How peace undermines hyper-individualism & winning at all costs. A reflection on the long-term damage of the Evangelical marriage to Trump.
Real peace isn’t fragile. We are. We’re scared and sorry peacemakers in a world spilling over with reasons for rage. Peace is powerful when and where we aren’t. In fact, peace is so powerful that you can’t buy it, you can’t manufacture it, and you can’t even take it in a pill. No political party can trademark it and no church can make it into a ministry. Real peace isn’t fragile because God isn’t fragile. Peace is a gift from God that we receive over and over again.
Real peace isn’t fragile because God isn’t fragile. Peace is a gift from God that we receive over and over again.
But God is also holy. He is Holy Spirit. And his Spirit won’t play second fiddle to hatred in our hearts. He requires so much more of us than just smiling through gritted teeth. He commands more of us than biting our tongues. God desires perfection, but He also models it. He offers it to us with joy. He does this because God is completely at peace. He is rich in peace. He has no conflict within himself and no beauty muted by selfish ambition.
"What is the source of wars and fights among you? Don’t they come from your passions that wage war within you? You desire and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and wage war. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and don’t receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures." - James 3:1-3Embed from Getty Images
This is why He longs to share himself with us. Jesus doesn’t just require and model peace, he also imputes it to us by faith through his own death and resurrection. We're raised to new life in Christ. We're raised to peace with God. We're free! In Christ, we're at peace with Peace. God’s default state is peace, not war. And this is a key and under-appreciated theological concept. (Certainly it is an inconvenient truth for motivating voters or funding political think tanks.) When you’re looking for a fight, you’ll find one. And in that frame of mind, it’s easy to hang your hat on Gospel passages where Jesus talks about conflict at the expense of the big picture:
“Don’t assume that I came to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” - Matthew 10:34
So what are we supposed to do with a passage like Matthew 10? Well for starters, believe it! The claims and teachings of Jesus divided people in his lifetime and they certainly divide people today. But it’s also important to keep in mind that Jesus didn't come to destroy people, he came to save them. Salvation came at a cost that only he could satisfy. Jesus came to rescue humanity and redeem us from ourselves.
"First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good, and it pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." - 1 Timothy 2:1-3
Jesus forces us to make a choice: death or life, hell or heaven, satan or Spirit, pride or humility, greed or generosity, violence or peace. He came to call our cards: both the religious hypocrites and the secular self-righteous. He graciously offers not only payment for sin, but a far greater treasure: Himself.
"For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Anyone who believes in him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God." - John 3:16-18
And this brings us to our current moment in America. Why are we so divided? Why is peace so offensive to our sinful hearts? I believe one reason is because a received peace goes against everything we celebrate. We want earned peace. We want credit for peace. We want peace at the expense of our enemies. We want revenge. We want the last word. In short, we only want peace if we get to blow something up first. After all, America is a patriotic blockbuster, not yoga in the park.Embed from Getty Images
A freely given peace rubs against the individualism baked into our very psyche as Americans. Peace doesn't go viral. No one wants to watch a superhero film where there is 3 hours of peace. And yet, God's Spirit beckons us back. Peace requires an armistice which can feel an awful lot like losing and we really hate losing. Counterintuitively, peace does require one act of violence—crucifying the violence in our hearts. (Col. 3:5) It means that when we see the kingdom of death at work in us or around us, we need to expose it and then bring life, light, and compassion into these dark places. And this leads me to the events of January 6, 2021.
"...we only want peace if we get to blow something up first."
A country in pieces
The last five years have been hard. Really hard. War has been winning in hearts and headlines. (I’ve certainly lost many battles with my own mouth.) I’ve been right about some things and wrong about plenty. But those who know me personally know that I have been deeply and consistently concerned about President Trump leading up to and during his presidency. And although Trump has certainly angered me, he is not the primary cause of my personal grief today. What has made the last half decade so heart-wrenching for me personally is to see many of my friends embrace and excuse a man who is so manipulative, self-centered, and cruel. He is a man at war with himself and the world. But again, he's not why I'm writing.
