The Golden rule vs The Silver rule

In Pursuing Justice Ken Wytsma makes a distinction between the golden rule and what he calls the silver rule. The golden tells us to “do unto others and you would have them do unto you.” The silver rule just adds the word “not” in strategic locations: “do not do unto others as you would have them not do unto you.” Or, essentially, it’s the principle “do no harm.” Unfortunately, we often substitute the golden rule for the silver rule and move from active love, to just trying to avoid doing harm.

It’s a lot easier to live by the silver rule. It’s not that hard to go through your day simply not hurting other people. At the end of the day we can begin to think we’re pretty good people.

But God calls us to more than simply doing no harm – the silver rule – but to actively love others. Following the golden rule is risky. It requires us to put ourselves on the line, to give of our resources and time. In the story of the Good Samaritan, the Priest and the Levite did no harm to the injured man. The followed the silver rule, risking nothing, but also not acting with love or justice. The Good Samaritan, however, took risks and gave of himself to show active love, to practice the golden rule.

Wytsma concludes by suggesting we flip the question around that often prevents us from following the golden rule. We ask the question, “If I help, what could happen to me?” Wytsma suggests we ask a different question, “If I don’t help, “what will happen to them?”

On the inevitability of structural racism

This article is a summary of John Piper’s article Structural Racism: The Child of Structural Pride. My purpose in summarizing it here is (1) to disseminate its ideas to my readers and (2) to reinforce and crystalize those same ideas in my own mind by writing them down. As is usually the case, reading the primary source is more beneficial than then its derivatives.

The goal of Piper’s article is to “reduce the instinctive, white, evangelical reaction against the idea of structural racism or systematic racism.” I share the same goal here. As I have navigated the dangerous waters of discussing racism one of the major obstacles has been discussing the idea of systematic racism. A fair number of white evangelicals I have interacted with are eager to condemn personal racism but are convinced that (a) systematic/structural racism is a thing of the past and that there are only small pockets of individual racists and (b) that by talking about systematic racism we either label everyone a racist or somehow devalue discussions of personal responsibility. I think that both of these convictions are wrong – that structural racism is both inevitable and more pervasive than most white people realize (including myself) – and that talking about structural racism doesn’t need to lead to either a false sense of guilt (“everyone is a racist”) or reduce the need to talk about personal responsibility.

Piper’s strategy is to focus on the theological question of systematic racism rather than particular instances of it. He aims “to show that, if your mind is Bible-saturated, you would consider it absolutely astonishing if structural racism were not pervasive wherever sin is pervasive.” In other words, Piper sees structural racism as inevitable in a fallen world, kept in check only by the grace of God.

First, some definitions. Piper chooses a “street-level” definition of race as “a group of people distinguished primarily by skin color, but also by facial features and hair type.” Racism, then, is “an explicit or implicit feeling or belief or practice that values one race over other races, or devalues one race beneath others.” Finally, he defines structural racism as “the cumulative effect of racist feelings, beliefs, and practices that become embodied and expressed in policies, rules, regulations, procedures, expectations, norms, assumptions, guidelines, places, strategies, objectives, practices, values, standards, narratives, histories, records, and the like, which accordingly disadvantage the devalued race and privilege the valued race.”  What is important in this final definition is that the effects of structural racism may linger “even if non-racist people now inhabit the institutions where the racist structures still holds sway.” To say that an institution, law, practice, procedure, etc. contains structural racism is not necessarily to impugn the people that inhabit that institution as being racist. (I’ll note, though, that sometimes we are culpable of our own blindness, lack of empathy, failure to listen, and/or failure to act. To speak of structural racism should also not absolve individuals of personal guilt when it is present.)

From there Piper outlines three realities of our world which makes structural racism inevitable.

First, personal human sin: Rebellion from God is characterized by hostility toward God and hostility towards our fellow man and hostility towards those different from us is generally easier than towards those who are like us. “If we are ‘malicious,’ how much more with those who are different from ourselves. If we ‘murder,’ how much more those who are different. If we ‘deceive,’ how much more the alien.”

