Sunday, November 20, 2016

10 Things to Talk About This Thanksgiving Other Than the Election

Ah, Thanksgiving. It's that time of year to come together with friends and family to share good food and good company. Or at least that's how popular culture likes to think of it. I can remember enjoying watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade as a child with my own family, and getting to connect with loved ones we hadn't seen in a while, but then there are also those times that live on reminiscently in rolling eyes and head-shaking laughter. There is some charm and value to that mixture of both in the holidays, of course - in many ways it perfectly illustrates the precarious dynamic of familial relationships. Yet it may also be beneficial to remember, as they say, moderation in all things.

Every four years in this country, Thanksgiving winds up happening shortly after an election. No matter who wins, it almost always turns out that someone at the dinner table will be unhappy. If it's not the immediate family, it's the more distant relatives; if it's not the distant relatives, it's the romantic partners of family or relatives; if it's not the romantic partners of family or relatives, it could be the friends invited to join. Inevitably, it seems, there will be those who are thrilled about the outcome and wanting to gloat, those who are frustrated by the outcome and wanting to protest, or those who voted third party (or not at all) and want to rant about the system. Sometimes, if one is lucky, you may have the perfect singularity of all the above.

It's well known that this election in particular has been contentious, and that it has pitted many families against each other. Already some responses have been concerning, whether we're talking about racist reactions to Trump's win, or the nationwide protests that have broken out, sometimes blocking off sections of major highways. For reasons too obvious and omnipresent to be worth mentioning here, a great number of Americans may prefer to steer clear of political talk this Thanksgiving. With that purpose in mind, I have created this list of 10 things to talk about this Thanksgiving other than the election.

Now we all know what questions we can ask the people in our lives to spark conversation. How is so-and-so? Are you still working there? How are the kids liking their new school? Over the years we become trained in the art of acting like we care with our friends and family, so I won't be mentioning that stuff here. What I will give are some contemporary conversation ideas going beyond what you may already know for engaging with the people you already know. And let's face it, there are just those times where you want to minimize that engagement and get through the day. Here are some great time-killers.

10. Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Peace Prize

Back in October it was announced that the famed American musician Bob Dylan had won the Nobel Peace Prize in Literature. Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, and Salman Rushdie praised the decision, with the latter referring to Dylan as the "the brilliant inheritor of the bardic tradition." Others, however, have been more critical, suggesting the choice blurs the lines between artistic mediums a bit too much. Do Dylan's lyrics really serve as poetry, or should we think of them more in terms of songwriting?

It's notable that this win is a somewhat contentious one, too, but it may nonetheless be appealing subject matter, especially if the aim is to soak up some mileage in conversation that isn't election-related. On the other hand, some conservatives may hear "Nobel prize" and try to use this as an opportunity to bash Obama's acceptance of a Nobel prize in 2009. The trick here may be to keep the discussion light and keep it focused on art, or on history. Dylan's music is loved by many Americans, whatever side of the political aisle they sit on, and he has become a staple of Americana, not to mention a significant influence on a wide variety of different bands and musicians to this day.

Another useful strategy behind this topic is that you don't actually need to defend the prize itself. This could be a great chance to just talk about music, about the impact it had on the 1960s, and maybe, if you're sly enough, the importance of peace in our public discourse.

9. Pokemon Go

While the above may be thin ice to skate on in some respects, this one shouldn't be. Pokemon Go was released in July this year and quickly exploded in popularity. The app has crossed boundaries of age, gender, race, and nationality, and has been responsible for vast numbers of people getting outside and getting more active. It has also helped people connect in a social manner that isn't restricted to being online, but brings players together in person, who might otherwise never have met.

You don't have to love or play Pokemon Go to find this a topic worth taking on, though. We've all seen the controversial news reports involving the app, such as Pokemon hunters at a holocaust museum, players getting into accidents while playing the game, and incidents of sexual assault. Whether or not your relatives are Pokemon Go addicts themselves, they have likely heard about the game and some of the stories surrounding it. This is a subject, unlike Dylan's music, that could provoke conversation among possibly everyone at the table, including even the kids.

It's difficult to imagine this turning into a political debate, either. Pokemon Go was referenced by both Trump and Clinton during their campaigns, but this type of very specific pandering is unlikely to be something that stuck out to a lot of people, except perhaps as an amusing sign of the times. If you like to be topical and want to avoid yelling and shouting and arguing over the 2016 election, Pokemon Go would make a great go-to conversation.

8. The deaths of David Bowie, Prince, and Leonard Cohen

Death may not be the cheeriest subject, but a meaningful part of discussing the death of someone is reflecting on the legacy they have left behind. In the case of David Bowie, Prince, and Leonard Cohen, each of these endlessly-talented musicians has left behind an extensive catalogue of exceptional songs and performances. Some at your dinner table may have had the unforgettable privilege of seeing one of these artists live in concert, or they may just be a really big fan. Even if you hit on the improbable scenario that there are no fans of any of these three at Thanksgiving, it can provide a bit of time to talk about the weird rise in celebrity deaths we've been seeing.

