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Posture in a time of disruption

I wince now when someone labels me an evangelical. It has become a political term more than a theological term, as a result of repeated public reports that over 80 percent of white evangelicals in the U.S. voted for Donald Trump. That is one of the dangers when religion becomes enmeshed in partisan politics. There are attempts to take distance from this association, such as the statement by Richard Mouw and Mark Labberton of Fuller Seminary. In a similar vein, global evangelical leaders have issued a Call for Biblical Faithfulness amid the New Fascism. Some are calling for the equivalent of a Reformation in North America to restate what being Christian means.

The ground is shifting quickly within the church world as well as within the North American cultural context. It’s hard to know where to stand in an earthquake. Many Christians engaged in public life are reflecting on what posture and strategies are wise when the zeitgeist is disruption of the status quo, polarization and uncertainty.

Christians who believe that God intervened directly to elect Trump to save the United States, God’s chosen nation, have a clear path. They will defend and extend his message, a variation of prosperity gospel, also into Canada.

Christians who pursue non-partisan engagement to work for justice and peace are weighing a mix of the following options.

Pause for reflection: Some suggest it may be necessary to step back from more active roles to spend time in reflection. There is a need for deeper understanding of the anger, fear and alienation in our society, as well as racism, sexism and the impacts of the wealth gap. Testing the sprits of our time should be an on-going task, but moments like this sharpen our antenna and raise questions about what we have been doing.

Local Focus: Local community work can be less partisan; it offers direct contact with people as a healthy antidote to social media saturation. It can be a way to live out the theme of “less fear, more love.” It does not take long, however, before one realizes that local, national and global issues are intertwined.

Charity: Providing assistance to those who are negatively affected or pushed to the margins as public policies change dramatically could take all our time. We also know charity alone does not bring sustainable change.

Solidarity: Standing with people affected by injustice can take the form of symbolic actions, such as marches and label pins, that let those who no longer feel safe know they have allies. Deeper strategies will be needed on both the personal and collective level. Solidarity, for example, may mean not holidaying in the U.S. if Muslims are not allowed to do the same or providing sanctuary in homes and churches for victims of unjust actions.

Resistance: Some are organizing resistance movements to try to stop unjust policies. Social media can be used to mobilize for justice in new ways, just as it can be used to spread hatred and racism. Success requires organized alertness and persistence. Perhaps we will see higher levels of public support for such efforts.

Consistent alternative: Some emphasize the role of modelling a different way, to be a light on the hill or signs of the kingdom. The hope is that, when things fall apart and people look for alternatives, they will find in Christian communities visions and practices of a better way to live together. Those with less optimism suggest that we seize moments when the Kingdom of God breaks through, witness and celebrate them, without expectation for more substantive change.

Bridge-builders: Peace-builders try to build bridges between polarized groups. During a trip to Israel, for example, I found the persistence of Christians working for peace across the deep divide between Jewish and Palestinian communities very inspiring. Maybe more of us in North America need to develop similar skills and stamina to bridge increasing polarization in our own communities. In Canada the continuing work of reconciliation between indigenous and settler populations requires that kind of persistence.

There is room for all of these postures in Christian public witness. To be effective and sustainable, some combination of reflection and action seems wise. The solid ground after the shaking may be deeper understanding and a more robust commitment to a renewed set of principles to guide the way we live out God’s story in our time.

  • Kathy Vandergrift, a public policy analyst, brings experience in government, social justice work and a Master’s Degree in Public Ethics to her reflections.

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