Second, a supernatural devil: The task of the devil is to lie, kill, and destroy and he is constantly working against us – or rather with the sinful natures within us. Given this reality Piper asks “can we be surprised if he works through all the social institutions of this world to cultivate misunderstanding, distrust, bias, partiality, suspicion, ill-will, antagonism, hostility, murder, pogroms, lynchings, ethnic cleansing, holocaust, genocide?” The history of ethnic and racial strife bears witness to the reality of this evil.

Third, evil world systems: Finally, the Bible speaks of a “present evil age”, a “present darkness”, a world system which enslaves. What Piper aims to show here is that while evil exists within the human heart, it is “strengthened and extended by Satan into a global matrix of evil.” The evil that exists within the world is greater than the sum of its parts. The overall evil in the world is more devastating than just the addition of all the sins of the human race. Instead it becomes embedded in a system, a mindset, a culture, and pervades our policies and institutions.

Piper concludes this section: “I can think of no sin that is not systematic or structural.” If no sin is spared the inevitability of becoming systematic or structural, why should we make an exception for racism?

Next Piper looks at the sins of pride, greed, fear, and lust and shows how they all pervade the systems of the world and, then, how they relate to racism. I will simply quote Piper at length here:

In such a world, it would be inconceivable and utterly astonishing if there were no such thing as structural racism. In this world of sin and Satan and a decadent world system, it is incomprehensible that one sin would be privileged to escape systemic expression. This is true not only for statistical reasons, but for organic ones. Racism is the spoiled child of pride. And structural racism is the sturdy child of structural pride. They are organically connected. Pride gives birth to racism. Structural pride gives birth to structural racism.

Racism is an explicit or implicit feeling or belief or practice that values one race over other races, or devalues one race beneath others. Why do we do this? Because of pride. Egotism. Haughtiness. Vain-glory. What could be clearer than the fact that we devalue other races in order to exalt our own, and gain the advantages that go with it? This is why racism is also the sibling of the fraternal triplets greed, fear, and lust. We value our own race, and devalue others to gain benefits (greed), avoid perceived loss (fear). And all the while lust aids and abets the process by sucking the vestiges of decency out of our souls.

Note that Piper is not saying that institutions, procedures, etc. feel or are guilty of pride or racism, but that they “institutionalize the minds of the proud, greedy, fearful, lustful people who create them.” They allow the evil of their creator to live on even when that creator is no longer present. They pave the way for injustice, and block the path of righteousness.

“There will be policies that promote a visible pecking order that feeds on and furthers pride. There will be strategies of cut-throat competition that grow with the nutriments of greed. There will be procedures of micro-management that waken and exploit fear. There will be assumptions of dress that exploit lust.”

It should come as no surprise to us that Piper finds the solution to the problem of personal and individual racism in the gospel. The gospel begins by destroying our pride and then enables and emboldens us to dismantle first the evil in our own hearts and then that which exists in the structures which surround us.

One of the big payoffs for me here is that when we understand the inevitability of structural and systematic evil – including racism – we’re in a better position to hear our brothers and sisters when they point to a particular instance of it. We ought to be cautious of just “blaming the system” – as Piper certainly is – and each supposed instance can be evaluated in its own right, but nor should we just dismiss it out of hand. If we refuse to see it where it is present, we won’t have the tools needed to work for justice.

What does it mean to be “blessed”?

“Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in obedience to him.” Psalm 128:1

According to Psalm 128:1, those who “fear the Lord” will be blessed. But what does it mean to be blessed by God? There are four categories of blessing: Present physical, present spiritual, future spiritual, and future physical.

Present physical

The focus in Psalm 128 is on present physical blessings. Verse 2 expands on the blessing of verse 1 to describe productive and fruitful labor: “You will eat the fruit of your labor; blessings and prosperity will be yours.” Verse 3 describes the blessing in terms of a fruitful marriage and children. Verse 5 speaks of “prosperity” and verse 6 describes blessing as being able to “live to see your children’s children.”

The focus of this Psalm is typical of how blessings are described in the Old Testament. Blessings take the form of land, fruitful fields, prosperity, military victory, security, large flocks, good health, long life, a good spouse, and the presence of children and grandchildren. And, while the emphasis on this sort of blessing is lessened to some degree in the New Testament, it is not entirely removed. Proverbs instructs us to connect the dots between living in accordance with God’s law and experiencing some measure of present physical blessings from God.

