Time to Resist

I can come to no other conclusion, no other possibility in this disorienting moment.

The presidential candidate of the Republican Party deserves non-partisan resistance from this country’s Christians. I’ve asked questions of Christians who support, or are considering supporting, this candidate. I’ve listened to, read about, and imagined the circumstances that would lead people – Christian people – to giving the candidate their support. And still I can come to no other conclusion, no other possibility in this disorienting moment: It’s time to resist.

The list that compels our Christian resistance is long. The early church grew in large part because of the honor granted to women including, radically for that time, single women with no intention to marry. Yet the candidate has shown himself chronically incapable of interacting with the women in his family or employment with anything close to respect, much less honor. Women, in this man’s gaze, are objects to be rated and commodities to be exploited. Or consider that the idolatrous nationalism that American Christians have come to expect from both political parties has grown through this man’s vision into full-blown xenophobia. It’s no longer enough to pay lip service to the troops, publicly salute the flag, and ignore all evidence of the nation’s inglorious past; patriotism now requires that other nations bear the violent weight of our scorn. The candidate has identified new scapegoats – living cultures of people – who deserve our wrath for making our lives less than we think they deserve to be. This development has to trouble a people whose allegiance to Jesus always puts us out of step with our rulers. And when we remember that the eucharistic blood we share with Mexican, Palestinian, and Chinese Christians is thicker than whatever is meant to bind us to other Americans… well, we must speak loudly on their behalf. Our reputations – those publicly maligned Christians and us – are one and the same. What sort of family would we be if we simply let the candidate slander our sisters and brothers?

But these reasons, among others that could be listed, are not enough. Every day it seems we hear of new Christian leaders – mostly of the so-called conservative or Evangelical variety – supporting the candidate. For some it’s a question of the lesser evil – a strange way to speak for those who actually believe in evil and its malevolent powers. For others the support is more enthusiastic; there are true believers among the Believers.

How is their support – however tepid or enthused – possible? I’ve been listening and trying to understand, as sympathetically as can be expected from one who thinks the candidate deserves only resistance from this country’s Christians. There are others, but I’ve heard three consistent reasons for Christian support of the candidate. The first has to do with a variety of social conservatism which believes, despite all evidence to the contrary from his life and career, that the candidate he will make policy decisions and judicial appointments aligned with the so-called religious right. Another reason for supporting the candidate has more to do with opposing, no matter what, the Democratic Party and, especially, its nominee. There is something deep and dark that is invoked by this woman’s presence among some of the candidate’s supporters, something that evolves into ugly sexism in the worst cases and in many is expressed by a profound distrust. Finally, and most interesting to me, are the supporters who see in the candidate some reason to hope that their economic depression will finally be addressed. J. D. Vance has told this story beautifully in his new memoir, Hillbilly Elegy, and there’s a lot here worth examining closely. For example, the generational poverty that is common to many white Appalachian and rust belt families has important points of contact with the experience of some Black Americans yet, as this political contest proves on a seemingly daily basis, race works to separate those who might otherwise find common cause with each other.

I recently sat across a table from a friend, a Latino pastor. We wrapped up our conversation about his church and ministry in Chicago and I asked, in my good-enough Spanish, what he thought about the candidate and all of the surrounding chatter. He smiled and laughed, told some stories about the jokes his family and church make about this moment. And then- I’m surprised, he said. Surprised that so many people will follow this man. Can’t they hear what he’s saying?

The rationale some Christians give for following the candidate are interesting to consider even as I find none of them weighty enough justify their support. Again, I’m writing as a Christian, so even if there were more substance to these reasons I would still be compelled to resistance. The reason has everything to do with that Latino pastor, a man who is my friend and brother – as we Christian people say and claim – in Christ.

The candidate’s racism is well known and extensively documented. (And now, as much as I’d prefer to maintain the blessed absence of this man’s name, I must finally write it in association with, what I believe to be, the primary cause of our Christian resistance.) Donald Trump is a racist. This is not, actually, an especially bold thing to say. Others have said it more persuasively than I will. And, obviously, I’m also a racist. The difference is not one of scale but simple acknowledgement: though the candidate and I breathe the same racist American air, I am repentant and he is not. I limp while he struts.

