At least a dozen articles have crossed my view this past week with headlines like this one:
Sex, lies and erotic videotape: How could religious conservatives nominate Donald Trump?
There is a decided effort afoot to trap politically conservative Christians. The effort is to hang Donald Trump around our neck. If he loses, the Religious Right will be declared dead (as if it has not already been so declared) and if he wins we will be declared as “hypocrites.” Let’s be honest – while Donald Trump has any numbers of positives over Hillary Clinton for the office of POTUS, he is no paragon of Christian virtue. The trap seems inescapable. It looks like the classic “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” scenario.
This is the oldest trap Christianity has faced. It has never trapped us before and it need not trap us again.
Jesus Himself faced it. The result of Christ’s confrontation with the trap was the oft-quoted, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.” This quotation is pregnant with meaning and has implications in so many areas of life. But at bottom it makes plain that God’s plan for us is not dependent on politics.
It is often said that you cannot control how other people look at you. There is some truth to that – there are people that are going to declare Christianity null–and-void in the wake of so many recent developments. But the only thing that is dying is a misunderstanding of Christianity, perhaps clearing the way for the genuine thing.
Everybody understands things are massively screwed up right now. Yesterday with friends, my wife and I had an almost hour long discussion about near-death experiences as pedestrians we had had in just the last couple of weeks. There was a common thread – nobody was paying any attention to anything going on around them – they were stuck in their own little bubble. The simple common courtesies of life are disappearing around us as we each seek our own desires. The bank where I usually go has recently stopped employing a private security guard. The result has not been robberies – it has been near miss car accidents in the parking lot. Parking spaces are a few hundred feet from the ATM’s and people are parking in the driveway to access the ATM, rather than going to the parking spaces. The problem is the driveway is blind from the street so when someone pulls in, the car that is parked in the driveway is a target. Do we really need security guards to tell us to do the decent thing of going to the parking spaces? Again, people are not thinking outside their own desires.
I could go on like this anecdotally for quite a while. The problems this nation suffers from are not political. There are only two ways to solve the kinds of problems I discussed in the last paragraph. The first is the sort of very ugly tyrannical state that Hewitt and Arnn are busy discussing on Fridays. (If you are not listening, go here and start on August 24 – this really s the best stuff they have ever done.) Recently Hewitt asked Arnn is modern students understand what this sort of tyranny really is about, since the Soviet Union has been gone for so long. I can’t answer that, but I am the same age as Hewitt and Arnn and I went to the Soviet Union. One of the most chilling experiences of my life was sitting in a pub in Leningrad and saying something that was to my American ears a perfectly innocent observation about how things operated in that country – something about how lousy the garbage pick-up was. (the streets were piled with the stuff – it stank.) My Soviet hosts turned white and all immediately declared that the garbage pick-up in Leningrad was the best in all the world and informed me I should never speak such things. Nobody wants to live like that.
The alternative solution to the problems of the petty selfishness that is consuming our days is to change our hearts. That’s what Christianity done right does – it changes our hearts into the kinds of hearts that think about the other, that sacrifices a few steps for decent traffic management – that looks for pedestrians rather than operate a motor vehicle like it is a world unto itself. Christianity can make virtuous individuals of us in a world where virtue is hard to come by.
That’s what people should see when they look at Christianity – not who we are voting for, but who we are. So the question is this. When they see us voting do they see the vote or to they see who we are when we vote. Do our lives speak loudly enough that if we vote for Trump people see our virtue rather than Trump’s less-than-virtuous personal life? The early church did indeed render unto Caesar what was Caesar’s, but their virtue spoke much more loudly than Caesar’s lack thereof. So much so that in the end Caesar adopted the virtue of Christianity.
Our way out of the apparent trap is the same as Christ’s – pay attention to what really matters – build our virtues.