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The Great Divide

November 3, 2016

This seems to be the year of the great divide in Presidential elections.  Setting aside policy and the never-ending accusations candidates and their supporters hurl at each other, there are some startling divides in the electorate.

  • Trump has a big lead among white voters. Clinton has an astonishingly lead among non-whites.
  • Trump is up by 22% among men; Clinton by 20% among women.
  • Clinton leads among the college educated; Trump among those without college degrees – the so-called working class. Both margins are wide.
  • Trump leads by a huge margin among evangelical Protestants; almost as large as the historic margin Romney had in 2012. Clinton has similar leads among mainstream Protestants and the non-religious.

While similar divides in these classifications have been around for more than a decade they have never been so pronounced.  It does not bode well for whoever wins this election.  They will walk into office despised by almost half the electorate.  Compromise and consensus, the cornerstone of politics for decades, are no longer seen as necessary.  If anything they are seen as evil.  Our system of government has always been based on the willingness of politicians to compromise and work together with their opponents for the common good. Over the past three decades, absolute obstructionism has become acceptable politics. When there are no electoral consequences for utterly refusing to govern, it doesn’t matter how clever the checks and balances are.

But back to our divide. When you take those four categories above and look at them together one fact stands out.  Trump’s core base is among white, working class, Christian men.  It is not surprising then that polls show that 71% of these white, working class, Christian men who support Trump say that they are a persecuted minority or, at the very least, under attack in our land.  This group holds, almost to a man, several questionable or at least debatable, beliefs as rock solid truth:

  1. Guns make you safer…
  2. The economy is in trouble…
  3. Terrorists are a deadly threat to America…
  4. Climate change isn’t real…
  5. Crime is going up…
  6. Hillary Clinton is a crook…
  7. Donald Trump is a winner…

Again setting aside these specific policies, let’s start by saying there is some truth in the unsettled feelings of white, working class Christian men.  Businesses, with outsourcing, downsizing and automation have taken away millions of their jobs with impunity.  Government has been useless.  Republicans have applauded these changes as necessary and good.  Democrats have offered lip service and expensive policy failures for decades.

In addition, while feelings of persecution and attack are exaggerated there is some kernel of truth there too.  White working class Christian men have always been the bedrock, the center, of our nation.  They now share the stage with working women, minorities, immigrants and gays.  The slogan “Make America Great Again” seeps into their minds as “Make things go back to the way there were.”  They wish this was so, no matter how much demographics show that this will never happen.

While great is not synonymous with the way things used to be, for many such men it surely feels like it.  They have gotten used to cultural norms and those norms are changing.  There is a valid reason why these men feel threatened.  They are being asked to be a different kind of man. It isn’t that men don’t belong, but rather, that certain kind of man doesn’t belong.

For too long now, the church has taught a form of masculine identity that reflects historic American cultural norms.  We are to be “wild at heart.”  We are to be the providers, the protectors, the leaders.  We have been exhorted to be American men who love Jesus rather than men seeking to be like Jesus who just happens to be American. We’ve been told, in essence, that we need to be manly hunters like Esau and not stew-making kitchen dwellers like Jacob.  We need to bring home the bacon for wives who keep house, ignoring the reality that Jesus was willing to be economically supported by women.

No effort to return to the golden past has ever succeeded.  We as a church need to ignore that siren call.  We need to wrestle with the serious questions the new cultural norms pose.  What does the gospel really say to men today? How does Jesus challenge our American ideals? Do men have to prove their masculinity, and if so how? What is the role of men in the world?  Is it “one size fits all?”

After the election these questions will loom even larger.  Let’s set aside a longing for the way things used to be.  Clinton has assured us she has no intention to even try and deliver it and Trump, if he has any brains at all, knows he can never deliver it either.  Let’s set aside a quest for political power that is never coming back.

Every Christian in every generation has struggled to demonstrate what it means to live out our faith, to show grace and mercy to the world, in the culture that is actually there.  We need to do the same.  Wishing that cultural change would stop or reverse doesn’t help.  Trying to use political power to force this rollback has been a disaster.  I can’t help but think that if, instead of fighting, we get busy on being the church in this culture that we may see that Peter’s exhortation to the 1st century church will apply to us too.  We will need to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.


From → Christianity

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