Like everyone else, I’m trying to negotiate the aftermath of a divisive election that has fractured my corner of the world. Almost every part of life has felt the effects: churches, schools, families, friendships—few things remain unscathed. Sure, the fault lines were always there, but they were buried deep. So, we ignored them, only to have them blow up in our faces. People on both sides of the political landscape thought election day might bring an end, allowing healing and restoration to begin. No such luck.

There were good reasons to vote for President Trump. I’ve heard Trump supporters give thoughtful arguments for doing so. Many made it clear they don’t care for Trump as a person, but they do care deeply about policy. When I’d ask about issues like immigration, they’d admit they don’t care for Trump’s rhetoric, but it’s not a priority for them. Fair enough. While I might disagree, their arguments make sense. What doesn’t make sense is the Trump worship within the Evangelical community. Where I live, shrines have been built to Trump. Stacks of hay bales, crushed cars and trailers, huge posters of Trump giving the thumbs up—they’re all over the place. I haven’t personally witnessed animal sacrifices, but I wouldn’t be surprised. (Yes, I know the same is true on the left. I’m sure there are altars to Biden somewhere, just not where I live.)

Now, more than ever, the Christian community needs to take up the task of iconoclasm. Not, as Jacques Ellul says, “of the statue of Jesus Christ nor of God” but to the “gods of the world”—including politics (The Essential Spiritual Writings of Jacques Ellul pp. 86-87). In a world where labels make it easy to pick sides and demonize, the Christian community is called to live as “pilgrims and aliens” (I Peter), holding our political affiliations loosely. Honor the emperor? Yes, but remember Peter begins by saying “honor everyone.” (I Peter 2:17) Healing is going to take time. Like the pandemic, however, I’m not sure things will ever get back to “normal”. A new normal will come from the shattered remains of the old. Hopefully, it will be one where grace abounds, and our political idols have been smashed into a million pieces.

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.”

17 Comments

  • mstair says:

    “… the Christian community needs to take up the task of iconoclasm… ”

    The problem question is what compels followers of the Ultimate Unseen God to construct icons? The exclusive uniqueness of the nature of God is His inability to be apprehended.
    Our citizens’ growing inability to comprehend the nature of our nation’s government – governed by an unseen “rule of law” – seems to follow suit.
    Rebecca Joy Stanborough wrote that the risks of too much concrete thinking are a lack of empathy, flexibility, and … creativity ( except for the shrine-building – of course) …

  • Gregory Van Den Berg says:

    In my opinion, a problem facing followers of Christ is not comprehending how Christ’s kingdom is not of this world. The focus is on the temporary things of this world. Even though many people say the government cannot truly solve the woes of society, the trouble is they believe in their hearts the government can solve the woes of society. Your article does not mention this but was not this a problem with the people of Israel. They wanted a king without realizing they were rejecting the Lord. They built idols to worship because they could not see an invisible God. Moralistic people seem to desire to impose their moral beliefs upon society. The irony of the past two elections is how evangelicals voted in mass for the or one the most immoral presidents in office and rejected a moral man who seemed to live out his beliefs in Mitt Romney. Whatever happened to the Beatitudes spoken by Christ. The words are blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God. Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy. These are but a few of Christ’s words. The greatest commandment is Love your neighbor as you love yourself. What is truly needed in the church today is more repentance and the gospel being preached in the pulpits. Too much of what is being preached is not the good news of Jesus Christ but the good news of the self help gurus. I pray for a revolution not a reformation.

  • John vanStaalduinen says:

    My first thought was to put a label on you as you have labeled a number of residents in your community. Does ‘Snowflake ‘ work?
    I did appreciate your brief political essay, because it was brief. As you know, it is more difficult to prepare a five minute sermon than one that lasts for one half hour.
    Perhaps the ‘shrines ‘ merely show support for a flawed individual that accomplished campaign promises all the while fighting off political enemies. In His walk on earth, Jesus was not political, yet he was treated poorly by the political class, and maybe some Christians even made shrines to him as in the palm branch procession.

    • Jason Lief says:

      I’ll take snowflake. I’m of Scandinavian descent, love the snow and cold, and believe it fosters character. So, thanks for the compliment. Jesus wasn’t political? We don’t worship him as Lord? Part of the problem is we don’t realize just how political the gospels are, especially Luke 2. Skol.

    • Keith De Witt says:

      Well said, thank you!
      Keith De Witt

  • Tim says:

    I see too much both-siderism here. Consider the extraordinary efforts that Trumpists have engaged to negate a free and fair election. I live in the orbit of one of the most liberal cities in one of the most liberal counties in the Midwest – possibly in the nation. I assure you I have seen no Biden-worship parallels to what we see with Trump.

