I am an “ultra-conservative, family values, deeply religious right, Bible thumping, pro-life voter” and I’ve decided to cast my vote for Hillary Rodham Clinton – jk. Seriously though, I considered it for all of one beautiful Fall afternoon this October. I figured, that if I really believed in the sovereignty of God I would prove it to all my Republicanish panicked Christians friends (yes, the ones on Facebook right now) by voting for HC and then in 4 years I could announce this private choice on social media.
Then, I would plainly ask, “Now that wasn’t nearly as bad as you all said it was going to be, was it? We’re still here and do I see some old church bulletins stuck between the seats of your minivan and between the sofa cushions? So you see God is sovereign after all, right?”
By supper time I changed my mind. You can’t Jesus juke your way through this mess we are in and, of course, the right to vote is a precious thing. So what is bathed in the blood of patriot women and men should not be treated like a gotcha, even if it’s intended to be a gift of platinum theology. Another thought that helped re-center my thinking was a conversation I had a few weeks ago with my daughter, a first time voter. As I listened to her searching questions I felt that first-time voter sobriety coming back to mind as though I were living through it again.
It was 1980, Ronald Reagan vs. Jimmy Carter. About to turn 20, finally getting to vote felt heroic as well as patriotic. When I punched the hole in the card it was like I was breaking down a wall. It felt good. It was like the Beatles in my head in the voting booth: “You say goodbye and I say hello.” Goodbye to an era of malaise and hello to an era of triumph. But, you see, that was the problem – triumph. If you’re not winning, you’re a loser. Every American knows that, right?
Triumphalism is not only a dominant gene in the American psyche. It’s a dominant theological strain in Evangelical Christianity (Fundamentalist varieties not excluded). I know…you’re thinking this is hyperbole. I am overstating the problem, right? There is no way, I mean no way, we Christians could be just a bit Elder Brother on the culture around us. We’re too good for that, but then…
…there’s the question of suffering. American Christians don’t know how to suffer well. To be fair, though, one learns how to suffer by suffering. You can’t take a class on it (unless the class itself is a trial, lol, and some are) to increase your suffering skills. We’ve had it good, maybe too good. In the West we are used to triumph. That is what makes our low aptitude for managing suffering all the more difficult. Our baseline for suffering is way above the rest of civilization.
For example, take your drive-thru experience at you favorite sanctified chicken sandwich chain. If you have to wait more than the customary 14 seconds for your order to appear at the window once you drive up, well, life is hard. Or how about the morning commuter and the car in front of you doesn’t use their turn signal? Terrible. Or you’re in the middle of your latest Netflix binge and it’s taking too long to buffer? Rough. Life is tough when you have to wait for your luxuries to land in your lap.
So here’s the problem for American Christianity – moral triumphalism. We are accustomed to the luxury of living in the perception that we are a Christian nation. Even though everyone doesn’t hold our family values we are quite sure they must at least follow them publicly. Why? Well, because we are a Christian nation, of course, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.
A mark of authenticity in Evangelicalism (Fundamentalist varieties not excluded) is moral triumph. For an instance, witness the latest political trajectories of Wayne Grudem, a professor of ethics in the Southwest. At the end of July he made a knock ‘em down stand for Trump as the “morally good choice” (is that redundant?). A few weeks later he backs away from his once faultless endorsement of the real estate tycoon because “I cannot commend Trump’s moral character.” Uh? As though moral arguments are boomerangs Grudem came around again for third time, re-endorsing Trump by way of his “policies,” aiming once again for moral high ground, yet slip sliding away. If there were such thing as a Tony or Oscar for best performance of casuistry this might at least get a nomination.
Whether in that style of ethics or from other Evangelical quarters we should see that our moral grandstanding is simply cultural fear on Christian steroids. Frankly, there is really no clear reason to vote for anyone if moral triumph is the object of this exercise in liberty. But, Grudem’s curve ball, slider, sinker is only one example of many from the broad field of Evangelical (Fundamentalists not excluded) voices demanding, even guilting us, to vote for their morally superior candidate. I could go on about this problem. Others have. A gem among them is Russell Moore’s home-run dirge of the Religious Right. Check out his presentation for the 29th Erasmus Lecture. Magnificent.
