As the numbness of this election has worn off and we find ourselves grieving as well as angry we will do well to also give ourselves some space, to take some time away from thinking about politics and the horror of the man we have elected and to do some self-renewal. Just this past weekend I made sure to spend time with my family, watching some good football, we started a Christmas puzzle, and I reached out and had some energizing talks and texts with friends. We need one another right now.
But yes, this thing still hurts and well it should. We have elected the most misogynistic and racist person to ever hold the office of the president. This isn’t me making an outrageous statement. We have only to hear his words.
But what is most stunning to me is the number of mostly white supposedly Christian “leaders” who have made statements calling for “prayer” rather than resistance. This is the essence of institutional privilege. This is a denial of the danger so many people are experiencing today and what they will be experiencing tomorrow, the next day, and the many days that follow. To merely pray in the face of impending tyranny is to welcome that tyranny. When trump promises to deport 2-3 million people immediately we do not have time for him to maybe change. We don’t have the luxury of waiting and praying like our denominational leaders. Resistance starts NOW.
I believe that much of the church’s refusal to call for mass resistance reveals our own love of comfort and avoidance of conflict. We nicely forget that conflict is necessary for any change to actually take place. Though most middle-class, white churches seem to think that “getting along” is holy work, Gustavo Gutierrez reminds us that, “the political arena is necessarily conflictual . . . [for] the building of a just society means the confrontation . . . between groups with different interests and opinions” (Gutierrez 1973:48). It is our failure as Christians that to many of us have chosen to “get along” rather than engage in the work of organizing and advocacy. But hey, no skin off my nose right? The oppression might continue, but let’s pray and just feel good about a false sense of peace – that we all really get along. That’s how we do church because our white, middle-class church experience is a lie, a sham, a fraud. To create discomfort for the itchy ears that just want therapy instead of the gospel is to risk the most important value of the church as institution: being liked.
This isn’t just how the institutional church works, this is how institutional church careers are made. Don’t piss off anyone and you just might be a bishop someday son.
The one thing we know about American history is that white, middle-class, religious voices have always been present calling for prayer and calm contemplation instead of action and confrontation with injustice. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail was not written to racists. It was written to white liberal pastors who were calling for calm and patience, something Dr. King flatly rejected because he knew patience would only further racism and injustice.
I remember how proud I was of a former boss, Jim Winkler, when he called out the Chinese government for their refusal to allow pastors to attend an international conference on evangelism. He did this in the face of the institutional church elites who wanted us to not condemn the Chinese government for their continued and blatant human rights violations, specifically of Christians. They counseled patience as well even though their patience had changed absolutely nothing.
Patience and calm sound nice. Hell, they even sound Christian primarily because our middle class-obsessed culture has made Christianity so sanitized and conflict-avoidant (though terribly passive aggressive at the same time). All injustice needs for justice to wither and die on the vine is for good people to be busy with sterile and conflict-free church work that never amounts to anything meaningful in regards to tangible change in the face of injustice and tyranny. For justice to happen means that we must be willing to risk and that risk is not just our lives (though under a trump presidency this might be required), but even more, it will require risking our reputations and even our upwardly mobile institutional church careers. Ascension in the church hierarchy necessitates remaining conflict-free at all costs. But remaining conflict-free will only exacerbate injustice and tyranny.
Our failure to do justice sends an open invitation to continued oppression. Remaining “above the fray” is all tyranny needs to continue unabated. The approval that comes from silence allows the most vulnerable to go punished and those entrenched in power to go unpunished. Our silence not only prohibits the healing of a broken past, it impedes the building of new worlds in the future that are characterized by justice and equality. If governance is the deciding of who gets access to resources it is necessarily incumbent upon those of us who have access to resources to redemptively utilize that access to those resources for those whose access has been restricted or denied. This is the essence of Christian advocacy – this is the essence of being a missional follower of Jesus. Sad to say, I am afraid we had a lot of people on Tuesday who claim to follow Jesus utilize their access to resources for their own selfish gain.
Thus, it is absolutely necessary for the church to now engage in the hard and difficult but faithful work of organizing and advocacy and resistance. And this will necessitate conflict. But conflict is utterly necessary and is an act of Christian love – the highest form of love – when those we are incarnated among are facing the danger that is awaiting them with a trump presidency. Our advocacy and organizing and yes, our resistance, is rooted in love of those who will be damaged by such horrific leadership in the country. It is absolutely vital that we stand in the gap, that we point out the injustices (and there will be many) in a trump presidency, that we remind his blind followers of all of the impossible promises he has made them and which will go unfulfilled (thank God), and that, most importantly, we stand among those directly targeted by this hateful leader so that their struggles are our struggles, their fears are our fears, their dreams are our dreams. This is what incarnation looks like.
Lastly, lest we forget, the work of advocacy, organizing and resistance are all acts of divine love. They are rooted in God the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. It is God, in the person of Jesus who advocates for us daily. It is the Holy Spirit who rouses – yes, organizes – other believers to pray for us and surround us with love and edification. And it is the Holy Spirit working through us to resist the sins of racism, misogyny, and tyranny. Yes, our engagement in organizing, advocacy, and resistance is rooted in the triune nature of God and ours is a holy work of love, even when – perhaps especially when that involves conflict.
May all Christians respond in love and may we be about the Spirit-filled work of advocating for justice, organizing for love and resisting hate in all of its forms, even those that might be subtle and now, government-sponsored. This is a calling for all who claim to follow Jesus. And it begins now.