The candidate’s racism (race prejudice coupled with power) leaves a long, ugly trail: he refused to rent to Black people, he’s said that “laziness is a trait in blacks,”  he’s retweeted self-identified white supremacists, he publicly demanded the execution of five wrongfully convicted Black men, and it goes on. As a white Christian hearing this man’s racist attacks, I must imagine that these are attacks on my family members. A white American obviously doesn’t have to be a Christian to find the candidate’s racism repugnant, but I’m writing consciously as a Christian who believes my lot to be bound with other Christians whose races, ethnicities, and cultures differs from mine.

The only way white Christians can get around the candidate’s racism is by claiming that he doesn’t actually mean it, that he’s simply being ironic in the way all of our political candidates must be in order to secure the necessary votes. David Foster Wallace wrote about this in 1993: “All U.S. irony is based on an implicit ‘I don’t really mean what I’m saying.’ So what does irony as a cultural norm mean to say? That it’s impossible to mean what you say? That maybe it’s too bad it’s impossible, but wake up and smell the coffee already? Most likely, I think, today’s irony ends up saying: ‘How totally banal of you to ask what I really mean.'” But while such irony may be the accepted assumption behind our culture’s political discourse, it can’t be justified away by people who are bound to tell the truth about all things, to the best of our ability. As such, a Christian would have to be willfully, vehemently blind to the candidate’s history to believe such nonsense about his inevitable transformation into someone less dehumanizing.

But this isn’t the worst of this ironic rationalization. What makes this a completely un-Christian argument – one that I’ve heard repeatedly – is the assumption that the person on the receiving end of the racism spouted by the candidate and some of his more vocal supporters is an untrustworthy narrator of their own experience. More baldly: The white Christian claims to know what’s better for the Black or Brown Christian than she or he knows for themselves.

That white Christians in this country can with a clear conscious support the candidate or, with mild distaste, privately disapprove of him seems to me another reminder of how divided our churches are. The plain fact is that very few white Christians are in a position to hear firsthand how one of their Black or Brown family members is experiencing this election. We will be more influenced by the media ideologues of our choice than by the sisters and brothers of our Faith.

And here we must say two things that should be obvious but are apparently not. First, of course there are some Black and Brown people who support the candidate. Their presence – especially as spokespeople – is held up by some white Christians as evidence that the candidate is in fact not a racist, merely misunderstood for all of his politically incorrect truth telling. But this is silly, an obvious exception proving the rule. Would that those white Christians be in a position to listen to communities of those who share their faith but not their race, that their ears could be filled with the stories and perspectives of flesh and blood unmitigated by pundits and screens.

Second, in listening to some white Christian supporters of the racist candidate it becomes unsettlingly evident that race, not faith, is the strongest lens through which the world and its dangers are viewed. “Why do so many white Evangelicals support him?” The question surprised me, coming from a Black friend as we left church. I stumbled and stuttered. This was around the time that two unarmed Black men were killed by police within the same week. I know the answers I’ve heard from his Christian supporters, but to the question behind my friend’s question – How can so many white Christians support a racist? – I’m left to admit that race exhibits an influence greater than faith. I want to be wrong about this. It’s an ugly thing to say. I’d like to be convinced of an alternative explanation, but one has yet to be presented with any persuasiveness.

And so, Christian resistance is what the moment requires. It’s necessary to say that this is a non-partisan resistance because our imaginations have been so diluted that we think only of our vote as a signal of support or opposition. But there are other ways. We might submit our vote to a person who has been the target of the candidate’s hate. We might devote our attention to local candidates whose decisions will impact classrooms and housing. We might, as some of are, begin to think about what resistance will look like after this election. There will be reasons to resist if the candidate is elected- he’s made no mystery of how his policies will ostracize and divide. And if he’s not, there will be a reinvigorated contingency of citizens who have been deputized in their bigotry. This too will require our Christian resistance.

 

Author: David Swanson

Pastor of New Community Covenant Church in Bronzeville. Collecting signs of life.

