We need to get used to waking up the morning after a big vote to discover that the impossible has happened.
At one point Donald Trump said “… we’re gonna do a BREXIT”, and to be fair to him, he did “do a BREXIT”, beating every expectation, contradicting every poll and alarming every world leader (except for Nigel Farage, Marie Le Pen and Vladimir Putin — but that’s a pretty eccentric fan club).
Most of us can’t remember a more cartoonish election than the one we just witnessed, with two less likely candidates. The most powerful nation on earth is electing a new leader. That’s OK. The razzmatazz, giant balloons, ticker tape all start up, and the rock stars all line up. Even that’s OK – hey this is America. But then the stories come in one by one. Even in the 4 weeks leading up to the election 11 women accuse Trump of sexual harassment, and, lest we forget, the FBI re-open and hastily re-close their investigation into Hilary Clinton’s emails. This stuff just doesn’t happen in real life!
There’s no point going over Donald Trump’s litany of misdemeanours – we’ve all seen them on the news. Barack Obama provided a concise summary last week when he described Donald Trump very simply as “uniquely unqualified” … a unique blend of everything an American president simple cannot be.
And yet many of our brothers and sisters in Christ saw something different. Why?
We don’t need to turn to the Christian media. Even this mainstream BBC news report calculated that 70% of America’s evangelical Christians supported Trump. What did they see in him?
Well not so much in him, as in his stance on a few highly charged but clear issues including abortion and gay-marriage. Both of these separate Clinton and Trump, with Trump of course representing the conservative “anti” position. Of course there is more to being President than this. But on the rest of it … commerce, government, defence, education, there is give and take on both sides, and it becomes very complex. Topics such as abortion and gay marriage are easily understood, and always highly emotive. This excellent article in Christianity Magazine provides an overview on the thinking that drives many US evangelicals.
And of course it wasn’t just evangelicals. This was another occasion –like BREXIT – where there was a compelling appeal to those who felt hard done by. Trump drew support from the least well off, the unemployed, the have-nots, and revealed an ideological chasm between rural and urban America. And when you have never been in government, you can always rally a protest vote.
So where do we go now?
Unqualified, Unlikely and Unholy
You may have been in church when someone did that talk on how most Biblical leaders would fail the test of what we expect in a leader, and yet they were used by God. So, David was an adulterer, Paul was a persecutor, Mark was a quitter etc etc.
I’m not saying that Donald Trump is some kind of Moses. But I am saying that people can change, God can change people. If we don’t believe that we don’t have a Gospel.
This Gospel often requires us hold in balance conflicting ideas. Paul tells us in Romans 13 to give our due to the governing authorities of this world. That includes affording them respect.
“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established”
But at the same time, one page earlier, Paul tells us to not be taken in by the patterns we see around us:
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve God’s will”
We can do this not by ignoring what Donald Trump did in the past, but by expecting him to do better in the future. His misdemeanours need to stay in the past, he needs to rein in his temperamental offensive remarks for the future. In short he needs to govern in a different way to how he has lived.
In this regard I was encouraged by two things since the election result. The first was Trump’s acceptance speech – sensible and mature. The second was a note I saw in the Huffington Post.
For several months now the Post has published this text at the end of every article that discussed Donald Trump:
“Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.”
Today they removed this note and stated:
“Our thinking is that he’s now president, and we’re going to start with a clean slate”
If the Huffington Post can give a man a clean slate, we as Christians can do the same.