Most of those I know who supported Trump in 2016, claimed to have done so in a “lesser-of-two-evils” vote. By 2020, their tune had changed. ‘Sure, he is crass, but his policies are good and compatible with Biblical values!’, they’d say. For years I have been privately warning people like this about the growing fog in the pews about Trumpism, Christian Nationalism, racism, hatred, misogyny, lying, conspiracies, and more. I’ve run out of adjectives at this point. It’s powerless and peaceless. And nothing better embodies this change-of-heart I saw than an exchange at a conference in the spring of 2016. Pastor John MacArthur and Dr. Albert Mohler were asked to address Trump’s character (Both men are now vocal supporters of Trump):
The mob attack on the U.S. Capitol is an affront to the very foundations of our democratic republic. But it should also be a wake-up call to Christians who have played footsie with Trump in the name of Jesus our Lord. Like our president, over and over again I hear Christians bearing false witness about the results of this past election. Peacemaking requires truth. Governing requires trust. When you watch interviews and social media posts from those who stormed Congress, a recurring theme is that they were doing it in the name of God.Embed from Getty Images
Maybe this is you. Maybe you find yourself wrapped up in QAnon or juicy Reddit forums or 8chan. Maybe you are so addicted to hate that you've forgotten what it feels like to love and be loved. To you I say: bring your fears and pain to Jesus. It's not too late! I'm not at all suggesting that you should never be passionately outspoken about politics. But I do believe strongly that you should take time to ensure that you've set aside the war in your heart and find peace in Christ first and foremost. If you're someone who is spreading false reports, I humbly exhort you to repent and take extended time to rest and rejuvenate with Jesus in solitude. You may have some apologies to make, so begin to think about who you need to reconcile with. I think once you admit your need for help, you will find that there is incredible freedom and healing on the other side with our gracious Messiah.
"You must not spread a false report. Do not join the wicked to be a malicious witness.“You must not follow a crowd in wrongdoing. Do not testify in a lawsuit and go along with a crowd to pervert justice." - Exodus 23:1-2
War doesn’t just thrive in peaceless people, disorder does. Trump is the post-modern president many Evangelicals have long feared may come. He is a man who is constantly bringing personal and social disorder. (For some thoughts on his contributions to class warfare, see the footnote below.) He capitalizes on our worst tendencies and intentionally divides people for political gain. Trump is the post-truth relativist we were warned about in Truth Project DVDs and Worldview Weekend conferences. Truth and genuine peace are a package deal. Truth is our tether and peace is our gospel.
"Stand, therefore, with truth like a belt around your waist, righteousness like armor on your chest, and your feet sandaled with readiness for the gospel of peace. In every situation take up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one." - Ephesians 6:14-16
And this is good news. This means that it's possible to both genuinely love Donald Trump and strongly oppose his hatred and lying. In fact, if you love him you should oppose his hatred and lying. If you care about this man’s soul at all, you can’t enable him. Evangelical Christians have been used by Trump, but these same Christians have also used him. I pray for President Trump often and I genuinely believe God desires that his best years are still to come. I pray that he'll find peace in our gracious Lord.
"Evangelical Christians have been used by Trump, but these same Christians have also used him."Embed from Getty Images
My hope is certainly not in politics or politicians. It’s not in Joe Biden or any other president or earthly institution. My hope is not in Trumpism or Never Trumpism. I love America, but I love Jesus more. Way more. I love the Church more. I love peace more. In a world of confusion, we need more Christians who are above reproach and willing to gently and humbly speak from God’s Word—declaring the gospel of peace to a world at war. We don't preach some abstract “worldview” or “values”. We preach Jesus. Jesus is truth incarnate (John 14:6). Do not sully Christ’s name for the sake of political expediency. The call of Christ is so much more glorious and beautiful than what we’re trading him for. His design for government is so much better than this. In the Apostle Paul's letter to the Romans, he follows up his discussion of government with this charge to Christians:
"Do not owe anyone anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, Do not commit adultery; do not murder; do not steal; do not covet; and any other commandment, are summed up by this commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Love, therefore, is the fulfillment of the law." - Romans 13:8-10
Love requires truths that will often be inconvenient to our dreams, our political aspirations, or our personal animus. This may mean that you need to go and apologize to your neighbor or a friend from church this weekend. Maybe it's a family member you've been a jerk to. Maybe love would have you issue a public apology about something you've said or what you've been silent about. Whatever the case is, it will feel risky.
This is all that is required for a received peace. We empty ourselves of our wrath and hatred and revenge and lay them at the cross. Paul's words stand for us today as a clear reminder that love is what's most important. Love is the only way forward because love doesn't run on a four year cycle. Love never ends. Our peace is only as fragile as the source from which we're drawing. May you find peace today and every tomorrow in our Lord Jesus.
“Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Don’t let your heart be troubled or fearful.
- John 14:27
1) Class warfare: One theme that has been consistent from many Trump supporters that I know: ‘We are the real victims’. Racism? White men are the real victims. Refugee programs? Blue collar American workers are the real victims. Environmental policies? Small businesses are the real victims. Social media policies? Conservatives are the real victims. George Floyd protests? Police are the real victims. COVID-19? Churches are the real victims. The presidential election? Republicans are the real victims. Violent insurrection at the US capitol? It was Antifa and conservatives are the real victims. I could go on. The point is this: When playing-the-victim is your primary method of galvanizing your political supporters, you need to keep that narrative going at all costs in order to maintain momentum. If the victim status goes away, so does the movement. Trumpism is, of course, not the only movement to exploit this.
A note from Matt:
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