    • Jason Lief says:

      Fair enough. I can’t speak for your community, only mine. I will say, however, the left can be just as ideologically rigid. I think we need more “both-siderism” as you call it. While what’s going on with the election right now is ridiculous, I’m not sure it’s anything new.

      • Tom Ackerman says:

        Thank you for writing this, but I also want to take exception with the “both-siderism”. Like Tom, I live in one of the most liberal districts in the House of Representatives and I can confirm that there is no Biden worship here. In fact, there is quite a bit of criticism of his positions and choice of administration members, because they are too “conservative”.

        The problem with “both-siderism” is that it allows one to deflect criticism and blame with the excuse that “everybody does it”. I grew up in a large family and I can’t begin to count the times when my parents informed me or one of my siblings that they didn’t really care if “everybody else is doing …”. The Republican party has become a Trump cult. Yes I read your words about the good arguments for Trump’s policies. But let me point out that there are no Trump policies; there is only what Trump sees as good for himself. The Republican party could not even be bothered to put together a platform to run on this year. We currently have 18 states (all with Republican attorneys general) and 106 Republican representatives actively engaged in trying to overthrow a democratically elected administration. Their claims of fraud are pathetic and totally without evidentiary support. Trump and his minions have already lost over 50 court cases, balanced by one inconsequential win. How do you even begin to see this as a “both sides” problem? The Republican position on this is fantasy, It is an egregious attack on truth and our democracy. I think it is simply evil. The church is called to stand against evil and it is high time that we did so instead of hiding behind “everybody does it.”

        • Jason Lief says:

          Thanks for your comment. My only point is to say that what’s happening now is not unprecedented. Stacy Abrams did something similar in 2018. In fact, I’ve heard people say Trump is using the Abram’s playbook. https://www.npr.org/2020/11/18/935734198/trump-hasnt-conceded-georgia-neither-did-stacey-abrams-what-changed
          Until people are able to listen, and understand, each other, this whole game will just keep going on and on. The gospel is about breaking cycles and stepping outside of our ideological towers. And, taking the log out of our own eye before we try to pull the splinter out of someone else’s.

          • Mary Huissen says:

            Stacy Abrams’ rhetoric about the election being stolen was not helpful and the President may be taking points from her playbook, but I see both-siderism in this example as well.

            Does rampant gerrymandering affect the outcomes of many political elections? Yes.

            Was there voter suppression in GA in 2018 due to the closure of substantial numbers of polling places in poor and historically African American neighborhoods? Demonstrably so.

            Has there been voter fraud in 2020? Powerful people keep looking, but so far are unable to find any.

            If we are to step outside our ideological rigidity and learn to speak with one another, we will need to agree on evidence and facts.

            I’d like to add another point not mentioned in discussion so far:

            Many of us have lived our entire lives in North America after World War II. We do not have experiences of living with much hardship at all, nevermind in countries governed by autocratic leaders. We (especially those of us with white skin) happened to be born into an historical sweet spot of liberty, stability, and vast economic abundance. We’re quite accustomed to going on about our lives without giving much thought to which political party is in power. It is easier in these circumstances to say that our allegiance is first to God and not to think about it very much.

            We have taken much for granted.

          • Tom Ackerman says:

            I am really struggling with how to respond, so maybe I shouldn’t, but let me try.

            This situation is indeed unprecedented. We have never had a presidential candidate (let only an incumbent president) who declared, with no evidence, that a presidential election was completely fraudulent and should be overturned by the Supreme Court. This amounts to an attempted coup. We have never had 129 Congressional representatives, all from one party, that have supported an attempted coup.

            Stacy Abrams, whether we like her rhetoric or not, was drawing on an historical precedent of voter suppression and intimidation of black citizens in the south. In fact this suppression led to the passage of the Voting Rights legislation. While we can debate to what extent this did or did not occur in the Georgia gubernatorial election, there is good reason, based on past experience, to consider its veracity. There is no such parallel to draw in the case of Trump’s bogus claims. There is no historical precedent, no demonstrable convictions to support these monstrous lies.

            Stacy Abrams recognized that her opponent was going to be the governor. Again you can complain that she didn’t “concede” but she didn’t distort reality to suit her perceptions.

            I understand your plea for listening and listening is good. However, if there is a refusal to recognize reality, that what do we get by listening? I can listen to “flat earthers” all I want, but it doesn’t change the reality that the world is not flat. The situation in which we find ourselves is, in my estimation, not about listening and conflicting ideology as much as it is about a failure to deal with reality. Did Joe Biden get more electoral votes than Donald Trump? is there any legally sufficient evidence to indicate that a significant number of the cast ballots were fraudulent? (50+ court cases suggest a pretty clear answer). Both sides are not the same.

