I'll be frank... I'm "feeling all the feels" today, less than 24 hours after Donald Trump became the President Elect. Just a few days ago, I wrote about civility and how the way leaders conduct themselves is as important as the substantive content/policy differences (which I will not even begin to engage with). One part of me is disturbed and concerned about the cultural/social implications of someone who unapologetically bragged about sexually assaulting women (among many other equally alarming issues) being voted into the highest office of the land. Another part of me is grateful for the reminder that no political outcome will ever satisfy our deepest longings. Still another part of me is radically humbled by the (now quantifiable) reality that millions of people across this nation feel voiceless and left behind by what others consider "progress." There is much to discuss there, but there are many who are far more qualified than I to speak into it.
As a pastor, I cannot tell you how agonizingly difficult it is to avoid (even accidentally) binding consciences, while also speaking Truth with Love in the midst of a public discourse so desperately lacking nuance, clarity or civility. How do I serve our people and equip them with the Truth of God's discomforting Love, all the while checking my own unseen assumptions or finite perspectives at the door? Where is the line between truth-telling and complicit, silent agreement? I honestly don't know how to answer these questions, and anyone that says they have a simple one is either foolish or lying.
If this is the situation in which we live, what do we do with it? Not coincidentally, the topic of this Sunday's sermon is the core value which informs all of our other core values: Gospel. "Gospel" literally means "good news." As such, I've been asking myself "where is the good news in the midst of this election season?" (Note: Don't hear what I'm not saying... I'd be asking that question no matter who was elected last night). It is always wise to ask what God may be doing, so long as our answer is held lightly. Thus, here are a few observations, lessons and opportunities for "good news" that I've been ruminating on (and holding lightly) over the last 24 hours...
1. The Word "Evangelical" Means Nothing Anymore (Especially to our Neighbors)
The church has paid (and will continue paying) the price of hypocrisy in the gap between Pulpit and Poll. For entirely too long, the Evangelical Church has taken politics seriously and Jesus lightly, rather than Jesus seriously and ourselves lightly. Too many have attached their voice, vote and hope to one political party rather than a Kingdom not of this world, resulting with a definition of "evangelical" that is on it's best day, inconsistent. If, in the same breath, we condemn the character disqualifications of one leader, yet sanctify even greater deficiencies in one who promises to represent us, why in the world should anyone take us seriously? As a label and as a brand (which it should never have been in the first place) it is dead... thank God. Instead, the church has an opportunity to accept and criticize policies with the nuance they deserve, to actually develop a distinctly Christian politic that is as diverse, civil, collaborative and committed to the common good.
It's time for some serious soul-searching and public repentance. We neglect it at our peril, yet are freed to do so for the same reason we shouldn't have found ourselves here in the first place: we are citizens of a heavenly kingdom and our King both represents and cares for us more than any politician.
2. The Supernatural Power of Hospitality
Last week, I had a brain-melting conversation with John Bryson (Founding Pastor of the incredible multi-ethnic church, Fellowship Memphis) where he offhandedly observed that, "A place's quality of food is proportional to the suffering their culture has endured." Why do you think that is? I asked. "Because for many people, the only safe place they experience on a regular basis is around the dinner table." The division and polarization brought out by this election will never be solved by getting the right person in office, but by the other-serving love expressed through communities of radical hospitality. As Mark Dunkelman described in his TED Talk about why our politics are so broken, "There's a big chasm between thinking that the person who is sitting across the table from you (is wrong) and thinking that they are totally whackadoodle... If they're just wrong, maybe there's a chance of working out a deal. If they're whackadoodle, there's no chance. Can't do it."
If we lack civility, understanding and/or compassion, it is because we are acutely disconnected from our neighbors and (especially) those who think/feel/believe/behave differently than us. I am increasingly blown away by how needed our last Vision Night was (watch the video if you have any doubts), and increasingly amazed/humbled by how much our fledgling community is already having an impact through exactly this passion.
3. The Church is God's "Plan A," and There is No "Plan B"
In the midst of seeing both discouragement and elation, both despair and celebration, I am only more certain that Jesus - through His broken-but-beloved family - is the Hope of the World. We long to be a "community where you don't have to believe/agree/conform in order to belong," and that better include our vote for president... no matter who he or she may be. I am ecstatic, not dismayed, for the opportunity to practice what we preach. I am convicted of the need to know and be known by each and every one of my neighbors, to understand what makes them tick, to love them as Jesus loves me. Can you imagine the impact of a whole community fueled by the love of our Divine Host?
4. The Gospel is at Stake... and How We Grow.
Genocide survivor, pastor and theologian Miroslav Volf says it more fully and eloquently than I ever could: "Forgiveness flounders because I exclude the enemy from the community of humans even as I exclude myself from the community of sinners." No matter what side of the vote you fall on, this is an opportunity to become more fully human, not an impediment to it. Where we exclude anyone (nevermind those who even remotely qualify as "enemy") from our community, is where we most need to be reminded that Jesus died for his enemies (Rom 5:6-11) - us. While that reminder may at first discourage, it will also be our reservoir for love and grace whether we receive it from others or not.
With this "good news" in mind, I pray we are neither puffed up nor despair over this election. Jesus does indeed still sit on His throne, but that is not a trite silver lining for shrugging shoulders and "moving on." It is the basis of hope that fuels a greater love and peace than we can ever reasonably expect from any government, any politician or any president.