Following Jesus Into the Resistance in 2017

What a year it was. For many, including myself, 2016 had its share of joys and sorrows, but the election of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States of America overshadowed all else. In the wake of his unexpected victory, those who did not support Trump experienced shock that turned to distress, anxiety and fear. Millions participated in last-ditch efforts to convince electors to vote for someone (anyone!) else, but that campaign, too, was unsuccessful. Failing unforeseen and cataclysmic intervention, Trump will be sworn in on January 20th.

So, many people are wondering: What are we to do in 2017 and beyond?

In the meantime, the other details of our lives demand attention. The lease on my electric car, a Nissan Leaf, came to an end in 2016, so I went to my local Nissan dealer to lease a spiffy new 2017 model. This being California, the finance director and I became new best friends over a discussion of our shared terror that the Trump administration and North Korea might bring the world to a nuclear end. Also, he explained the payment schedule, and I wrote a check.

When the sales representative came around to deliver the car, the finance director brought him up to speed on our conversation, and the sales rep said, “Give Trump a chance.” He continued, “Now, I didn’t vote for him, but a democracy is a democracy, and fair is fair, and we have to give him a chance. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

Is this what we’re to do? It’s certainly not the first time I’ve heard it. For many, giving the future president a chance is a duty of citizenship. Christians might see it as a requirement of their faith, remembering Paul’s admonition in Romans 13 to support the governing authorities. It’s also being a good sport: accepting that we lost, being a team player, and getting on with things. It would be a relief, quite honestly. Giving Donald Trump “a chance” would allow me to lower my anxiety and focus on other things, like my new car. Or my job and my marriage.

But I say, “No.” Or as the kids say, “Hell to the no.”

Under other circumstances, I would say “yes.” Giving an incoming president support and a chance to do their best would not only be fair, but in our collective self-interest. After all, as a Facebook friend commented, “We’re all on the same plane. Why work to bring it down?”

However, this argument hinges on intentions. If the pilot intends to fly us into the side of a mountain, we’ll try to force open the cockpit door. Tech billionaire Peter Thiel famously admonished the media, and by extension liberals, for taking Trump literally instead of seriously. I would argue that we must do both.

The gospel itself calls us to watchfulness, and to readiness to resist.

The gospel itself calls us to watchfulness, and to readiness to resist. The same Jesus Christ who proclaimed good news to the poor, release to the captive, sight to the blind, and freedom for the oppressed has graciously invited us, through the Holy Spirit who empowers us, to walk in his footsteps. Many of Mr. Trump’s stated intentions would oppress the very ones Jesus came to liberate, and thus Christians and all people of good faith are called to resist. This must be our posture in 2017.

At the same time, I’d like to nuance this a little. I am not rejecting outright the possibility that Donald Trump might do some things that are helpful to the country. Who knows? Perhaps he will initiate massive infrastructure projects that provide good jobs. It would be foolish to reflexively block every initiative without consideration. Similarly, Mr. Trump is thin-skinned and craves public adulation. It may be that he can be swayed by public outcry, or that public affirmation of a positive step would reinforce and reproduce constructive behavior.

That is why I say we begin with vigilance. Let us watch and be aware. Support and read credible news sources, major newspapers and in-depth journalism. Express our opposition and preferred action quickly, publicly, and passionately through social media, print media, and to our government representatives. And all the while, be prepared to resist.

We can see at least small effects of this action already. Only days ago, following a barrage of negative headlines and a public outcry that included a reprimand-tweet from the president-elect, House Republicans abruptly withdrew a proposal to weaken the independent Office of Congressional Ethics. This kind of organized, rapid, widespread public response is a model for us as we go forward.

Resistance may involve significant risk. The Energy Department bravely denied the request of the president-elect’s transition team to provide the names of individual Energy Department employees and contractors who worked on the issue of climate change. Jonathan Greenblatt, director of the Anti-Defamation League, has pledged that should a Muslim database be created, he will register … and thousands of others pledged to do the same. Four hundred and fifty congregations, synagogues and mosques have joined the Sanctuary Movement, pledging to provide space and resources to assist immigrants who are in danger of deportation.

We must learn the lesson of the 2016 election and no longer assume that certain outcomes are impossible. Should the Trump administration take a dark turn toward the most ominous of our fears—toward the undoing of civil liberties, tyranny, or fascism—greater opposition and risk will be called for. But in the meantime, we cannot look away.

As Christians, we are familiar with what it means to live within the tension between two simultaneous realities. We proclaim that the Reign of God arrived completely in the person of Jesus Christ, while it is (obviously) not yet a full reality on earth. We embrace our status as both sinners and saints. And we proclaim the entirety of God’s grace—simply given, undeserved and frequently unrequested—to a broken world, even as we also uphold the prophetic tradition of the Hebrew prophets and Jesus himself, who said “No” in condemning violence, injustice, tyranny, poverty, and the failure of individuals and communities to alleviate suffering and dismantle structures of oppression.

It is important to understand that God’s “no” is actually God’s greater “yes.” By saying “no” to that which creates harm and separates us from God, God says “yes” to God’s shalom and invites us to enter and participate in God’s vision for the flourishing of all creation.

By saying “no” to that which creates harm and separates us from God, God says “yes” to God’s shalom and invites us to enter and participate in God’s vision for the flourishing of all creation.

So no, we don’t have to “give Donald Trump a chance.” Because what he has promised to do, if carried out, will hurt and injure not only many of God’s human children, but God’s good creation. Therefore, we vehemently say “no” to those outcomes, remain vigilant, and prepare to resist.

 As we enter the year 2017, many people are afraid and wondering whether it is healthy, or even possible, to maintain hyper-vigilance and outrage all the time. It’s not, so we probably should take turns. But remember this: We cannot control what Donald Trump and his administration choose to do. Our power to affect a great deal of what will happen around us is limited. That said, we can and must control our own engagement and response.

Remember also that there are a lot of us. Those who did not vote for the president-elect are the majority. Those of us who identify as progressive followers of Jesus Christ—those of us who seek to continue the slow, but steady, work of living into the Reign of God that he proclaimed—are so many mustard seeds in the fields of discontent and injustice.

The midterm elections in 2018 are around the corner. At best, we face four years of conflict, protest, and damage. But it’s damage we can try to limit. And what about the worst? Well, its arrival is not impossible, but neither is it given. Therefore, let us remain vigilant and prepared to resist, so that the worst we fear does not come to pass. Let us say “no” in order to live into God’s greater “yes.”

Diane Bowers

Diane Bowers is theologian, writer, teacher, and an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. She is currently, as they say, between calls. Born in Africa to Lutheran missionary parents, she has a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology, a particular love for the Reformation, and is an adjunct instructor at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary. Diane lives in Berkeley with her husband Hans-Christian where together they spend too much time on Facebook, discuss politics, ride trains, and share a mutual love of California wine, food, architecture and landscape.

Image credits:

Cover – Carlo Villarica, “resist,” August 23, 2010. Via Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons CC BY 2.0.

Inside – John, “Eternal Vigilance,” September 2, 2013. Via Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 / Cropped.