Reasons to Hope (Even If Trump Is President)

By the time I went to bed last night, I was pretty sure that Donald J. Trump would be my next president. When my body awoke early this morning (I had no idea the time), I pondered whether to turn over and allow myself to check my phone. It seemed unlikely I would fall back asleep with any ease, so I decided to see whether Trump had sealed his victory or if some miracle had occurred.

Like many, I am scared. Not because a Republican has won the White House but because Trump was no ordinary Republican candidate. I’m worried about international affairs and potential wars and nuclear threats. I’m worried about what it means for our diverse nation that a man so associated with bigotry and resentment and ignorance has won the presidency. I’m worried that Trump won’t respect the law or basic principles of our democracy that allow it to function as well as it does.

During the last several months, I have allowed myself to believe that a Trump presidency was indeed a real possibility. As I pondered this, I found that I needed to hope. I suspect some other people out there need a little hope right now too. So I thought I’d share the list of reasons for hope under a Trump presidency that I’ve been working on.

My tone will probably be more optimistic than some can handle at this moment (it will probably be more optimistic than I currently feel). All of us are experiencing this election differently, and I don’t pretend that my reaction is the right one for everyone. But perhaps these words will be encouraging to some.

1. My faith

Politics is not a good place to put your hope. Most of us find something else to hope in. For me, part of that something else is a belief in a God who—eventually, somehow—will ensure that justice and goodness and peace will ultimately win. Every government and every political system is deeply flawed. The question is when—not if—politics will take a dark turn. We must find something else to hope in when these moments come.

2. Our resilience

As a nation, we’ve lived through plenty of dark moments. We fled from our nation’s capital as the British set it ablaze. We pointed our guns toward one another and literally split in two as we fought to preserve our separate visions of who we were as a people. We ran to the banks and found that our deposits were gone forever. We listened on the radio to the news that the Japanese were attacking Pearl Harbor. We saw smoke rise above our cities as racial strife erupted in flames. We stared at our TV screens and witnessed the plane that hit the second tower. Throughout our history, we have seen exactly four presidents be shot and killed.

Somehow, we have always survived.

I’m one of the least patriotic people I know, and believing in my country should be more difficult for me right now than ever before. In many ways, it is. But today I know that I am proud to be an American. And I believe that spirit of patriotism is more important now than it ever has been before in my lifetime. I will not run from my country in the face of adversity. My country needs me now, and I will stand with it. We will survive this together. We will find a way. That’s what we do.

3. The federal bureaucracy

There are many, many fine women and men serving our country, in and out of uniform. They are talented. They are informed. They have great responsibility. The functions of government are far too vast for any one man (or one man and his close associates) to comprehend every detail. Yes, the president wields great power. But he is forced to rely on the expertise, the procedures, and the efforts of the federal bureaucracy. This bureaucracy is incredibly complex. It is not easy to change. It plays a major role in providing information to the president. I suspect many reckless decisions will be avoided because our bureaucracy will have a say in what happens.

4. The law

Laws are not perfectly respected in any society. We’ve seen presidents push the boundaries of their constitutional authority. But we’ve also consistently seen forces push back against overreach (though not always as strongly as we would wish). Compared to many countries, there is great respect for the law in this country, and that means that the president’s power is not unchecked. Trump may push the boundaries, but he will meet resistance. Traditions of press freedom, democratic transition of authority, and respecting the rights of personal and political enemies will not easily be destroyed. When Hillary Clinton was the alternative, many Republicans (elected officials and voters) came to Trump’s side. But I do not believe that means they will tolerate the dissolution of our most deeply-held democratic norms.

5. New awareness

I believe that the rhetoric and substance of Trump’s campaign has worsened certain problems in our society. But it has also served to reveal many pre-existing problems that were largely being ignored (for a variety of reasons) by much of society. In the last few years, we have finally again devoted substantial attention to issues of racism in our society. In recent months, the Trump candidacy has begun spawning important discussions about rural poverty, racial resentment, and intergenerational hopelessness. Despite the Internet allowing us to connect instantly with people in almost any part of the world, we’ve been so disconnected from one another at home that many have been struggling to understand what a Trump supporter even looks like. We can only hope to address our society’s issues if we are aware of them. Trump’s political success has been a major wakeup call to me and many others.

