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Last week, John Stonestreet of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview asked me to participate in a Breakpoint symposium with other writers and thinkers (John Stonestreet, Mindy Belz, R. R. Reno, Rod Dreher, and more). We were given the space of 350 words to respond to the following question:

"What has the 2016 election revealed about the state of the Church and its place in American culture, and how ought we (the American Church) move forward from here?”

I encourage you check out the various answers, which go in a number of different directions. I chose to answer this question by widening the view so we can see how political engagement is taking place. The question before us is not only about political positions, but also political posture and how Christian convictions are brought to bear on how we engage in the future.

Here’s my answer:

First, the Church's political witness has fractured along many of the same fault lines we see in the wider culture, where one's vote is more likely to be influenced by generation, race, or political affiliation than by religious conviction.

Secondly, the Church's political passions have, like the wider culture, been fueled by self-selected social media and news organizations that do more to affirm the rightness of preexisting views than to inform and challenge with truth instead of spin.

Third, the Church's political posture has degenerated into a despairing defensiveness, proving we are just as susceptible as the rest of society to apocalyptic rhetoric and demagoguery from both the right and the left.

Overall, the 2016 election has shown how the Church's political engagement is shot through with ressentiment--the Nietzschean concept warned about by James Davison Hunter, in which we ground ourselves "in a narrative of injury. . . a strong belief that one has been or is being wronged." Surveying our political landscape driven by rights, wrongs, and a mindset of entitlement, the Church has adopted the same posture as other groups, and has embraced fear as the primary motivator for political involvement.

Moving forward, the Church must look for ways to reclaim and embody the Christian virtue of hope--the only sword sharp enough to cut through the marrow of ressentiment. Society often reduces hope to a wish, a human longing for a future that may or may not be certain. The Christian sees hope as rooted in God and His promises. Hope challenges the Church's fear of injustice going unnoticed by reminding us of the future when God will right all wrongs. We trust not in our own efforts to bring about a particular vision of the future, but in God to restore His creation and make everything right again.

Further, hope challenges ressentiment with cheerful courage in the face of opposition. Hope calls us to replace bitterness and grievances with confidence in God's good purposes for the world, and love for the people who may injure us.

Hope also calls us to personal repentance and relational restoration. In hope, we extend the hand of fellowship to believers who have wounded or disappointed us. In hope, we apologize for our own harshness and hard-heartedness. In hope, we recommit to one another as an act of faith: a sign that communities matter, that people matter more than politics, and that mediating institutions (like the Church) are indispensable to the common good.

I’ve got a lot more to say about this election, but it will have to wait for a few days and weeks. For starters, I do believe this contrast of ressentiment and hope to be crucial for our involvement in the Trump era. There are a number of good responses to this question over at Breakpoint’s Symposium. I recommend you check out the others also.

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3 thoughts on “The 2016 Election and The American Church”

  1. Gary Archibeck says:

    Thank you Trevin – I didn’t think I had much in common with those who might wear the label “evangelical” anymore, and then you write this – well said sir!

  2. Martin says:

    Breakpoint, John Stonestreet – I lost respect for both last week.

    I listened to The BreakPoint Podcast on Monday, Nov 7. After asserting that he was could not and, therefore, would not endorse any of the presidential candidates, he spent the next few minutes insisting that his listeners have only one choice in this election. According to him, Christians cannot vote for the candidate of a party that includes a pro-choice stance in its platform.

    What was worse is that he went on to cite two clergymen (a Catholic priest and a Jewish rabbi) who recently told their congregations that it is a sin to vote for a candidate who supports pro-choice. He left the comments hanging, without refuting them.

    This is not only manipulation by intimidation, it is worse – manipulation by spiritual intimidation. Decisions we make are to be made personally by faith, not in response to some commentator thinly veiling his personal views with spiritual instruction.

    Mr. Stonestreet is only one example of the poor commentary and news reporting that exemplifies conservative Christianity. The biggest loser is the witness of the Church in our society and its many naïve sheep that are led astray by such individuals. How many other issues/positions will be targets for BreakPoint’s manipulative instruction among Christians?

    BreakPoint was born out of a very politically biased worldview. What else should we expect? How about balanced analyses for once?

  3. Lamar Carnes says:

    I am not claiming to be an authority on any subject, for I can certainly be in error as others. But it seems to me that the body of Christ, including the ministers and the on the same level of kingdom status, the members of the body of Christ in which there is NO disunity or pagan members, should be informed enough through the holy scriptures to make right judgments about the entire matters as revealed in scripture concerning the Governments of this world and the population of the same. It doesn’t take a theological degree to know what the holy word states to us, but rather, a regenerated heart and the Holy Spirit who was given to each of us to teach us the truth about all things pertinent that God has given to His people. What amazes me is that the pulpits were shut down during the entire election. No courage to rise up and help the sheep understand what is going on! The spiritual warfare that is taking place which God had and has ordained among the Governments and nations is always taking place until He comes back. This world system spawning the corruptive world view of Satan is always at odds with the body of Christ and God’s word! We are not to allow ourselves to become “party” dedicate or even personalities holding us to absolute devotion. But, having said that, it is pretty easy to see which political party and which individuals are holding “outwardly at least” that which is more conducive to the best over all policies regarding civil government and the protection and help toward its peoples! Being transparent and truthful was what had been lost in the past some fifty years, not that serious problems did not exist before, but there was a move toward secularism, anti-Christ ideologies, and outright hate promoted! If one hasn’t noticed that almost everything has been turned upside down, twisted to fit ideologies and pleasures, etc., to make things more chaotic and confused is the order of the day! God and His word speaks to all of this. Now, due to complacency from the pulpits, and by the way our former history in the U.S. did not have silent pulpits on political issues,just check out the Puritans and you will see such. It is time to stop fearing the Government but rather fear God and tell the truth to the people regardless of the consequences. All I heard from time to time was a statement about NOT speaking out and a promotion of it is sort of o.k. to be Democrats or Republicans or Independents as if one was as good as the other or as bad as the other. That just was not so! Any one who can read knows that the Democratic party especially was openly and strongly non supportive of the word of God and pushed immorality and lies and anything that reeked of anti-God information and actions. Republicans are as party did not have a platform which was even close to the Democrats, yet pulpits would remain silent!! Rising your fists at your party Convention and stating openly NO GOD anymore was well seen and heard in the past eight years. It is time to speak up and not shut up and hide and pretend it is o.k. to let the sheep and the pagans go to hell just so we don’t engage in politics and we must be tolerant of all. For me that shall not be!! So help me God! Amen!

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Trevin Wax

​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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