I chose Bowie, Prince, and Cohen, but you could substitute others here, too. Why I selected these guys in particular has to do with their popularity and impact, yet also with the fact that they are musicians. There is something we can appreciate about music that often transcends divisions of politics, religion, and the like. It can be easy to miss the movies of a talented actor, or to miss the books of a skilled author, but music is everywhere, bleeding into our daily lives in coffee shops, in retail stores, at movie theaters, in the dentist's office, on the internet, etc., etc.

The death of a celebrity gives us pause to think about the fragility of life, and it simultaneously reminds us of how a life can touch so many around us. Rather than a morbid topic for family time at Thanksgiving, this kind of discussion can be a powerful encouragement during a time of year when some are already contemplating their lives, the future, those who have passed on, and the end of another season. We value the humility, honesty, and vulnerability that come from these things much more than we sometimes realize.

7. Zootopia

Alright, so if you're uncomfortable bringing up heavy topics during the holidays, what could be lighter than a Disney kids' movie that's fun for the whole family? Zootopia is a computer-animated buddy-cop mystery-comedy that takes place in a city run by animals, and has a starring cast that includes Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, Tommy Chong, and many more. The film currently has first place on Rotten Tomatoes' list of the top 100 movies of 2016, with an average critics score of 98% and an average viewer score of 93%.

Having seen Zootopia myself, I have to agree that this was one of the best flicks of the year, partly because of its creative and well-handled social commentary, but also because it was funny and fairly original. Most of what else came out in 2016 tends to call the word "disaster" to mind (Zoolander 2, Suicide Squad, Batman v. Superman, Warcraft, Independence Day: Resurgence... shall I keep going?) But Zootopia is a genuinely good film that can be enjoyable for adults as well as kids.

Of course, the movie scoring topic is a common one around the holidays, so other things could be substituted here, too. You could even prosper from raving about the worst movies of the year, but this one is at least not a violent, vulgar, or obscure movie, so it would be a decent bet for viable conversation material.

6. SpaceX and its trouble with rockets

Technological developments are often a topic of discussion at holidays. With the growing talk about traveling to, and eventually colonizing, other planets, developments with Elon Musk's SpaceX company may make good fodder for conversation. Back in April, SpaceX successfully landed its Falcon 9 rocket on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean, after delivering a cargo capsule to the International Space Station. Though previous attempts at landing had failed, this achievement could mark the first step towards bigger things for SpaceX.

That is, if incidents like the explosion of a Falcon 9 rocket on the launch pad in September are easily-addressed accidents. The explosion occurred during a static fire test, and has raised questions about the damage to the launch pad, as well as the possible delay of future launches. Later it was revealed that a breached helium system is the suspected cause of the problem. By October, rumors of sabotage had begun to spread, with Musk calling the September incident the "most difficult and complex failure we have ever had in 14 years."

It remains to be seen how this will affect SpaceX in the long term, particularly with its plans to send NASA astronauts into space by 2017/2018. Even if you wouldn't consider yourself the most technologically literate, tackling the interesting subject of space travel and its privatization in businesses like SpaceX and Blue Origin could certainly provide for some thought-provoking conversation. After all, who isn't fascinated by explosions?

5. Self-driving cars

Many have declared that driverless cars are the future of travel here on planet Earth. It is often argued that they will end up being significantly safer than the manually-driven vehicles we use now. However, this year we have already witnessed a couple of fatal accidents involving the Tesla Model S that occurred while in its Autopilot mode, as well as numerous non-fatal accidents. 2016 hasn't been particularly kind to Elon Musk, it seems, who is also the CEO and product architect of Tesla Motors.

Even so, these incidents, tragic as they are, are fairly isolated among the estimated 25,000 Model S cars in use. Tesla has alleged that some drivers have neglected to follow the safety procedures and warnings as instructed during the engagement of Autopilot. On the other hand, though, the Model S has only had the Autopilot feature since December 2014, and statisticians have pointed out flaws in safety estimates made by the company. Tom Simonite quotes a report from RAND Corporation explaining that it could take "as many as hundreds of billions of miles before [the vehicle's] performance could be fairly compared with statistics from the much larger population of human drivers."

Are self-driving cars dangerous? Are they the answer to automobile accidents that we've been waiting for? This topic would be sure to spark some debate over the holidays, especially among those with an interest in cars and technology.

4. Have you seen ______ yet?

A popular tactic for generating dialogue at family dinners is talking about the latest TV shows and seasons. This is used a lot with movies, too, but with the ubiquity of Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu, and television in general, you're more likely these days to command attention by reference to TV shows than to movies. The best part about the "Have you seen" lead-in is that it doesn't require that anyone actually did see whatever it is you choose to mention. If no one has seen it, you still get to give a taste to those around, and describe what you like/love/hate/would-like-to-see in the show.

Obviously, specific examples here are endless. The Walking Dead is extremely well known, but perhaps a bit on the gory side for Thanksgiving. Orange is the New Black is another popular one, though it also has some graphic moments. Then there's Game of Thrones, The People v. O.J. Simpson, Better Call Saul, Bojack Horseman, Black Mirror, and on and on. Most of these are more adult than family-friendly, yet if you don't mind censoring yourself somewhat (or don't have young kids coming to dinner), any of these may be perfect for discussion.

