After over a year of cruel, dismissive, rude, divisive and self-aggrandizing campaigning, Donald Trump is poised to lose a new wave of supporters in the wake of the revelation that he has bragged about committing sexual assault. Many of those supporters are likely to be my brothers and sisters in Christ. And believers who have already spent months upon months puzzled as to how people who agree with us about Jesus can deign to support a candidate who, to our eyes, doesn’t even pretend to consider the Fruit of the Spirit to be a list of virtues, have a difficult choice to make: We can lord the change of heart over them or we can make an effort to provide them a path to repentance cleared of obstacles.
One of those options offers a sharp, decisive surge of satisfaction. The other is thankless and a little embarrassing.
There are a host of reasons Christians on both sides of the aisle have resisted and denounced Trump’s candidacy. We’ve watched Trump’s campaign inflict wounds that are deep and painful. At various times, women, ethnic and cultural minorities, the disabled, the impoverished and the marginalized have been made to wonder whether there would be a place for them in their communities after the election. People who value a political process wherein citizens are encouraged to honor the fundamental humanity of people with whom they disagree have been struck with fear for the health of a country that they love.
If you are a Christian who has felt that Trump’s campaign was a fundamental betrayal of the ways in which we want the Church to be salt and light to America’s political process, it will be easy to swipe at your brothers and sisters who abandon their support of Trump in the wake of Friday’s leak. After we have been so deeply troubled by their complicity in Trump’s success, it’s not enough for us that they simply recognize now that Trump is basically the boastful brute of Jeremiah 9:23–24, building a self-image on his strength and his wealth and his wisdom or acumen.
Trump supporters and members of the so-called never-Trump movement straddle what our society views as an uncrossable social and cultural divide. We are conditioned to view one another as fundamentally “other,” members of an opposing camp. Many Never-Trumpers want to defeat or dismiss Trump supporters, not win them over. It’s not enough for Trump supporters to change their minds. We don’t want them to be able to join us. We want them to publicly self-flagellate. We want them to be shamed and shunned for their lack of judgment. We want them to admit that they were dupes or secretly racist or knowingly evil—and we want them to praise us for our foresight and moral clarity.
This is, of course, fundamentally at odds with the gospel, the story that the community of faith is supposed to embody. In the gospel, we find that any growing recognition of God’s character and desire to live in line with it is met with hospitality. The very angels of heaven celebrate every time someone turns toward God, Jesus tells us. They don’t manifest themselves before that person and pile on.
“Why did it take you so long?” “How did you not see it earlier?” “Why was that ‘last straw’ or that final sin so much more egregious to you than any of the myriad others?”
These are fair questions to present to elected officials and party leaders who stake their reputations and their jobs on their ability to safely steward the responsibilities of government and our political process. But we should take care to only ask them of other members of the Body of Christ if we can do so in ways that are not an attack. As with anything in life, our goal should be to help one another hear the still, small voice of God more clearly and to respond to its call. This is an opportunity to practice making repentance easy, to help make it a habit.
I pray today that those of us who have been skeptical of Trump since the beginning don’t let our pride or our desire for validation and esteem become a stumbling block to our brothers and sisters who are trying to join us in our various electoral camps.
For opportunities to pray with others from around the country for the effects that our toxic political season is having on our churches, join our Tuesday prayer calls every other week.