Monday, September 11, 2017

About partisanship in the church

I'm not a terribly political person. I identify myself as a moderate or centrist - that is, I do not identify myself as a supporter of any particular political party. Since I came of age as a voter I have voted for four different parties in federal elections (which is easily done here in Canada). To those telephone pollsters I am one of those 'undecideds' who make up their figures.

I'm actually more opinionated about politics in the USA than I am in Canada; I try not to be, being very conscious that I am not a citizen of that country and I should be guarded when I speak about their political situation. Still, here I am today, about to write about US politics. I'm doing so not for the sake of the USA but because of encounters I have had with fellow Canadians on these issues.

Being a fairly unpolitical person I don't often share political messages on my Facebook page but a friend shared an amusing link entitled A Christian Defense of Donald Trump and I thought it funny enough to share with my own friends. This brought condemnation from one of my personal friends who took exception to my making fun of Trump and, rather than rebuke me in person or via email or personal message, spoke his mind there on my timeline. Said friend was a fellow Christian and told me I should be praying for Trump instead.

My friend was correct that mockery was not the most Christian way of responding to that situation. But it was a difficult message to receive because of the source - because this friend of mine was himself one whose Facebook timeline was full of political messages reposted from elsewhere, collectively espousing a pro-right wing/anti-left wing message, along with many climate change denial posts. The sense I had was not so much that my behaviour was being called out on Christian grounds but on partisan grounds. Upon reflection I was further troubled that in the week we had this confrontation I had celebrated my birthday but received no birthday greeting from him; I was serving in the mission field in Angola yet had received no encouragement from him; is this what Christian fellowship looks like?

There is no particular case for Christians being majority right-wing. Truly, we ought to be divided 50/50 - half of us on the right, half of us on the left. Yet we unmistakably tend towards the right. Why? According to James 1:27: "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." The message of looking after "orphans and widows in their distress" is an attitude which those on the left are in favour of, whereas the right-wing tends to advocate for self-sufficiency. There are also the words of Jesus himself in Matthew 25:34-36: "‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’"

Still, Christians tend towards the right; the right, of course, includes those parties which are against abortion, against gay marriage and other such issues which - for so many Christians - are a political deal-breaker. I understand why so many of my fellow Christians vote on the right-wing; heck, as a centrist I'm empathetic to their reasons (the four parties I've voted for have included the Conservative Party).

But Donald Trump is not a particularly right-wing candidate (except in that xenophobia and white nationalism seems to be a hallmark of the right-wing). He does not hold to any particular Christian ideals about charity or forgiveness towards others and has only paid a bit of lip service to the anti-abortion lobby. And yet so many Christians in the USA voted for him and many Christians here in Canada seem to feel they ought to support him as well because he represents right-wing interests. This is the partisanship which upsets me.

When Barack Obama was US President I saw many of my Christian Canadian friends criticizing him. I also heard a rant from one who accused him of being a secret Muslim (yes, such people exist even here). This too, seems to have been mere partisanship; I repeatedly saw in Obama a Christian man who was attempting to live up to Godly ideals in the midst of a compromising, pragmatic position. He was still vilified by Christians, simply because he came from the left-wing.

This, then, is why I originally shared the link to "A Christian Defense of Donald Trump." For a joke where the punchline is literally nothing it reveals a truth about we Christians and our willingness to adhere to dogma rather than the Holy Spirit. So many Christians clicked on that link anticipating an essay which would draw from scripture in order to explain why so many of their fellow believers supported that man. The joke is that there is no defense, but many - such as my friend - do not find that funny and are all-too eager to leap to his defense. I would be astonished - but also very pleased - if I saw this friend come to the defense of Rachel Notley or Justin Trudeau on the same basis he did Donald Trump, instead of making a false idol out of 'Team Right Wing.'

My friend once told me one of his favourite things about Jesus is that he was boldly confrontational, that he did not bow to the conventions of his time and would sharply criticize those in positions of power. And yet, when it comes to a right-wing politician, my friend suddenly became very upset at the idea of criticizing our world leaders. He's right, we are called to pray for them. But more than that, I agree with those leaders in the church that the rise of Trump amongst right-wing Christians speaks to the need for revival - and this revival is needed not only in the USA but here in Canada as well.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?" - Matthew 5:43-47

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