Donald Trump’s candidacy and transition have been called many things. But the media has especially loved the word “unprecedented.” Some Americans are unruffled by Trump’s leadership, while others are apocalyptic. However there is almost universal agreement that something significant has happened and continues to unfold.
Christians want to know how their role might change, too. What does Christian citizenship look now that inauguration has come and gone? Below are four things I suggest we focus on for the next four, unprecedented years.
President Trump bends the truth. News outlets have had to reassess and debate their standards for using the word “lie.” No matter what we think of President Trump’s policies, we must not accept the bending of the truth. We must love the truth and continue to support narratives and facts that lead to flourishing and life and truth. A responsible Christian citizen is called to be vigilant about this.
Vigilance is required because it is exhausting to seek out the truth in political spin or exaggerated tweets. Kellyanne Conway, Counselor to the President, tried to defend the president by telling Americans to read into his heart. “Why is everything taken at face value?” she said. “You can’t give him the benefit of the doubt on this and he’s telling you what was in his heart? You always want to go by what’s come out of his mouth rather than look at what’s in his heart.” This week, the White House continued to push back against media reports of modest inaugural attendance. Conway defended the unsupported numbers that Press Secretary Sean Spicer gave, arguing that Spicer presented “alternative facts.” Every administration pushes their own version of reality. But this administration seems to be on a trajectory to convince the public of an alternative reality.
America transferred the power of the presidency to Donald Trump, as a healthy democracy should. But we can’t give him the power of shaping reality. Don’t give in. Christians are people who believe that reality is something precious because it is created and sustained by God. And although our perception of reality is made fragile by our brokenness, we still believe that it can be seen. So we treasure our words and we point to the truth of Christ, whose kingdom is breaking into the world. The hope of that Kingdom is what shapes our reality. Find that rock of reality in confusing times.
Hold the system accountable. If you’re frustrated or worried, then use that energy to act on behalf of justice. Commit to a new practice this year. Learn the phone number of your representatives and call them. Do it multiple times and seek out the best ways to be heard. Every time you are tempted to say something snarky of Twitter, call your representative instead. Part of our public witness is to be people of persistent action. So it is time to stop talking and join a local political organization. Find a certain issue that shines the light of God’s love in the world and run with it. Find other passionate people, raise money, and make phone calls. Most of these things don’t take hours of your time. I called my state representatives for the first time this fall, and I found it to be 10 times easier and less painful than I expected.
Don’t give up on beauty and hope. This isn’t only a call to resistance. We have positive work to accomplish in the next four years. As we advocate for justice and hold our leaders to a high standard of truth-telling, we should be presenting a compelling vision for civility, justice, and public life. What better time for Christians to step up and define a hopeful and practical public presence? I don’t mean that we “take back” cultural power, instead I am suggesting that we need to become better storytellers to the world. There is a wealth of strength in our faith to draw on in hard times. Now is the time to share that hope with the world. NPR reported on a church in North Carolina for a piece on pre-inauguration opinions. Pastor John Mendez preached, “I am disappointed, but I am not discouraged. And I ain't no ways tired.” We are a people of hope, not a people of fear. Does your public life demonstrate that?
Don’t neglect the good right in front of you. In an NPR report, Ari Shapiro interviewed the Andersons, a couple from North Carolina. Here is part of their story:
SHAPIRO: Paula McCoy Anderson and her husband, Jerry Anderson, have always been community organizers. In the age of Trump, they've decided to focus on their own neighborhood. They opened a food market and community gathering place called The Village. There are baskets of greens out front for $1.29 a pound. On the counter, there is a big jar of pickles and another of pig's feet. A jazz guitarist and singer are here entertaining the kids.
JERRY ANDERSON: You can look around in here. We've got white folk, black folk. We've all kind of folk up in here. And what we're going to do is we're going to keep on setting an example of collaboration.
SHAPIRO: Paula and Jerry hired ex-offenders to do most of the work on this building, and that kind of reflects the way they are thinking about the next four years.
J. ANDERSON: We're talking about what we - what you can and cannot do. We cannot un-elect Donald Trump.
SHAPIRO: Jerry says better to focus on things you can change, like improving your community.
We have a lot of work to do. That work includes local concerns as much, if not more, than the issues making national headlines. How are we investing in what is right in front of us?
Love truth. Advocate. Be winsome witnesses. Work small. Isn’t this what God has always been calling his people to do? Your call to be faithful Christian citizens who strive for public justice will not change in 2017 or beyond. But wake up and be ready. You may be challenged to engage that call with unprecedented creativity and courage.