It was an interesting experience being an Australian, living in Canada and watching the U.S. Presidential election race.
It’s kind of like watching a slow motion car crash, where everyone knows the outcome is going to be horrible, but they continue to watch.
I am reminded of the children’s story, “The Emperors new clothes“, where the whole world saw an emperor walking without clothes, but no-one said anything because they were worried about what other people might think. Eventually, a little child spoke up and it was like the spell was broken.
I kept waiting for the little child to speak up, but I’m not sure anyone is listening.
Apparently, the reason people like Donald Trump is that he is not “politically correct”, he is the anti-Obama, anti-complexity, anti-people-not-like-me candidate.
At one level it is understanding. The world is more and more complicated, and we are a generation who has received our main shaping stories through television and films in which there is always “baddies” and “goodies.”
As the world has become more complicated, our movies have become less so. We have developed an almost insatiable appetite for super-heroes who save the world by beating up the bad guys and for romantic comedies where love results in everything being wonderful.
Despite what some books might suggest, we actually don’t like shades of grey. We want a black or white world. We want to be able to talk about bad guys and good guys.
We have also reduced our Christianity to this level of simplicity. We have managed to reduce our faith to four simple statements that form the minimum entrance requirements for heaven, and then we wonder why people who purport to be Christian can have a worldview that is so different to ours.
We separated our faith from our lives and made it about what happens after we die, so there was no real guidance about what it meant for complex moral issues, economics or relationships.
We bought into the idea that the ultimate value is “freedom.” Everyone should be free to choose their own path, and there is no ultimate truth. We elevated the mind of the individual and lost sight of the possibility that there might be a morality that is bigger than my ideas.
We Christians, in buying into an individualistic, reductionist faith, created the platform on which Donald Trump now walks.
This mistake though is not new to us. The Greeks also bought into a similar elevation of the mind over the possibility of objective truth. Paul spoke directly to them when he wrote:
So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.
(Ephesians 4:17-18 NIV)
Paul connects getting stuck in your head, with a loss of a moral anchor:
Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed
(Ephesians 4:19 NIV)
When you elevate your own understanding and experience as the primary source of truth, you necessarily elevate your desires, fears and drives as well as your intellect, and those desires, fears and drives will set and agenda that will shape your life, unless they are moderated by something bigger than you.
Donald Trump is becoming popular by appealing directly to people’s desires, fears and drives, and because we have reduced Christianity to a minimum entry requirement for heaven, there are very few people who have an intelligent, faith-based response.
Too often we Christians respond to someone we perceive as being different from us, by classifying them as the “baddies”, who we must fight. When Jesus turned up, he directly challenged the concept that the world was divided into good guys and bad guys, and exhorted his followers to learn to love their enemies.
Paul doesn’t contrast people who have fallen into wrong ways of thinking with people who have right ways of thinking. He contrasts the people who have elevated their minds to people who have discovered a whole “way of life” which is in opposition to our desires and old attitudes:
20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
(Ephesians 4:20-24 NIV)
The over-simplified, reductionist version of Christianity is nowhere more evident in the way we talk and fight about sexuality. We divide the world into people who think like us and don’t think like us, and lob grenades over the barricades we erect.
My friend Nathan recently preached a sermon series on Jesus, the bible and sexuality. I was proud of the way he wrestled to represent the deep truth of the bible about sexuality. It would have been easy to reach for cliché’s but Nathan didn’t do that. He did the work, and it was work, to actually name what a healthy Christian sexual ethic might look like. It is this kind of wrestling that we need to do much more of. We need to name what righteousness looks like and stop trying to divide the world into good people and bad people.
My friend Mike has been working in the construction industry for a number of years. We were chatting last night about how the over simplistic, reductionist approach to Christianity has nothing to offer for someone wanting to know what the Kingdom of God might look like on a work-site. Mike has been having to do the kind of work Nathan did, but in the sphere of construction. Its clear that clichés don’t cut it in the real world.
I’ve appreciated reading Tim Keller’s book Centre Church. He points out that falling for the old ways of dividing the world (left vs. right, conservative vs. progressive) just don’t cut it any more. He argues that the church has to learn to equip its people to live in the centre of the complex reality of what it means to live the gospel and not just a cliché… and that requires rigorous work.
Donald Trump spews clichés. The world is more complex than a cliché will ever capture.
We need people who are ready to do the work to let go of their own ideologies and step into the complexity of the real world.
We need people who are willing to say “The emperor has no clothes”…