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Empathy and Charity: How Christians Can Respond to Election 2016

Empathy and Charity: How Christians Can Respond to Election 2016

Last night, the long road toward Election Day finally ended, as Donald Trump won the office of United States President. Generally, the day after a presidential election, people are left feeling either elated (because their candidate won) or disappointed (because their candidate lost). But this has been a strange year, so the usual post-election emotions aren’t what they’ve been in years past. Clinton voters, we’ve already seen, feel angry and afraid. Many women and minorities are understandably concerned about what this means for their future in our country. And while many Trump voters are certainly excited, I know that the Christians who voted for him aren’t completely thrilled at the prospect of President Trump. They’re more relieved at avoiding President Clinton.

The purpose of this post is not to weigh in on the relative merits or dangers of President Donald Trump. Many people have already pointed out Trump’s significant deficits in the past few months, ourselves among them. This discussion should go forward in the days to come. But for now, I want to consider how Christians should respond to this new reality. Whether you voted for him or not, we need to approach this new season with gospelized lenses.

So what should Christians do in the days and weeks to come? Here are seven brief thoughts:

1. Show empathy for the confused and fearful.

While some Christians voted for Trump because they thought that, given the two options they had to choose from, he was the better of the two, every Christian should be outraged by demeaning comments made toward certain groups in our society, whether we are part of that group or not. And we should stand against injustice and discrimination wherever we see even a hint of it. Christians who voted for Trump must seek to understand (if they don’t already) why many immigrants, women, some minorities and members of the LGBT community feared a Trump presidency. We must speak out against injustice, bigotry and demeaning comments as loudly as those directly affected.

This will be a test for those evangelical believers who felt like Trump was the better choice. Will they have the courage to stand boldly against him—and the Republican party—wherever they perceive them pursuing an uncharitable agenda? (Had Clinton won, we would be asking the question in reverse: Would believers who supported her be willing to publicly work for justice in those areas where she falls short?)

I do know that many of our black and Hispanic brothers and sisters are fearful and confused this morning. These are our brothers and sisters in Christ, made in the image of God like us. Ask questions, acknowledge their hurts and above all, listen. Whatever else this moment calls for, it calls for empathy toward the hurting and afraid.

Conservative evangelicals have to demonstrate that we are fighting for, and truly care about, the empowerment of the disenfranchised and the poor. Many conservatives will argue that the best tools for empowering the poor are found in the conservative, limited government view of economics. If so, they should demonstrate that they believe in their economic views not despite their care for the poor, but because of their care for the poor. Furthermore, conservatives (and evangelical conservatives in particular), must demonstrate in this season a willingness to fight against injustice and discrimination wherever they see it, whether judicial system, the workplace or anywhere else.

2. Show charity for believers who voted the other way by assuming the best about their motives wherever you can.

As we have explained before, mature, gospel-loving, reflective Christians were genuinely consternated about which was the better choice in this election. Some felt that even with all her flaws, Clinton was the better overall choice for the country—usually because of the attitude she displayed toward the poor and disenfranchised. Others thought that, despite his flaws, Trump was the better choice. And many could not vote for either.

At this point, I’m not trying to persuade you one way or the other (I never was). What I want to encourage you here with is this: Don’t assume the worst about those who voted the other way. Don’t assume that fellow believers who voted for Trump did so because they are utterly insensitive to minority struggles or unconcerned about misogyny, xenophobia or sexual assault. Many voted for Trump despite their disgust at those things, because they thought the things Clinton stood for were at least as dangerous to the country. So as you engage those who voted differently, do so with charity.

In the same way, don’t assume that those who voted for Clinton (or didn’t vote for either) are naïve about the threats to religious liberty or too cowardly to oppose abortion. Many believers were very aware of those things but just couldn’t support a man who displayed the significant character failings of Trump.

When a sibling in Christ votes a different way than you, choose to believe the better narrative about why they might have done so. Be humble and charitable enough to realize that many mature Christians came to different conclusions about what the right posture was, and give them the benefit of the doubt where you can. You don’t have to agree with their conclusions, but in the church we can and must demonstrate a humility, forbearance and civility usually absent from public discourse.

Jesus told us to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Surely this includes assuming the best about the motives of others and giving them the benefit of the doubt, which we always want others to do for us. We tend, however, to attribute the best motives to our own actions and the worst to those who disagree with us. Can we respect our brothers and sisters who disagreed with our political choices, assuming the best about their intentions? This is another crucial test for believers on both sides right now, one that—based on social media—most seem to be failing.

I have often pointed out to our church that one of Jesus’ disciples was “Simon the Zealot.” Zealots were those Jews that thought Judaism should revolt against Rome, driving out all Roman influence. Included with him in that circle of 12 was “Matthew the Tax Collector,” who had worked for Rome collecting taxes. One disciple thought war with Rome was the best course of action; the other thought complicity with Rome was wiser. I’m sure they had some incendiary political discussions by the campfires in the evening. (I’d love to see Jesus’ posture as he listened to them.) But at the end of the day, they found in their love for Jesus a unity greater than the political questions that divided them.

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J.D. Greear, Ph.D., is the President of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastors the Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, NC. Tagged by Outreach magazine as one of the fastest growing churches in America, the Summit has grown in the past 8 years from 400 to over 5,000 each weekend. The Summit Church is deeply involved in global church planting, having undertaken the mission to plant 1000 churches in the next 40 years. J.D. has authored Breaking the Islam Code and the upcoming Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary.