As I watched the electoral votes climb for Donald Trump into the wee hours of November 9th, I sat in amazement over the coverage, with one word on my mind.
I remember sitting in the kitchen of my in-laws house, waking up that morning to news in mid-June of 2015 that Donald Trump was announcing his bid for the Presidency. I laughed to myself, out loud, when I saw the news blip. I’m not kidding. It was just a funny prospect to me; a man who had no political experience whatsoever, asserting himself as a viable candidate based on his celebrity appeal and business experience, thinking that his moral compass should lead the Free World.
For the record, I certainly wasn’t a supporter of this year’s Democratic ticket, either. The Clinton administration would prove disastrous for many things I care about, such as the sanctity of human life, religious liberty, the Supreme Court, and foreign policy. This was definitely not an option.
Stuck between quite literally a rock and a hard place, I faced a terribly tough decision in my second-ever Presidential election. I ended up writing in my vote, and I stand behind my decision.
I don’t apologize for how I voted this time around. But as I’ve gained hindsight and had the chance to now “reflect” on the election season instead of living within it, I have become a perhaps a bit more aware of my shortcomings and blind spots, through conversations and my own thinking. Here are some observations, and hopefully some lessons I learn and the Church can learn for a way forward.
(A brief note: This conversation is primarily centered on my engagement with Trump supporters. Most of the people in my context were readily aware of the reasons why we shouldn’t support a Clinton campaign. Throughout the political season, I went a little more tenaciously after Trump, since this is the party I often vote within as well as those around me.)
The Echo Chamber
A few of my fellow gospel-centered brothers and sisters have commented on how this election has proved the “echo chamber” of social media, and I couldn’t agree more. Here’s how it works:
- You develop a following, and you follow. We do this based off of people that we are similar to, interested in, and likely share their values/experiences.
- Because of these shared values and similarities, the pulse of your online feeds is typically all running within the same stream.
- When an event happens, your perception of “public” opinion is narrowed if you’re only consulting social media, because everyone is saying mostly the same, with nuance here and there.
- We are shocked when something interrupts this flow, but only because our perspective has been so limited.
A great example of this is when Wayne Grudem and Eric Metaxas, noted evangelical leaders, came out in support and defense of Donald Trump. The online evangelical community was completely perplexed by their endorsements. We were even more confused how leaders of the Religious Right, like Jerry Falwell and James Dobson, could not see the audacity of their unwavering support for a man like Trump. But, in my opinion, our confusion was the result of a self-created illusion, an echo chamber, that it was obvious we shouldn’t stand behind Trump’s campaign. Perhaps, in our efforts to surround ourselves with voices like us, we have walled ourselves off from those of different opinions, with different arguments and reasonings. When we saw Trump become President-elect, we partially didn’t see it coming, because we don’t know enough of his supporters.
Not only have I done a poor job of seeking out to connect with those of different opinions and get out of the echo chamber, but I possibly without knowing pushed some folks into feeling a sense of shame about their vote with Trump. This is something I deeply regret. Allow me to clarify a little.
Although I still believe the “gospel-centered” tribe’s stance on “Never Trump” is correct, I do believe that in my quest to push conscience-driven voting and principles over politics, I potentially could have caused some to feel like their conscience-driven vote for Trump was unacceptable by me. I was living in the double standard of trying to feel freed from political pressure, while at the same time unconsciously pressuring others, or causing them to feel shame for voting Trump. In fact, some key storylines of election night was the “silent vote” for Trump, and the highest evangelical voter turnout in an election ever. I don’t believe these two are mutually exclusive. It is good for our churches to condemn wickedness, but not good for them to condemn gospel-believing Christians who, in good conscience, voted for whoever they did. I apologize for my self-righteousness.
Finally, in combining the echo chamber with my sneaking self-righteousness, this led to me not listening well throughout Trump’s campaign. I simply didn’t hear out many Trump supporters. Whereas most people expressed their scorn for Trump through Facebook comments, I most of the time chose the route of “flight” and deemed it pointless to engage and hear out this side. If I wanted the gospel to truly begin to invade how we think about politics, Presidents, voting, and so forth, perhaps this was best done over coffee, with ready ears, instead of simple article shares and avoiding the conversation with folks. I don’t expect to change anyone’s mind in a conversation, but as a pastor, I should be ready to hear the concerns of the flock, and ready to help the gospel shape their worldview, and my own in the process.
The election is over. The President-elect awaits his inauguration in mere weeks. My hope, for myself and for you, is that we will take 2017-2019 and commit to working through these things, in hopes that 2020 can look a little different. 80% of voters said they were “disgusted” with this election, and as for my gospel-centered brethen, nothing could be further from the truth. But maybe there are some places we (my tribe) need to look inwardly, repent, and do better in the next go-around. There is never an excuse for some of these attributes. Scripture calls us to be ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20). We live within the world, seeking the welfare of the city, yet holding to our convictions. We learn from others, we grow, we stay grounded in truth and generous in love.
Sometimes, the way forward starts with “Sorry.”