3 thoughts on “Time to Resist”

  1. I read a story recently about a nice, loving Christian woman in Washington state. At more than seventy years old, she should be getting ready to retire from her job as a florist. Instead, she’s facing bankruptcy because progressives attacked her freedom of religion to not provide flowers for a gay wedding.

    I don’t know your theology. Maybe you believe that gay marriage is just fine and dandy. Truthfully, I don’t care. Whether she was right or wrong to make the choice that she did, I find it incredibly disturbing that this poor woman is being persecuted in America for being a Christian.

    I will never say that Trump is any kind of good Christian example. I do believe wholeheartedly that he’s not going to further the cultural persecution of Christians, though.

    The course you advocate, however, will get Hillary Clinton elected, and I guarantee you that her agenda will lead to more persecution.

    How can you, as a Christian, support that? I truly don’t understand.

  2. You say this should be a “non-partisan resistance” yet you spout MSM and Democratic talking points attacking Trump as if they were FACT. If you are a Christian concerned about the truth, then why attack a man for things that have not been proven true. For example, your accusation that he refused to rent to Black people….he was accused of it, but always denied it and was never proven to have done so. Then you state a supposed quote by trump about the laziness of blacks…..this a quote from a disgruntled former employee who wrote a book to make money…..it is a quote that Trump has categorically denied making and of which there is no proof he ever said. Then you attack him for retweeting a picture that a white supremicist tweeted. Well, he retweeted a picture he saw that he agreed with…maybe he should have looked into who tweeted it but it was the picture he retweeted NOT the ideas of the man who tweeted it, and ask most any person heavily involve in the twittersphere and they and they well tell you that retweeting does not equal endorsement. Then you talk of him demanding the execution of 5 wrongfully convicted black teens…..well at the time he called for their execution, it was believed by many if not most…including the jury that they were guilty of a heinous crime…his call for execution had nothing to do with the color of their skin and he had no clue at the time that they would be wrongfully convicted.

    You conceniently ignore the many, many people he has worked and been close with over the decades of different races and sexes that have all spoken of how much Trump loves and respects ALL people regardless of their color or sex. You only talk of the ones that have accused and attacked him. You have made yourself the humanly judge of Trump and who and what he is……not exactly a Christian thing to do, in my opinion. Not what my Bible says we are to do.

    You have quoted some anecdotal stories of individual black and latinos that agree with your “judgment” of Trump as racist and a bigot, but I can share many, many personal stories of discussions with church leaders both black and latino as well as other races who do NOT see the racism and bigotry that you accuse him of. People of faith who do not understand the judgmental attitude towards Mr, Trump or the hatred directed at him.

    You have made yourself the judge of Trump and of any Christian who DARES to support him. You all but call into question our faith and our own attitudes towards other races/sexes if we dare to disagree with your severely slanted and very PARTISAN view of Trump.

    Well, I humbly suggest that you look at your own judgmental and self-righteous attitudes that would lead you to believe that your view is the only possible view a REAL Christian should have towards Trump.

    In my opinion you should stop judging Trump and stop judging fellow Christian who may not agree with your view of him.

    Blessings.

  3. David – thanks for posting this. I appreciate your pastoral perspective. I wish your assessment was more broadly shared by Christian leaders. In a way, I think having “only two” candidates to chose from – which is a narrative used by both major parties in many an election to make their bad candidates at least a different brand of bad than their opponents – makes the situation more confusing than it should be. Whenever a candidate or political leader errs, he or she should be called to account – really, as a way of extending mercy, in the hope that they will repent in time and start using their power for good instead of evil. I doubt very much that Trump will be elected, but whether or not he is, it will be a Christian’s responsibility to resist the hand of evil, through whomever it works, when that evil targets the vulnerable – whether these vulnerable are refugees, rural or urban poor, the unborn, Muslims, or victims of police brutality. So that this isn’t an empty sentiment, I’d be happy to talk in person further about concrete ways of participating in a Christian resistance against Trump-style attacks on the vulnerable, whether he wins this or any other election or not (we’re connected on LinkedIn, I believe).

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