I have the unique challenge of writing this article before the election occurs and knowing you will read it after either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton has been elected the next president of the United States. It is easy to see from this pre-election vantage point that either presidency will present challenges for Christian higher education and for Christianity generally.
A Clinton presidency will likely see an attempt to achieve free public college; the appointment of Supreme Court justices that may have a narrower view of the scope of rights that protect religious persons and organizations; and policies that reflect a broader view of sexual liberties and a narrower view of conscience protections for those who hold different views.
A Trump presidency will likely see challenges to the fundamental principles of religious liberty through isolation of religious minorities like Muslims; disparagements of the God-given dignity of all persons via his celebration of only those who are strong and powerful and his mockery of anyone weak or different; and a set-back to race relations in the United States, as seen in the race-related incidents that occurred by his supporters at his rallies.
In other words, both presidencies will promote ideas that are antithetical to our core Christian beliefs and commitments. Yet both candidates have also taken some positions which are consistent with core Christian commitments, and so a reasonable theological case has been made by respected Christian theologians for both candidates, as well as for not voting at all. So how do we as Christians decide to vote for? How do we ultimately decide for whom to pull the lever? Is there a way to make sense of each other’s vote when we may feel very strong in our political views?
Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist and author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, outlines how Christians who share deep faith may still vote for very different candidates. He describes the five moral foundations (and the negative things each foundation tries to prevent) shared among all humans:
- Care/harm, which underlines the virtues of kindness, gentleness, and nurturance.
- Fairness/cheating, which generates ideas of justice, rights, and autonomy.
- Loyalty/betrayal, which underlines virtues of patriotism and self-sacrifice for the group.
- Authority/subversion, which underlines virtues of leadership and followership, including deference to legitimate authority and respect for traditions.
- Sanctity/degradation, which underscores notions of living in an elevated, less carnal and more noble way.
As Haidt argues, the foundations a person places the most value on will predict whether that person is a political liberal or conservative. Liberals and conservatives both place very high values on care and fairness. The difference lies, however, in the fact that conservatives also highly value authority, loyalty and sanctity, whereas political liberals ascribe much lower value to those three categories.
In other words, Haidt says, while both liberals and conservatives give value to all five moral foundations, conservatives view them all relatively equally, while liberals place give much higher value to care and fairness above the other three. This is helpful in our understanding of how we as Christians can share a deeply held belief in Christ and yet come to such different, well-reasoned and strongly held political conclusions.
The run-up to this election was one of the most divisive among Christians in recent memory, splitting the evangelical vote more publicly than other past elections, and stirring evangelicals from racial minorities and women in a unique way. So how can we recover our unity once the election has concluded?
We can do so by being the Church. Our call has always been to speak truth to power and to speak prophetically into culture. This is something that the church has too often lost sight of in recent memory – particularly the white church – because we were part of the power structure. We made promises to those in power that weakened our ability to fulfill our prophetic role.
This election process has freed many of us from those illusions. It has instead reminded many of us in the clearest terms that this world is not our home. The political system we eagerly await is a heavenly Kingdom where God the Father will reign as king with perfect justice, love and righteousness. This election has indeed caused many of us to pray with new fervor, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus, come.”
Yet, for so long as we remain on earth, we are called as Christians and as the Church to speak prophetically into the political system and the culture, regardless of who wins. And there will be many opportunities regardless of who wins.
What’s also true is that regardless of who wins, some parts of our Christian body have been and will suffer and we know that should cause all of us to feel pain. (I Cor. 12:26) Yet we know that Jesus prayed that we would be unified. Though I do not at this writing know who will become president, I know that either candidate will provide Christians with the opportunity for counter-cultural living and a counter-cultural message that will give glory to God. We as Christians are called to speak truth to power with our lips and to live differently with our lives. This should be a unifying cause that can bring Christians – regardless of who they voted for – together again.
But what will this look like? How can we acknowledge the hurt, lament the marginalization of so many on both sides, recognize the division in the Church and begin working toward that unity? The key lies in listening in conversations, not just talking at people. We can only move forward in unity if we understand what everyone in the group is feeling.
After the election, talk to someone you trust who voted differently – not to debate policy positions but to hear about their life and to ask why they voted the way they did. Talk to someone you trust who is a member of a different racial or other demographic group to hear how they experienced the election and its outcome and how it makes them feel about the future.
Finally, we must not allow our voting loyalty to override our kingdom loyalty. Thus, when the new president does something that reflects kingdom values, we should praise him or her – even if we didn’t vote for him or her. And when the new president does something that does not reflect kingdom values, we should be willing to speak out to criticize him or her – even if we did vote for that candidate. We must not let our witness be compromised by our politics. If we are to seek the prosperity of the communities and of the country in which we live (Jer. 29:5-7), then we must care more about the good of all than we do about politics. “Love never fails. … Now, these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor. 13)
Shapri D. LoMaglio is the vice president for government & external relations at the CCCU. A native of Tucson, Ariz., LoMaglio is a graduate of Gordon College and of the University of Arizona’s James E. Rogers College of Law.