“I’m Struggling with My Christianity After Trump”

 

  If Christianity can convince so many to follow a man like Trump almost worshipfully — or couldn’t at least help millions discern the unique threat Trump represented — what good is it really? I say this as someone who has been Christian all my life, who spent two decades praying in a white evangelical church. How could our faith have allowed this, encouraged it, enabled so much violence, so much death?Of course, they have their excuses. Rev. Franklin Graham of North Carolina, who swiftly dumped his Clinton-era rhetoric about the importance of morality and character in our leaders to embrace Trump, lashed out at the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump after a Trump-inspired insurrection and lavished Trump with praise. “We have never had a president like him in my lifetime,” he wrote on Facebook. “He gave us lower taxes, a strong economy, and low unemployment. He made NATO take notice and pay their own way. He had the guts to take on North Korea and meet with their leader personally. He didn’t let China walk all over us. Just his Mideast peace initiatives in the last couple of months deserve a Nobel Peace Prize. He has defended religious liberty like no president before him, which matters to all people of faith. He has worked to bring prison reform and secured our southern border. He defeated the ISIS caliphate in Syria, and he strengthened our military.” And then, the kicker: “He was also the most pro-life president we have ever had.”Really? Pro-life? Trump oversaw a 200% increase in civilian deaths in Iraq and Syria during his first year in office. He presided over more than 460,000 COVID-19 deaths, far outpacing any other industrialized country. He repeatedly demonized a group of men, women, and children seeking refuge in this country from the violence and uncertainty they faced in their own. A man picked up an AR-15-style assault rifle and committed a massacre in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh after becoming convinced Jews were responsible for the despised caravan of vulnerable brown people. He murdered 11 people; how could Christians have supported the man whose conspiracy theory he quoted?

The body count didn’t end there, though. Trump incited an insurrection that resulted in at least five deaths, dozens of injuries, and a stain on America’s reputation so severe it will be harder to get other countries to take us seriously when we demand that they honor life and not commit human rights abuses. Aided by “pro-life” Supreme Court justices, Trump was able to fast-track 13 federal executions during the final months of his presidency, the most by any president in more than a century. Even the abortion rate slightly increased in the middle of Trump’s term, a reversal from major declines during Barack Obama’s two terms in office.

How could 60% of white Catholic voters and 8 and 10 white evangelicals back this man? How could anyone in good faith call him “pro-life”?

What they mean by pro-life is that Trump was anti-abortion. And yet, there is no evidence — none — that putting a pro-life president in the White House drastically affects the abortion rate, which has been falling steadily for most of my life but faster during Democratic administrations. Policies favored by pro-choice candidates — things like a focus on comprehensive health care and contraception coverage — have affected the rate the most by preventing unintended pregnancies. Iowa recently ran a real-life experiment on the issue when it pulled out of a federally-financed family planning program. The abortion rate in that red state promptly jumped by 25%. Internationally, the evidence runs in the same direction. “Unintended pregnancy rates are highest in countries that restrict abortion access and lowest in countries where abortion is broadly legal,” according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Many pro-life Christians have never accepted that complex reality, making them susceptible to a man like Trump. That’s why the death and destruction left in Trump’s wake didn’t horrify them the way it has the rest of us: They could always claim they were saving babies from evil Democrats, even though they weren’t.

Do you know who understands that complex reality? Christian people of color. The embrace of Trump was largely a white Christian phenomenon. Because we don’t have the luxury of seeing things in black and white. When my wife was pregnant with our first child, the doctor asked if we wanted tests to detect potential abnormalities in the womb. “No,” we quickly said, almost in unison. We knew we’d love whatever child we were blessed with. And when we lost another child to a miscarriage, we mourned. It pained us more because we didn’t have a body to bury; it happened early in the pregnancy. We still named that child: Fabrice McKenzie Bailey. We’ve never forgotten her and never will.

I’d never call myself pro-life, though. I want abortions to be rare but believe the best way to get there is to support women and distressed families in a comprehensive way that will reduce unintended and high-risk pregnancies. We do not get there by turning over a pregnant woman’s body to the state.

