Five years ago, during the summer election season, I attended a Bible study at my church that looked at the book of Daniel. I hadn’t spent much time thinking about Daniel since my college Old Testament class, and it was an excellent study that took me outside of the It’s Cool in the Furnace perspective of my childhood. (For those not fortunate enough to be raised in evangelical or even pseudo-evangelical culture, Cool in the Furnace was a children’s musical about the three men and the fiery furnace with a sequel about Daniel and the Lions den. My sisters and I loved listening to both the record and our taped recording of it in our house and the car on road trips.)
The Bible study was as fascinating as it was frightening. This was because I could see what was happening in my own country. People were drawn to a seriously flawed man who was promising them power and prestige under the guise of bringing Christianity back into prominence in America. I saw the United States heading towards a metaphorical Babylon and I felt like I was one of the only ones in my Christian circle who could see it. We talked about the changing interpretation of the “anti-Christ” and I watched as friends and family flocked to Donald Trump, viewing him as the one who would save us from the godless pagans who wanted to take over the United States. After all, weren’t we a Christian nation blessed by God to be a shining city on a hill for the entire world? (Yes, I know that this is a gross misinterpretation of American history, but it was the narrative I was told for much of my life and I know many who still hold onto it as Gospel truth.)
And so, during the election season of 2016, I was one of many Christians who broke from the expected norm and voted against the man who would become president. When Hillary Clinton conceded in the late hours of November 8, I resigned myself to living in Babylon, which is where I’ve struggled for the last four years.
And I know that I’m not alone.
Many of us feel like we’ve been doubly exiled. Not only are we trying to be shining lights in the darkness, but those who have been basking in the artificial light of a Trump presidency keep throwing us and our warnings to the side. We feel like we’ve been tossed into the fiery furnace by our own faith communities for not bowing down to the golden statue. We’ve been thrown into the lions den for refusing to praise a political leader (who we have seen as not just flawed but actually against everything we were ever taught) and all of the ways he has “helped” Christianity. Some have faithfully stayed in their churches, quietly struggling through the hurt and betrayal of leadership. Some have found new church homes at the expense of long-term relationships. And others have just given up entirely. I’ve watched so many former students walk away from the Church and some friends do the same because the Church, which is supposed to be a place of grace and spiritual healing, is not safe for them.
Why? Because the American Church has married itself to the party of Donald Trump.
Ever since Joe Biden became the apparent winner of the presidential election, I have seen person after person post about how God is on the throne. They’ve encouraged people to keep the faith and not put their faith in leaders. They’ve reminded people that “this too shall pass.”
But for me, the words ring hollow. Hearing “We can keep the faith because God is on the throne” from people who have questioned my faithfulness because I don’t support a Republican president makes me wonder if they really believe that. Those of us who have been cast to the outside have been telling ourselves that “God is in control” for four years, while our loved ones have lived in a different reality from our own. And those of us who have been living in the furnace have had to hold onto that belief with an increasingly slipping grip.
Yes, I am thrilled that Joe Biden won because I want someone who wants to be president to the whole country. For the last four years, my study as a history major and Holocaust studies teacher has caused me to pause more times than I want to count as I’ve watched the actions of the current administration unfold. And unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be getting any better the further we get from the actual election.
The only things God has ever promised me is the gift of life and life eternal because of His grace. “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are not my God-given rights but rights guaranteed to me because of my American citizenship. As a Christian American, God has called me to use the rights of citizenship to “act justly, show mercy, and walk humbly” in order to serve those who are less fortunate than me and fight for the rights they have been denied in a government run by flawed human beings.
My feelings and reactions over the last four years haven’t been about losing faith and confidence in a God who is greater than the rulers of this earth and who has established a heavenly kingdom. This is about making sure that my children still have a constitutional republic to call home. This is about them living in a place where human rights and dignity matter. This is about them living in a nation where the average citizen is thriving, not just surviving. This is about them showing others they are Christians by their love and actions, not by who they pick to be their political leaders.
When I walk into church, I am a Christian first, an American second. When I walk into the voting booth, I am an American first, a Christian second. That isn’t because my faith doesn’t take priority over everything else, but because it is my duty as an American to vote in the best interests of my country, my whole country. I’m not voting to further the heavenly kingdom; I’m voting for the creation of a more perfect union.
And so while my peacemaking heart seeks healing of divisions, I also desperately need understanding from those giving these platitudes. For those of us who have seen the Babylon for what it is, we are hurting while we are hopeful because we seek an existence where our faith influences the country we want to create for all of our neighbors. Is that really too much to ask?