Different lenses

November 14, 2016

Remember these women? If not, you’re probably too young to recall them from Steven Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People which came out the year the Berlin Wall fell.

(Coincidentally, precisely 27 years to the day the world celebrated the Wall coming down, November 9, we have a new wall-builder on the scene. Who could have imagined?)

Take a look first at the sketch on the left before looking at the woman in the middle. How old do you think this woman might be? Most would say they are looking at a young attractive woman wearing a neck choker, with her head turned to the right. But those who looked at the woman on the right first before looking at the middle picture assume the woman is a toothless old hag with a big nose and a hooked chin.

Two decades ago, I sometimes distributed these sketches to audiences: the left sketch to half the group and right sketch to the other half. Then I would show on an overhead-projector the middle drawing as a ‘more refined version of the same woman’, and ask who thought this woman was young, under forty? Half the hands would go up. Old, say, seventy-plus?  The other half would put their hands up. Both groups would look at each other incredulously, their body language expressing incomprehension.

Just like the Christian world this past week, responding in social media discussions to the Trump victory.

The one side cannot understand why Christians would not vote for the candidate who was championing anti-abortion policy, conservative Supreme Court appointments, hetero-marriage, anti-Muslim infiltration and other conservative/traditional/biblical values. The other side cannot understand how people calling themselves followers of Jesus could ever vote for a women-denigrating, tax-avoiding, manipulative, gambling-enriched, thrice-married, racist, xenophobic, protectionist, isolationist, angry, power-grabbing, post-truth, post-values, narcissist bully.

‘Humble’

One good friend wrote me that she believes ‘God has a mandate on Trump’s life. Over the past many months, Trump has been through a season of humbling. Through that season I have watched a change come over him.’

Well, I’m not sure if ‘humble’ is the word most people would associate with the president-elect. Another told me I had obviously drunken too much from the Clinton-controlled press. So am I wrong to take Trump’s own words too literally? Someone observed that Trump-supporters took him seriously but not literally; opponents took him literally but not seriously.

Perhaps I’m too much like the early Jerusalem church leaders wary of the conversion of Saul/Paul after his murderous campaign of persecution against the people of The Way. I await the evidence of change and would be glad if it came and set me right.

But how could evangelical Christians who profess the same Lord and same biblical values have such different perspectives? Can they both be right? Do we have a president-elect who is a Jekyll-Hyde split-personality? In which case we’re in even worse trouble than I thought. Or is it a question of the lenses we use to view the same subject? In which case, the question is how to bridge the perception gap. We have to ask each other, ‘what made you see Trump positively?’ ‘or negatively?’ And take the time to listen.

Am I right in concluding that most evangelicals voted for Trump because, well, after all, he was the Republican candidate even if they would have preferred some of his earlier competitors; that even if they didn’t care for his language or behaviour, he was the one most likely to stop the hated Hillary and all she stood for, including abortion, same-sex marriage, common public toilets, Obamacare…and much more? As for his character, well, he’s now become born-again and since God has forgiven him, we can too.

Integrity

That’s the one lens. But viewed through the other lens, it seems a huge price is being paid for these gains. Leaving aside the paradoxical fall in abortion figures under Democratic presidencies due to economic reasons, this view fears that the credibility of the evangelical movement, and thus of the gospel, has suffered in the eyes of the watching world. How can America become great through endorsing racism, tax-evasion, hate-speech, intolerance for religious freedom and disregard for creation care? Does this man qualify to lead the free world when he undermines the collective security arrangements developed with other western allies since WW2? Or praises the autocrat who callously bombs the citizens of Aleppo and refuses to allow Ukrainians the freedom to choose their own destiny?

The last America First! platform, which opposed engagement in World War Two, was sunk overnight by the bombing of Pearl Harbour. Will it take an invasion of the Baltics or a major cyber-attack to make America aware that isolationism and protectionism is not an answer?

Dear God, may truth, mercy, justice and wise counsel prevail!

Till next week,


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