But, this doesn’t always happen and there are many counter-examples. Psalm 129, the vert next psalm, is the first-person account of someone who has been beaten and oppressed. There’s no indication that such a person was in that place because they failed to properly “fear the Lord.” It’s usually wrong to look at a lack of blessing and infer a lack of faith. Instead, suffering and hardship are a “natural” part of living in a fallen and sinful world. If we limit “blessing” to physical blessings in this life, we will miss out on the much broader picture of what God has in store for those who follow Him.

Present spiritual

God also gives present “spiritual blessings.” Examples abound but are several listed in Philippians 2:1

“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion.”

These words describe gifts which we receive by being united with Christ. We can experience these blessings completely apart from our circumstances. Paul speaks of learning to be content in all situations. This, too, is a spiritual blessing. These may not be tangible, buy they are no less real. If pressed, it is easy to think of individuals who lack some of the physical blessings listed above but who are far more blessed in this spiritual sense. They are poor yet rich.

Future spiritual

But even these present spiritual blessings pale in comparison to the spiritual blessings we can expect to experience in heaven. Even now we can experience the presence of Christ through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. But in heaven we will experience his presence “face to face”. We will go from seeing dimly to seeing clearly. Right now, we experience joy, but it is always tinged with some level of pain or worry. Then all our tears will be washed away. We will no longer experience pain in a way that diminishes our eternal joy in the presence of God.

Future physical

Many of us will stop here. Given the experiential reality that sometimes those who trust in God do not experience material blessings in this life, or that those in open rebellion live in opulence, there is a tendency to spiritualize every blessing. When combined with a latent platonic worldview that sees the physical world with suspicion we get a purely spiritualized otherworldly experience. But this is not the biblical perspective. The glorious physical bounties of Eden will be restored on the New Earth. We will indeed experience physical blessings in our Resurrected bodies. The “prosperity gospel” gets it right that God wants us to be healthy and wealthy. They just get the timing wrong when they assume it will happen in this life. Those who fear the Lord will have never-die health and will be inheritors of the earth, it just won’t happen on this side of the resurrection.

Best yet, we will be able to experience the future physical blessing while also experiencing the future eternal spiritual blessings of being with Jesus. We get to enjoy both the gift and the Giver to the full.

If you’re in Christ, you are #Blessed

The path to authoritarianism?

Francis Schaeffer’s A Christian Manifesto is a lot to take in but for this post I want to just elaborate on one short paragraph. Before we get there, though, we need to understand Schaeffer’s broader point and his use of language. His thesis is that there are two competing worldviews in America and Northern Europe, an older Judea-Christian worldview which places God at the center of all reality, and a “humanist” worldview which denies the presence of God and places material, energy, and chance as the only basis for all reality. “Humanism” for Schaeffer, doesn’t mean having a high regard for human life – or being “humanitarian” – but rather subverting God’s place in the universe with Man. Ironically, when God is removed and only material, energy, and chance remain, the dignity of human life is undermined. It is this great clash of worldviews which for Schaeffer stands at the root of great societal shifts, particularly in America. A Christian Manifesto, written in 1981, the year before I was born, is a call to cultural and political action to turn the course back toward a Judea-Christian worldview.

Humanism leads to chaos by undermining the basis of law

Now to the paragraph in question:

“The humanists push for “freedom,” but having no Christian consensus to contain it, that “freedom” leads to chaos or to slavery under the state (or under an elite). Humanism, with its lack of any final base for law, always leads to chaos. It then naturally leads to some form of authoritarianism to control the chaos. Having produced the sickness, humanism gives more of the same kind of medicine for a cure. With its mistaken concept of final reality, it has no intrinsic reason to be interested in the individual, the human being. Its natural interest is the two collectives; the state and society.” (A Christian Manifesto, p. 29-30)

There are two important points here. First, that the “freedom” offered by humanism always leads to chaos. This is a bold statement but it flows logically. A materialistic worldview leaves no ultimate basis for moral or political law. Instead, laws become arbitrary, or at least becomes based on some sort of arbitrary set of standards. Schaeffer makes a strong case elsewhere the constitution is also undermined and provides no final defense of law either. For an historical illustration, Schaeffer compares the American revolution with the French revolution. The American revaluation, strongly influenced by Reformation ideals, led to a balance of form-freedom in government. The French revolution, based on humanist ideals, led to chaos.

