Why we should FORGIVE Trump and Clinton
I know we are all tired of the political conversations. But I have to confess, I turned a corner last week and started feeling (dare I say it?!)…. Hopeful.
The American church has been diseased for quite some time (God bless her). I say this as both an insider having grown up in the U.S.A. and an outsider, someone living outside the U.S. with exposure to the global Church as a whole. Clearly, we are in a season where God is inviting us to clean house. Not fun. But good in the long run.
This week I’ve been sitting with a not-so-happy passage where Jesus is confronting the Pharisees. He was pretty brutal. He called them snakes and hypocrites. He describes them as roadblocks for people to come to the Kingdom. At one point, He compared them to white-washed tombs and to dishes that sparkle on the outside but are still filthy on the inside.
Quite a sobering passage for any person of faith. The good news is that Jesus also gave us the antidote to hypocrisy. “First clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also…” In other words, we avoid hypocrisy by doing a thorough spiritual house-cleaning— taking a good long look at our inner world instead of just our public face.
So just how do we do some spiritual ‘house-cleaning’ in relation to this political season?
Admit that we are part of the problem.
Can we actually admit— we have participated in creating this political nightmare? Sins of omission. Sins of commission. Divisive rhetoric. Blaming. Slander. Consumerism. Neglect of the poor. Ignorance. Passivity towards systemic injustice. Gossip. Our appetite for reality TV.
Repentance at it’s core will lead me to admit—I am Donald Trump. I am Hillary Clinton. Were my self-serving agendas, private conversations, emails, mixed motives, and double standards to be shouted from the rooftop, I, too would be filled with shame before all people.
But for the grace of God, these two represent ME in my fallen state. Because ultimately, all will be revealed. And the unfathomable mystery of the Gospel is that the record of my wrongs will not be broadcast and punished, but instead cast into a bottomless ocean and never to be remembered by God again. AND I’m enveloped into the loving arms of God and made a favored daughter.
That’s our crazy Gospel! But you don’t get there without repentance. It’s the starting point for all forms of internal cleansing.
Forgive those who have sinned against us.
We all profess to believe in the power of forgiveness as one of the core tenants of our Christian faith. But what would it mean to extend forgiveness to our two presidential candidates? Or others who have hurt us in this season of division? Is it even necessary?
First, forgiveness is a hallmark of our faith. The Gospel doesn’t simply stop when we’ve received forgiveness for our own sins. That same God who eagerly forgave us, longs to forgive others through us.
I think we can all say that these candidates have harmed us and our nation— directly and indirectly— through their vulgarity, refusal to admit truth, and their participation in abuses of power. They clearly are participants (and beneficiaries) in broken systems motivated by power, greed, and the advancement of personal agendas which are a mixture of both good and evil.
But its difficult to forgive a system. People of color don’t forgive the social system which has crippled generations through poverty and racism nor can they simply forgive the whole policing system with its patterns of abusing its power. Women won’t be able to forgive all men in some blanket prayer for the ways they have experienced sexism.
We don’t forgive systems. We don’t forgive ideologies. We forgive individuals.
And somehow these individuals become representatives of the systems and ideologies which have harmed us.
And it’s not just those in the public light we may need to forgive. I would venture to guess that every one of us can think of a handful of people on the other side the political, religious, ideological fence who pushes our buttons. We read what they write or hear what they say and our blood boils. That person embodies in beliefs, values, style, or discourse, the face of our enemy.
One way we can each begin to bring the Kingdom of God to our current political standoff is to extend forgiveness to these people in our own hearts– whether they are in our circle or in public service. No matter whether they have a blinded world view, a truncated gospel, or even an evil agenda. When we relate to others in our hearts through judgement, harshness, slander, and hatred– we are unable to reflect the Kingdom of Light. Confess it. Ask God to help you forgive and release them in your heart.
I know, I know— you are probably wondering…
BUT why should I forgive when they are unrepentant?
Forgiveness is independent of the other person. We often have to forgive people who are unwilling or unable to see what they have done wrong. Or sometimes, we forgive someone who has passed away. That person does not need to admit what they did was wrong in order for you to forgive.
Forgiveness is NOT saying what they did was acceptable or right. In fact, forgiveness is actually acknowledging specifically how this person has wronged you or others.
Unforgiveness keeps US in chains. And when we confess before God what this person did was wrong and harmed me (or our nation), I make a choice to forgive and to release him/her from the debt owed to me. I let God assume the responsibility for the judgement, not me. Forgiveness unlocks the chains that bind my heart to that person through anger, judgement, grudges, and bitterness.
Of course, forgiveness does not mean we do not use the means of justice available to us. Nor does it mean we do not participate in civic duties or battle for health and truth in our nation. We each carry passions for different forms of justice whether it is for women, the unborn, the marginalized, the sick, the lost, the brokenhearted, etc.. There is a place for righteous anger. But if our heart comes aflame for the injustice but we don’t have love, the Bible says, it profits nothing.
In fact, forgiveness may not change WHAT we fight for at all. But it will most certainly change HOW we engage with our enemy and the political discourse. Because things are different when we are operating from an open heart, uncluttered by our own sin and the unforgiveness we carry towards others. Instead of communicating in the language of darkness (i.e. hatred, bitterness, slander, gossip, power plays, etc.), we communicate truth in love.
Forgiveness allows us to carry truth differently. Not that it won’t offend. Not that you won’t be hated or ridiculed. Christian forgiveness is so radical it enabled 1st century Christian martyr, Stephen with his last breath to cry out, “Father, don’t hold this sin against them!” When is the last time we pleaded on behalf of our enemies?
And in case forgiving your enemies isn’t challenging you enough, then let’s head to one of final frontiers of forgiveness…
Bless those who curse you.
Can you say a prayer of blessing today on Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump? On that person who shows up on your Facebook feed with the most vile of interpretations of cultural events? On that person who is slandering you for your Christian beliefs? On the celebrity of the day speaking some twisted ideology that you know will lead so many astray? Or even on a young man radicalized by ISIS?
If you find yourself unable, you probably have some more work to do on repentance and forgiveness. Or maybe you need some conversations with God about what these people stir in you— fear, anxiety, hatred.
This is the moment where Christianity can bring LIGHT in a dark world. And our modus operandi involves loving our enemies, extending kindness to those who are different, using gentleness to turn away wrath, creating safety for others, and blessing those who curse us. We’ve seen precious little of this from the Church in this political season. There’s a reason the American Church is withering– we aren’t living or experiencing the power of the Gospel.
Come November, either Hillary or Donald will be on the throne of America. We cannot afford to have our hearts clouded by our sin and unforgiveness. The world needs our prayers more than ever.
Let’s clean house.