My little part of the world has been in an uproar for the past week. Last Sunday the New York Times published an article exploring evangelical support for Trump. And now, everyone’s up in arms. Read the article and it’s easy to see the contradictions—a campaign that utilizes racist tropes to mobilize a voting block, white protestants convinced their way of life is under threat, and a pro life/pro family movement that supports a candidate who mocks the disabled and wages war against immigrants. The truth hurts, which is why everyone is upset.

Everyone’s defensive too—myself included. My first response was to write a piece talking about how diverse our community is, how there’s other perspectives—you know the drill. We all have a black or hispanic friend somewhere—proof we’re not racist. When I started working on the immigration issue, a colleague did me a big favor—she tore my perceived non-racist worldview apart. She showed me there’s a big difference between co-existence and empowerment. It’s one thing to live in a community together, to eat at ethnic restaurants, even attend multiethnic church services, it’s another thing all together to give up power, to give up control, to no longer set the terms. Instinctually, we all want to hold on to power, and we naturally want to preserve our way of life and are suspicious of those who are different. This is precisely why we need the gospel—so we can die to ourselves in Christ’s death, and be raised to a new form of life no longer defined by these natural categories. (No longer slave nor free, Jew or Gentile, etc…)

There are some people in my community who hold their version of truth like a hammer. They know what God wants because they’ve read, and correctly interpreted, the bible (although they don’t really believe in “interpretation”). Honestly, these people are insufferable, but they are not the problem. The problem are those who silently stand by as the carnage unfolds. Privately, they’ll say how they don’t support what’s happening; publicly, their silence is violence. Personally, I’m convinced the emphasis on “office” within the reformed tradition is partly to blame. It lends itself to a distorted tyranny of the “strong man” (Yes, I mean man in this instance.) Out of respect for “office” we tolerate the immoral and un-Christian actions of our leaders out of fear or an unwillingness to speak up. I’m always amazed how people’s attitudes toward otherwise flawed characters changes as soon as they take up an “office”—usually moving from disdain or contempt to a false respect grounded in fear. Much has been made of the Senate republicans who say nothing as Trump sows discord. The same is true of Christians unwilling to speak up, to put ones own self at risk, for the sake of what they perceive to be divine order or the false veneer of peace. This was the point of the article, not that Northwest Iowans are racist or backwards, but, as humans are apt to do, we hold on to the status quo with all of our strength, often baptizing it in the name of Jesus. Or, by keeping quiet and hoping nobody notices us.

Yes, I know—the same can, and should, be said of Christians on the left. But white evangelicals aren’t selling out for Joe Biden, now are they? Certainly, in my part of the world, the Trump signs far out number all others. Truth is, everyone will get what they want out of the article. Evangelicals will see it as vindication—the evil intentions of the biased, leftist, media; progressives will dismiss communities like mine as as a bunch of racist fundamentalists. In the meantime, the truth of the article will be lost. Doesn’t matter—in our “everyone is biased but me” world, we don’t really care about the truth anyway.

Jason Lief

Dr. Jason Lief teaches courses in Christian education and youth ministry. A Northwestern College graduate, he served as the chaplain for Pella (Iowa) Christian High School while earning a master’s degree in theology from Wheaton College Graduate School. He also completed a doctorate in practical theology from Luther Seminary. He previously taught theology and youth ministry at Dordt College for 10 years. Dr. Lief is the author of “Poetic Youth Ministry: Loving Young People by Learning to Let Them Go” and "Christianity and Heavy Metal as Impure Sacred Within the Secular West: Transgressing the Sacred.”

13 Comments

  • mstair says:

    …tough stuff…

    “This is precisely why we need the gospel—so we can die to ourselves in Christ’s death, and be raised to a new form of life no longer defined by these natural categories. “

    Excellent summary.
    But while we might admit that we need the gospel, we won’t admit that we want it – because it will change us … repentance is change.

    Your difficult ending today illustrates it too well– “… we don’t really care about the truth anyway.”

  • Pam Adams says:

    Jason,
    It was excellent what you said and I am glad you said it. It makes me very wary to be living with people who think that way because I thought Sioux Center was a Biblical community. I don’t see the Bible reflected in small minded thought and actions. Did I move from the sinful east coast to a Christian community?

    • Is there such a thing as a Biblical community? The Bible is a complex book. What rules and regulations put forth in the Bible must be adhered to in these Biblical communities? Are the people loving God with all their heart, mind, and strength? Are the people loving their neighbor, in the broadest sense of the word, or loving only those who think and act and look like them? What about the migrants who do the work that white people don’t want to do? Does the Biblical community do justice? Love mercy? Walk humbly with their God? That is true religion. Fear of change and lust for power is not.