Authoritarianism steps in to reign in the chaos

Schaeffer’s second point is that humanism then leads to authoritarianism. The chaos must be reined in and the most convenient way is through force – which is the basis of all governments based purely on a materialistic worldview. In a Judeo-Christian worldview, the government is still subject to a higher authority. But in the humanist worldview, there is simply no higher authority to which we can appeal. So the state – or as Schaeffer understands it, some sort of intellectual or technocratic elite – steps in to control the chaos through authoritarian control. How this authoritarianism takes hold is a question he leaves open but he guesses that it could easily be done through the promise of better economic conditions.

Conclusion – Modern equivalence?

This paragraph struck me because I immediately drew a connection to our present political situation, though whether this connection is warranted is another discussion. Regardless, we have been on the steady slope of humanism in every area of culture and government since Schaeffer wrote this book. And, this steady “progress” has led to greater levels of social chaos (at least perceived). One of the reactions against this “chaos” was the election of Donald Trump, seen by many as having authoritarian tendencies. He rose to prominence primarily by promising to rein in chaos and by promising an economic resurgence.

If that interpretation of Trump is correct, then America is not heading “back” to a better time (if one really existed) where a humanistic liberalism is held back, but is simply on the next leg of the humanist journey. I hope that this interpretation is wrong. Time will tell. Meanwhile, we are still wise to heed Schaeffer’s warning.

In Defense of School Vouchers

Update 11/28/2017 – When it comes to education I’m guided by the following principles. (1) I want parents to have a real choice in the education of their children – public/private, religious/secular, homeschooling. (2) I want this to be a choice for all parents, irregardless of income. (3) To the extent that this is seen as competing with quality public education is a problem but, ultimately, a false dichotomy. (4) The devil is in the details and I’m far less certain about those.

Original Post:

Donald Trump recently picked Betsy DeVos to be his secretary of education. She’s a controversial pick for several reasons and I am certainly not qualified to say one way or another on whether she is a good choice. But one of the reasons why she is controversial is because she is a proponent of school vouchers, the idea that parents who want to send their children to a private school could get money from the state to do so. As I understand it, they would get the equivalent of what it would cost the state to educate their child in a public school. This is a complex issue but I want to offer my own brief defense of the policy.

Public State Schools are Not Religiously Neutral

I would not always have defended the idea of education vouchers and my main reason would have been that this would have constituted a breach of the separation of church and state (see objection 2 below). My thinking was this: Public schools are religiously neutral institutions. Religious education should take place in the home and in the church/mosque/synagogue. Religious schools, by my estimation were, by and large, a luxury, and Christian (or Jewish or Muslim) parents who wanted to give their children a “religious education” were at no real disadvantage if they could not afford a private school.

Several things shifted my thinking on this, but all fall under the realization that my assumption that public schools were religiously neutral was deeply flawed. First, was my experience of being married to a science teacher at a Christian school that worked hard to integrate all the subjects with a Christian worldview. This helped me break down the spiritual/physical dualism that had tainted my theology, especially me theology of education. Second, I read several books which should how modern thinking was, at many points, fundamentally at odds with the biblical worldview and, importantly, that it was therefore necessary to have “thick” communities of faith which infused the Christian worldview at every level (see Leslie Newbigin’s The Gospel in a Pluralist Society and Stanley Hauerwas’ Resident Aliens.

Third, I came to the realization that the government establishes state schools to meet its own ends as a state. Such a school will not be morally neutral but will serve the “civil religion” of the nation, even if done in secular terms. Indeed, I have concluded that we have a civil religion in our nation which is not religiously neutral and, indeed, is often antithetical to the Christian worldview which Christian parents are tasked with passing along to their children.  Francis Schaeffer puts it like this:

“In the United States the materialistic, humanistic world view is being taught in most state schools. … We must never forget that the humanistic position is an exclusivist, closed system which shuts out all contending viewpoints – especially if these views teach anything other than relative values and standards. Anything which presents absolute truth, values, or standards is quite rightly seen by the humanist to be a total denial of the humanistic position.” (A Christian Manifesto)

These conclusions have led my wife and I to choose to send our children to a private Christian school. I do not think this is a mandate for all Christian parents – there are many other factors at play here – but my wife and I feel sufficiently compelled to use Christian education as a key tool as we seek to disciple our children. Many other Christian parents have come to the same conclusion (as well as Jewish and Muslim). My point is this: Children who go to public schools still get a religious education. They are still taught a worldview. And, in many ways, that “humanist, materialist” worldview will stand in opposition to the biblical worldview. State schools are not religiously neutral institutions.

