Culture David Gushee: Christians, Conflict and Change Ethics Faith Opinion

Elections matter. So does resistance.

Elections matter.

If Hillary Clinton had been elected president, few if any of the domestic and foreign policies that are emerging from the Trump White House would even have been conceivable.

The dissing of Mexico — and Mexicans. The promise/threat of The Wall. Dramatically stepped-up immigration enforcement, with more to come. The abandonment of a humane comprehensive immigration reform idea once widely supported by members of both parties, including Republican presidents. And the trickle-down effects of meanness on the one hand and fear on the other.

The ban on immigration from seven mainly Muslim nations. The blockade on Syrian refugees. The ban on even green card holders, currently suspended in litigation. The trickle-down effect of enhanced Islamophobia on the one hand and fear on the other.

The law-and-order platform, including the overall dismissal of concerns about excessive use of police force toward African-Americans and other nonwhite people. The nomination and confirmation of Jeff Sessions as attorney general. The virtually inevitable trickle-down effect of diminished safety and legal protection for members of minority groups in America.

The abandonment of federal protections for transgender students as specified by the Obama administration. The virtually inevitable trickle-down effect of creating an increasingly untenable and hostile environment for this already quite vulnerable population. The possible trickle-down effect of further national losses for LGBTQ dignity, rights and safety.

One could imagine a country in which a new president would simultaneously heighten border security, seek a path to citizenship for most undocumented immigrants, and speak with respect of “even” undocumented immigrants based on human dignity considerations.

One could imagine a country in which a new president would recall America’s heritage of welcoming refugees from the world’s war-torn lands, and would continue that heritage today. A country in which a president would simultaneously honor the contributions that Muslim and other peoples of minority religious traditions have already made to our society, speak very carefully about this portion of our citizenry so as not to endanger them, and put into place prudent, effective security measures.

One could imagine a country in which a new president would study (!) the long history of racial discrimination in U.S. law, law enforcement, and criminal justice and would seek an approach informed by that sad history.

One could imagine a country in which the misery and vulnerability of transgender students would evoke the sympathy of the president and the protections of federal law.

With 77,000 votes in three states, we could have had that country.

With, say, 70 percent rather than 81 percent of white evangelicals voting for Donald Trump, we could have had that country.

But that is not the country we have. It is the country about 48 percent of us want, but it is not the country we have, not today.

Perhaps, in two years, when these policies, tendencies, and trickle-down effects have had their chance to do their work and reveal their fruit, sufficient numbers of voters will decide they do not feel well represented by what they are seeing. Perhaps the House will switch hands and the legislative branch will function as a check on the president.

Meanwhile, what is left to the unhappy 48 percent is resistance.

One new vehicle for resistance is the Matthew 25 Pledge, released by Christian leaders (including myself) this week and simply declaring: “I pledge to protect and defend vulnerable people in the name of Jesus.” The three initial issues that are the focus of this movement are immigration, policing, and solidarity with Muslims.

Matthew 25:31-46 is a part of the Bible that a lot of Christians who most loudly proclaim their commitment to biblical inspiration and authority might consider reading.

Jesus is declaring the basis of final divine judgment. It’s based on how people responded to him. Well, sure. But the twist is that it’s about how people respond to Jesus when he comes to them in the form of the hungry, thirsty, stranger, unclothed, sick, and imprisoned. The key line is, of course, “as you did it to the least of these, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40,45).

Some of us Christians believe that Syrian refugees, Iraqi immigrants turned back at customs, trans teenagers at school, black people terrified at traffic stops, undocumented immigrants hiding in their apartments, and their citizen-but-terrified children wondering if Mom will be sent away, qualify as something like “the least of these” in our particular time and context.

Of course, that does involve having just a little bit of empathetic imagination in the application of the biblical text for today; and maybe a sense of solidarity with others who do not enjoy the privileges that we do; and maybe a willingness to see implications of empathy and solidarity in relation to government policies.

Some Christians think that is central to being followers of Jesus.

This story is available for republication.

About the author

David Gushee

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