Opinion

How Trump has challenged my Christian faith

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Henderson, Nevada, on October 5, 2016. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Mike Segar *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-BURANA-OPED, originally transmitted on October 6, 2016.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Henderson, Nevada, on October 5, 2016. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Mike Segar *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-BURANA-OPED, originally transmitted on October 6, 2016.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Henderson, Nev., on Oct. 5, 2016. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Mike Segar *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-BURANA-OPED, originally transmitted on Oct. 6, 2016.

(RNS) You’ll not find a more personable world than the unapologetically cornball community that springs up in RV parks. Pull your camper into your assigned spot, set the gravity chairs near the fire ring, unfurl the American flag and start making friends. Mister Rogers by way of Toby Keith.

As a sloppily, if happily, reawakened Christian, I get lots of practice, while camping, on the love-thy-neighbor front, which I enjoy.

Mostly.

A few weekends ago, our neighbors across the campground’s gravel path were a family of four with a lazy beagle my toddler daughter loved. The wife, a sleek brunette from the more conservative town next to our Hudson Valley village, fell into conversation easily over several glasses of wine — we covered pedicures, yoga pants, cooking, kids.

She works, I work, both our husbands are former military. Our alliance was swift, my daughter gleefully patting the dog’s tummy as we talked.

“We should hang out after this weekend,” she said. I looked forward to it.

While my husband and I grilled burgers later, he told me that the husband had obliquely informed him that he and his wife were voting for Donald Trump. Just then, a guy strolled past in an NRA T-shirt and said hi.

During an after-dinner walk with my husband, I noticed a few Trump campaign signs staked by people’s RVs. The crowded camp suddenly felt very claustrophobic. The friendly campground now seemed like hostile territory.

I’m used to political discord on social media, having witnessed mad sprees of Facebook unfriending and raging partisan tweetstorms. (I’m not above this, having referred to Trump as a “bellicose circus peanut” on Twitter.) It’s easy to rise above it by simply clicking past.

But how do I reconcile peace-loving Christian values with the apoplectic rage I reflexively feel upon seeing a Trump: Make America Great Again sign in person? Can I possibly pursue friendship with someone with whom I am so political misaligned?

After a bath and a toweling-off, the baby wanted to wander over to the campsite across the way to visit the beagle that stood at the end of her chain wagging her tail.

The wife invited Mike and me over for after-dinner drinks, but we demurred.

“Don’t you think they had enough to drink earlier today,” I snarked to my husband back at the camper. I rocked the baby to sleep with her favorite lullaby of the moment, “Mercy Now” by Mary Gauthier, whose voice, soft with bluesy depth, has a soporific effect on the kid: “I love my church and country, they could use some mercy now.”

While I stroked the baby’s back, her sweaty forehead tucked in the crook of my neck, I realized that it wasn’t any reflexive snobbery keeping me from dropping in on happy hour. Hauteur was a mask for fear. I wasn’t judging this woman; I was afraid of her. Afraid of what her choice of candidate said about her character, her conscience.

Trump has been shorthanded as “the Christian candidate,” which troubles me, and many other Christians I know, as his values seem entirely inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus. We’d never vote for him. Not ever.

The following morning, my husband dispatched me to the playground with the baby while he cleaned up the campsite. At the swingset, I met a pair of grandparents from the Bronx with two of their granddaughters, whom they had adopted.

The girls, 4 and 9, were kind to my daughter. When I complimented the grandmother, who wore an elaborate gold crucifix, about the girls’ good behavior, she credited Catholic school, then said something about the country’s disarray and how she was preparing her granddaughters for the future.

I decided to leave the conversation there. To inhabit and enjoy the moment, I put God front and center and kept politics out of it. Fellowship, edited.

I took my daughter’s hand and we walked away in the heat, calling over my shoulder, “God bless.”

“God bless,” the grandmother called back.

On the first night of the Democratic National Convention, Hillary Clinton tweeted, “We need to build bridges, not walls.” But I never did walk across the gravel path to get that woman’s number. I didn’t feel right about deepening the connection.

If faith can simplify a life, it can complicate it, too, then back around again. The circularity of grace. I can love my neighbor, but I don’t have to solicit her company. I realize that means, effectively, that I’ve built a wall of sorts, which makes me feel sad as well as sane. But when diplomacy is out of reach, distance will have to do.

At checkout time, we hitched up and left the campground, our silver truck tracing the curves of the rural county roads. My anxiety level dropped the closer we got to home and the world I knew. The wild grasses of our river town still grew tall, the trees spanned lush and green, the baby napped.

When we pulled into our driveway, I carried the sleeping baby to her crib, knowing I wanted to change, to become a bridge-builder, but that this transformation may have to be wrought by a higher being.

We’ve all become inured to “thoughts and prayers” being offered as tragedy after tragedy unspools before us because without corresponding action, what good is prayer, really?

