Post-election 2016: The church is now in for the long haul

Monday, December 5, 2016

Well, the status confessionis has passed. No, actually, it has morphed into something else which will prove to be far more challenging. My blog of July 15 (“Words to the Church…..”) identifying the status confessionis, has been visited almost four times more than anything else I have ever posted, but now it is out of date ( although I believe it is still essentially true and worth reading). I confess that when I wrote it, I did not think that Donald Trump could win the election, so I was just hoping that the church would find itself on the “right” side. Now, we find ourselves in a new universe, so to speak. “New occasions teach new duties.” The new status confessionis requires something very much more courageous, very much more carefully thought out, much more prolonged than simply voting (self-righteously) one way or the other.

When in Atlanta recently, my husband and daughter and I had lunch with the senior pastor of the enormous, prominent Peachtree United Methodist Church, the Rev. Bill Britt. We discussed the election. I heard two important things. First, as Dr. Britt said, “I do not put my trust in any president.” Yellow-dog Democrats and Obama enthusiasts like myself need to be reminded of that every day. Our ultimate trust is in no earthly leader, but in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Pantocrator of the universe, “the One who shall come to be our Judge”–the great theme of this Advent season.

The second thing I learned is that Peachtree Methodist did something very important at election time. Under Britt’s leadership, the church published an impressive booklet for its members, handsomely designed and printed, called, simply, “Politics.” It’s an Advent devotional offering, and it is quite unlike the ones they’ve done previously, because it was produced a month early instead of their usual, more typical Advent-Christmas booklet of daily devotions. What an audacious thing to do, to send out such a book with the title “Politics”! Wouldn’t you think that would split your congregation into fragments? Well, not if the leadership is strong and trusted. There is not a single word in the booklet about candidates or political parties, but the message is clear: discrimination, prejudice, recklessness, and lies are not only anti-American, but anti-Christian.

There is so much that can and should be said from the pulpit and in the church classrooms, now and in the foreseeable future. What can we, as Christians, be doing?

1) We can stop throwing around words like “racist,” “sexist,” “bigot,” “homophobe,” “Islamophobe.” Surely one of the most misbegotten moments in Hillary Clinton’s campaign was the use of these words to describe the “basket of deplorables.” In the sight of our righteous God we are all deplorable. We can be guided by David Brooks in one of his many fine columns:  We need to stop demonizing everyone who voted for Trump and try to understand them, one by one, “even as we have been fully understood”  by God in Jesus Christ (I Cor. 13:12)

2) We can go out of our way to show kindness, forbearance, and respect to those who are different from us. We can come alongside those who have suffered from attacks and slurs based on racial, ethnic, or religious identity. We can organize or participate in gatherings and groups that seek to foster greater understanding. We can offer more support to organizations that will now have to expand their operations greatly on behalf of Constitutional, civil, and human rights

3) We can talk to our congregations and Christian friends about the importance of educating children at a early age to distinguish between news and propaganda. I remember my mother beginning to teach me this from a very early age. My paternal grandmother told me I should be using a certain soap because she “heard it on the radio.” My mother was not crazy about her mother-in-law, to be sure, but she took the opportunity to instruct me that not everything on the radio was true; some of it was advertising, and I had to learn the difference. I was really young then, perhaps only five or six, but the lesson stayed with me permanently. Similarly, we need to teach our children at an early age that the perils of believing something because “I saw it on Facebook” or “I saw it on Twitter” needs to be indelibly etched in their minds. The word “discernment” has been somewhat diminished since it was appropriated by ecclesiastical bureacracies, but here is its true significance: the ability to discern false from true.

This is only the beginning of a list of imperatives for Christian teaching, into the foreseeable future and beyond.

My previous most-read post on status confessionis and the political crisis is not completely outdated by any means and can be found here:

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