…which leads me to why I still think I could vote for Hillary and feel good about it all the way to 2020 and beyond. My Dad loved to take our family on Summer vacations. We loved going – except the time we went camping and it rained the whole time and the camper leaked on one side so we all had to sleep on the other side.
I always enjoyed the historical destinations, but it was the Disney World trips that were among my favorite (there go my family values out the window). It was a perfect escape from reality, the stories I loved as kid came to life and there was a sense of adventure without the danger. As annoying as it was I still wanted to go through ‘It’s A Small World’ at least once. Our family was probably right in the center of Walt Disney’s demographic target. That’s why we kept coming back.
One thing that always puzzled me though was how Snow White or Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck would seemingly appear out of nowhere. From the first moments we got out of our cars I set my attention to high alert. I didn’t want to miss a thing. So after wandering around for a while I got a fairly good sense of the rhythm of the day and the out of nowhere costumed characters would show up. Where did they come from?
It wasn’t until years later I learned about the Disney Utilidor. Without going into too much detail here (since I know you can google it if you want more info) the Utilidor system is the ground floor of Disney World. When you arrive at the Magic Kingdom what you enter is actually the second floor. All the attractions and fantasy areas you enjoy are above a wide arrangement of passage ways, network of support and storage rooms. There’s a whole other dimension of reality below the make believe. It’s what allows the myth above it to exist. The ground floor is the Utilidor not Main Street USA or where you enter to go 20,000 leagues under the sea or Pirates of the Carribean.
The point? Moral triumphalism in which American Christianity has become enamored is not the ground floor. It’s fantasy. The, so called, successes of the Moral Majority, the Religious Right, the Christian Coalition, etc. are pastiche of the real Kingdom of God. Those moral triumphs have faded away just like the crowds do after the fireworks at Disney. I remember. I lived through it. Now is time that we “left behind” those doomsday scenarios and the “God Bless America” pipe dreams which give the lost and dying world around us the impression that this next election will bring an end to Christianity if we don’t win. No wonder they think Evangelicalism (or Fundamentalism) is just a biblical elitist’s form of Transformationalism (too many isms – give me Jesus). We don’t suffer well.
Let’s not forget these words written about the time of the founding of our nation. “And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.” That was Tom Jeff writing to J. Adams. Adams was no Evangelical Christian either. In a way Jefferson was dead wrong and in another spot on. Time has crushed to power his prediction about the demise of Christianity. On the other hand, it still stands that civil religion, an Americanized henotheism, is still the dominant cultural nod to god, bland theism is the god of the public square and we should expect no better or try to imagine that it ever was.
Which makes one wonder, why Evangelical leaders are still after so many decades still assuming that the good ‘ole USA is a Christian nation? Incessantly, many Evangelical leaders, dyed in the wool conservative Christians on Facebook or wherever are playing the “moral trump” card if you don’t vote for Trump. “Our national identity is at stake so you must vote for Trump,” they say. “A vote for a 3rd party is a vote for Hillary,” they say. “I am voting for Trump because I want to stop Hillary,” they say. Can you actually do that? Talk about hyperbole, yish. Have we forgotten the cosmic Utilidor? Apparently, Jesus is not the Sovereign One after all. According to some He needs my vote to stop Hillary ‘cause Jesus is most likely would be a Republican…if He were to register to vote.
If you are, in fact, a dyed in the wool conservative Christian you should not forget about Nero. In his book, The Triumph of Christianity, Rodney Stark works through many reasons (some theological, some situational) why our faith grew like it did. He notes in the beginning of Chapter 8 that Nero was one of our main antagonist and further notes that “Roman persecutions probably sped the rise of Christianity as the fortitude of the martyrs amazed and deeply impressed many wavering Christians as well as pagans” (137). It should be to our amazement that Christianity ever made it into the 2nd century. Instead it thrived under adverse conditions (more suffering), waxing and waning over the period of 4 centuries till final rose it to prominence.
Nero is known by us for his wildness, but publicly in his time he hardly kept his ways in the closet. The story is told by Roman historians how Nero wore a bridal veil and married his male lover in a public ceremony. Imagine that scenario on 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Might happen yet. Those early Christians did not get to choose their emperors and some how, some way their message, the Gospel, mushroomed. How? It wasn’t by theologizing about moral triumphalism that won the day. In fact, winning wasn’t their main objective. Jesus was. They came to see and believe that underneath the Roman Empire is the real cosmic Utilidor. The ground floor for them was King Jesus, not their hopes that maybe the next emperor would advance “family values.” Just like the Book of Revelation tells it – they overcame through suffering and ultimately through the suffering of the Lamb…
…or is that Lion I see?