But even though it often isn’t enough in itself, I do believe that prayer has expansive utility. As the election battle heats and the world seems increasingly tumultuous, I need prayer more, not less. In fact, I need it more than ever. When you can’t rely on your own mettle, you turn humbly to higher sources.

After lulling the baby to sleep with my own voice, I prayed for the power to sustain tolerant Christian love in the face of political dissonance and divined an election season spiritual survival strategy:  to double down on the devotional petitioning, pitching myself and the weight of my fears into the infinite arms of mercy. Now.

(Lily Burana’s fourth book, “Grace for Amateurs: Field Notes on a Journey Back to Faith,” will be published in 2017)

About the author

Lily Burana

32 Comments

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  • This was definitely a missed opportunity to further engage, as is indicated by the author, but I’m encouraged by her sense that this will be an area of challenge that she needs to embrace. The question transcends the current presidential campaign by miles. We all have the choice and opportunity to discover more completely the wholeness of the person we may view as an erstwhile adversary, sometimes even in the frenetically compromised medium of the Internet. I have hopes.

  • Hope her husband works. Why does she not like the platform Trump is on? It is not the person it is the platform. Take Abortion: the GOP platform defends life; Dem, up to the time the child is born called partial birth abortion. Defense of life is basic for a Christian from conception to natural death.

    That alone puts me on the Trump train. To care for our people in this country with proper governance with the Constitution’s checks and balances is another GOP platform.

    The Bill of rights as written over privileged classes smothering freedoms of speech, religion/conscience, press, and assembly. The right to bear arms is basic for a free people.

    If Trump is that bad, then at least the GOP platform will impeach him. Hillary is a corrupt pay to play politician with a platform that will inaugurate abortion up to the moment of birth; force doctors, nurses, bakers, photographers, in fact all of us to fall into line to values that are inimical to many of us.

    Let freedom ring. TRUMP/GOP platform 2016, for freedom.

  • I think this author has done well expressing why it is this nation is so divided. Throughout it was all about her feelings, no rational thinking (she didn’t even mention the alternative candidate who is at least as bad). Because her emotions don’t allow her to even talk to the other couple, she doesn’t know why they’ve made the choice as they did.

  • A shining example of Post Facts Politics if ever there was one. 🙂

    I wonder how many girlfriends and lovers Trump coerced into getting abortions? Probably a ton more than you are willing to contemplate. 🙂

  • It is the platform. Enough of Imperial presidents. Time to have them execute the laws as the constitution states. But we may be entering an age of lawlessness , if there ever was an age of law.

    Glad you made it. “Twenty-one percent of all pregnancies (excluding miscarriages) in 2011 ended in abortion.”

  • You are naive if you think Trump cares one bit about your fetus worship platform. You are being played like a Trump University student and are too thick to see what is going on. You really shouldn’t drone on about lawlessness when supporting a man who bribed public officials to avoid prosecution, abuses the court system to willfully breach contractual obligations and can’t even hold to the barest notion of matrimonial obligations.

    Btw Trump also admitted to sexual harassment and assault of various (even married) women.
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/dispatches/2016/10/08/trump-hit-with-bombshell-video-admitting-sexual-harassment/

    Any pretense you are supporting a moral platform or someone who even takes your moral beliefs seriously is pitifully misplaced.

    “Glad you made it.”

    My birth was planned and expected. Was yours?

  • Nope, but was loved anyways. One has to accept responsibility for their actions. Abortion kills, but so do drones.

    It is the platform, c’est tout. Congress is the irrelevant institution that is failing us.

  • I must find and follow this woman on Twitter. The phrase “bellicose circus peanut” is the most perfectly succinct description I’ve ever read. Absolutely brilliant.

  • As a Christian, I can’t vote for either of them. Both lie, Trump is an arrogant bigot, Hillary is a criminal with a long history of lying and saying whatever she feels like she needs to say to get elected. THey say we need to pick the best of 2 evils, but in the end, the best of the 2 are still evil.

  • “One has to accept responsibility for their actions. ”

    Its this kind of attitude, that giving birth is some kind of penalty which really makes one completely disregard the anti-abortion position.

    How about this, when the “Pro-life” people can show even the slightest regard to born children and pregnant women, their rights and their existence, I will care about their alleged concern for the unborn. But for the most part “pro-life” only means “forced birth” and nothing else. So I really have no sympathy for the platform, nor consider it a rational position.

  • Not sure what to say, something is blinding you to the truth right in front of you. Even partial birth abortion is OK by you… Something is very dark in your soul; Hillary would be a great leader for you.

  • You are more than welcomed to believe that of me. But as I see it, I am being far more honest and rational about supporting life and all that it entails. Not just gestation.

    My attitude towards abortion is simple. Unless its your womb, its none of your business, ever. Your concern for the unborn really amounts to an indifference, if not hostility to the idea that women are human beings capable of making decisions without your input.

