“HANNAH” WAS A brilliant, creative woman I grew to know in Los Angeles. We had been dating for about six months. She was brilliant, creative — and an avowed atheist. She never quite understood my faith.
There was one argument we had I’ll never forget.
Standing in her apartment, talking about my past, I suddenly saw our conversation veer off track. To my surprise, I found myself defending the idea that God created the world.
Didn’t I believe in evolution?
Then how …?
Couldn’t evolution have been a tool of a Creator God?
Suddenly, Hannah struck me, a sharp blow to the chest.
“How can you be so smart, so intelligent,” she spat out, “and still believe in God?”
A day later, when I related this to a friend of mine, she laughed. She was an agnostic, and an executive in the film industry.
“Your girlfriend is a fundamentalist Atheist,” she said.
SEVERAL YEARS LATER, in November 2010, after finding the love of my life, I joined my fiancée in Seattle. Together with Laura’s two Siberian cats, we created a home. We also found a Mennonite church in Seattle led by a highly Progressive pastor.
I began advocating for the Progressive movement, voted for President Barack Obama again, saw gay marriage become an accepted thing. My fiancée — now my writing partner — married me in 2012. Best of all, I was a Progressive Mennonite. Clearly, people who disagreed with me were racist, uneducated, and tone-deaf.
When we moved to Vashon Island, we found ourselves churchless. There was no Mennonite church. But we held to our political beliefs. In 2016, we fought for Hillary, going door to door.
The arc of history was bending according to the Democratic Party’s beliefs.
And then Trump happened.
THAT INCIDENT WITH my atheistic ex is one I’ve thought about many times since, especially as I’ve seen the rise of the Resistance.
I’ve wondered about how Yancey would respond (he’s been mostly silent lately) as I’ve watched friends of mine attack each other on Facebook.
It didn’t help that when I decided to no longer discuss politics on my FB page — going dark, politically — more than one acquaintance unfriended me.
They decided I must be pro-Trump because I refused to write or repost political screeds, because I refused to pass on frantic proof that Trump would initiate the End Times, because I refused to assert that Trump had worked hand-in-glove with Putin — and that any fool knew Trump must be impeached.
In this situation, I was finally following the example of my father, who had taught me the most about grace in this area. Although he clearly disapproved of President Obama, my father also prayed for him daily as our God-ordained President.
This kind of grace was more than I had seen from some of my Fundamentalist friends, or to be fair, my Progressive friends under W.
I affirmed that Donald Trump was indeed our constitutionally elected President. I prayed God would give him wisdom.
I wondered if Yancey would react.
YANCEY WAS A true prophet.
Back in the 90s, he was already arguing that Grace in politics is absent— whether you are a Progressive or an Evangelical Christian.
Evangelicals believe Trump is similar to King Cyrus, in the Bible. They believe that in spite of his ungodly example, he is a gift from God.
Due to Trump’s leadership, they say, good things have emerged — lower taxes and fewer business restrictions, fewer abortions, a more positive attitude toward conservatives, and a direct line between the Oval Office and the leaders of the Religious Right.
Supporting Trump has become a tenant of the faith. He is God’s Man for our time.
In the film The Trump Prophecy, for example, a retired fireman hears the voice of God in 2011 while watching Trump on CNN. The voice tells him, “You are hearing the voice of our next President.” Several dozen other online videos have proclaimed the same prophecy.
Although no critics reviewed the film, it opened in 1,000 theaters nationwide and got a 45% rating on Rottentomatoes.com and a 68% rating on Google Reviews.
People who believe in Trump really believe in him. Only a godless liberal, they argue, would have voted for Hillary and her corrupt circle, her support for abortion on demand, and her disdain for religious conservatives.
On the other hand, Progressives believe Trump is the worst President our nation has ever had. According to them, he has eviscerated our nation’s standing in the world — taking us back to a more patriarchal world, and destroying the rights of LGBTQ+ people.
You can open up any major newspaper any day of the week and find multiple op-eds proclaiming doom to America, due to Trump’s behavior. Progressives will point to statistic after statistic showing the horrors that are befalling the United States and the world right now.
No one in this conversation seems able to extend grace — no one is permitted to believe that the opposition’s motives are anything less than evil.
LET ME BREAK it down — by looking at both sides. From my perspective, it isn’t pretty.
