There are lots of good things about being a Christian in America. You aren’t weird, you’re normal. You don’t have to defend your views constantly like you do in the Uk. You barely even have to ask if other people go to Church so many people do, so you can share your experiences in confidence and comfort. You don’t hear the sub-text every single day that belittles you as a person simply for something you believe. There are more people with you on the journey here and they are good people who have a sincere faith that translates to doing and being.
But in the UK as a Christian you are in the a minority. (And before people weigh about establishments etc here is a recent report about the numbers who report themselves Christian (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/23/no-religion-outnumber-christians-england-wales-study) You get used to feeling counter-culture and it can be quite wearing. After all, I don’t conclude all atheists are evil because of Stalin, yet I’m constantly challenged on the idea that there might be an ounce of good in Christianity because of our own chequered past.(FYI not saying it doesnt’ exist nor saying I am happy with it, just saying double standards get draining)
So it would be easy for me to sit back and relax here into the warm, cosy feeling of being a majority. But I can’t do that, because once again, I’m not really in the majority. I’m a reflection of a different way of being Church and it comes directly from all that challenge, hostility and critique. A faith unchallenged is worthless, unproven and weak. It is complacent, it becomes dictatorial and stubbornly resistant to change and it can become subverted.
I believe that the legitimate and open criticism of the Church in the UK has helped it to look back to its roots and become closer to the challenging, socially active and politically dynamic ideas that you see if you can be bothered to read both the Old and the New Testaments. This stands in contrast to much of the Church I see here and as it is reflected in the political landscape – Ah! We get to the point! I’m writing about the election.
I have to face the fact that many Christians voted for Donald Trump and almost everything he says that conflicts with my understanding of the Bible. Oh, I’m not alone in thinking this. Don’t believe for one second that the Christians all marched out there waving crosses as one. There were/are many dissenting voices and votes, particularly inside the Episcopalian Church but also from others that I know within all the traditions. However, the fact is that many Christians embraced him enthusiastically as representing their views as Christians and I need to acknowledge that, partly because I sometimes feel that I may be the only Christian some of my friends know and if not me, then who? ( to quote the lovely Emma Watson totally out of context)
There are many reasons why half the country went for Trump, many different constituencies voted for him, including ethnic minorities and women (53% of all white women – so now I probably have to discuss that statistic too!). Many people are genuinely hurting in the face of an economic recovery that hasn’t even touched the sides for them and when someone promises to re-open coal mines, well… (Watch this excellent set of videos from The Guardian to get some insight into some of the drivers around disenfranchisement). There is also a great deal of mistrust of Washington and there was a great deal of mistrust Hilary, not just from her emails but from previous situations. But more I believe that there is a deep desire for the ‘old days’ when America was top nation and again, there’s a reason why Trump said he would ‘Make America Great Again’.
I’m just trying to acknowledge that not every vote for Trump was based on an agenda of anger and fear of the other. Political identity is very deeply embedded, to my British readers, could you bring yourself to vote Conservative/Labour at the next election if you thought that the leader of your favoured party was an idiot? But let’s be clear – bigotry, racism, sexism and a right wing agenda drove a lot of voters towards a man who seemed to resonate with their own agenda. And some of the people with those views were Christian and they voted for him because of their faith.
If prejudices such as these exist inside a population they will exist inside the Church and if the Church is not regularly challenged and called out on the way that ideas like this do not hold water when you hold them up to the teachings of Jesus then they can become nicely embedded. What then is the responsibility of those who read the Bible differently particularly in a country where being Christian is the norm? It is to be that challenge within the orthodoxy, it is to call leaders to do the same and it is to speak out and support those who are oppressed. We have to actively live out what we believe and know that it will put us into conflict with others within our community. And we have to be prepared for that.