“I believe that a man’s political opinion is the whole man. Tell me your heart and your head, and I will tell you your political opinions. In whatever rank or party chance has caused us to be born, our character wins out sooner or later over the prejudices and beliefs of our education. Perhaps you will think this a sweeping statement ; but how could I choose to augur well of a mind that clings to certain systems that humaneness rejects ? Show me someone who supports the usefulness of the death penalty, and, however conscientious and enlightened he may be, I defy you to establish any sympathetic connection between him and me. If this person wants to teach me facts that I don’t know, he will not succeed ; for he cannot count on me to trust him.” —George Sand, Indiana (1832)
In her novel Indiana, French author George Sand (1804-1876), whose real name was Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin, ventures to explain why people can fall out so completely over politics. I believe she got it in one. People’s politics do demonstrate who they are, not in the sense of telling everything about them, but by revealing something very deep about the state of their hearts.
I do not believe that Sand means that civil dialogue itself is impossible, or that we should judge or utterly reject those with whom we disagree. She herself was un auteur engagé, a passionate writer with a cause, who spilled a great deal of ink to set forth her political positions and to educate the public mind. Rather, what she is driving at is something more fundamental: that personal politics has deep roots in our soul, bypassing, eventually, even the prejudices of our upbringing, to reveal in its flowering something basic about our personality or even, one might say, our maturity as human beings.
Modern psychology has hypothesized a spectrum of spiritual development which might also be applied in this case. From the work of Fowler and Peck, we see a series of natural stages of spiritual growth from the toddler to the mystic, or from egoism to altruism. Peck observed, however, that some of his patients, for various reasons, got stuck in one stage or another, perhaps because of trauma or fear, or because their context somehow rewarded or reinforced their behavior. Take someone like Donald Trump, for example, whose blustering and boardroom bullying (toddler stage) has made him successful in the corporate world. Sand herself might be characterized as having spent most of her adult life in the adolescent (or rebel) stage, as witnessed by her frequently wearing men’s clothes, smoking tobacco, and having a long series of romantic liaisons with men of genius (poet Alfred de Musset and composer Frederic Chopin being among the most notable).
Sand, however, does not refer to natural stages of spiritual development, but to political opinions, which seem to be a kind of snapshot of a person’s quiddity. I do see a great deal that is true in what she says, although my fear is that taking the conclusion too far might lead us to dismiss individual human beings as monoliths and therefore justify our further polarization as a society.
Yet what would Sand say, for instance, of the “Christian” who pulls into the church parking lot, his SUV plastered with stickers lauding John Galt (a hero in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged) or The Donald ? Would it be fair or even accurate to infer that the stickers represent the person himself ? I know that none of us is perfect, yet if this person so opposes everything Jesus stands for, why is he at church at all? What is to be done with such people, who seem now to make up such a significant proportion of the church? How are we to have anything in common with them when they are, effectively, our enemies?
Yes, enemies. Not because they vote differently or stand on the other side of some political spectrum, but because they want to empower a man who stands for greed and militarism, the eradication of civility and kindness, the further destruction of our planet, inhumanity toward the poor and immigrants, and racism and bigotry. Is not such an individual an enemy of mankind? I look at them, then I look at my child and ask myself what kind of world she will live in. Will she be denied opportunities because of the color of her skin? Will there even be a habitable world for her to live in? What kind of world are these bigots and climate-deniers preparing for her?
I must say that the current political polarization in this country is frightening. Yet even more disturbing is the support Donald Trump has among so-called “evangelicals.” The word evangelical is code in the media for older white voters who identify themselves as evangelicals. So thankfully, they do not represent the entire evangelical community in this country. The same demographic questions are not used by pollsters when interviewing black or young voters among the left. If they did, they might discover the evangelical world is a lot more diverse than traditionally depicted in the media. Yet it is enough that so many who do consider themselves evangelicals are praising Trump to the skies and are largely responsible for his unyielding success.
It is astounding that these white voters seem not to be put off by the GOP candidate’s blatant racism, misogyny, and contempt for the poor and immigrants. It is impossible to deny that each of these positions is diametrically opposed to the teachings of Jesus Christ and the New Testament. Has the mask finally slipped ? Has the religious right finally found a candidate who (like Archie Bunker on steroids) is willing to say what they are all thinking but have been afraid to say ? Has their concern for abortion and family values all along been but a smoke screen for their real concern, which is the inexorable decline in white dominance ?
Sadly, the latter is probably the real issue (just as the religious right itself sprang into being in the 1970s, not as a religious reaction to Roe v. Wade, but in response to the federal government’s threatening the tax exempt status of Christian universities that resisted racial integration). Yes, in supporting Trump, these voters seem willing to threaten world peace and pull our whole democratic system and the Constitution down around us merely in order to turn back the clock on civil discourse, the rights of women, immigration reform, and economic and racial equality. The slogan “Make America Great Again” is just a dog whistle for a return to white dominance at home and abroad. Talk about a pipe dream. No, Donald, like you, America may be a bully, but she will never be truly great until she is good, just, and fair—both here and over there.
Perhaps worse than the Trump supporters among the church is the church leadership itself who, in general, seem to be taking refuge in silence, afraid to take on the angry crowd. I’m sorry, but church leaders do not get a pass on this. We are pastors, shepherds, commissioned to protect the sheep. Silence does not signify, “I don’t want to get involved.” Silence means consent. For those afraid to wade into politics, let me just say that this is no longer about liberal versus conservative, Democrat versus Republican. This is about right versus wrong, and good versus evil. We have crossed a line in this country, and we now stand at a crossroads, just as the German church did in the early 1930s.
Quoting Micah 7:6, Jesus tells of a time before the end when “a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household” (Mt 10:36). At the same time, he also commands us to love and pray for our enemies. The apostle Paul likewise instructs us with the following strategy:
“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (2Tim2:24-26)
Lord, give us the words to speak to our erring, angry, and frightened brothers and sisters.