Presidential Election

A Confession from a White Male Progressive Pastor

By Bruce Barkhauer

The day after the election, I noticed that the servers and waitstaff, none of whom appeared to be “from here” (Dallas, TX), were very quiet in the hotel restaurant on the post election morning. They went about their duties politely, but with a countenance of uneasiness.  In the afternoon, as I waited for my plane, people of color and ethnic diversity looked back at me with questioning, almost empty eyes.  

I am a white male, close to sixty, a bit overweight and on whom clothes never hang quite right -  and for all the world to guess, one who looks like he voted to elect Donald Trump President of the United States.  “The Donald,” who by his own words has made these people to feel unwelcome, unworthy, un-American – and somehow un-human.  I wanted to apologize to every single one of them.

A gay couple clung to each other in the terminal as if they would crumble if they dared to let go.  It is hard to speculate what the future will be like for them with an electorate that has handed all the levers of power to people who think they should not be able to love each other or enjoy the same rights and protections that my wife and I do.  I fear for my daughter, who is gay and married to her partner.  I wanted to tell them, all of them, that I have their back and that I am glad that they are a part of the fabric of our country and that they make us better and stronger for all their diversity. In the worst way I wanted to make eye contact with them to assure them they did not need to fear.  I felt unclean, ashamed. I wanted a shower - but this will not wash off.  The privilege afforded by my race and gender is the judge and jury of the sin from which I most often benefit, but did not choose.

The ugly truth is that I cannot promise them that they will be okay and safe from their neighbors or their government. But I will stand with them. I cannot promise that the undocumented will not be deported, that the LGBTQ person will be safe from abuse or that their elected leaders will protect or even care about them if they are. But I will seek to protect them. I cannot promise a place for the refugee family fleeing the terror of war and the broken covenant of a government that will neither protect or provide for them. But I will try to make a place for them.

For women who already suffer from a culture that glorifies their sexuality while denying their right to their own bodies; a society which tells them their contribution in work and creativity is worth less than a man’s labor for the same endeavor; and an pervasive attitude that says they should accept unwanted advances and physical contact as “just the way it is” because boys will be boys - I honestly don’t have a word of encouragement that this will change.  We have elected to our highest office one who by his own behavior expressed these very “values,” and thus we continued to affirm those twisted values to be normative and acceptable. I will name it for what it is and that it is wrong.

For the kid bullied at school, I cannot promise you that your pain and exclusion will stop since we have chosen a bully to sit in the oval office.  But I will stand up for you.

Tears well in my eyes - but they just won’t fully come.  It would be a welcome catharsis. With my shame there is also anger.  Yes, I am angry at those who chose this candidate because in their desperation for a change they could control in our halls of governance, and their fear of a change they could not shape in our world, they accepted the high cost of moral bankruptcy as a fair exchange.  

I am angry with evangelicals who since the 1980s have made “character matters” their mantra but gladly sacrificed it all on the alter of the Supreme Court nominees. It is idolatry of the most subtle sort because it seems so righteous.  

I am angry at the media for making this election about everything but the issues and who found more value in reporting news as entertainment instead of accepting the high calling of journalism.  Without unbiased reporting, fact checking, and public accountability, a democracy cannot flourish and is subject to tyranny. We forget this at our own peril.

I am angry that emails became more important than tax returns. I really do believe where your treasure is that is where your heart can be found.  Money, and what we do with it, reveals character.  That information was kept hidden from us for a reason, and somehow that became acceptable. We should have been asking persistent serious questions and demanding they be answered.  His opponent was figuratively stripped naked and paraded down main street via congressional hearings and federal investigation so that no secrets could have possibly remained.  Every dark corner of her life received the light of sordid exploration.  It revealed her imperfections, which oddly paled in comparison to her opponent’s without anyone noticing.