      As a side note: the author of the Times article did not understand what Christian day schools are like. She indicated that the schools don’t admit students that are not Christian. Christian parents are the ones who send their children to Christian schools, to teach them from a Reformed perspective, to guide the children into becoming Christians. I believe that is an important distinction.

      Jane Meulink

  • Laremy says:

    Some interesting thoughts here. I appreciate your angle, it is one of the many valid ways of looking at things. I would also add another.

    I couldn’t really get over the fear expressed throughout the Times article, and it made me think that one of two things must be true. Either the church (here and elsewhere) is preaching a non-Biblical heresy of fear or the church is failing to really shape our imagination and instead church members are allowing the “the world” to shape the way we think. What are we so afraid of?

    • Jason Lief says:

      I’ve been working on an article in which I refer to Rowan Williams book Being Human. He provides four themes for human flourishing – two of them are “patience and literacy in rituals”, and “Lack of anxiety in the face of death”. The distortion of these is: “We can turn the creative and constructive use of the rituals of time into ritualism and the fear of change, instead of a sense of the sacredness of a time that is given to us for constant, cumulative rediscovery.” (82) And, “Religious language is more than capable of renewing and intensifying anxiety in the face of death, partly by certain kinds of talk about divine judgement…” Thought it fit your point. That’s all.

  • Dave Stravers says:

    This is excellent because it is difficult to read the truth. I can seen the Confirmation Bias in others, but can I see it in myself? If not, repentance or change will be impossible. Can anything good come out of the current White House? Can anything good come out of the Biden-Harris team? If my answer is No to either of these questions, I have a problem.

    • Tom says:

      Methinks the answer to both of those questions is ‘No’. although I suppose that’s not really true as God can bring good out of anything, hence the reason not to live in fear.

      And, I must say, I perceive at least as much fear from Trump-haters as I do from Trump backers. On the morning following the 2016 election, Facebook was filled with posts from members of my church expressing fear for what would happen under the impending doom of a Trump presidency, including from my own pastor. Made me want to stand up and interrupt the next sermon I heard about not letting fear override our trust in God;’s faithfulness.

      What puzzles me, though, is how those who clearly see how supporting Trump requires abandoning all your Christian principles can’t seem to see that the same will be required to support a Biden/Harris ticket. Joe Biden, who expresses strong commitment to his Catholic faith, historically took a fairly principled stand in the abortion debate (that’s good!) right up until the time his principles stood in the way of advancing to the vice-presidency. As of 2008, he suddenly he became silent on the issue, and now that he has a shot at the next highest office, he’s now firmly pro-abortion. Trump has never really had any principles other than his own interests (that’s the one thing he’s pretty honest about), but somehow it seems worse to me to have principles but then abandon them as soon as they block your advance to more power.

      And if your worried about the “tyranny of the strong man” (that’s kind of patriarchal, don’t you think?) then you should worry more about Kamala Harris than about Trump. Trump reverses the dictum of Teddy Roosevelt and “talks loudly, but carries a small stick” – he blusters a lot, but given his incompetence, he’s really not proven to be a very effective tyrant – in fact, in many ways he’s proven to be the opposite. Kamala Harris, on the other hand, has a proven history of abusing her power to advance her own interests and, in the primary debates, expressed outright disdain for constitutional limits on presidential power.

      I won’t vote for Trump because I can’t quite stomach that. But I understand why other Christian’s do. There’ a calculation we all have to make, and that calculation can be made in good conscience.

  • Steven L Skahn says:

    Well said. Thanks.

  • Paul Janssen says:

    Thanks for your response to the piece. I’d been wondering what NW Iowans were thinking about it. Now I know what 1 thinks, anyway. Question on “office.” When it came up in your piece, my mind immediately ran to “elder, deacon, minister.” But you seem to be speaking of office as in “elected office” as in POTUS (and all others who hold office). Are you referring to a general deference to those in office as being part of a divinely ordained order of worldly affairs, and ascribing that to a uniquely reformed manner of thinking? Just trying to understand. Thanks!

  • Bert L. Van Batavia says:

    Keep on expanding the mind. It is good for the Soul of mankind.

  • John says:

    About office, I think Boethius wrote “So it comes about not that virtues are honored because of office, but office because of the virtue of the holder.”

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