This piece was originally published in late summer of 2016.
I’ve never had my heart broken by a politician. Never realized it was even a possibility until this year. For a long time Donald Trump just made me angry, but over the last couple of weeks I’ve felt sorrow seeping into my heart every time I think about him. Actually, it’s not him so much as the people voting for him. And it’s not all of them, but a certain subset. The hole the sadness is coming in through gets a little bigger every time I hear how another few hundred thousand self-described “evangelicals” have cast their votes for Trump in a primary somewhere. I find myself wondering what story they are telling themselves, these people who in calling themselves Christians are laying claim to the name of the one I love.
I take the message of Jesus Christ seriously. I have made it the cornerstone of my life. As far as I can tell, Donald Trump stands in opposition to just about everything Christ teaches about how we are to live. Which is what leaves me so nonplussed when I contemplate my fellow Christians’ support for him. I do not dismiss out of hand the sincerity of people who claim to be Christians and Trump supporters at the same time. That would be arrogant in the extreme. But that doesn’t mean I can wrap my mind around it. I consider all the people Trump is stirring up hate against—people who are not abstractions but real men, women and children living in my city, my state, my country—and then I think about the teachings of Christ, to love our neighbors, to love our enemies… and I feel the hole in my heart get a little bigger. More sorrow seeps in.
Pause for one moment: can you imagine what it must be like to be a Muslim in America right now? Realizing that millions of people are rallying behind a man who wants to bar your parents or nieces or colleagues from entering the country because they hate and fear you?
Can you imagine what it must be like to be a young woman whose father came to this country illegally out of a desperate desire to escape the murder and extortion washing over the small town where he has lived his whole life, hearing a wealthy, scowling man on television indiscriminately labeling that same father of hers a “rapist?”
The fact that significant numbers of self-identified Christians are voting for Donald Trump has led to questions (often posed by other Christians) about how people who claim to follow Jesus Christ can support the campaign of a man who is calling for torture, endorses killing the innocent family members of terrorists, talks about women as if they are less than human, and routinely fans the flames of racism, resentment, and fear. The reason for the confusion stems, at least in part, from the fact that most people, even staunch non-Christians, have at least a vague notion that Jesus and his message are somehow associated with grace and unconditional love.
The Scriptures teach us that the people of God are like the parts of a body; we work together and in fact “belong to one another.” We are a worldwide family, called to support and care for one another, not just with our words or a fuzzy sense of solidarity, but with our food, our money, the clothes off our backs. This being true, I must then ask my brothers and sisters considering voting for Donald Trump; do you not realize that many immigrants who came to this country illegally are devout Christians? Are you unaware of the fact that many thousands of Mexican immigrants are fleeing staggering poverty, corruption, and endemic violence that plagues their communities as a result of a drug trade we Americans fuel with our demand, and that they are not coming here to take our jobs away from us but because they love their own children and are more concerned with their well-being and future prospects than with the abstract laws of nations?
Having swum the Rio Grande or hiked across the Arizona Desert in an illegal border crossing does not in any way nullify the faith of undocumented Christian immigrants. I am not saying you must be in favor of some form of amnesty or path to citizenship. I am saying that a man who speaks about human beings in the way that Donald Trump does is committing an offense against the living God who created them, and that many of the people he is slandering and inciting hatred towards are our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Similarly, my fellow Christians who support the candidacy of Donald Trump; do you honestly not know that many Syrian refugees—including some who will eventually make their way to the United States, and who are being vilified by Trump and other Republicans—are Christians, hailing from some of the first Christian communities ever formed, in and around Damascus, where the Apostle Paul, whose words we read in our Bible and hear preached in our churches, himself lived and served?
Consider this: If the United States government started shelling Minneapolis indiscriminately and you decided—though it tore your heart in two to leave your lifelong home—that your love for your own family meant you were going to leave everything and everyone you had ever known and move to England rather than watch your kids die at the hands of the U.S. Army, and then once you got to London you discovered that English Christians feared and hated you, how do you think you would feel?
And what about those immigrants who are Muslims? There are many of them. Do you assume they are all terrorists, or on the edge of becoming terrorists? That would be like assuming every Christian is seriously contemplating buying a handgun, walking into the parking lot of an abortion clinic, and executing a nurse as she’s climbing into her station wagon.
And what about the terrorists themselves? People who really do want to kill us? Have you forgotten how Jesus told us to love our enemies? Who are our enemies if not radical jihadists? Have you forgotten that Jesus never promised us security, or comfort, or safety? If you’re voting for Donald Trump because you think Christians need protecting, you’ve missed the point of Christianity.
Here’s the thing: Christians don’t “win” all the time. We lose. In the eyes of the world, from the vantage point of the powerful, we often lose, and lose badly. We don’t make good deals. We make horrible deals. We give ourselves and our possessions away. We lose when we put others before ourselves at our own expense. We lose when we choose to associate ourselves with the poor and the unpopular, which is costly in innumerable ways and can lead to awkwardness, hardship, and even misery. We lose, because in refusing violence and pursuing love we open ourselves up to real harm. Sometimes when you turn the other cheek you get punched in the face.
There is no getting around the cost of the love Jesus Christ calls us to. There is no credit card we can charge it to. Christ does not promise us we will be able to obey him and own a home, have a good job, a solid retirement account, a decent chance at an education, healthy children, a loving marriage and a sense of general security and well-being. In fact, he does not even promise us we will avoid being mocked, ridiculed or physically harmed for loving others in the way he has taught us to. On the contrary, he tells us that, “ ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”
The persecution he received came in the form of being horrifically beaten and then hung on a piece of wood to die of exposure. Jesus doesn’t promise us a Republican or a Democrat in the White House. He promises us we will have to lay down our lives, which sounds vaguely poetic and glorious in the abstract, but is in reality both painful and dangerous. The precious mystery of our faith is that those who truly follow Christ into death find life everlasting, and that while he guarantees us neither riches nor safety, he does promise to satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts and souls. Longings no politician or system or political party can ever come close to satisfying.
Brothers and sisters, I am under the impression some of you are voting for Donald Trump in spite of finding him repellent as an individual. But there is no separating out his qualities as an outsider or businessman from his overt racism and violent rhetoric. To vote for Trump is to countenance his hatred, and the hatred he appeals to. I ask you, in all sincerity, to refuse to vote for a man who is so transparently opposed to the One we love and serve. Let us stand in opposition to one who speaks evil of our brothers and sisters, and of those strangers and poor neighbors we are called to welcome and serve.