My real anger, however, is directed at myself.  I placed my hope in the wrong thing.  In my own progressive optimism, I began to believe that the government of my country could reflect the values of my soul.  Perhaps “Washington” really could support an egalitarian community that saw commonwealth as primary, and thus individuality as a fruit of rather than the goal of liberty.  With gains made in recent years suggesting greater inclusivity, I became both encouraged and lazy.  I also saw the attempts to restrict the voices of minorities as Jim Crow raised its ugly head, but I believed our better angels would win the day because the attempts were so blatant that decent people would never allow it to stand. In my imagination, a new Supreme Court justice would help undo this mess, as I too crafted an idol from an empty chair on the high court. 

I was wrong and I confess it to all who will read these words. The error was placing my hope in something less than God.  As a theologian, I know that putting trust in anything less than the Ultimate will lead to ultimate disappointment. I want this country to reflect my values, but believing that putting someone in the White House or the Statehouse could make that possible was destined to be disaster.  It doesn't mean it is not important, just that is not an end in and of itself.

We do well to remember our own history.  It was the government that killed Jesus and sought to eliminate his movement of “the way.”  When it could not stop Jesus’ movement, the government co-opted it to secure its own hold on power and to preserve its own values.  A motive from which we seemingly have never fully escaped.  Being too close to the seat of power carries great risk.  Distance allows for prophetic perspective. 

Creating a culture of generosity, welcome, justice, grace, and one that affirms the value of every person as a child of God is not the work of government – it is the work of the church.  We can wish that our government could someday be the catalyst that makes this the law in our land - but we cannot place our hope there alone to make it so.  And in the end, the law for all of its benefits, cannot legislate the province which is the human heart.  That is reserved for the work of transformation, which again, only God can do, and do so only with the willing.  

Bringing a compelling word about a better way of being is the only real hope of living up to the values we claim for ourselves as a nation. We need to engage not just in campaigning but in the work of conversion. 


And so we can acknowledge our anger, grief, and sadness at the result of the election.  But despite this crushing blow, we are not without hope.

Hope has always been a slim shimmering light in the darkness of despair, a courageous whisper softly spoken against the din of populist provocation, a tender branch unbroken thoughwhipped by the blustering winds of earthly principalities, and above all a belief that what might be is greater than what now exists. 

This election should serve as a reminder to the Church - you have what the world needs, the change that it longs for but does not recognize. This is not the time to be paralyzed by our grief, or bound up in our anger, but with resolve on our tear stained faces to get to work as stewards of the good news of the Gospel. 

It is up to us welcome to the stranger, create safe spaces for LGBTQ people, to care for the poor, to tend to the needs of the sick, to protect the earth, and by our living in beloved community to leave no doubt that all lives matter.  We can pressure the government to conform, but we cannot worship at its alter nor stand voiceless against its abuses.  The faith we proclaim believes that the cross and resurrection are less about us getting into heaven, and more about getting heaven into us, and through us, into the world.  

I’m embarrassed to be a middle-aged white guy today - but not at all ashamed that I voted for the first women to represent a major party for president.  I am deeply disappointed, but I am not without hope.

Election 2012: So, What's the Takeaway?

By  Derek Penwell

The election is over. But what election would be complete without the valedictory, the “take-away,” the things we learned (or should learn)? I have some thoughts about the election in no particular order:

  • Healthcare—The Presidential election made a statement about, among other things, what we think of people’s access to healthcare. Whatever else Obamacare does (or fails to do), it makes the case that people’s access to healthcare is a moral issue—and not simply an economic issue, or a personal freedom issue, or an assertion about the dangers of “creeping socialism.” Allowing corporations motivated by profit to deny coverage to people in their darkest hour, preventing coverage of people who need it most because they have pre-existing conditions, dropping people’s coverage when it becomes too costly—these are moral issues. I know people who believed that their lives (literally) depended on the election yesterday, because of the implications for the Affordable Care Act. The election results speak to our country’s belief that people should fear getting sick because of sickness, not because they lack the financial resources. Nobody should have to say, “I’m too poor to be sick.”

