In the post-election chaos and divisiveness, one thing has been clear to me: We put a lot of stock in our head of state. Perhaps too much.
Whether you’re celebrating, mourning or remaining ambivalent about our new president, you probably see it, too. On the far side of the continuum, thousands have been protesting Trump in unbridled outrage. On the other side, some have been responding radically with violence and racism.
Both extremes are missing the point. Each is using a person—the president—to legitimize their behaviors. Yes, that person represents a highly influential and dogmatic set of ideological beliefs, but it’s still a personality that we’re allowing to divide us. We’re forgetting who is ultimately in control here.
Anti-Trump protesters are reacting out of disillusionment and anger. On more than one occasion, Trump has said incredibly divisive things.
As Christians—people who are called to “make every effort to live in peace with everyone” (Hebrews 12:14)—we know it’s not the government who prescribes our values. We can obey the law and fulfill our civic duties without compromising our convictions. We can accept that the president will influence American income taxes and health care plans, but he doesn’t control our relationships or how we treat each other. That’s for us to decide.
We are the standard bearers of our communities.
We individually decide how to welcome and share the love of God with immigrants, LGBTQ people or interact with our neighbors from different ethnicities. We are responsible for looking to God’s examples of “loving the foreigner” among us (Deuteronomy 10:18) and showing no partiality or distinction between groups. (Romans 10:12)
Our leaders have no power over how we individually value women and girls.
It’s still up to parents to nurture their sons to be respectful of women, to raise their daughters to be courageous and confident. It’s still up to boys and men to decide whether they see their female counterparts as objects to be used or humans to be respected. It’s still the church’s responsibility to show how women, too, are made in God’s image.
Policies that prioritize the wealthy don’t give us permission to ignore the poor.
The Bible consistently instructs us that caring for the hungry, alienated and homeless is not just an activity we occasionally do, it’s an inherent part of our Christian identity. (Isaiah 58:10, James 1:27)
After all, the political sphere alone has never been able to completely fulfill all the needs of an entire nation. That’s why Christians are called to be life preservers to a world that’s lost at sea. That’s why we have nonprofits and faith groups and countless individuals who work tirelessly to address the gaps left by government. That’s why all of us—faith-based or not—need to come alongside these groups to offer them the finances, resources and encouragement they need to do the hard work of justice.
There is a time and place to constructively walk through the bitterness and even anger about the election. But if we shift all blame on a political leader or the government, we’re surrendering our own agency and turning our backs on the power God gave us to be agents of hope and healing in our communities. (Ephesians 3:14-21) We cannot allow our emotions to imprison us or to absolve us of actively participating in community. If anything, the election is a reminder that we still have more work to do.
Undoubtedly, there are failings in the electoral process and the president, but we cannot treat them as if they are the roots of the problem. The real issue is the health of our society. Relationships are fragmented, families are broken, communities are divided. And because humans are broken, the cultures and systems we create are broken, too.
We need to release our expectations that the government will flawlessly solve all our problems and heal our brokenness. History has shown us how transformation has come from other sources: the influences of relationships, the gravity of collective organizing in and outside of the church and the resilience of the human spirit. We saw it with Christian abolitionists, the American Civil Rights Movement, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, the anti-apartheid movement and women’s liberation.
Politics isn’t the only force of change. The work of church and community is more powerful than any one political leader or federal government or even armed forces. After all, we are ultimately responsible for loving and nurturing human souls. The government will work toward liberty of its citizens. The church must work toward shalom.
In the game of politics, our head of state may have the final say – but in the game of life, God does.