Election 2016 has shoved the Christian community into camps that has divided us more than even the cultural biases so evident in the spiritual landscape of our nation. Two troubling divides seem most apparent right now: the divide separating many spiritual leaders from the people they have been charged to lead, and the divide between the pulpit and the pew. They are two troubling divides for these times. Let me explain.
Divide one: spiritual leaders and the people they have been charged to lead.
The news yesterday helped put this divide into perspective for me. The media reported a campaign appearance by the 42nd POTUS in Ft. Myers, Florida. During that speech Mr. Clinton identified himself as a "standard redneck", implying a resonance with the rank and file Trump supporters, also "standard rednecks". By use of the term "standard redneck", President Clinton was talking more specifically about the Southern evangelical vote we've all been scratching our heads over. Like it or not, 13.3 million of these "standard rednecks" stood in voting lines during the primary season to cast their vote for Mr. Trump, certainly not a "standard redneck". Few of them identify with his lavish rich boy elitist lifestyle or his locker room talk or bombastic manner. But, by and large, the "standard redneck" cohort is sick and tired of the professional politicians that have co-opted our government for generations and want a fresh mind and voice to guide the nation. Think about it. The mantle didn't fall on Mr. Trump by accident. Like it or not, these "standard rednecks" chose him over fifteen other career politicians.
Here's the divide. You see, the "standard redneck" label has some baggage. You know, like slavery, the Civil War, racism, segregation, pro-life standards, biblical marriage, and many other cultural ills that may have fit the times but won't float now in our culturally enlightened world. It's an association that many of our spiritual leaders would like to jettison as proof that we're no longer living in the dark, unsophisticated past. So, the #neverTrump spiritual elitist class is stepping away from the "standard redneck" label to exemplify our coming of age and more up-town veneer.
At the same time, there's an anger factor too. I just finished the book The End of White Christian America by Robert P. Jones. It's an interesting read. Jones reviews the most recent demographic shifts in the American population and predicts an end of evangelical influence in American culture. Of course, without specifically using the term "standard redneck", Jones refers to the evangelical population as essentially a white southern voting block. Though I disagree with many of Jones' final conclusions, his assessment of the stages of grief in this death is on point. Anger and denial are referenced as the first stage of grief in any death assessment. Many of our leaders seem so angry that our place at the table has been taken by the more tolerant and liberal mainline Protestant vote.
Thus, there is a divide between many spiritual leaders and the people who have elected or appointed them to represent them in places of denominational leadership.
Divide two: the pulpit and the pew.
For the most part, pastor's and congregational leaders have been silenced in this election. An example is intensely personal. The other week a college classmate challenged me for promoting pro-Republican material on social media. Evidently mainline Protestants and liberals don't think pastors and other congregational leaders should speak to the troubling issues so evident in this election. As a result, many pastors and spiritual leaders have been coerced to remain silent regarding the vision and platforms of the two prevailing political parties. It must be noted that the two parties have positioned themselves in extremely liberal or conservative positions in this election. Therefore, the pulpit, under denominational influence and fearing in-house retribution and perhaps castigation, has become distant from the "standard redneck" people who occupy our pews every Sunday. And, this silence, as they say, is deafening.
Let me add a personal note. Thirty-five years ago God called me out of a banking and hospital financial administration career to full-time ministry. A seminary and doctoral program later God affirmed my ministry calling in two biblical ministry passages:
To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach
to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for
everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all
things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be
made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.
Ephesians 3:8-10, ESV
Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under
compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but
1 Peter 5:2, ESV
Like most other pastors and spiritual leaders, these verses have compelled me to speak to every issue affecting the shepherding of "the flock of God that is among you", including the special stewardship of their vote. As I would shepherd them regarding their marriages, parenting, careers, lifestyles, love and respect of others, how we spend our money, and every other significant life point, I have felt compelled to speak to the times, cultural movements, and politics as well.
"United we stand, divided we fall" is a well known epithet dating to Aesop. It was quoted by Patrick Henry in March 1799 before his death from cancer. it is thought to be a revolutionary period axiom. But, it has deep spiritual roots. Jesus said---
Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls.
Luke 11:17, ESV
These are surely troubled times. But, the divide that separates God's people and their leaders is more troubling. It's time for a gut check in the Christian community. No, a heart check.
And, of course, that begins with me. My prayer---
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
Psalm 51:10, ESV