Biden, Trump, COVID-19, Race and what is required on every Christian
In case you have been living in your bunker and you have cut yourself off from civilization, this year is a tumultuous year. In November, American citizens will either elect President Trump to a second term or former Vice President Biden to his first. Then there is the ongoing debate over COVID-19. Finally, the pain and reality of race sit at the center of the national conversation. Whether at home, restaurants, churches, work, coffee shops or on social media, it seems everyone is on edge.
On social media recently, I watched an exchange between some people that was mean, personal and dogmatic. It was angry and pointless. It was just people yelling at one another. What troubled me was that everyone involved in the exchange was professing Christians. I saw recently that on another social media platform people are stating that they will no longer be friends with people who disagree with them. They are professing Christians too.
Yesterday, I was speaking to a leader of a non-profit. His organization normally has gatherings of minors and adults as part of their work. He and his team are exhausted. The incivility of online discourse is spilling out into the real world. Should they gather or not has become a shouting match. Literally. Some see it as an infringement upon personal responsibility if the organization insists on certain guidelines; while others think that the organization should do nothing until there is a vaccine.
Over the last few months, the racial anxiety and anger has reached levels not seen since the 1960s. The seeming weekly unjust deaths of black men and women is being forced into the very limited space of partisan politics. When a black person is tragically killed, I see people posting online pictures of white people who were killed recently. They are saying, “why is there no outrage for this white person’s death?
Then I see other people laying blanket statements of racism on every white person alive. I saw an online interaction with a white woman with a black woman after the African American said some very incendiary things about race and white guilt in a post. The white woman asked a question asking for clarification of a very public position. The other woman exploded in anger, defriended her and used it as another example of whites just not getting it. Our public spaces are filled with anger, lack of trust, partisanship and echo chambers.
What are Christians to do during this time of turmoil, anger, and partisanship where serious choices need to be made? Should we stay quiet? Should we pick sides and start forwarding our side’s memes? What does it mean to be a Christian and live in a government where engagement is not only encouraged but seen as necessary for the thriving of our democracy?
I want to offer Ron’s Five Rules for public engagement. These work everywhere. Use them, let them restrain you and let them help you engage the world. We need to hear your voice.
- You need to engage. The divide between politics, public discourse, important issues like race and pandemics and your faith does not exist. Romans 13:1 commands that we be subject to our governing authorities. In the United States, the citizenry is source and authority of government. Whether through writing, speaking, protesting, boycotting, getting signatures, volunteering for candidates, fighting for (or against) proposed laws, learning or voting, these are some the means of you “submitting to authority”. It is a secular view of Christianity that says you should divide your Christianity from these obligations.
- Do not demonize people on the other side. I will choose the presidential election as an example. When considering the whole of American evangelical Christianity—African American and white: there has never been a homogenous view on presidential candidates. This is because different communities see the world and its challenges radically different from one another. Many Evangelicals support President Trump because of the policies he has enacted and has supported. Other Evangelicals support former Vice President Biden because of his policies. On the issues that face us—whether race, pandemics or elections—we must admit that each one is complicated. Good people will be found on both sides. Engage as if you are engaging a brother or a sister. Engage as if you are engaging with a friend. Don’t retreat but also don’t bludgeon. It is possible to do both.
- Stay away from talking points and engage in conversation. Talking points are what politicians give in speeches. They aren’t given to engage, learn or find the truth but meant to show that you are right; it is preaching to the choir. Conversation is that ancient and much needed way of engagement whose goal is to find and exalt the truth. Every conversation begins with a premise. Then, there is a back and forth—hopefully with a lot of questions—to see if the premise is true. The only requirement for good conversation is the belief that you might be wrong, and your ‘opponent’ might be right. This should not cause fear. The truth is never a bad thing.
- Understand what facts are and why facts aren’t always used in a factual way. For example, recently articles and memes have been going around that the CDC has finally announced that only 6% of reported COVID deaths are in fact because of COVID alone. It is now a political assertion that claims the CDC has been lying to us or exaggerating the numbers. Yet, this is not new information. Government scientists have said that the elderly and those with co-morbidity –COVID and another health condition—are more at risk of dying. Some 45% of Americans have increased risk with COVID because of risks like high blood pressure, heart disease or age. Only 6% of people who died of COVID had no other risks. This is a fact, but it is a fact that can be used by those who think the pandemic is overblown and by people who think it needs to be taken more seriously. This can be done with just about every fact out there. This does not mean that you should not use facts but that you should do so humbly. It also means that when using facts do the work of understanding what they mean.
- Remember that your number one obligation in every area of life is to announce and declare the good news of Jesus. We do this with our character and with our words. If you are mean and filled with judgments in one breath and then seek to say Jesus is Lord in the next, then you diminish his glory. Jesus said that his disciples will be known by their love. Therefore, Augustine says, “Love God and do whatever you like.” Of course, love is not some warm, gushy feeling. It is goodness in action. Love can be messy, bloody and confrontational, but it keeps as its central aim the good of the other person. It believes the best about them. It never throws them away. So, stick to love. It will never fail you.
Here is an acronym sentence to help you
Engage. Don’t demonize. Have conversations. Handle facts humbly. Put Christ at the center of everything.
Now go be Christians in the world.