In this presidential election cycle, Evangelical Christians have been in the news quite a bit, most recently after the salacious revelations of Trump’s comments on sexual assault. As an Evangelical Christian, I have found it difficult to fathom the seemingly blind allegiance of the staunch supporters of either of these candidates by Evangelicals, or Christians of any stripe. I have failed to understand why the most strident supporters of either candidate within the Christian community cannot seem to acknowledge the short-comings of their preferred candidate. And I don’t just mean the “big-name” Evangelicals like Jerry Falwell, Jr., James Dobson, Robert Jeffries, Ralph Reed, and so on. I also include many of the Christians with whom I interact on a regular basis.
I have a great concern that has arisen out of my search for an explanation for such continued ardent support among Christians for either of these candidates despite the lack of character and transparency displayed by both of them. Sometimes the simplest explanation is the best one, so I went back to my Psych 101 class. Christians are experiencing cognitive dissonance like never before. Cognitive dissonance is the emotional discomfort one feels when acting contrary to one’s stated beliefs or when one recognizes two incompatible beliefs. The drive to reduce this dissonance is very strong and motivates a great deal of human behavior. There are several common and well recognized ways that we go about reducing this anxiety, but for the sake of brevity I’ll mention two: minimization and changing beliefs.
Of late we can certainly see minimization of Trump’s behavior regarding his description of sexual assault. How many times have we all heard someone say, “That was ten years ago. He’s not the same person. He said ‘I’m sorry.’ Let’s move on.” The only problem is that there is absolutely no evidence that he is a changed person. Even in his denials of wrong-doing he states that Bill Clinton has said much worse (blame-shifting) and that his accusers are unattractive and “would not be my first choice.” So, apparently he has a first choice in a person to sexually assault? Dan Rather, representing the other side of the political spectrum, posted the following to Facebook on October 10, 2016, “I can hear the Trump partisans howling that Clinton has subverted the law on multiple occasions. It is their right to do so, but it must be pointed out that she has never been found guilty of anything. You can then resort to conspiracy theories as to why that may be the case. But those too have never been proven by fact.” Dan is wrong on this one: it is a fact that Clinton deleted emails; Wikileaks notwithstanding, we will likely never know the contents and security level of the emails that were sent using Clinton’s private server. That Colin Powell also engaged in the practice (again, blame-shifting), does not justify Clinton’s behavior, it only calls into question Powell’s. The fact that some of these emails are available means that the concerns of many about server security are, in fact, justified. Nevertheless, because of cognitive dissonance many of her supporters minimize these concerns.
As great as my concern about the Christian community minimizing the unethical and potentially illegal behavior by each candidate, my greater concern is that Christians will actually adopt a position that character and ethics do not matter. That is certainly one way to resolve cognitive dissonance. Colossians 2:8 says, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” My fear is that what this verse tells us not to do as Christians is the very thing that is happening within the Christian community. When Paul tells the Colossians not to be taken captive (literally ‘kidnapped’) by the “tradition of men” and “elementary principles of the world” he was including political philosophies, both Democratic and Republican. Are we so beholden to a political ideology that we can only resolve our cognitive dissonance by minimizing the foibles of our candidate of choice? “Our guy/gal is not as bad as your gal/guy” is not good enough. Are we so afraid of the “candidate who shall not be named” that we must minimize and rationalize the unsavory behavior of our preferred candidate? Are we in the Church really willing to go so far as to say that character no longer counts? This is a time like no other that we need to find and use our prophetic voice in the Church. We need to stand up and say that the type of behavior exhibited by these two candidates, and on the part of others who desire to similarly lead us, is unacceptable. I am under no delusion that we would elect most presidential candidates to positions of leadership in our churches, but lack of integrity threatens to delegitimize either of these two candidates when elected.
As bad as out presidential choices are, I also take hope from the same passage from Colossians. Verses 9 & 10 read, “For in Him [Jesus] all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority.” Paul was writing not to an individual, but to the church at Colossae. The pronouns “you” in this passage are plural. This is significant because Paul was warning that church, and modern North American Christians, not to allow themselves to be kidnapped by worldly philosophies. He was also urging Christians in our day to live out the philosophy of Jesus Christ, a philosophy of love and service. Paul reminds us that we, the church, have been filled with the fullness of God in Christ, and as a result have direct access to the greatest power and authority that exists. Jesus is the leader of leaders. We are reminded by Paul, “For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God (Romans 13:1b).” Our great hope is that God has authority over every authority. God has power over every power. As I heard Larry Osborn, pastor of North Coast Church in Vista, California, say recently, “God is in control of who’s in control.”
Christians, there is a bond created between us as followers of Christ. This bond is a spiritual reality held together by the love of God in Christ. We cannot let our misguided allegiances to the “the traditions of men [or women]” or the “elementary principles of the world” to create divisions within the body of Christ. Our loyalty as Christians is not to Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton (or a third party candidate). Our loyalty is to the only true authority in the universe: God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So, let’s not to resolve our emotional discomfort in this election by minimizing or rationalizing bad behavior or deciding that it doesn’t matter. Let’s resolve to find our prophetic voice and speak the truth to power; that is, our own preferred candidate.
Grace & Peace