Currently, I live near Seattle, where the culture is Progressive. To Progressives, if you remain silent — or even take a moderate position — you are tacitly approving of the Evil that is Trump. To have voted for Trump is to have been racist, homophobic, and uneducated.
Most people assume
- The typical Trump voter lacks tolerance, an education, or a brain.
- Climate change will soon destroy the world, thanks to Trump’s policies.
- Democracy might not be such a good idea when left in the hands of ignorant voters who choose an idiot like Trump.
That’s a pretty strong perspective. But the other side is equally powerful.
When I hear from my friends back home in the Midwest — those on the Right — the answer is equally clear. If you voted for Hillary, it means you are a baby-killer, an atheist, and anti-American.
- Only an idiot or an atheist would’ve voted for Hillary.
- Can’t you see how great the economy has been since Trump took office?
- So he is a little crazy with his Twitter feed — that’s just Trump being Trump.
THE PROBLEM IS — and almost no one seems to remember this anymore — these arguments remind me a great deal of 2009-10. I spent that year in Ohio in a Mennonite community with my parents.
President Obama had just been elected.
Over coffee at McDonalds, I listened to smart, rational people tell me that Obama was aiming to be a dictator, that our President was a Muslim conspiring with Iran to destroy America, and that Obama’s weak military posture would soon initiate World War III.
GRACE. THERE SEEMS TO be little of it now on either side.
Secular Progressives don’t embrace the concept. Why should they? It’s not part of their vocabulary.
But Christian Progressives? Isn’t Grace supposed to be an essential part of their faith?
But it’s gone missing. Instead, Progressives pronounce damnation on all evangelical Christians who weighed the two candidates on the ballot, prayed deeply, and then chose Trump.
Just tit for tat, I suppose. Evangelical Christians — again, those who sing of Grace each Sunday in church — have for years proclaimed damnation on all Progressives. Evangelicals don’t approve of Christians who vote for Democrats. Don’t they kill babies? Haven’t Progressives taken away a Christian’s right to refuse service to gays because of conscience?
Yet both sides — all Christians — state unequivocally that Grace is essential to their belief system.
I don’t get it.
Racism. Racial equity. Sexism. Choice. Homophobia. Tolerance. You can find a blog written from whatever point of view you prefer. It will destroy — CRUSH!!! — everyone who disagrees.
Seldom in this equation do we find Grace, only Ungrace.
AGAIN I TURN to Yancey.
“We live in an atmosphere choked with the fumes of Ungrace,” he writes. “Grace comes from outside, as a gift and not an achievement. How easily it vanishes from our dog-eat-dog, survival-of-the-fittest, look-out-for-number-one world.”
Ungrace drives away those who believe that each political party has good intentions, that all of us want the best for America and the world, and that it is possible to find common ground.
IT’S ONE OF the reasons my compadres at Soul Teachers made the decision not to take political sides, not to discuss politics.
Politics is divisive. It destroys friendships and makes it impossible to carry on rational conversations. It is also completely addictive.
We now have political tribes based entirely upon which Party or ism you choose to embrace. We’re back in the world of Romeo and Juliet once again, where we do everything but call for our weapons.
“Bring me my longsword, ho!”
Is it possible for people to take the moderate path? To refuse political battles? To talk about things that matter without shutting the door to half of society?
I guess Soul Teachers will find out.
PHILIP YANCEY HAS been one of my great Soul Teachers because he provides a vision of how people can use Grace to show tolerance towards each other.
Might it be possible for our current leaders to read Yancey — and apply his prescription of Grace?
Today, in late January 2019, our nation’s leaders are trying to find a path through a political wall surrounding the topic of immigration.
That political wall is as concrete as anything Trump ever dreamed up.
The Democrats can’t give in to The Wall because it’s “immoral.” Trump can’t give up The Wall because it’s baked into his agenda.
The Wall has become a blazing symbol of Ungrace — a titanium barrier of angry words stretching between our two parties. Each side believes strongly that only they know the real truth.
That’s the real Wall we’re dealing with.
MOMENTS LIKE THIS show how desperately Grace is needed in our world today.
Grace would allow both sides to entertain the possibility that the other side might have good intentions.
It would allow both sides to actually listen to each other.
It would allow both sides to talk respectfully to each other — rather than talking at each other on social media and cable news.
Until both sides are willing to tear down that Wall of Ungrace — and extend Grace — we will not find a compromise.
That’s what I learned from Yancey.