Jesus wept: How can you call yourself a Christian if you voted for Donald Trump?

Christian faith means many things to many people. But I'm confused about how "love thy neighbor" led us here

Published November 19, 2016 12:00AM (EST)

 (AP/Evan Vucci/Getty/allanswart)
(AP/Evan Vucci/Getty/allanswart)

One of the hallmarks of Christian faith is charity, which is unfortunate for me, because, as a cradle Christian (and, lately, a recovering agnostic), I’ve been feeling less than charitable since Donald Trump won the presidential election. I don’t mean that I’m not in the spirit of giving to charities — I’ll be writing out a whopper of a check to the American Civil Liberties Union presently.

I am, however, having trouble giving the gift of slack to Christians who voted for Trump. According to a preliminary study of exit poll data by Pew Research Group, Trump won 52 percent of the Catholic vote, 58 percent of the Protestant vote, and, broken down further by race, a whopping 81 percent of the white evangelical Christian vote.

If you’re a Christian who voted for Trump, I understand your concerns — jobs, the economy, health care, national security, frustration with the political status quo. What I don’t understand is your heart. All factors considered, were Trump’s calls for massive deportation of immigrants, along with his anti-Semitic dog whistling, racist commentary, documented history of misogyny and his mocking of the vulnerable, worth overlooking in favor of his shaky promises to make things better in your world? If, as Christians, we’re supposed to love our neighbor, a vote for Trump seems a little suspect. Am I wrong? If so, tell me how.

When asked whether he thought his incendiary campaign rhetoric had gone too far, Trump responded, "No. I won." What a guy. Now he’s staffing up with his own (unqualified) family and a website publisher who's been accused of beating his wife and channeling white-supremacist ideology. In the space of two weeks, it feels as if we’ve shifted from a democracy to a triage center. Jesus wept.

Not all Christians were pro-Trump, of course. My sister, who has been a Presbyterian minister for almost 30 years, texted me when she found out in the wee morning hours of Nov. 9 that Trump had won, “God help us.” The New York Times feature last Sunday on post-election sermons features more than one pastor in clear distress. Minister Mihee Kim-Kort wrote on her blog, “We lost something on November 9th. More than an election. Something – call it humanity, compassion, hope – faltered and perished, and something in me, too.”

Still, to put it in theological terms, I’m pissed. I can’t stand the postelection suffering around me — more than one person I know has broken out in shingles from stress. Migraines and insomnia are the norm. Virtually everyone I know is walking around in a state of panic, dread and low-level rage. Including me.

Things that have made me angry: People smiling and saying, “Everything will be OK.” Anyone who suggests that we “get over it” or “wait and see what he does.” I was even angry at Anne Lamott because I thought her heartfelt postelection Facebook message was too soft. Our wise, comforting, radical-caregiving sister Annie! Being mad at Anne Lamott is like drop kicking a teddy bear. I need to get a grip.

It helps to maintain awareness that even among us huggy, lovey, Jesus-y types, resistance is afoot. In The Washington Post, Sarah Pulliam Bailey reported on a deepening divide within the evangelical Christian community, exacerbated by the election. She quoted Eugene Cho, the pastor of an evangelical church in Seattle: “The election has made things more hostile or given permission to people to be more aggressive on both sides."

She also reported that Cho, who pledged to never endorse a candidate from the pulpit, joined a group of evangelicals who condemning Trump, arguing that his campaign "affirms racist elements in white culture." The letter, which was also backed by about 80 other pastors and faith leaders, Pulliam wrote, “decried Trump’s comments on women, Muslims, immigrants, refugees and the disabled.”

Some evangelicals, disheartened by the strong turnout for Trump among their purported fellow believers, are prepared to jump ship entirely. Writer and activist Preston Yancey tweeted on election night: “So I guess I'm not an evangelical. Because I'm not whatever the hell this is.”

If it reassures me, perhaps it’s similarly comforting to nonreligious folk to know that while some Christians see Trump as America’s Great White Hope, the rest of us see an Anglo-Saxon pharisee with a spray tan. The fantastic tweet stream of the Rev. Broderick Greer, an Episcopalian priest, is a glorious model of righteous fire: “If it's not good news for refugees, LGBTQ folks, and women — and people living at all of those intersections — it's not the gospel of Jesus,” reads one tweet. Another declares, “To plaster 'Jesus' on heterosexism, sexism, racism, classism, militarism, or transantagonism is to betray all that he did and is.”