It is much harder to call a dying, lost world to the Gospel from a stance of moral superiority and much easier to do so when you suffer and when you come along side their suffering. They owned – like first time homeowners – their citizenship in two realms – at – the – same – time, neither rejecting the temporal one nor abstracting the everlasting one. Those early Christian really did believe that Jesus rose from the dead, bodily, alive, not a ghost and that Jesus’ story was the long Yahweh Story come to fruition which no emperor’s (or President’s) plot could undo. They believed the narrative of Heaven had crossed over into the fragmented myths of earth and this time it was here to stay. There’s that “gates of Hell” thing again.
Have we forgotten the cosmic Utilidor? The Story we are in is so sweeping and full of torque that it should calm our vote angst about Hillary or Trump or 3rd Party. Those beads of sweat on your forehead are just drops midst the wave upon wave of Redemption History. “I will build my church,” our founder said. It’s one thing to see those words in print. It is quite another to live it real. It is quite another to do what needs doing in the Fantasyland of American culture and politics and then get back to the Utilidor to recharge, get perspective, calm down, stock up to help more poor lonely travelers and beckon them once again to hear the words of their true King.
All this said, I truly believe that you can go vote for Hillary as an “ultra-conservative, family values, deeply religious right, Bible thumping, pro-life voter” and all will be well. Or you could vote for Trump as an “ultra-conservative, family values, deeply religious right, Bible thumping, pro-life voter” and all will be well. Or you could vote 3rd party as an “ultra-conservative, family values, deeply religious right, Bible thumping, pro-life voter” and all will be well. Do what you feel you must in Fantasyland, but remember it isn’t the ground floor.
I need to keep reminding myself that I live in Babylon while at the same time I have a deed to a homestead in the New Jerusalem. The Christian narrative is for the present a Tale of Two Cities. As Augustine reminded his fellow battle weary saints – there is the City of Man and there is the City of God. We live as citizens of both, but yearn only for one. BTW, those futuristic scenarios of the Kingdom of God later, but not now won’t help us. The Kingdom of God is Now & Later. Jesus is King now and later and his Kingdom is in full swing now and later.
So, go vote for Hillary (or Trump or 3rd party) and rest your Facebook, Drudge Report, CNN, FoxNews weary head on a pillow on a bed on the ground floor. Get up every day for the next 4 years like your candidate won even if they didn’t or like they lost when they didn’t because this is just Fantasyland.
On this 500th year since Luther’s stand have we forgotten the power of a conscience “captive to the Word of God” vs. moral maneuvering to advantage, even if we think it noble or righteous? From 2,000 years of Christian history we know 1 term or 2 terms of HC or DT isn’t going to matter…much and if Lord tarries for another 2,000 years 1 term or 2 terms of HC or DT isn’t going to matter…much. When the noise of transient politicking rises around us, we remain consoled in the fact that “it’s a small world after all.”
So, instead go plant a tree (as Luther supposedly said when asked what he would if he knew the world would end) – regardless of who wins; go to work, serve your boss with joy, serve your fellow employees – regardless of who wins; speak incessantly about the Resurrection of Jesus – regardless who wins; volunteer at the Homeless Shelter in the name of Jesus– regardless of who wins; dig a well in the name of Jesus – regardless of who wins; go get a degree in Physics and split some atoms (or whatever it is you smart guys do) – regardless of who wins; take a week or two, fly somewhere in the world where they need what you have, even if it’s just you – regardless of who wins. Read the Quran so you can engage one of its believers in a polite conversation about the Jesus of whom it speaks – regardless of who wins. Take a vacation, open a bank account, start a business, make another pot of coffee in the name of Jesus, your true Caesar, true Emperor, true King – regardless of who wins.
Bonus material in the FWIW category
The pleas by the religious right that we MUST vote for Trump because of the Supreme Court do not line up with the facts. Notice in the chart below how SCOTUS was populated heavy over time with Conservatives. Think back over all this time how what could have been done was not done. Those trajectories of moral apathy will not likely change much in a Trump presidency.
(header image credit: Wikipedia)