Nov 10, 2016

Why A Trump Presidency is the Best Thing to Ever Happen to the Church

"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it." (John 1:5)

Just after Donald Trump announced his candidacy in that rambling, humorous (in a 'what-is-our-electoral-process-now-a-reality-show?' kind of way) address on the steps of Trump Tower, I tweeted out:

"Just awoke from a nightmare! Dreamed that during the Prayers of the People we prayed for 'Donald, our President.'"

Well, guess what I did yesterday? Yup. Prayed for "Donald, our President-Elect." And far from a scripted reality show, this is our new national reality. On January 20, 2017, Donald J. Trump will be sworn in as the next President of the United States.

After rapidly moving through Dr. Elisabeth Kubler Ross' ubiquitous five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance), I've come to a sixth stage in these last 24 hours: unabashed joy. Wait, what?

Well, first, let's define "joy." The Biblical concept of "joy" does not equate to "happiness." It has nothing to do with a superficial, in-the-moment, fleeting sense of satisfaction. Joy as in "rejoice in the Lord always" is rooted in a profound and abiding trust in God's merciful presence.

So, yes, in this sense I am joyful and believe a Trump presidency will be the best thing that could have ever happened to the Church. Not the country or people on the margins or the world, mind you, but the Church. Because we have a unique and Biblical opportunity to seize the moral initiative and offer a powerful counter-voice to the forces of violence and oppression. The Church that takes seriously Jesus' radical message of inclusion will not only be relevant but will play a critical role in shaping the future trajectory of our nation.

Oh, this struggle won't be easy. My sense of "unabashed joy" is severely tempered by the knowledge that many will be hurt emotionally and spiritually and financially and even physically along the way. And the Trump Administration will be especially difficult for vulnerable populations, however we define them. I'm not suggesting Donald Trump alone is responsible for the systemic racism and sexism that pervade our country -- these sins (let's call them what they are) were present long before the 2016 election cycle and would have remained with us whoever was elected president on Tuesday.

But this will be the defining moment of our ecclesiastical generation. We have an opportunity to reclaim our identity as people committed to the way of justice and peace in God's name. And that is "good news" in the gospel sense of the word.

How exactly is a Trump presidency good for the Church? Here are some ways I believe Election Day  can be a transformative event moving forward:

Reclaim Our Prophetic Voice
The prophet Micah (6:8) puts it simply when it comes to the Lord's requirements for the faithful: "Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God." Do. Love. Walk. These are not passive acts but calls to discipleship. The prophetic voice does not come from the seat of power but calls those in authority to account for sinful behavior. The Church must be this voice in the world.

Recognize Our One Lord
Like the grass that withers and the flower that fades, temporal kingdoms come and go. But the Word of God, as made manifest in Jesus Christ, endures forever. We are subjects, first and foremost, of the Kingdom of Heaven. We can never forget from whence our true authority derives. Truth is found not in ideology or partisan politics but in the transforming and redemptive work of our Lord.

Stand with Those on the Margins
We remind ourselves continually of Jesus' call to stand with the marginalized and dispossessed. We remember Jesus' ministry to and solidarity with the "least of these" (Matthew 25). We embrace movements like Black Lives Matter and Standing Rock. We listen and stand in the trenches and pray with those on the margins such as the LGBTQ and immigrant communities, the poor, the physically disabled, and the mentally ill, among others. For white Christians, this means stepping aside and allowing our brothers and sisters to lead the fight and write the narrative. For the sake of authenticity, their experiences must inform our actions.

Make Sacrifices
Yes, we must stand with others. But the privileged among us, especially white men like myself, also must be willing to make sacrifices. Otherwise we're just offering platitudes from a safe distance -- through official "statements" or blog posts or on social media. Real change demands true sacrifice. What privileges are we willing to forego to make justice -- economic and otherwise -- a reality.

Embrace Fear and Grief
Be aware that for many people in this country, Tuesday's result was devastating. A patronizing pat on the head and a "don't worry, it'll all be okay" response is not helpful. As a female friend of mine put it, "The Church must be willing to let people be afraid and discover what might help them feel less afraid. The Church must be willing to allow people to feel grief and despair. I am feeling the grief and anger of hundreds of years of well-qualified, talented women being pushed aside for mediocre white men to take center stage. Those feelings will not go away, but they can be transformed by God and a Church who recognizes its complicity in oppression and beings to work for justice."

Be a Resistance Movement
Yes, we are the Jesus Movement but we are also now a Resistance Movement. One that speaks truth to power even when it means leaving our comfort zones to stand up and mobilize for hard gospel truths. Racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia -- these are not acceptable either among an intimate group of friends or in the halls of Congress. Loving our neighbors as ourselves does not mean giving in to the powers and principalities without fighting for justice. It means speaking up even if people refuse to listen. It means subverting the political process in the name of justice.

