If evangelical Christian conservatives held a moral high ground before this election cycle, they may very well have lost it. I am a child of the Christian conservative movement. For years growing up, I heard calls to purity and obedience, honor and devotion. We—and I do mean “we,” because I was unequivocally a part of this community—valued leaders who had values. I’ve been to many a conference where speakers elevated the sanctity of the family to god-like status. We wanted godly fathers and devoted mothers and obedient children. We wanted respect for life and we championed virtue. And yet. And yet. Many of the community’s leaders fell (some albeit reluctantly) in line with Trump.
Somehow, some way, the Christian conservatives I know and love became obsessed with a few key issues, particularly opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. The moral argument for supporting Trump was rooted in the idea that we needed a president who would stand for conservative values. And sitting pretty upon our moral high horses, we disregarded “woe to those who call evil good and good evil,” the biblical warning to correctly identify what’s bad as bad and what’s good as good. For decades, we had attempted to elevate virtue by promoting chastity, only to rationalize crude language and behavior by saying that “we are all sinners.” We insisted that people have inherent dignity as image-bearers of God, but changed our tune when we had the chance to name-call our political opponents. We chose to downplay our concerns with this candidate because we wanted our Supreme Court justices to be conservative, forgetting that the One who is supreme has an undeniably undiluted standard of justice.
If liberal academia—with its penchant for social justice and proclivity for moralizing—stood on a moral high ground, this election cycle illustrated how shaky its foundations are. At Penn, I am surrounded by students passionate about social change. They’re not alone: my generation is famous for its attention to causes and casualties. The sense of morality that underlies the concern, however, leaves much to be desired. This year, the rhetoric of tolerance and inclusion found a watchword in “Love Trumps Hate,” one of Hillary’s eminently hashtag-able campaigns slogans. Yet the appeal of these words fell flat the more I realized these slogans were not the bastions of love and compassion I had hoped for. We have begun to inaccurately depict hate as an amorphous “thing” that seems to float around hurting people, rather than as a heart problem that needs to be set right. We rely on slogans demanding love without fully recognizing the many facets of love—from kindness to patience to courageously telling the truth. When the results of the election sent shock waves through our campus, the spread of misinformation allowed feelings to overpower facts, as we prematurely mourned the downfall of our representative democracy.
“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil” applies here, too: Postmodern moralizing relies on indeterminate ideas of fairness, justice, and right and wrong that are inconsistently applied. For example, it’s sexy to draw attention to the gender wage gap, but downright counter-cultural to acknowledge that inequality begins in the womb, with unborn females disproportionately targeted by abortion. Instead, we lump this travesty under global reproductive rights, as if it is something to be celebrated. When it comes to caring for the underprivileged, we are quick to condemn those who aren’t immediately gung-ho about social welfare. Instead of encouraging economic development and enterprise, we stymie it by dismissing capitalism’s positive contributions. And love trumping hate? Seemed to not extend to actually loving the “other,” once the election was over.
As I point out the faults with both a pharisaical religiosity and a postmodern reality, I recognize that we as Christians are held to a higher standard. We condemn ourselves when we preach morals to others but ignore them in our own lives. We fail to reflect the nature of God when we decline to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. And we deny our faith when we back down in the face of contempt for our beliefs. I’m reminded that “[o]bviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant.” Pleasing God necessarily requires seeking him diligently to get to know him. And growing in the knowledge of God reveals that he is a god of justice, truth, and grace. His justice is not riddled with inconsistencies or dependent on changing political views. His truth is spoken in love. And his grace empowers our actions while extending to our souls satisfying peace.
1. Isaiah 5:20.
3. See Romans 2:1-3.
4. See Proverbs 21:8-9.
5. Galatians 1:10, NLT.
6. See Hebrews 11:6; Romans 10:17.
7. See Ephesians 4:15.
Hannah F. Victor studies nursing and law at the University of Pennsylvania. Both conservatives and liberals agree that she does an excellent Gollum impersonation!