    If you want someone who is appealing to the darkness in the soul of the nation, look no further than The Angry Cheeto. A man who appeals to ignorance, bigotry, undue privilege, and has an indifferent if not hostile attitude to people who work for a living.

    For all the BS reactionaries sling about Democrats being the part of racists (based on ignoring all history past 1964) the out and out white supremacists, neo-nazis and other outright bigots endorse the current Republican candidate. Something they haven’t done since the early 20th Century. This is not company moral upstanding people want to keep.

    Keep your blinders on and support anyone who will make phony promises to ban abortion. But it will never happen. 4 Conservative presidents, at least 2 conservative majority Supreme Courts and about a dozen Republican controlled Congresses since Roe v. Wade and not once were there serious challenges which would overturn it as established law. Conservative politicians have been playing naive people like you to organize votes and nothing else. Even the last decade of onerous restrictions on abortion have been cast aside. You support a lost cause here. Get over it and start to concern yourself with the lives of those past 9 months of pregnancy,

  • Her husband, a (I believe retired) Army officer, used to be on staff at West Point, and has fought for all of our rights. Why would you say “I hope her husband works”? Odd.

  • My impression is that she does not write well nor does she understand the consequences of this election. It IS the platform and the GOP is the most pro-life and for our traditional freedoms, like conscience, speech, press, assembly…

    For a Christian these things are important.

  • JOBs, JOBs, JOBs… take care of our own. It is the platform. I like our traditional freedoms as well.

    Very sinister agenda on the left. You must be against partial birth abortion, most rational people are, for it IS another human being fully able to live outside the womb.

  • Thank you for your thought out response. Here is an example where are freedoms are going…

    “…new federal rules now urge punishment for K-12 students who refuse to use the female pronoun –‘her” — when referring a male classmate who dresses like a girl, or who do not want to share a bathroom with members of the opposite sex.”

    And where is Congress to rein in the executive branch. What is it with Congress? A lot of show but toothless.

  • Sending jobs overseas, not paying people for their work, people working in forced inservitude, not paying people a living wage, taking care of unproductive management and encouraging defrauding the public. These are the job platforms Trump stands for. If he could re-institute slavery or indentured servitude he would. He certainly has profited from such efforts overseas.

    I would give a flying s–t about your stance on the unborn if you were not so blithely indifferent to the lives of those already born. No politician is going to turn back the clock and make abortion illegal again. You are a fool to support politicians who make such promises (while doing everything possible to make your life as difficult as possible). As for partial birth abortion, it is so rare that your over concern for it is just ridiculously overblown.

    How does it feel to be manipulated so easily?

  • “…new federal rules now urge punishment for K-12 students who refuse to use the female pronoun –‘her” — when referring a male classmate who dresses like a girl, or who do not want to share a bathroom with members of the opposite sex.””

    1. Its complete fictional garbage. The Federal government does not have that kind of control over schools. That is a state and local level issue. If you believe that you are mentally deficient and gullible.
    2. Assuming arguendo, if it were true, this is a huge concern for you how??????

    “And where is Congress to rein in the executive branch. What is it with Congress? A lot of show but toothless.”
    Do you understand how the separation of powers works? Because it doesn’t look that way

    All you have demonstrated is that Trump supporters like yourself are not particularly informed on various subjects and prone to both hysteria and unnecessary prejudice.

  • “Conservative politicians have been playing naive people like you to organize votes and nothing else.”

    No entirely true, spud. They are also in it for the money.

  • How is this an end to the Imperial Presidency you are so worried about? Taking care of our own with no regard to the rest of the world has led to Empire. It always has, and it always will. Nowhere on Trump’s site does it say that he will end the drone program. Nowhere in the Republican platform does it say so. Nowhere in either of those documents does it say that we will begin to dismantle our imperial presence around the world. The Democrats have problems, but the Republicans sure as hell ain’t the solution.

  • Stop yelling, kidding. If the platform is not followed the base will turn on him and the democrats will join in. He will be gone, impeached and convicted. You can be certain of that.

    The alternative is no country or bill of rights. Persecution wide open.

    Now do we have your vote? TRUMP 2016

    As a Catholic myself, I love the teachings on faith and morals of the church. The hierarchy is prone to the same temptations of secular positions of wealth and power. Many fail, many do not.

    Month of the Rosary is October, let us pray …

  • 30 years of Hillary Clinton and she hasn’t solved world peace, world hunger, created a unified field theory, or a utopian society on Mars. #votetrump

  • Wow,Spud…you are on fire!! I agree with you 100% here,especially…”unless it’s your womb,it’s none of your business,ever”…I ALWAYS thought it extremely bizarre that certain religious entities were forever probing into other people’s bedrooms. What is that about? ?.

  • “I wasn’t judging this woman; I was afraid of her. Afraid of what her choice of candidate said about her character, her conscience.”

    People who support the “bellicose circus peanut” scare me a little bit too. I wonder what is going on in their heads. Are they really that angry, uninformed, bigoted, fearful and hateful? I try to avoid being around them.

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