Evangelical disillusionment with the election reached fever pitch with the revelation of Donald Trump’s comments, made in 2005 to TV host Billy Bush, about sexually assaulting women. While many evangelical voters continue to support the GOP candidate for president, many followers have fled the scene, choosing to finally speak out forcefully against Trump’s bragging remarks.
The news media has made much of the flight of evangelicals away from Trump, particularly after Beth Moore tweeted her thoughts from her perspective as a sexual assault survivor. The media narrative has painted a picture of evangelicals, particularly women, finally being done with Donald Trump and his misogyny.
I'm one among many women sexually abused, misused, stared down, heckled, talked naughty to. Like we liked it. We didn't. We're tired of it.— Beth Moore (@BethMooreLPM) October 9, 2016
But, there’s an inconvenient truth lying beneath the surface: Women, particularly minority evangelical women and people of color, have been speaking out against Trump’s rhetoric for months. It appears not enough people were listening.
Lisa Sharon Harper, author of The Very Good Gospel and Chief Church Engagement Officer at Sojourners (at the time of publication), noted that evangelicals of color began to denounce Trump long ago.
“I know several conservative black, Latino, Asian, and Native American evangelicals who absolutely were not in support of Trump, and were actively writing … in order to explain to their followers why they needed to be aware.” She continued, “For women of color and people of color who have stood up against Trump, it’s not just one thing,” referring to Mr. Trump’s racism, misogyny, and intimidation. “It is the reality that we believe the Gospel. At the heart of this, is the integrity of the good news of Jesus Christ.”
There are multiple, visceral threats that minorities and immigrants face in a Trump presidency if were to hold true to his espoused policy recommendations: deportation for immigrants and their families; deeper marginalization for religious minorities, especially Muslims; people with disabilities viewed by the president as not being equal and valuable members of society; lack of equality, value, and rights of women; physical danger of black people at GOP rallies.
All of these concerns follow each of us into the voting booth this year, and these threats directly impact the lives of what Christians would call, “the least of these.” Evangelical leaders of color have repeatedly pointed to the language, actions, and rhetoric of Donald Trump while effectively explaining that he is a threat to their livelihood. Yet, many leaders have not listened until now, when Trump’s actions finally touched and disrupted the sensibilities of white evangelicals, specifically.
Nikki Toyama-Szeto, an author and speaker who also works for a prominent Christian organization, lamented, “I feel disappointed that it took violence against women to call out a ‘general’ outrage. It seems that the early comments about Mexicans, or about praising the internment of the Japanese (something that affected my family directed) should have been enough.”
Yet, even with the unearthing of Trump’s comments about sexual assault, many evangelical Christian leaders, particularly white women, have remained silent. Some have instead tried to offer words of encouragement about the election, posting comments like, “I don’t put my hope in a candidate; I put my hope in Jesus.” Or, a more popular phrase has popped up: “No matter who wins the election, God is in control.”
The intentions of these comments are surely noble. However, the silence of white evangelical leaders is a position rooted in white privilege, and, “is an indicator of the passive white supremacy in the church that is still rife in the evangelical [tradition],” Harper said.
Regarding the consequences that people of color and minorities face, she continued, “Violence against our communities has increased, and a sense of entitlement to do that violence has increased on local levels and in the course of national events. Our communities are feeling that impact.“
The ability to say, “God is in control,” with any sort of confidence is not only a misunderstanding of the sovereignty of God, but also a privileged perspective. Deidra Riggs, author of Every Little Thing: Making A Difference Right Where You Are, said in an email interview, while she believes the intent of these comments are noble, these leaders “don’t understand the impact of their words and what it reveals about the protections they've enjoyed from the very systems and powers which were never intended to serve a large segment of our population, and which have a very long way to go before they are truly equal.”
The goodness and sovereignty of God are certainly not flippant or pithy. However, saying, “Don’t worry, God’s got this!” is often seen as a cop out in the face of blatant, unrepentant misogyny, bigotry, xenophobia, and hate. The sovereignty of God does not negate the very real consequences of Trump’s proposals, particularly for minority, marginalized, and oppressed peoples in this country.
Making these comments in the face of true injustice is also a fundamental misunderstanding of God’s sovereignty. While God is certainly in control, the people of God are invited into the work of bringing about the reconciliation of heaven and earth, the Kingdom of God. God’s sovereignty does not abdicate us of our responsibility to stand against the threat and reality of injustice, particularly when it’s inflicted on vulnerable people.
Dr. Lamar Hardwick is a pastor in Georgia. He’s also an African-American man with a disability. Commenting on this misunderstanding of God’s sovereignty, he said, “As a Christian, pastor, minority, and a person diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, I am fully aware of the need to be prayerfully and thoughtfully engaged in social change. The sovereignty of God demands human responsibility.”
Lisa Sharon Harper put it this way, “Jesus said, ‘Follow me.’ There are ethics there. There’s a way in which we are to be interacting with the world. What it means to be in the Kingdom of God is to protect the image of God on earth in all people.”
More pointedly in light of voting and this election, she said, “We determine, through our vote, how life will be structured and not just for ourselves, but for those who Jesus identified with the most. The least of these.”
By choosing silence, or choosing to comment on the election with "God's got this," instead of using our voice and influence for the sake of the vulnerable in this election cycle, we are effectively looking marginalized, minority folks in the eye and telling them their oppression doesn’t matter.
As Nikki Toyama-Szeto said in our interview, “Many people think that silence is neutral. But silence is a statement in and of itself.”
By choosing silence in the face of injustice, we are more pointedly telling vulnerable people that God sees the threat of more oppression upon them and He is silent about it.
And there’s nothing good about that news.