Tomorrow is Super Tuesday, and unless the polls are wildly inaccurate, Donald Trump will galvanize his lead as the Republican presidential front-runner. Should Trump secure the nomination, he will be the first major-party presidential candidate with no political or military experience since Wendell Willkie ran against FDR in 1940. This has journalists asking the simple question: why Trump?
If the spate of articles* addressing this question is correct, the answer involves a rising sense of hopelessness and disempowerment among white, middle-aged, middle-income Americans with no college degree (the same demographic that has recently seen a spike in suicides and heroin addictions). They are nauseated by political correctness, distrustful toward institutions, and fed up with two-faced politicians. They feel like they have lost their country to outsiders and want a man in the high office who exudes the very power they no longer have, a freewheeling, straight-talker untethered to special interest money and political favors. Their man is Donald Trump.
My interest here is not with Trump himself. Whether he fizzles out before the convention or serves two terms as president, the despair facing this segment of his support base is a new fixture in our national landscape. That is the story of the election for a church called to make disciples of all nations, ours included. So how do we understand the issue of disempowerment through the gospel lens of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and New Creation? How might that perspective comfort and confront those in despair?
Let’s overview a biblical theology of power. Creation–God created humans in his image to exercise dominion over his good creation. Fall–Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God disrupted the whole created order, including the proper use of power in relationships and over nature. Redemption–Jesus, God in flesh, employed his divine power to defeat the power of sin, Satan, and death through his crucifixion and resurrection on our behalf. New Creation–When Jesus returns to consummate his new creation, he will restore equity, prosperity, harmony, and the right use of power.
This should be news of comfort for disempowered Middle Americans. According to the biblical story, the desire for proper dominion is God-given and the loss or misuse of power is part of the curse. In other words, the Bible validates grief over disempowerment. During his earthly ministry, Jesus decried abusers of power and associated with the marginalized, promising that the meek would inherit the earth. For those who trust in Jesus, the story ends with God on the throne and his people reigning forever. Power will be restored.
Yet this gospel narrative also confronts as much as it comforts. If the reports from the campaign trail are accurate, the brand of empowerment craved by Trump supporters carries an exclusionary flavor with no space for migrants, Muslims, or minorities. Even though America’s existence and prosperity hinged on the disempowerment of Native Americans and Africans, these are not considered as just causes alongside the cry for white, Middle America’s restoration.
The gospel confronts, challenges, even rebukes at these points. Jesus is building a kingdom “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). The only way to true, eternal empowerment is through sharing that kingdom with redeemed sinners of every ethnicity. And because the consummation of this kingdom lies at Jesus’ triumphant return, his followers are called now to employ their power to serve the most vulnerable of society–the immigrant, the fatherless, and the widow.
This election cycle has highlighted a new mission field: neighbors experiencing a hopelessness that no politician can satisfy. Whatever this means in the short-term for our nation, let us keep eternity in view and faithfully proclaim the gospel of the kingdom in all its offensive, redemptive power.