This presidential campaign has both exposed and created deep divisions in our society. There are many wounds in need of healing. Regardless of the outcome, picking up the pieces and trying to move forward as a nation after this election was never going to be an easy task. Many (including people I know and love) are relieved by last night’s results. Many (such as myself) are terrified. I don’t know what our future will look like. But we—you and I—will play a role in it. It’s our job—each of ours—to push forward and face the problems confronting our world. That was true on Monday, and it’s still true today. We have a lot of work to do.

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Domineering, But Not Disqualified from Ministry?

This is not a post about what kind of a guy I think Mark Driscoll is. There are already far too many of those.

This post is about church leadership. And power. And disqualification.

I starting thinking about these issues as I read this statement released by the Mars Hill Board of Overseers that addresses Mark Driscoll’s recent resignation.

What stood out to me from the statement were the following two points:

  1. We concluded that Pastor Mark has, at times, been guilty of arrogance, responding to conflict with a quick temper and harsh speech, and leading the staff and elders in a domineering manner. While we believe Mark needs to continue to address these areas in his life, we do not believe him to be disqualified from pastoral ministry.
  2. Pastor Mark has never been charged with any immorality, illegality or heresy. Most of the charges involved attitudes and behaviors reflected by a domineering style of leadership.

Two things made me uneasy. First, it strikes me as odd that the board says Mark has never been charged with “immorality” even though he has displayed arrogance, a quick temper, and domineering leadership. Those characteristics strike me as ones that—at least within a Christian worldview—are clearly immoral. Then again, perhaps their use of the term “immorality” is meant to refer specifically to sexual immorality (maybe such usage is common in some circles). Even so, I wonder why they single out “immorality, illegality or heresy” as three (apparently important) categories of improper behavior to explicitly address. It makes me wonder if the board views those three types of behavior as the primarily ones that would result in disqualification for a minister?

Which leads me to the second thing that made me uncomfortable. In this statement, the board deems a man who has (at times) been quick-tempered and domineering in his leadership to be qualified for a position of pastoral authority. This idea concerns me. Now, I’m sure the board has given a lot of thought to this situation and has reasons why they believe this conclusion is appropriate. There are few details contained in this statement, so I can’t discern what the board has concluded regarding how recently and frequently Mark has been guilty of these offences. And the board doesn’t tell me what they believe would suffice to disqualify a man or woman from pastoral leadership.

In my mind, one of the first reasons you would remove someone from a position of authority is if that person sometimes uses their authority in an destructive fashion—in a manner that disregards and undermines those around them. This is a congregational offense. If you leave domineering people in positions of power, you keep enabling them.

Now, that doesn’t mean that someone who has acted in a domineering fashion can never be put in a position of authority again. But if someone has exhibited a repeated pattern of improper leadership, they almost certainly need to step out of their authority role until they get to a healthier place. They’re not qualified for leadership until that problem is addressed.

In discussing how church leaders are to be chosen, Titus 1:7 (ESV) says that

He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain

Again, it’s hard for me to know exactly what the board concluded regarding Mark’s behavior. But it’s troubling to me that two of the words used in Titus to describe who should not be a leader (arrogant, quick-tempered) show up in the board’s description of how Mark has transgressed. The most favorable explanation I can come up with is that perhaps the board doesn’t believe that arrogance and quick-temperedness are traits consistently exhibited by Mark, even though Mark has sometimes displayed them.

Stepping back a bit, I’ve heard too many stories of domineering Christian leaders. I hope more Christians will recognize the need to seriously confront instances of inappropriate exercise of authority within the church. When we stand by and allow leaders to use their power in ways that silence others or promote their own gain, we enable them to continue their destructive practices. We allow them to leave behind a hidden trail of bruised and broken victims of their recklessness. Nothing excuses this. It doesn’t matter how inspiring their vision is, how great their teaching is, how many people they attract.

And it shouldn’t take a sex scandal for us to put a stop to it. It’s all too easy to focus on only the more easily measurable commands: don’t commit adultery, don’t be a drunkard, don’t be violent. But let us not fool ourselves into thinking that these are the only things that disqualify a church leader. Or else we may be surprised by the trail of destruction we eventually find.

Love Your Neighbor

29 But the lawyer, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 Jesus replied, “An Israeli man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he drove by on the other side. 32 So likewise an aid worker, when he came to the place and saw him, drove by on the other side. 33 But a Palestinian, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, cleaning them carefully. Then he carried the injured man to his own car and drove him to a health clinic and stayed by his side for the whole night. 35 And the next day he took out two hundred dollars and gave them to the nurse, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”

37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.”

And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

 

[Adapted from Luke 10:29-37, English Standard Version.]