Love Our Enemies
We must fervently pray for President Trump, for his cabinet, and for all those in power. And we must love them not only with our lips but in our lives. We must listen to the concerns of those with whom we disagree. Not out of arrogance or judgment but with open minds and hearts. This doesn't mean accepting or enabling hate speech -- that we unequivocally call out -- but we are to respect the dignity of every human being in our daily and online interactions.

Be Reconcilers
We must tear down walls between people who are different -- politically, culturally, racially, religiously -- rather than building them up. Relationships matter. Fellow children of God matter. We have been given the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18). It is time to practice reconciliation with reckless abandon.

Embrace Hope
As Barbara Harris, the first female bishop in the Anglican Communion, once put it, "We are an Easter people living in a Good Friday world." Now more than ever we must embrace the promise of hope embedded in Christ's resurrection. Out of darkness, there is light; out of death, there is life. We must embody hope with the utter conviction that love will indeed prevail. Through the resurrection, Christ has trampled down the forces of death and destruction. This is not a denial of the pain involved, but a reminder that all our hope on God is founded.

This will not be an easy time. There will be times of trial and persecution. Times when all feels lost and hopeless. But we are a Resurrection people, imbued with a sense of hope that can never be driven out. We will be sorely tested -- sometimes to the breaking point -- but love will prevail. Love born of hope in the living Christ always does. And that is the true source of my joy.

My friends, never forget that at the heart of our common life stands "faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love." (1 Corinthians 13:13)


47of74 said...

That's nice that you're thrilled about a Trump presidency. What about those of us who are disabled, poor, and minorities? Are you going to give a good G-D about them?

Unknown said...

This is very helpful! Thank you! Note: +Barbara Harris was the first female bishop in the Anglican Communion, not the first African American bishop.

Carol said...

I just read the blog and applaud the passion. I would like to ask about how folks see this lived out by a church that is predominately white and struggling to keep it this way. In a church that resists change, is fearful of neighbors who are not white and speak different languages and whose clergy young and old are predominately white and middle class. In a church that has so much potential, a focus on a Gospel of love, words and prayers of inclusion and care for the earth and doors that are predominately closed in neighborhoods where the neighbor is not known. How shall we do this when at the national and dicesean levels budgets for neighborhood ministries to our non white brothers and sisters are nominal or non existent. In a church where taking youth to do mission in Haiti for a week is preferred to developing youth programs with neighbors who are refugees or are non documented where long time friendships can be developed and shared ministry can begin. In a church where spending millions building or buying camps in the mountains or close to a lake for members who can afford to go to have the mountaintop experience of Jesus is more important than providing the experience of Jesus for our neighbors who are marginalized, on an everyday basis. How do we do those wonderful things you dream of in a church that is living in the past, not investing very much in the future and seems to be in as much denial about the changing demographics of this nation as is our culture. Until we get real about how to live out the things you wrote so beautifully about they are inspirational words that fall to the wayside as the days unfold. I pray you are able to bring this about in your own church and that your voice will stir the hearts of others to bring about the kind of changes that need to happen in the Episcopal church so we can be a church for all people in reality not just in our dreams.

Tim Schenck said...

Thanks, Nancy. Ugh. Edited!

Tim Schenck said...

Thank you, Carol, for your words and wisdom. The challenge is wide and deep but I see great opportunity in this. It's all hard work and, I agree that unless/until the church takes a hard look in the mirror and engages in its own hard work of reconciliation, we'll just continue to release well-crafted but ultimately useless "statements" and convention resolutions. Please keep speaking up and working for change. This isn't someone else's problem, it's OURS.

Unknown said...

"For white Christians, this means stepping aside and allowing our brothers and sisters to lead the fight and write the narrative. For the sake of authenticity, their experiences must inform our actions."

This has been my conundrum - realizing there was nothing I had to say as another white, middle class, middle aged male. These times mandate action informed by those who live in the margins, not "serving" but being present and in relationship. Thanks for voicing this - my time as a "compassionate observer" is over.

Unknown said...

This was addressed in this article. Please read it again.

Unknown said...

Our white comfortable church will express concern about the marginalized, form a study group that meets for a few weeks, read a book,buy stuff for the oppressed, have a simulation, and move on to the next issue. Here and there a few members might actually engage, but its pretty rare. The church will then congratulate itself. They did the marginalized. Walk into one of the those churches that has a sign, "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You." Does everyone there pretty much look like you?

Fr. carlton kelley said...

Jesus' ministry was not primarily one of inclusion but of self sacrifice for the other. There is a difference. Someone may never be included but they may require our sacrifice - on their behalf for the sake of the Lord. We need to get our priorities in order. If we are going to be imitators of Christ, we will have to live out our baptismal death in our lives. Being inclusive is simply too easy and cheap.

Pam Lovall said...

You have a valid point. I do not wish to diminish it at all. "The church" is guilty of what you are saying. But the church is not a building or even a congregation or denomination. It is all of we broken, believers and non-believers bound together doing the best we can to honor each other with this life we have been given. There are many out there who take up that mantle or cross (whatever you want to call it) and carry hope, faith and love with them wherever they go in whatever they do.