Lower-Income parents who do not want their children educated in State schools are at a distinct disadvantage

This means that religious parents who don’t want their children being taught a competing worldview will essentially have to pay twice for the education of their children. First, they pay for their education by paying their taxes, collected and distributed as the state sees fit. Second, they pay for their education by sending their child to a private school.

This also means that poorer parents will not be able to send their children to private schools. Private schooling is expensive. While in some cases a school or church can offer a certain number of scholarships, the cost of private education makes it impossible for many even middle-income parents, and for nearly all lower-income parents.

If private education is a luxury, then this isn’t a big deal. But, if private education is an essential part of being able to pass along important aspects of your worldview and not having it undermined by an education designed to serve the purposes of the state, then asking a specific group of parents – religious ones – to double pay for their education seems to only unfair, but unjust.

Objections

Two objections are typically raised. First, that providing parents with vouchers which they can use to pay for a portion of their education at a religious school amounts to a breach of the separation of church and state since, presumably, it means tax dollars being sent to a religious institution. My first response would be to say that state schools are also not religiously neutral institutions, they simply express their religious tenants in secular/humanist terms. My second response would be that the money allocated is simply what the person would have (on average) paid into the tax pool. For more on this check out the Supreme Court Ruling Zelman v. Simmons-Harris which includes a five point Private Choice Test for constitutionality.

The second objection is that this would involve taking money away from public schools. That could certainly be the case but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, if it did cut into money allocated to public schools I would favor overall increases to education funding in order to close the gap.

Conclusion

For the sake of time I had to leave out a lot. My wife and I are fine with “double paying” so that we can send our children to a private school. God has blessed us with the means to do so and I am happy that I can contribute to the public school system. There are many things which I appreciate about public schools and I am beyond grateful for the teachers in my own public school, several of whom were great Christians and mentors. Nevertheless, I believe that many parents who see religious education as an obligation and who fear their own worldviews are being undermined in the state schools are financially unable to send their children to their school of choice. It is those parents for whom I believe a voucher system would be both fair and just.

Appendix: The strongest objection

There’s a final objection for which I do not yet have a response. For a school to be able to be able to participate in a school voucher program it would need to meet certain qualifications. Those qualifications would be determined by the government. For instance, in a school voucher program in Ohio that was deemed constitutional (see Zelman v. Simmons-Harris) participating schools were not allowed to have faith as one of the considerations for enrollment. This would have disqualified the school to which we send our daughter. And, for many religious schools, this would be a deal breaker. At some point, the qualifications for participation could undermine the purpose of the school, but it’s hard to see a way around the state – even if through a third party accreditation agency – requiring some level of oversight.

I stand by my post as “a” defense of school vouchers since I think they are, indeed, defensible. But it’s possible that there are simply too many complicating factors to doing them well. Or it’s possible that those challenges can be overcome. Or, perhaps there are other options available and as yet unexplored. So, this post is “a defense”, but certainly not the “definitive defense.”

What does it mean to “fear the LORD”?

Psalm 128:1 “Blessed are all who fear the LORD, who walk in obedience to him.”

What does it mean to “fear the Lord?” Does it mean to be “afraid” of God? Does it mean to have a feeling of reverence and awe? I decided to look through Scripture to see how this phrase was used. While there are certainly more thorough explanations out there, here’s what I discovered:

First, the fear of the LORD is the attitude that comes from a recognition of God’s greatness

Occasions in Scripture in which “fear the LORD” appears often coincide with descriptions of God’s unparalleled greatness. Deuteronomy 10, which includes commands to fear the LORD also includes descriptions of his character: “To the LORD you God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it” (10:14). “For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome” (10:17). “He is the one you praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes” (10:21).