This is my Christianity, the Christian faith that sustained my family through the Jim Crow South, poverty, and too many bouts with the criminal justice system. But I’m struggling. I don’t want to be a part of any organization that would support those at the highest levels who demonize and belittle the vulnerable; that would look the other way to hold onto power.

The body count left in Trump’s wake is immense. Add to the list my faith in the white church.

Issac Bailey is a professor of public policy at Davidson College, a 2014 Nieman fellow at Harvard University, and author of Why Didn’t We Riot? A Black Man in Trumpland.

Summary

How can one respond to Mr. Bailey? No one can know exactly what is in his heart or why what’s there is actually there. His life experiences are different (at least in totality) than yours or mine or those of anyone else. And Mr. Bailey, as do you and I do, responds to the circumstances he’s faced in his life just as others respond to their own personal circumstances.

So what can any OTHER Christian say to make Isaac Bailey feel better today?

The only solace I can offer him and any others who face the same or similar conundrum: work it out.

Question: “Dan, what the heck does that mean?”

Answer: “There’s not just one singular answer to Mr. Bailey’s questions. And, quite honestly, that’s the beauty of Christianity.” Let’s take a look:

  • Throughout Biblical history, God never asked any people who followed Him to live in a cookie-cutter environment: everybody doing the same things, eating the same things, speaking and thinking identically.
  • God called people from different nations who spoke other languages, had different cultures and ethnicities. No two people have the same natural thoughts and ideas on life itself. They’re different. And that’s OK.
  • God appeared differently to individuals from all parts of the Globe. It was improbable that a native Egyptian in their early 20’s could somehow approach a conversation or relationship with a diety with the same perspective as a native American meeting that diety at the same time.

The summation of that is to illustrate this one critical point that Christians at some point and in some way all must reconcile: Jesus personally instructed all the “brothers” in Phillipians 2:12 this way:

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”

What did He mean?

He knew we are all different. But He told his disciples that He loves us all the same. He accepted us WITH our differences!

There’s an old Christian saying: “God doesn’t expect us as fish to be cleaned before we were caught by the fishermen. He expects us to be cleaned AFTER we are caught.” In other words, after we become Christians, through guidance and Biblical teaching, we begin to “clean up.”

I don’t know a single person — man or woman — that is perfect. And to be honest, my determination of perfection will probably be a process different than yours. Thankfully there’s no command that I’ve found in the Bible that God gave to Man that requires perfection before beginning a personal relationship with Him.

I could “analyze” Mr. Bailey’s opinion piece line by line and show where he “missed.” But that would also be MY opinion. And opinions are seldom correct, and perfect opinions are minuscule in number. My opinion of Mr. Bailey is as insignificant as his opinion is of me. There’s only ONE opinion that matters: God’s!

To complete this today, I need to say just this one last thing: God loves Isaac, He loves me, He loves you, He loves Franklin Graham, and loves Donald Trump. And all that is required to join with God is the same for us all: acknowledge our failures, ask for God’s forgiveness for our mistakes, and believe what He said in the Bible about being a Christian and embark on a path to live that. That path is probably going to be different for all of us. All that is required to succeed in that journey is to follow His steps and do as He directs.

Mr. Bailey, if I had the opportunity to speak with you, I wouldn’t apologize for Donald Trump’s actions. After all, for Christians, there’s only ONE judge, and it’s not me or anyone else. Jesus Himself to me, you, Franklin, and Donald to work out our OWN salvation in fear and trembling. He didn’t tell me to fix your issues or you to fix mine.

I voted for Donald Trump. I didn’t (and don’t) like his messaging process. I feel he could do a much better job. If he knew me, I’m confident there’d be things he wouldn’t care for in my nature.

I would have loved to vote for Jesus Christ to be my President rather than Donald Trump. But Jesus wasn’t on the ballot. “In my opinion,” Mr. Trump was the best alternative since the Son of God wasn’t available.

 


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