What Time Is It in America?
The election is over. Donald Trump is the President Elect of the United States. For many Christians, this is the outcome you voted for. White evangelicals turned out to vote in record numbers with over 80 percent supporting Trump. For many Christians, however, the election of Donald Trump is simultaneously a political, moral, and spiritual disaster. Post-election feelings range widely among our faith. This is a testament to the diversity of Christianity and its message that transcends race, gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, and even political ideology.
It also, however, demonstrates the deep divides between American Christians—chasms as wide as those of any doctrinal schism prior. So what does the body of Christ do now? Do our schisms sever us so acutely that the ear can finally say to the eye “I do not belong to the body?” Or is it time that we Christians suture the deep gashes that this election has inflicted and turn our eyes to a more unified future? Ecclesiastes tells us there is an appointed time for everything—a time to wound and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build. In these last few days and hours I’ve asked myself “what time is it in America?” The answer for Christians, I think, is not as easy as many—both conservative and liberal alike—seem to be making it.
Despite their divisions, Hillary Clinton, President Obama, and President-elect Trump have answered this question in very similar ways. Words like teamwork, unity, and healing slide like balm from the lips of political, religious, and pop-culture personalities of both parties. Christian socialmediaite Jen Hatmaker sums up what many Christians, especially evangelicals like me, default to in times of strife. “Be kind and hopeful and generous,” she says. “To those of you who are cheering [Trump’s Victory],” pleads Hatmaker, “I ask so sincerely to show restraint on your celebration today, because this campaign has caused considerable and palpable pain to so many people.” It is a message of unity, of gentleness, and of healing.
These calls for coming together are not totally unexpected or unwarranted. Indeed, this is the American way. Every four years we speak the words of institution that transubstantiate our base interests into the transcendent ideal that is the peaceful transition of power. We appeal to our better angels and invoke the spirit of a unifying national ethos that is meant to animate our body politic to greater and greater deeds. Our prophetic voices cease in the name of some national pseudo-love. But this political communion is not a clean and automatic ritual in much of the United States.
I live on the South Side of Chicago. I come from a city where I see black bodies broken, black blood spilled with seeming impunity all to “preserve order” and “protect the community”—body and blood, broken and spilled for me. At a Church where I’ve worshipped, my brother immigrant Jose Juan remains divided from his family and his home with no lawful way of becoming unified. Across a border that’s mere miles from my home, my gay Christian brothers, sisters, and non-identifiers faced a governor who advocated for the legality of conversion therapy, where we try to unmake the essence of who they are. This man, Mike Pence, is now the vice-unifier elect. Just to the west of me, a black Christian professor cannot wear a hijab in solidarity with mistreated Muslims without backlash from her students, colleagues, and community. When I walk the eight blocks carrying food from my nearest grocery store, at least three people on the way stop and ask what church’s food pantry offers such a great variety. Our meagre non-profit income and graduate student household flows with milk and honey compared to so many of our neighbors.
I find it hard then to lift my hands to pray for our national wounds to be healed when we as a nation continue to actively drive nails into the hands of our society’s most vulnerable. Can we square the American spirit with the Spirit of the Lord? The spirit of the Lord proclaims good news to the poor, freedom for the mass incarcerated, healthcare for the blind, and ensures blessings of liberty to the oppressed. How are we doing with these things? How are we doing with true religion? Can such wounds filled with shrapnel truly close? Can we really sip from the communal cup of national healing without drinking damnation on ourselves? Is it truly a time to heal in America?
The problem with politics is that we steward the earthly kingdom with bloody hands. When we join hands we do so with wounds still open. That is the reality of Christianity in America. But the wounds are important to the healing. It’s how we tell the doctor where it hurts. When we doubt like Thomas the efficacy of the American project, rather than looking to the top of a tall tower of Babel for reassurance, perhaps we point like Christ to the open wounds on our joined hands.
Healing and hope comes with the hard and often painful work of therapy. Convalescence begins so often with surgery. When Jesus healed, Israel didn’t unify around their political institutions. When Jesus healed the powers trembled. Christ came not to bring peace, but a scalpel. But Jesus did heal—and even if he made it shudder, Christ did not overthrow the earthly kingdom. Rather, the gospel grew through a grassroots movement. It took root in the hearts and minds of the people and even the Roman Empire bowed a knee to the will of the public. In history, not just in the movies, we watch a slave become more powerful than the emperor of Rome. What time is it in America? Perhaps both a time to be wounded and a time to heal, to build and to tear down.