Other passages of Scripture also directly relate the manifestation of the power of God with the fear of the Lord. After crossing the Red Sea Exodus 14:31 says “when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the LORD displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.” And again, after God dried up the Jordan for the Israelites to cross: “He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the LORD is powerful and so that you might always fear the LORD your God” (Joshua 4:24). The fear of the LORD is also tied to a recognition of him as Creator, as the one who made the heavens (1 Chronicles 16:26), the one who spoke all things into existence (Psalm 33:8-9), and the one who established the boundaries for the sea (Jeremiah 5:22).

What sort of attitude are the writers describing here? “Reverence” is probably the best description. Psalm 102:15 says “the nations will fear the name of the LORD, all the kings of the earth will revere your glory.” The nature of Hebrew poetry invites us to draw a close parallel between “fear” in the first half of the verse and “revere” in the second half (see also Psalm 33:8-9). Jeremiah links “fear” with “trembling” (Jeremiah 5:22), showing that the sort of reverence intended is that which shakes us to the core.

Does the fear of the LORD imply fear of God’s judgment? While God certainly warns Israel frequently of impending judgment if they should turn away from Him, the phrase “fear the LORD” is not often linked with a threat of judgment. The closest connection comes in 2 Chronicles 19:9-10 where Jehoshaphat warns the judges whom he is appointing that they should “serve carefully and wholeheartedly in the fear of the LORD,” doing justice, or risk the LORD’s wrath coming on them and their community. Again, in Isaiah 8:13, Isaiah says that “The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread.” So, while there is a sense in which fear the LORD has the possibility of judgment for sin in view (indeed, those who lack the fear of the LORD are also those who sin because they do not expect God to judge), it does not appear to be the dominant meaning of the phrase.

Instead, the fear of the LORD is connected with the attitudes of hope and trust. The psalmist parallels the fear of the LORD with “hope in his unfailing love” in both Psalm 33:18 and 147:11. Psalm 40:3 and Exodus 14:31 connect the fear of the Lord with trust in him. It makes sense that the people of God would see the power of God – and the reason for the reverent awe described above – as a reason to put their hope and trust in God, since God so often used his power on their behalf.

Second, the fear of the LORD is equated with obeying God’s commands

But the command to “fear the LORD” does not just describe an attitude, but a concrete action – obedience to the commands of God. Our opening text, Psalm 128:1, shows this parallelism immediately: “Blessed are all who fear the LORD, who walk in obedience to him.” Deuteronomy 10:12-13 expands on this: “to fear the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, to serve the LORD with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the LORD’s commands and decrees.” Deuteronomy 10:20 connects the fear of the LORD with serving him and taking oaths in his name. This is the pattern throughout. See Deuteronomy 6:2 (“keeping all his decrees”), 6:24 (“obey all his decrees”), Joshua 24:14 (“serve him with all faithfulness”), 1 Samuel 12:14 (“serve and obey him and do not rebel against his commands”), 12:24 (“serve him faithfully with all your heart”), Job 28:28 (“shun evil”), Psalm 111:10 (“follow his precepts”), Psalm 112:1 (“find great delight in his commands”), Proverbs 3:7 (“shun evil”), and Proverbs 8:13 (“to fear the LORD is to hate evil”).

This obedience to God’s commands is then tied to the blessings of God (again, see Psalm 128), long life in the land, and the acquisition of knowledge and understanding (which leads to even greater blessings). But the question of what it means to receive the blessings of God is a question for another day.

In summary, then, to fear the Lord begins with an understanding that He is the Creator God who is mighty and powerful. This understanding ought to lead us to a place of reverent awe, even trembling, though this is not the same thing as “being afraid.” (This is especially true for those who are “in Christ” and therefore should no longer have the fear of final judgment.) Finally, this attitude should lead us to love God, serve Him, shun evil, and obey his commands as we hope and trust in Him.

Final Reflections on the 2016 Election

I get that most of us are ready to move on from the 2016 Presidential election but I hope you will grant me one final reflection. If this is nothing else, it’s an opportunity for me to conclude this journey, and refocus for the path ahead.

