Watching the reactions online and talking to folks in person about the result of the 2016 presidential election has been enlightening. It’s been great to interact with diverse perspectives: positive, negative, and rarely indifferent. However, an idea I’ve come across on some occasions is that there is a single biblical response to the election. Either implicitly or explicitly several people have proposed what the proper or right Christian response is, which strangely enough (or perhaps, not so strangely) is almost always consistent with their personal response.
Although this idea is good-hearted, I think it is wrong-headed. People espousing it cherry-pick a favorite Bible verse or two that supports their reaction, and thereby declare their reaction as the biblical response to the election. While what they propose as the right response may in fact have merits as a biblical response, the suggestion that it is the only right response simply doesn’t follow. Because Christians can disagree about their politics (due to social/economic/geographic context, upbringing, denomination, personal values, conscience, biblical interpretation, etc.), there will inevitably be a diversity of reactions to the outcome of an election. I think it is biblically justifiable and confirmed by experience that there are multiple appropriate Christian responses to Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election, none of which is exclusively the right response.
So, what are some of these biblical responses? The first two depend on your politics, but the latter three are incumbent upon all Christians regardless of their personal political views (I’ll be the first to point out that what follows is not an exhaustive list).
Many Christian conservatives are satisfied with the outcome of the election. Though this satisfaction ranges from exuberant approval for some (since they whole-heartedly supported Trump) to tentative acquiescence for others (since they had serious problems with Trump, but viewed him as the best alternative), at the end of the day they are neither complaining about nor disapproving of the result. And to a degree this is biblically justifiable, in so far as Mr. Trump promotes good and just causes and governs with wisdom and honor. The people of God can be happy whenever and wherever there is just and honorable governance.
However, let me push back on some in this camp who are boasting of Mr. Trump’s victory. First, the kind of rhetoric that expresses Mr. Trump’s victory as a ‘win’ for Christianity is very unhelpful to mending the wounds and bridging the divides within and without our churches. Second, posting Bible verses that on their face pander to ‘God bless America’ type sentiments are also not particularly helpful. Psalm 33:12, for instance, is not about America, it’s about God’s covenant people – if you read the whole verse, this would become clear. Third, memes about keeping your guns or videos of Mr. Trump being prayed over only show your deafness to and insensitivity towards many of your kin in Christ, who are not as encouraged as you are. You didn’t save America, much less the church, by electing Mr. Trump; so, please consider refraining from doing and saying these types of things.
There are also many Christians (conservative or otherwise) who feel great sorrow because of the result of the election. To them Mr. Trump represents many things that are neither comforting nor praiseworthy. Instead, what he represents brings fear, uncertainty, and ostracism. Whether or not Mr. Trump becomes more ‘presidential’ now that he is president-elect, because of the things he said, did, and promised throughout his primary and general election campaigns these people are very unsettled by the reality of his presidency. And this also is biblically justifiable, in so far as Mr. Trump continues to express evil thoughts and attitudes and promote unjust policies. Though the people of God must learn to be content, this doesn’t mean they should become complacent.
However, let me push back on some in this camp as well. First, to the rioters, you need to chill out. What you’re doing is wrong and unproductive. Second, to students and millennials, grab a tissue and grow up. In life you win some and you lose some. I don’t want to minimize the substantial issues that some of you may be dealing with, but for most of you I imagine this is just a lesson in losing well. Third, to those who are protesting, “Not my president,” as a matter of fact, whether or not you voted for him, Mr. Trump will be your president. While I support your constitutional right to protest, I would suggest that just because it’s your right doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a prudent decision. Moreover, isn’t it ironic that many of the same people who, just a few weeks ago, were so concerned about Mr. Trump and his supporters accepting the result of the election are now the ones not accepting the result? Something to think about.
Now, wherever you stand on the political spectrum, the following three responses should be evident in all Christians.
Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep, as the Apostle Paul said (Romans 12:15). Whether you tend towards the first or the second response above, as a follower of Christ you have an obligation to care for your brothers and sisters who are of an emotional response to the election contrary to your own. If you are happy with it, then sympathize and listen compassionately to those who are not so approving. If you are unhappy with it, then sympathize and seek to understand the perspective of those who are approving. A little bit of Christian charity, patience, and bearing with one another will go a long way to achieving this (Colossians 3:12-14).
With that said, I personally think it is especially incumbent upon the victors (those who are satisfied) to take the initiative in this. The vitriolic divides in the church right now along political lines is, sadly, manifest to even the casual observer. We have some healing to do, and it ought to start by a concerted effort to shut our lips and listen to one another, especially the victors to those presently disenfranchised by the result of the election.
If you want a place to start, read this article by Thabiti Anyabwile, an African-American pastor (link: https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/thabitianyabwile/2016/11/09/4-problems-associated-with-white-evangelical-support-of-donald-trump/). Read it slowly and prayerfully, and try not to become immediately defensive while doing so. He’s going to say some things you might not agree with and others that might push your buttons. But if you read it seriously and engage his perspective with an open mind, I think you’ll find it a sanctifying exercise.
The New Testament very clearly sets down as a matter of principle that Christians are to submit to the governing authorities (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17). Of course, this doesn’t exclude the possibility of civil disobedience in matters where we must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29), but it does mean that at the core Christians are good citizens, not rebels. Because of our commitment to the sovereign authority of God, we respect, honor, and submit to those he has placed over our nation, states, counties, and towns.
As of last week, we have a new president-elect, Donald J. Trump. And as such, right now he deserves the honor due him as president-elect, and, come January 20, as president. No doubt, this will require some thoughtful reflection by us all regarding what exactly that looks like in our context and in line with our conscience, but the principle is the same for everyone. I would suggest that at the least this means 1) giving Mr. Trump a chance as he transitions into the presidency and begins his term and 2) desiring to see him succeed rather than fail.
This may be the best thing for all of us to do, pray. Pray for our governing officials at all levels of government (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Pray for the church and its witness to the world (Ephesians 6:18-20). Pray for one another as we all adjust to the reality of a new president (James 5:16).
I would encourage you to take some time to read over Paul’s prayers in his letters. You’ll notice how often his prayers were concerned with the sanctification of believers in the midst of their circumstances. Perhaps this is a needed corrective to many of our prayers, which often concern changing our circumstances but neglect perseverance and growth through our circumstances. Moreover, pray the Psalms. Start with a familiar one such as Psalm 23, or one of my favorites, Psalm 34; or maybe a less familiar one like Psalm 146, which beautifully reflects on the believer’s blessed position because of God’s sovereign rule. I don’t think it is an overstatement to say, there is a psalm (ok, maybe portion of a psalm) for every emotion of the human heart. Praise God for such a gift.
There is not one exclusively right or biblical response to the election. Satisfaction, sorrow, sympathy, submission, and supplication (and presumably others) all have biblical grounding as responses to the presidential election. And while the first two will depend of your personal political views, we should all be engaging in the latter three. May God give us the grace to do so.