Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Letter To North Church

My brother Mark relayed to me an opportunity to explain to his church, which is quite different from mine, why I as a Christian could vote for such an obviously flawed candidate as Donald J. Trump. My previous post, True Confessions of a Trump Voter, provides more deep background to where I am coming from.  Before I post the actual letter I have written directly to them, I want to tell you a story.

When we were boys, my big brother Mark was my hero.  Like kid brothers everywhere, I would tag along and his heels and would like the things he liked and do the things he did.  Because he worked at Ponderosa Steakhouse, I worked at Ponderosa Steakhouse.  His nickname there was "Senator" which he was called because he was interested in politics.  In 1976, at the ripe old age of 16, he worked for the Jimmy Carter campaign.  Naturally I went along, though my spirit did give me a check I should have heeded.  The truth was we could have been campaigning for Old King Cole and I wouldn't have cared.  I was there because of my brother, not because of Carter, though I found out, to my dismay, I had apparently been working for the wrong side when I went with my family to a President Ford rally two days before the election, I liked him much better. Thus a Republican was born, though I could not have told you the differences between the parties to save my life.

In 1985 I joined the Army and served for seven years.  Mark had gone off to school to get his Master's degree at King's College in London before I joined and I was gone when he got back.  We stayed in touch loosely but I was now completely on an independent trajectory.  In addition, family differences and the death of our last surviving parent in 1989 ensured that ties that bind, like Thanksgiving meals and obligatory Christmas trips home occurred with less frequency.

We drifted apart and when we did talk it was apparent much had changed.  In the intervening years I had discovered political awareness and, believe it or not, Mark and I were out 180 degrees from each other.  He remained the yellow dog Democrat disguised as a military history professor, and I had become the left's worse nightmare, a Christian dittohead.  With the continuing family strain now exacerbated by our political differences we went from indifference to active hostility, and did not speak for many years.  Then a wonderful thing happened - I came under conviction.  Those of you who are Christians know what that means.  For you non-Christians, who find our jargon confusing, it means the Lord, as a friend of mine likes to say, took me behind the woodshed. One day in Sunday School we were studying this passage:

9 Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister[b] is still in the darkness. 10 Anyone who loves their brother and sister[c] lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. 11 But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.                                                                             1 John 2:9-11

As someone who takes their faith very seriously, this was like a direct order. I was to make my peace with Mark and with our sister, with whom my relationship had simply languished from inattention. When Mark and I met there was another sign that God was involved in the process.  Mark had recently returned from the U.S. Army War College, where he had served as visiting professor.  While he was there he has confessed to a good friend who was an Army chaplain, of his desire to reconnect with me.  As these two actions happened almost simultaneously, Mark observed, quoting Stonewall Jackson, "he who does not see the hand of God in this sir, is blind".  I fully agreed.  The German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach in his book The Essence of Christianity basically argued that the Christian projected God onto events instead of there actually being divine intervention.  This is nonsense, as too many events like the one described above have happened in my life.

I wish I could say that we lived happily ever after, but I can't.  Our apparently irreconcilable differences continued to plague us.  This blog was a kind of "hail Mary" pass to try to salvage our relationship by giving us something to work on together.  It was not entirely successful.  Then a wonderful thing happened which literally moved me to tears.  Last Saturday Mark published a post he had written from what he imagined was my point of view.  It was surprisingly accurate and, if you read it and compare it to my own feeling as related in True Confessions of a Trump Voter, you will see how much he got right.  The sensitivity he had shown in preparing that blog, written from a viewpoint he could understand, but did not fully agree with, inspired me to do the same.  I began engaging with everyone of his friends I could.  It has generally been a positive experience.  The one negative was when I was described as a shockingly ignorant person who could not possibly believe the drivel I was espousing.  But for me it was enlightening and I was eager to share the new perspectives I was learning. When I unexpectedly had the opportunity to teach a Sunday School class of about 25 the following day, I was able to share with them that the people in shock from the election of Trump were not all sniveling crybabies who needed their mama, but human beings who had understandable fears after the rhetoric they had just heard.  I did the same in a second class the next hour.  So I was realizing the Lord's call to be a peacemaker.

In that same light, I want to share that I found it interesting, when I started actually listening to Trump directly, he did not seem to talk that way.  It would be folly to tell you to not be worried.  One lesson I have learned though is that the lenses we view the world through are entirely different prescriptions, so we legitimately can see the same thing and interpret it differently.  I have learned to be sensitive to that.

Finally to you members of North Church, thank you for this opportunity to dialogue.  I do not need to tell you that we have differences but I absolutely affirm you are as much bearers of Imago Dei as I. Therefore your intrinsic value is infinite and I love you in Christ.  Here is your letter.  Thank you again for the chance to write it.

Greetings in the name of the Lord!  It is very important at this juncture of history, when there exists so much mutual distrust, that people of good will take the time to communicate clearly together.  I have spent a lot of time in the past few days trying to understand the view of folks who, though they may think and believe differently than I do, are loved every bit as much by God and have intrinsic worth and value as human beings because they are created in the image of God and were precious enough that Jesus came and died on the cross so that they might be restored to His full fellowship.  This point of intrinsic worth is a uniquely Christian perspective: every other worldview is based upon the notion that something must be done to justify ourselves, and therefore views human being as having only the utilitarian value of what they can do.  This is a hateful and harmful attitude, and is the reason for much of what is wrong with the world we share.

Feeling like that how could I possibly vote for a candidate who many perceive as antithetical to my beliefs?  The short answer is that initially I felt backed into a corner.  Ben Carson was my candidate of choice.  I have greatly admired him since I bought and read his story of triumph over adversity, Gifted Hands, which I purchased in a Christian bookstore in 1990.  But he did not win, Trump did.  My exposure to Trump was limited to what I had seen at the Republican debates, and he made a very bad first impression.  Because Carson endorsed him however, I was forced to consider that perhaps there was more to him than I thought.  Besides, he was only champion for my views as a person who is strongly pro-life and wanted to see more justices like the late Antonin Scalia.

In a sense, I was like a Bernie Sanders voter, like some of you undoubtedly were.  In a way, you were in a worse dilemma than me because you had been subjected to a corrupt primary process that, through the super delegates was designed with one result.  With a 450-point head start given to Clinton and her illicit help from the DNC, she did not win fair and square.  But what choices did you have?  You still felt that, despite her flaws, Hillary was the best available candidate to express the values you feel are important.  If you can understand that, then you can understand me.

An interesting thing that I discovered though was when Trump was away from the glare of the media spotlight and speaking to smaller groups, I liked much of what I heard.  An example of this is a remarkable speech Trump delivered to a group of African American leaders in Charlotte on October 26th.  His argument was based on the fact that the Democratic Party has promised much to the African American community, but has over a span of decades, delivered very little.  His appeal was to be given the chance to help their community.  I felt the sincerity of this appeal and was greatly encouraged when I heard that at least one of you also responded to this appeal and voted for him.  This was the occasion when I went from an anti-Hillary voter to a pro-Trump vote.  I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and will hold him accountable if he fails to do what he said he would do.

I hope this letter helps to bridge the gap that exists between some of us and reinforces others of you in the knowledge that the caricature being portrayed of the Trump voter as hateful and insensitive is not true for the vast majority.  Like you, we want what is best for our country and look for the day when God’s will is indeed done on earth as it is in heaven.

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