Campaigning in a Lenten Mood: an Exercise in Penitential Politics (Introduction)

What are we to do with a man in leadership who is an admitted womanizer? A disheveled man of impulsive character who went bankrupt on more than one occasion? A man described by one of his friends as “so callous to what was said of him,” that he would never “repress” a thought or “temper” a single statement? Of course some evangelicals found him incredibly disreputable and looked down on him with proper dignity. How could such a man’s presence in a high office be borne?

But then there were those, previously thought respectable evangelicals, who worked with him on the pressing issue of the day…the failure to recognize the humanity in or value the lives of an entire class of fellow human beings. The evil industry responsible for the barbaric death of so many hundreds of thousands must be resisted even at the cost of partnering with so rakish a character.

I am, of course, talking about the Lord Charles Fox of 19th century England, who worked so closely with William Wilberforce to end the African slave trade…at least as much as Britain had any part in it. Whatever most of us upstanding evangelical Christians would have done with him, it seems that God’s purpose in elevating him was to help bring an end to that heinous institution.

Truthfully, how many Biblical or historical figures would offend our sensibilities if we were honest with ourselves? Consider Oskar Schindler…a somewhat debauched, lecherous, opportunistic owner of a munitions factory…savior to 1200 Jews. He is hero in the tradition of Esther…a story with its own sordid realities if you give it any serious thought. Still, God seems to have a track record for choosing such offensive people to do some pretty incredible things, sometimes through inglorious means. This is not an endorsement of such means, merely a recognition that evidently God will work with those we think are beneath us when those of us of more respectable lives do not suffice.

And, it is easy to honor the good deeds of those less-than-noble people when there is the distance of history between us. But when they live in our own day, neighbors in time and place…well, who wants the shame of being numbered with such a transgressor. But that is where I find myself in relation to President Trump. In spite of his personal failures and foibles and his history of misogyny and poor record on refugees, he has actually said and done some good things on some seriously important moral issues…some that I believe among the most important: abortion, prison reform, sex trafficking, and taxes.

I realize that for my President-Trump-hating friends, that last sentence is like an invitation to a fight…and we could while away hours debating. But that is not my point in writing this Lenten series. I am not trying to get you to vote for the President in 2020. I didn’t vote for him in 2016…and this post has little to do with your voting or mine. Rather, my objective here is to call us to penitential politics for the season of Lent.

What do I mean by that?

Jesus prayed that we would be one as he and the Father are one, and he said that people would know we are his disciples by our love for one another. Yet in recent years we have merely reflected the vitriol of the surrounding culture when it comes to politics. We as Christians have become incredibly divided…sometimes hatefully so. So, my prayer and hope is that for lent we might enter into a true fast.

In Isaiah God calls his people to a true fast…one that he will respond to…in which we “stop pointing the finger” and spreading malicious rumors or wicked talk (58:9). Who can deny that we have been engaged in such actions? As a response to that call from God, I would propose that we enter into this campaign season in a Lenten mood. As hard as it may be, let us stop spreading vitriol and slander and instead be people of honor (respecting persons and positions in spite of human frailty and failure), honesty (with self reflective commitment to seeing and speaking truth), and obedience (heeding the commands to love genuinely, pray submissively, and speak prophetically).




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