  • Class—Another thing this Presidential election brought into stark relief is the extent of our division over wealth. Comments like the ones Mitt Romney made concerning 47% of Americans, and Paul Ryan’s remarks about the country being made up of “makers and takers,” make our political discourse meaner. I realize both sides speak ill of one another. But that misses the point. In this case, the issue turns not on snarkiness, but on a partisan narrative that paints a significant portion of the population as unworthy of our concern. Why? Because they’re moochers, parasites, free-loaders who only suck the system dry without giving anything back to it. Unfortunately, I can’t figure out a way to get Jesus to occupy the assumptions that position entails—that is, that people are lazy, dishonest, and disposable. By repudiating that framing of our common life, this election allows us the room we need to find opportunities to address the real (often systemic) problems people face in ways that don’t continue to enable those problems. Whether we’ll always get it right is another question; but we certainly ought to be a people capable of resisting the sinful impulse to throw people away just because they can’t figure out anywhere else to find the help they need.

  • LGBTIQ Rights —Ballot initiatives in Maine, Maryland, and Washington give the citizens of those states the right to marry, regardless of sexual orientation, putting an end to 32 straight defeats of same-gender marriage at the ballot box. In Minnesota voters defeated a constitutional amendment banning same-gender marriage. In Wisconsin, Tammy Baldwin, became the first openly lesbian Senate candidate in the country. Yesterday’s election results indicate a sea change in our culture’s attitudes toward LGBTIQ people. The inexorability of this eventual shift seems stronger today than it did the day before yesterday.[1] I don’t want to over think it, but it seems to me that mainline denominations were put on notice yesterday that the world is going to continue to move forward—with or without progressive Protestant denominational approval.
  • Who owns the Government?Citizens United … the Supreme Court decision that extended the individual right of free speech to corporations, allowing them to give almost unlimited sums of money to influence elections … was tested on a national stage during this election. Since that decision was handed down in January of 2010, the fear of many has been that Citizens United would allow those with the most money to buy elections. Over 1.5 billion dollars was spent on this election by outside groups on campaign advertising—the bulk of which was negative. One of the conclusions we may draw from this election, it seems to me, is that the immunity of the body politic appears much more robust than many of us feared. I suspect that Karl Rove will have an uncomfortable meeting, trying to explain to his nameless investors why it is that, even with the enormous amounts of money he expended, he couldn’t deliver some key victories—not least the Presidency. Our democracy is healthier than we imagined, and certainly better off than those who grouse that the country needs “taking back.”

  • Truth Matters—One of the important principles revealed by this Presidential campaign season is that, contrary to the dire predictions of many, we are not yet a “post-truth” society. That is to say, given the stunningly bold nature of the dissembling Mitt Romney’s campaign embraced (almost always with impunity), conventional wisdom suggested that we had turned a corner on the nature of truth-telling in our culture. Romney’s chief pollster, Neil Newhouse, admitted as much when he said at the Republican National Convention, “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.” Romney lied about his own past positions on everything from abortion and gay marriage to immigration and the auto bailout. He misrepresented the positions of the President on a host of issues—from charges that the President removed the work requirement from welfare to the President’s “apology tour.” And before you get all defensive, I know that politicians have always tended to “mold and shape” the truth to fit the current narrative—President Obama included. However, there’s never been a candidacy predicated on such a brazen disregard, not only for the truth, but for the consequences of not telling the truth. This election rejected the idea that politicians can knowingly lie and not be held accountable for prevaricating.

  • Everybody Counts (The Triumph of Demographics)—One of the things that shines brightest from this election involves the emerging reality that previously ignorable demographic constituencies are ignorable no longer. Race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age—all these categories of people that have historically hovered at the edge of social relevance just crashed the cultural party in a politically significant way. No longer is it possible to win elections based on the calculation that “if we can just get enough white guys to back us, we can pull this out.” Moving forward, politics will increasingly be forced to reckon with groups of people who used to be political non-factors. As the percentage of white voters decreases, the concerns of previously marginal groups will become more and more central to the public debate. As somebody who claims to follow Jesus, I take this new concern for others to be a good thing. 
  1. See Jennifer Rubin’s advice to Republicans to just “move on”.  ↩