It’s been two weeks since the presidential elections when the world discovered that Donald J. Trump would become the 45th President of the United States of America. Admittedly, nobody saw this coming – nobody expected this to happen. It seems that most, like myself, were preparing for the inevitable triumph of Hillary Clinton. As Christians, we knew a Clinton presidency could be a difficult time due to growing suspicion, even hostility, towards a biblical world-view. But still, there was a relative calm because some expected it could strengthen and unify the church. Maybe even shake loose the nominalism that pervades so many and show that the mission of God would not be stopped.
But now…we face an unexpected struggle. Instead of seeing the church in America come together, we are seeing evidences of division. It may not be clearly visible right now, but it churns beneath the surface of our national psyche, like lava before the volcano erupts.
Let’s face it. Since the election, there have been some hurtful and hateful comments from Trump supporters, and some anti-Trump supporters have answered with their own brand of low-minded hostility. Unfortunately, some of this has seeped into our churches. We see those excited about the upcoming presidency and we see those concerned about it. Some in our churches protest Trump’s election while others steam over fellow brothers and sisters who do so.
The pews are divided.
How do pastors and church leaders deal with the divided pews? How do they unify their people in this political climate for the sake of proceeding forward with the mission of God?
1) Set the Example of Prayer
Once I sat in church while the pastor invited us to pray for President Barack Obama. The silence was stifling though some cleared their throats in understated protest. Still a message came through pretty loud and clear – President Obama seemed to be beyond prayer. It’s happened to me in other places and each time it does, it seems to say something about our own misguided assumptions.
God is too small.
When Paul wrote to Timothy, he stated this:
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
1 Timothy 2:1-4
When God sent His son, He came to die for a bride made up of people from all ethnicities, background, socio-economic classes, etc. God’s work is color-blind – there is no boundary to the types of people that God loves and saves. This includes those in high places of authority.
People in authority can promote good or evil. Provision and persecution can trickle down from their policies. Rulers greatly affect those whom they rule over. It was the same in Paul’s day. Yet still he called us to pray.
We pray for our leaders, not because we agree with their platform but because we want to obey God.
Pastors, lead your congregation by praying for the President-elect. Pray for his salvation. Pray for God to give him wisdom. Only when our people see our example of praying for him will they do the same.
2) Affirm & Refute
Some people seem wired to just affirm the new President -even when he says or does something clearly against scripture. Others only speak against him, rarely affirming anything good he may say or do.
Grace helps us affirm the good things in politicians with whom we may largely disagree.
When President Barack Obama visited Hiroshima in May of this year (2016), he gave a speech in which he said that we should mourn the loss of life due to the bombing during WWII.
Many were outraged they he would make such a statement. Many professing Christians even found his comment appalling. But as I thought about it, his words seemed to make sense. All human life is made in the image of God, so we should mourn all loss of life. There are many areas where my positions diverge from the sitting president. But on this point, I can happily affirm his words.
It works the other way also. We should also be willing, where necessary, to refute policies that seem unwise, misguided or immoral. When racial and/or bigot based comments are made, we must speak against it. When positions are taken that are clearly against biblical principles, we should show why they are wrong.
Paul’s words in Ephesians are helpful here.
Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.
Putting away falsehood involves affirming and refuting. It’s about speaking the truth. The truth involves both affirmation and refutation and when we strive to wisely balance both, we remove opportunities from the enemy.
3) Think Reconciliation
Once a professor at my seminary was giving a lecture on Philemon, and he spoke about Paul’s encouragement of Onesimus to go back to his master. Why in the world, he asked, would Paul encourage Onesimus to go back into his position as a slave?
My professor thought that Paul knew the issue of slavery was wrong and he wanted to address it in a manner within his reach. So he encouraged Onseimus to go back and he expected Philemon to receive him as a brother. It’s amazing, but Paul placed Onseimus (the slave) and Philemon (the slave owner) on equal ground. Then he had the audacity to expect them to be reconciled.
Slavery was a horrific reality. But Paul addresses an even greater evil – the lack of reconciliation between two brothers in Christ.
As we see in 2 Corinthians 5:17-19, God has reconciled the world to himself and we are to carry that message in how we live our daily lives. As new creations, we are to be reconciled to one another as God has reconciled us to himself.
Despite differences in political opinion, reconciliation should be our aim.
Paul understood outside legislation wouldn’t change the heart of the issue of slavery, so he focused on the gospel and the results that it alone had the power to bring about.
Gospel-centered reconciliation will, in the end, be what creates true change.
With some statistics showing that 81% of white evangelicals voted for Trump, things could get worse before they get better. Think about it: The term ‘evangelical’ is now strongly associated President-elect Trump and his brand of Republicanism. Many Christians will now be ignored.
But we cannot lose heart. We must remember that God’s mission is unstoppable.
Pastors, there will be days were you need to refute things said by the President. At the same time, there may be days when you must refute things said by members of your church. Pastors must be men of wisdom, truth, and discernment, all wrapped in a whole lotta love.
Remember though: For the believer, the future is always bright.
One day, the trumpet will sound, the heavens will split, and Christ will come to make all things new (Rev. 21:5). And for all eternity, we will be a great multitude from every nation, tongue, and tribe that worships our Savior (Rev 7). Former slaves, middle class workers, and rulers will unite together in joy. Earthly republicans, democrats, conservatives, and liberals will be eternally reconciled through Christ’s precious blood.
Lead today with THAT day in view.