The Gospel of Matthew records a Sunday morning exchange. A group of women wended to a tomb, prepared to make amends for a dead body; Jesus of Nazareth had died. They had followed him in life: that itinerant, strangely glorious three years of teaching and healing.
Now, as the 11 remaining apostles hid, the women meant to wash and tend to his body according to custom. However, there was no corpse. Instead, they received the pulsing reality of the risen Lord, and a word: rejoice.
When I joined my church two Sundays ago to celebrate the Resurrection, “rejoice” still seemed an odd word, or at least one that rolled less easily than before. The American church as I knew it had been a site for discord. In deciding what to render to Caesar, it seemed to have lost something during the 2016 presidential election: credibility.
The often-publicized 81 percent of evangelical Christian votes that Donald Trump received was not dissimilar from support shown to GOP candidates in past elections. PEW Research Center gave it a further caveat; the 81 percent accounted only for self-identified white evangelicals, a statistic that only tells the story of one sort-of-group of people who more-or-less look alike and hold onto a term that many no longer believe is useful distinguishing what exactly one’s brand of faith might be.
I knew all of this as I stepped into the foyer with a wearing Bible and obligatory pink cardigan. And still, something felt different—stung. In a post-election analysis, Christianity Today pinned that discomfort, explaining:
“Among evangelicals, some speculated that Trump’s shaky background on pro-life issues, awkward articulation of his personal faith, and reputation around women would turn away conservative Christians. But party loyalty outweighed those concerns.”
The settled sense that we were of one accord in faith and practice (even if it was mainly out of wishful thinking) was gone. As a Christian woman, I saw my theology traded by evangelical “celebrities” (Billy Graham’s son, or a radio host that everyone’s parents vaguely remembered) for what seemed like the sake of supporting the GOP. I heard my vocabulary—of belief, salvation, and sanctification—discounted and applied to a man who previously noted he did not need to ask God for forgiveness. I read transcripts of a candidate’s remarks about grabbing women, and waited for him to sink; he did not.
Whatever one’s base of support might have been in the election, evangelicals must grapple with different narratives. The first was laid out during the Republican primaries: take what seems the least harmful to you (or what might benefit you) and run with it.
Or the church can do the things that is was meant to do well. To respect the government’s authority without adulating it; to identify what is evil, even when it packs favoritism that benefits us; to be known for goodness in public life, so that the authority of Christ is not put to shame.
That kind of action might sound sepulchral in comparison to making America great again, and to being bedecked with legitimacy from the White House or Mar-a-Lago. Resisting might be hard for the 81 percent, and anyone else besides. Yet, empty things have always bespoken hope for the church; in particular, one gives me reason to rejoice.