Calls to conformity are among the great pitfalls of organized religion, and it didn’t take more than a day after Trump’s win for a number of Christians on social media to issue a mandate to seek unity. Aristotle Papanikolaou, co-director of the Orthodox Christian Studies Center at Fordham University, issued a thoughtful rebuttal to the exhortation to blindly unite. “What Christians must avoid most is . . . a politics of dualism, a politics of us vs. them, a politics of demonization," he wrote.

"What Christians need to struggle to realize, and this is an ascetic struggle demanding spiritual commitment and discipline, is a politics of empathy," Papanikolaou continued.

"A politics of empathy calls all Christians to attempt to imagine what it would be like to be in the body of a woman who has been physically assaulted; what it would be like to be in the body of a Muslim afraid to wear the hijab in public; what it would be like to be in the body of someone who is fearful of a hate crime because of their sexuality; what it is like to be in the body of someone whose disability might subject them to mockery; what it is like to be in the body of a person of color who lives in a country where slavery is its original sin and who endures continual suspicion in this country due to the color of their skin,” Papanikolaou added.

Others greeted the call to unity with irreverence — among them, the great Christian writer Diana Butler Bass, author of "Grounded: Finding God in the World" and other booksShe responded with a tweet calling Nov. 9, “The day ‘unity’ becomes code for ‘shut up.’”

Christians are mobilizing, too, putting their beliefs into action. Lia Scholl, pastor at Wake Forest Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, has offered to waive her fees and honoraria for LGBTQ couples who want to wed before the next administration takes over. Should couples from outside the area wish to get married, she has pledged to help them find an officiant.

As a layperson, I’m not sure how best to channel my dismay and stay calm while I figure it out. I can listen yet again to Mary Gauthier’s splendid “Mercy Now,” which has emerged as one of our great secular hymns. (“I love my church and country — they could use some mercy now.”)

That holds me for about six minutes. Then what? I’ve tried it all: hot baths, yoga, healthy food, junk food, talks with friends, hours spent in contemplative silence. On Saturday night, I stress ate an entire bag of butter and garlic croutons. As our democracy falters, I am prepared to fight, with the heart of a patriot and the breath of a dragon.

I used to rely on corny Christian pop songs for solace, logging lots of road hours tuned in to SiriusXM radio’s "praise music" channel. Now I listen to all these praise artists and wonder who they voted for. (I’m assured by Christian singer Nichole Nordeman, who tweeted on election night, “Heartsick. Help us, Jesus. Ready to love louder. Goodnight.”)

More than anything I do to comfort and steady myself, I need to keep true to the message, hard as it may be. As Christian author and HGTV personality Jen Hatmaker posted on Facebook: “Our marching orders are the same. We are still about the same things we’ve always been about, Christian(s). We will still love our neighbors and resist fear. We will stick up for the marginalized and protect the vulnerable. "

Hatmaker continued, "We will show up for the hard work of good citizenship and remain faithful to God and each other. We will insist on bringing hope and grace and strength and love to this busted up world. We will not malign people out of fear or confusion. We will love God and love people and that is the same basic plan it has always been.”

I suspect that Jen’s a much nicer person than I am because apart from, or perhaps in addition to, following that basic plan, I am looking forward to expressing some serious, anger-fueled dissent — not just in the name of God, but also in the name of democracy and basic human decency.

The force of my fury scares me. I put up a good front, but I’m deeply conflict averse, somewhere between approval-seeking lickspittle and scaredy cat. I’d much prefer to shrink back, posting hand-holdy memes and reassuring people that things will smooth over if we just pray enough and show compassion. But I’m not that good of a liar, and I’ve never felt panic and belief more firmly wedded. If I don’t act, I’ll implode.

This statement of discomfiture may well incite hate mail and angry tweets about what an ugly, washed-up, failure-as-a-Christian feminazi commie ho-bag I am. But I can’t let reticence be misconstrued as consent, so I’ll take my chances with the potential consequences of speaking out. Onward, Christian troll-diers.

If you don’t understand that faith and fear oft go hand in hand, what Bible have you been reading? That’s the drill. The realities of spiritual life, where the rubber meets the road, are complex. The requirements are numerous, and to follow Jesus most authentically, one is called to be a lover and a fighter both. One must be willing to court what Georgia Rep. and civil rights pioneer John Lewis calls “necessary trouble.”

The only thing that’s not permitted is quitting, even amid waves of terror and dread. That’s what “acting in good faith” means in a Christian context and always has. It’s time for devotion to put on its work boots. And should you presume this means either silence or complicity, honey, you haven’t got a prayer.

By Lily Burana

Lily Burana is the author of four books, most recently, “Grace for Amateurs: Field Notes on a Journey Back to Faith” (W/Harper). Follow her @lilyburana

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