will come if it’s made illegal. Theft, perjury, child abuse, and rape are all illegal too, and yet how prevalent they continue to be. Of course I don’t want to suffer persecution for holding on to God’s sexual ethics, but God never promised me a cost-free faith. God does not say, “Make sure you don’t have to suffer for Me”; he calls me to suffer well for His sake, enduring. We are to be the conscience of the nation, not the constable.
Which kingdom are we invested in seeing triumph? And, importantly, at what cost?
“It has become more evident to me that we are to be given a great popular national Church, whose nature cannot be reconciled with Christianity, and that we must prepare our minds for the entirely new paths which we shall then have to follow. The question is really: Christianity or Germanism? And the sooner the conflict is revealed in the clear light of day the better.” -Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German pastor who was executed by the Nazis
When I see that 80% of evangelicals rallied behind a man who bragged about grabbing women by the pussy, and that they’d let him because he’s a “star”, and who laughed at his own failed attempt to seduce a married woman, and who mocked both prisoners of war and a reporter with a disability, I am sickened (especially when I remember how they eviscerated Bill Clinton for his moral failures). I am also disturbed by Christians who found the life of the unborn an insubstantial reason to not support Clinton. I’m disturbed that they could so easily brush aside some very real concerns about her integrity. I have heard all the justifications about voting for a platform rather than a person, about how God uses sinful people for His purposes, and so on, but what the world sees is far different. They see that our bar is extremely low for the person we want in power and hypocritically high for those we don’t want in power. Character matters until it doesn’t.
How did I want this election to go? My hopes weren’t pinned there. My hopes were that Christians would vote for those who both represented what they cared about AND were capable and experienced people of sound character and integrity, even if they lost. That they would be kind and warm to those who disagreed with them. That they wouldn’t vote if there was no one they felt in clear conscience that they could affirm. That they wouldn’t choose a lesser evil, but would rather choose good always, even if it meant abstaining from voting. That in all things, that they were more invested in God’s kingdom work than in the power plays of Washington. I wanted the Church to be the Church, a distinct and beautiful thing that reaches not for power but for the downtrodden and broken, embracing them.
Last night at our local English as a Second Language program I sat down and played a board game with two young Muslim girls, their hijabs framing their playful, beautiful faces. Their mother was in class, learning the language of her new home. We laughed together. I was so glad they’re here, and I hoped that their bright joy wouldn’t be stomped on by the hate and fear of my fellow Americans. I stopped by the home of one of our Indian students, enjoying their delicious food and warm hospitality, laughing together, hugging them both as I left, saying “May God bless you, Mamagi (Mother, with respect). May God bless you, Papagi (Father, with respect).” These experiences were a balm on my raw heart. Here was the kingdom work that I could be a part of, each connection a vote for love and compassion.