High school students know how to play the game. The ones I taught knew what to say and when to say it. In class, I’d listen to a student give a heart warming articulation of the Christian faith, only to hear through back channels that in the hallway, they’re saying extremely racist, hateful, things. The times when public and private comments intersected were few and far between. Occasionally, I’d hear something and have a conversation. But not too often. Which is why I’m thankful for President Trump.
Recently, President Obama wondered if his presidency came too early. The hatred and vitriol during his time in office was a foreshadowing of what came later. The 2016 election ripped the top off, unleashing what was latently there, bringing it out into the open. It’s ugly, evil, sinful—use whatever language you want, but at least it’s out in the open. Like a good wizard, the Obama presidency arrived precisely when it needed to. In Hegelian terms (or, if you prefer, Marxist terms) the Obama presidency gave rise to its antithesis—the backlash of the Trump campaign, followed by the anti-Obama policies of the current administration. American Christianity’s aversion to all things Marx means we fail to recognize the Christian roots of his thought as a materialized Christian eschatology—death and suffering leads to resurrection and new creation, the blood of the martyrs (Revelation) brings the New Jerusalem, and the suffering of the proletariat brings a communist utopia. The Obama presidency has given rise to that which tries to negate it, which opens the possibility that something new is waiting on the other side.
The Trump presidency opens the door for a post-ideological church. For too long American politics has allowed the church to be lazy. Both conservatives and liberals think salvation is found in nominations to the supreme court or legislation that forces people to have insurance. Conservative or liberal ideology traps us in an abstract, hyper-spiritualized, wasteland. Christian conservatives make women have babies without having to worry about feeding, clothing, or educating them, while Christian liberals insist on government health care, immigration reform, and programs for the poor from the comfort of their Apple TV and bourgeois lifestyle. The Trump presidency means the church no longer gets a free ride. Conservatives need to respond to Trump’s anti-family immigration policies that separated children at the border, and if they insist on being pro-life then it’s time to articulate a more robust version of pro-life. Liberals can’t rely on government policy to take care of health care, DACA recipients, and the poor. None of us—conservative, liberal, or independent—get to sit back and let others deal with these problems; it’s time to get our hands dirty, put up or shut up, or (insert whatever cliche you want). It’s time to find common ground, move past the ideological barriers that divide us, and follow Jesus to the margins.
The call to discipleship is a call to follow the crucified Christ. It’s the call to follow Jesus into particularity, not “the poor”, “immigrants”, or “refugees”, but real people with particular problems. So thank God for President Obama, and thank God for President Trump. I’m glad the Kingdom of God doesn’t depend on either one.