This election obliterated a lot of my preconceived notions about the world. There were so many things about which I was very wrong (and many more things about which I hope I am wrong). During the primary I took as an article of faith that Trump’s support among Republicans would cap at around %30 and that as soon as the field narrowed a “serious” candidate would emerge victorious. Instead I watched in horror as Trump’s support increased as other candidates dropped out. I was wrong about Trump’s candidacy and, more significantly for me, I was wrong about the character of the Republican party.

Once Trump won the Republican primary I assumed that he would be destroyed in the general election. It wasn’t a question about who would win, but about how much Clinton would win by. As the campaign season ended I began to prepare myself for a Clinton presidency. I expected my top priorities (from a political/advocacy perspective) to be abortion and religious freedom. Like most of the country, I woke up surprised by the results.

Beyond just the results I was surprised by other things as well: I underestimated the amount anger anger directed against the political “establishment.” I underestimated the number of people for whom Trump gave a voice (who Trump referred to as “the forgotten man”). I was surprised by how different my own moral reasoning was compared to the majority of other evangelicals. I rejected the “lesser of two evils” argument where other saw a moral imperative to do whatever they could to stop Clinton. I thought character was a huge factor, for most others it mattered less. I was very concerned about the harm a Trump presidency would do to particularly vulnerable communities (religious and ethnic minorities). I was concerned about what a Trump presidency would do to the witness of the church – or more particularly what Christian support of a Trump presidency would do. For most others, these concerns, while likely present, did not prevent them for casting their ballot for Trump. I have come to the place where I will not judge Trump voters for their decision. I understand it and understand why the arguments were compelling. But I am going to need to reckon with the question of why the moral reasoning that led to my own decision differed from the majority of other voting American Christians. More broadly I am going to need to reckon with why many prominent voices among religious conservatives – like Russell Mooore – were largely ignored.

Moving forward – Constructive belligerence

Since I was opposed to both a Trump and a Clinton presidency I was prepared to wake up Wednesday morning discouraged. As far as I was concerned, the election was lost when Trump won the GOP primary. I had already gone through several cycles of the grieving process by the time the actual election day arrived. I prepared myself for a Clinton win, which I figured was inevitable. I was prepared to be “constructively belligerent” on the issues which I thought would be of grave concern – especially abortion and religious freedom.

Instead I awoke to President-elect Trump, a cause for both relief and concern. I am relieved that Clinton will not be appointing the Supreme Court judge to replace Scalia, or any other judges. She made clear in the debates that she would appoint “outcome based” judges who would further entrench abortion laws and would erode religious freedom. But now I have a different set of concerns.

What will this presidency mean for other vulnerable communities (religious minorities, immigrants, African Americans, etc.)? Already the appointment of Stephen Bannon and the elevation of the godless alt Right movement is cause for concern. How much will fringe racist individuals be empowered to express their hatred.

What will this presidency mean for the relationship between White and African American evangelical Christians? Many African Americans who I listened to in the days following the election feel betrayed and hurt by the scope of evangelical support for Trump. Has the already difficult task of reconciliation gotten harder?

What will this presidency mean for the Republican party? Has it been forever redefined? Has the opposition lost its credibility? Is there still a conscientious conservative movement that can oppose the Democratic party?

What will this presidency mean for the pro-life cause? Will we be able to weather being tied to Trump? Will we be seen as credible and compassionate? There has recently been a big uptick in donations to Planned Parenthood. Will we see a similar uptick in donations to local pregnancy resource centers or religious organizations that assist vulnerable women or will we rest on our political “win?”

What will this presidency mean for religious freedom? If religious minorities are not protected in the next four years, will the precedent set there turn, with force, on Christians when they become a religious minority?

Where is this all going? I have no idea. I have lost faith in my ability to guess what will happen next. But I guess that’s OK. My plan is to obey Romans 13 and give honor to the office of the President, to obey the laws of the land whenever possible, to work constructively for the good of my neighbor, my church, and my nation, and, when necessary, to be a voice of opposition to the powers that be.

It’s time, once again, to embrace my identity as a stranger in a strange land, and to recommit myself to following my one Lord, my one Savior, Jesus Christ, wherever he leads.

God bless,

Steve