In the month or so since the American electorate chose a first-time political candidate as the 45th President of the United States, the hyperventilating has approached a magnitude not seen since, well, those long-ago days of “Bush Derangement Syndrome.”
But unlike the mass attack of the vapors surrounding POTUS 43, the election of Donald J. Trump has also riven religious congregations across this fair and gentle republic. Where once the 11 a.m. hour on Sunday morning was deemed America’s most segregated time due to considerations of race, it now appears, per The Wall Street Journal (paywall trigger warning), that that the advent of a Trump Administration will cause the kind of schisms usually occasioned by some monk nailing 95 talking points to a cathedral door.
I exaggerate, but perhaps only slightly. Let’s dive into that Journal piece, shall we?
The election is over and so is Brandi Miller’s religious affiliation.
On Nov. 8, white evangelical Christianity and I called it quits,” she wrote in a message posted on Facebook. Ms. Miller, a campus minister at the University of Oregon, says that exit polls showing that 81% of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump revealed a divide over race that she, as a biracial woman, can’t condone. But can she condone it as a Christian?
“Evangelicals have decided who and with what they will associate,” wrote Ms. Miller, 26 years old, in an online magazine and on Facebook. “It’s not me.”
Church is often the place where people seek comfort and community in unsettling times, but the contentiousness of this election has filtered into the pews. In a sign of lingering partisanship, some people have looked for another place to worship, having split with their pastor over politics. Others are staying but feel estranged, wondering how a person a pew away backed a pro-choice candidate, for instance, or supported someone who demeaned immigrants.
Reading this, one wonders how much or how well this Journal reporter (the Pittsburgh bureau chief) understands about the nature of a church. As the late Rev. George Craig Stewart, former Episcopal bishop of Chicago, once said, “What did you think the Church was, a club for shining saints? … [It] has been a hospital for sinners.”
By extension, it’s reasonable to suggest that the church isn’t a club of the politically homogenized any more than it should be an assembly of one racial group. “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ, said the apostle Paul in 1 Cor. 12:12.
My point -- and I believe I have one -- is that while the 2016 campaign was perhaps extraordinarily contentious, it’s not unique in American history for sowing division and concerns. Perhaps its safe to say that many journalists are especially interested in schisms linked to this election, as opposed to pain and divisions linked to others. The pain seems to be especially newsworthy this time.
As a nation, we’ve lived through other contentious elections, only to come together afterwards. One example might be the 1960 Presidential race, where then-Sen. John F. Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, had to overcome severe anti-Catholic sentiment to capture the White House. After Kennedy was elected, there was not a mass defection to Roman Catholic parishes, nor did Protestant churches fill up with those who’d voted for Richard Nixon. We all learned to, as a society, get along.
This Journal piece provides little, other than offering a pair of reading groups from a church pastor caught in the middle, in the way of evidence that this is an issue for many congregations. It's a classic trend story that simply assumes the trend is real.
The anecdotal evidence of perhaps three people or families in the article stands without any data -- Pew Research Center anyone? -- buttressing or battering the claims of a new chasm in American polity. The glaring lack of data here suggests that while some gentle souls may feel estranged from now-former co-religionists, it’s not yet a tsunami, and may end up being a trickle.
Meanwhile, everyone join the Journal team in singing:
“They say that breakin' up is hard to do,
Now I know, I know that it's true.
Don't say that this is the end.
Instead of breakin' up I wish that
We were makin' up again.”
-- Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield, 1962
Next time around, let's see some more sources and facts, please.