          • Jason Lief says:

            Tom, Please don’t think for a moment I support what’s going on. I don’t! Of course it’s gone off the rails and is a threat to democracy. I’m certainly not saying the Abrams situation is exactly the same. My original point was to say until we all are willing to listen to each other, and try to understand each other, the rifts this election has created will remain and get worse. Right now we just have the winners lashing out and the losers trying to find a way to change the outcome. Republicans will say democrats spent the entire 4 years of Trump’s presidency trying to overturn the election with investigations and impeachment. Now, the Republicans are trying to overturn the election. Look, I’m not a Trump supporter! I’m just trying to figure out how we find a way forward. The obsession with Trump has to stop on both sides…

  • Pam Adams says:

    Jason, I agree with Tim. There is no Biden worship as there is Trump worship. There is shame on the Trump worshippers to their very hearts. The only one who should be worshipped is our Lord and Savior, Jesus, his Father and the Holy Spirit, three in one.

  • Jason Lief says:

    Mary – thanks for you comment. I agree with you, and I’m certainly not trying to say these situations are exactly the same, just that it’s much harder to step outside of our ideological towers than we think. In my work on immigration reform I’ve seen how easy it is to think we’re on the “good” side, and point fingers at others. I’ll never forget when a young Latina woman told me the hardest people to work with are progressive Christians who think they have all the answers. Of course we seek justice, weigh the evidence, and make decisions, but hopefully we can all learn to seek truth in love and humility. That’s all.

    • Mary Huissen says:

      Thanks for your response Jason. Although I continue to agree with Tom Ackerman, I can appreciate what you say about ideology and humility.

      I’m reminded of an experience my partner and I had five years ago in which we ended up in conversation at the counter of a bar with two strangers who were on the other side of the political spectrum from us. We spent an evening in conversation and I think all of us learned something. For example, they asked us on what the US government spends a majority of its budget. We replied, “on defense.” But they corrected us. At least at the time, more money was spent on what they and many others call entitlements; Social Security, Medicare and the like. We were corrected. I’m fairly confident we corrected them on some other points as well. (Perhaps each of us were like the progressive Christians in your comment who thought we had all the answers.)

      At the end of the night, we acknowledged interesting conversation as well as a good deal of disagreement. In parting my partner said “We know we disagree with one another, but if there were an emergency in this restaurant and the four of us were tasked with finding a solution, we would work together and figure it out.” We all agreed, shook hands and moved on.

      I have thought of those two so often over the past several years. Like Tom, I am not willing to try to listen to or understand people whose ideas are not based on knowable facts (that the earth is flat or that the 2020 election was fraudulent.) But I long for people to find at least a common goal and to work toward solutions with intelligence, integrity, humility and grace.

      I’m losing hope.

  • John Kleinheksel says:

    Friends, we are truly in societal crisis. The Virus is a perfect icon of the Trump era: Disease. Dysfunction. Derision of accepted norms. Accenting our differences leading to deep fissures, distrust, Blame Game, self-righteousness, inertia, isolation. We are like sheep without a shepherd.
    Catherine de Hueck Doherty (1896-1985) formed Friendship House in Toronto and Harlem. Also, with Madonna House, she continued to address racism and segregation by the Spirit of our Lord.

    Today’s meditation by Richard Rohr records how Catherine describes giving birth to Christ for our day and time:

    “Christians are called to become icons of Christ, to reflect him. But we are called to even more than that. Ikon is the Greek word for “image of God.” We are called to incarnate Christ in our lives, to clothe our lives with him, so that people can see him in us, touch him in us, recognize him in us. . . .
    We have to begin to love one another in the fullest sense of Christ’s teaching. But to do so we must pray. . . . The immense problems of war, of social injustice, of the thousand and one ills that beset our world, these can be solved only if we begin to love one another. When people begin to see, love, respect, and reverence Christ in the eyes of another, then they will change, and society will change also” (The Gospel Without Compromise, Madonna House Publications, 1989, p. 71).

  • D. N. Phinney says:

    While I also am uncomfortable with some of his characterizations, I appreciate the way in which Dr. Lief has reminded us of the spiritual problem indicated by our divisive politics: our propensity to trust in things that are not God. While at first blush, divisive politics may not seem like a violation of the first commandment, the Heidelberg catechism reminds us of what the Lord requires when it comes to commandment number one; namely that we (among other things) “look to God for every good thing, humbly and patiently.” “Every good thing” is a pretty high bar. And I suspect if we are honest, all of us have broken the first commandment during this election season: we’ve looked to a candidate for some good thing. I am (personally) grateful for Dr. Lief’s invitation to repentance.

    Of course, there are still difficult discussions to be had on *how* exactly Christians can best be the hands and feet of Christ in this world, and these discussions can quickly become political. We will (and should) keep having them with each other.

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