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As UK Christians try to deal with the shock US election result, Joshua Parikh suggests four things to keep in mind
In the brief period in which I’ve been able to vote, my life seems to have been marked by perpetual electoral disappointment.
The Conservatives trashed Labour and the Lib Dems. Brexit happened. Jeremy Corbyn got reelected as head of the Labour Party. And to top it all off, Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton to become President of the USA.
It's with this disappointment in mind that I present some reflections on how we should all think about this moment in our shared history:
1. Remember it’s OK to be upset
Sadness is a natural and appropriate response to events of significance. Sometimes explanations and theology are useful, but it’s also sometimes necessary to mourn. Things happen in this fallen and broken world which we won’t like, and which are genuinely distressing and damaging. Jesus declares that, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted" - this is a blessed and high calling and one which Jesus himself undertook when he wept at the tomb of Lazarus.
It is shallow and unnecessary to keep a British stiff upper lip in these situations. We should be comfortable with the outpouring of grief when hard times come.
The command to consistent and persistent prayer is crucial. Paul tells us to "pray unceasingly" (1 Thessalonians 5). And in times when discouragement, prayer is ever more vital.
In times of trouble, coming to God in prayer is a comfort. It’s easy to rail against God in these times. In reading the Psalms, which document the breadth of human experience poured out to God in raw genuineness, we see that sharing our displeasure with God in lament is right and fair.
But we should also be making prayers of thankfulness. It can be so easy to let troubles overwhelm without reminding ourselves about the blessings God gives us. I’m unbelievably grateful for the amazing friends I have, and for the way in which they’ve come round me to support and help when I’ve felt like rubbish. The love they’ve shown me has been beautiful and humbling.
3. Consider the global perspective
Political disappointment takes place in response to political upsets, which are big events which genuinely affect large numbers of lives. And yet the specific outpouring of emotion at the election result is vastly out of proportion to any other event of horror or joy.
Our Western bias and skewed emotions are in favour of outrageous moments of shock, rather than long running and difficult troubles. Whether Hillary or Trump won, there would still be 46 million slaves around the world today, refugees drowning in the Mediterranean and 75,000 children forecast to starve in Nigeria over the next year. These tragedies don’t cause my Facebook feed to erupt in despair. And yet are these not as great and greater causes for concern than the Trump victory?
Why do we fail to show empathy on the same level for all of these things? Why do we not pursue action on all of these things? The answer to is not to show no emotion over the election - I’ve shown a lot - rather it is a widening of our compassion beyond the circles which we consider to be normal.
We should be troubled by the narrowness of our emotional outrage which is concerned with only a sliver of issues and too often only concerned selfishly with Western issues. We have to stop ignoring civil wars in Africa or the effects of global warming in Bangladesh.
4. Keep a theological grounding
It’s fair and right to show upset in these circumstances, but to quote the apostle Paul, we are "perplexed yet not driven to despair" (2 Corinthians 4). Two key truths are crucial in these circumstances. First, God is in control, as one who works "all things after the counsel of his will" (Ephesians 1:11). Secondly, there is a "hope that will not disappoint" (Romans 5), which Jesus Christ has demonstrated through his resurrection. We can cling onto that hope of redemption. In doing so, we may dampen the force of the disappointment, seeing its effect as serious but not ultimate.
The above position is too often presented tritely in a way that minimises people’s pain. Pastoral sensitivity is needed here. The risk of fatalism is strong as by declaring that God is sovereign, people might think this renders our actions meaningless - so we shouldn’t worry about what we do because God is in control either way.
I would instead argue that God uses those good actions which we perform to precisely accomplish his aims. Therefore our actions matter as part of the masterpiece which he is creating. 1 Corinthians 15 commands us to "always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain." We must avoid the risk of fatalism, knowing that God will value our obedience always, and may use that obedience differently in different contexts.
Political transformation takes time and is more effective than we see. However much we may dislike Donald Trump, times are improving. Lynching is not a common reality for Americans. Segregation is over. Women have the vote. Trump’s descriptive language of women, however vile, seems to be unacceptable to most people today. Hopefully we can continue to move forward despite the setbacks we face.
Joshua Parikh is a student studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford University
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