reputation: (n) the knowledge and esteem in which people hold someone
Our local weekly paper ran an editorial in the January 6, 2021 edition, which questioned how sullied the reputation of evangelical Christian groups has become because of backing President Trump through two election cycles. This might seem rather ho-hum in the populated regions of our country, but here in West Virginia expressing such ideas is rather radical.
Our states vote when 3:1 for Trump. According to the editorial in 2016, nationwide the evangelical vote was 80% in favor of candidate Trump. In 2020, 75%. As a demographic block, this is pretty strong support for a candidate who did not act in a Christian manner for about 70 years. And, what bones he tossed to the evangelicals (pro-life judges, pro-Israel agendas, and probably bringing their expectation of Armageddon a little closer to the Rapture…), were more pandering than heart-felt convictions.
We collected that edition of the news paper on Wednesday January 6th from our mail box on our daily walk after lunch. When we came in from the day, we learned about the rally to support the idea that the presidential election was stollen, the call by Mr. Trump (I shall no longer give him the honorific title of President) for the rally to march to the Capitol Building as the procedure to certify the election was occurring, and the subsequent attack on the building, disruption of the Congressional proceedings, and threats to members of Congress. After the news cycle has spun and began to repeat itself, we turned off the news and checked in every few hours for updates.
I opened the local paper to see what had occurred around here over the two weeks of the holidays since the last edition.
My method of reading the paper is to start with the front page, follow those articles into the middle of the paper, then go to the last page and read everything back-to-front. The editorials are the last articles that I read.
I came upon the editorial about the evangelical Christians supporting Trump. How could people who claim to believe in God support such as God-less man? I pondered.
My brother has been reading the Hebrew Scriptures backward (see a trend here?), and recently read through Ester. We have communicated about his journey through the shame and agony of the prophets.
Ester. How does a book which really does not mention God reinforce the idea that God is acting through God-less leaders? (hint, it probably does not have to do with he Deep State).
After several days of pondering that editorial and the various voices spinning the march-riot-plot-insurrection of the Capitol, I sat down to write a response. From my perspective of Christian thought, proclaiming righteousness or delivering retribution are the wrong impulses. Forgiveness is the message. Without forgiveness we might as well just invest in BitCoin, cash out, move to Singapore and have a massage with a happy ending. Hey, there is still a couple of days to get a Presidential Medal of Honor for such actions, or at least a pardon (cynicism, cynicism, I’m starting to sound like a minor prophet…)
Letter to the Editor
The editorial in 1/6/2021 edition, asked how do I get my reputation back? The writer poses this question specifically about the Christians who have supported a God-less leader, whose immoral actions have culminated in inciting a riot and attach on our nation’s Capitol Building and Congress on that very same day. As we can see a series of small errors, lapses in judgment, character flaws lead up to great evil results.
The questions behind the question have to do with those offending, those offended, and the potential for forgiveness and reconciliation between the individuals or groups.
I will assert that rarely is a conflicted situation one-way. Tiffany tells Dalton that Miss Miller is calling for him so that she can get the swing during recess. Dalton figures out that Tiffany lied and pushes Tiffany off the swing. Miss Miller sees Dalton’s offense and punishes him. Tiffany feigns innocence. Who wronged who in the kindergarten example?
This brings up a first level of forgiveness: forgive-and-forget. That was primarily useful during recess to keep kids playing. But we all know it is rather useless because Tiffany and Dalton will hold grudges, gossip, and these days probably post a TikTok video soiling the other’s reputation which may be found by some future employer or fiancee two decades later.
A second level of forgiveness I call: repent-forgive-sin-no-longer. This has historic roots for Christians and Jews in the Hebrew scriptures. From Adam and Eve through the prophets, God had given people freedom to do good or evil actions, and waited patiently for his people to do good. God must have been disappointed through thousands of years to people messing up.
Repentance requires recognition of one’s behavior, not rationalization. To assist with this God gave Adam and Eve one law. They blew it, then pointed the finger at each other and the serpent. God gave his chosen people 10 laws, but then had to elaborate to around 600. They did not get it, or at least until they had created lots of problems for themselves and others. Occasionally, they recognized their error and acknowledged this.
John the Baptists taught the message of preparation for the Messiah through recognition of sin, repentance, and baptism to cleans oneself. But repentance is only one step. One must stop doing the wrong action. Jesus taught this on numerous occasions when he he forgave sins, literally healing people, and instructed them to go and sin no more. He also illustrated that those pointing fingers were often the offenders. When he saved the woman by telling the men who threatened to kill her, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”. Remember that Tom T. Hall song, “Harper Valley PTA”?
But, often those offending, or those who might offer them forgiveness, refuse to do so. Unless Tiffany and Dalton recognize and acknowledge that each has acted badly, neither is going to be able to forgive the other. And, they are not likely to learn to be friends and play well together.
This brings up a third level of forgiveness, discussed by C. S. Lewis: the offended person bears the burden of the sinner. In the Christian tradition, when God realized that all those laws were not making much progress, he became human, pleaded for us to wake up to our flaws and change our ways, and ultimately brought atonement by taking on the burden of our sins through Jesus’ death.
We may not need to go so far in acts of forgiveness to those who cannot or will not repent, but we may take on the burden of their errors in many ways. We can be kind to those who snarl at us. We can be patient. We can offer to get together and talk through the situation to recognize how both sides of the situation have failed each other. We can do a favor without expectation of return. We can pay-it-forward. We pay a debt, cook a meal and drop it by, offer to help with cutting and splitting wood for winter heat. These are the action of forgiveness and may lead to reconciliation.
We are not likely to forget that Christians and Christian organization have supported a God-less leaders. We can offer them the opportunity recognize these mistakes (which go back decades, not just the past four years), repent, and change their message and action. And, we can pick up the burden of the cross they seem to have left along the way and build a better society.
We need less flag waving and more linking of arms in unity, well, okay, elbow bumps.