If you tire of hearing the boring life stories of your relatives, introduce the exciting life stories of some fictional TV characters into the mix. It can be a great way to talk about a variety of issues, depending on the show, without delving too deeply into things that are personal or aggravating. Probably just try and avoid any shows that deliberately incorporate a lot of politics into their stories.

3. Black Friday


This one really should be a given. You either love Black Friday or you hate it, and although I'd venture to guess that by this point most Americans likely hate the holiday, there are still those who dare to go out shopping. Except this year, some companies like Walmart are planning on digitizing their deals. Black Friday conversation need not involve an itinerary, just some remarks on a range of related fronts, including deals you've seen, what you hate about the rush, what you like about getting gifts on sale, or your past excursions into the wastes of Retail-land.

Businesses like JCPenney, Macy's, and Kmart have been extending their Black Friday hours to almost absurd lengths. When the sales start on Thanksgiving evening, it may spare us from some of the mayhem of going out at 5 AM on Black Friday, but then doesn't it make the whole tradition just seem kind of pointless? Frankly, a lot of what we assume about big holiday sales are myths, like when it comes to getting the cheapest prices on Black Friday, or about extended hours increasing sales. So maybe save yourself and your loved ones some of the madness of Black Friday this year by staying home and ordering online.

Alternatively, if you disagree, and you just adore the experience of surviving Black Friday, make your case at the dinner table. The dreaded day after Thanksgiving is always prime material for ranting and raving about the day before, whether you're a shopper or an anti-shopper.

2. How 'bout this weather?

Discussing the weather is a favorite past-time of the unenthusiastic participant in conversation. It feels like something safe and simple to talk about, and it's a universally familiar subject. Especially during the holidays, when a lot of folks have to do some traveling, the weather can be a good icebreaker or a good tool for switching topics. Hell, I remember my grandparents leaving the Weather Channel on the television half the time we would be over to visit, so you know it won't be dead air if you bring it up.

The weather has been in the news a lot this year, too. There has been substantial talk about how hot 2016 has been, and how we've seen a gradual warming trend in recent history. This may stir up arguments over climate change, but keeping things localized and personal might help navigate around that contentious issue, as could some mention of diverse weather phenomena, like the major floods that have hit Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Arkansas over the last year to two years. Knowing friends or relatives who live in places that have been under severe weather can also help make this topic a lively one.

"Do you mind if we don't invite your cousin to Thanksgiving this year?"

Weather conversation reminds us all how Nature doesn't really give a damn about us and our problems. This may be worth remembering when everyone at your house starts trying to piss off everyone else. Suddenly our little family conflicts can seem small and unimportant. Save that rage for Nature!

1. Scientology

I know what you're thinking, but this one is and isn't a joke. If people at your table are looking for something to rail against this Thanksgiving, Scientology is one subject everyone loves to hate. There have been many exposés, news stories, and so forth, so it's likely your friends and family will have learned some things about it. They may say you're not supposed to discuss religion in polite company, but unless you have Scientologists coming to celebrate with you (or scholars of new religions), it's probably a good bet that everyone will pretty much be on the same page.

Scientology is topical as well, with Ron Miscavige, the father of current Church of Scientology leader David Miscavige, having published a controversial book back in the Summer that purports to give some insight into not just the modern church, but the man behind it. Actress and ex-Scientologist Leah Remini has also developed a documentary series that is set to begin airing on A&E on November 29th. Many in the West have such a fascination with Scientology, and enough objections to it, that this could make for just the kind of heated discussion that might channel frustrations into a less destructive avenue than arguing over the election would.

Coming together for Thanksgiving isn't only about being thankful, after all, it's about bonding, too. And sometimes bonding is accomplished in the oddest of environments, over the most unusual sorts of things. So if push comes to shove, you can give those subversive persons something to rant about that won't ruin the holiday for the whole family.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

To a Christian Nation in the Age of Trump

Hello, White Christian America. We need to talk.

I'll be up front and say that while I am not a Christian myself, there are a lot of things I respect and even admire about the convictions of many believers in this country. We may be at odds on some specific issues like abortion, contraception, or LGBT rights, but there is much I have learned from listening to the voices of America's evangelical and conservative Christians. Often times the underlying principles and values behind these concerns have either resonated with me or challenged me in my own views.

Church-state separation is a great example. Although there are believers like David Barton, who dismiss the general idea as a myth and seem to favor a return to a theocratic republic of sorts, I have heard a good number of American Christians express strong support for separation of church and state. Freedom of religion is an important part of our nation that has a long history. Yet the other side of separation, protecting the state from the church, can be a murky issue that invites a lot of misinterpretation. We want to protect religious liberty, and one way we do this is by defending the government against any religious coup that might try to overtake it. But when this gets confused with pushing faith out of the public square altogether, things get messy. The outspokenness of Christians on areas of church-state separation have helped to rethink and clarify where we as a society want the lines to be drawn, so that Americans are best suited to believe, or not believe, as they see fit.

There's no secret that a lot of Christians in our country are suspicious of government. For evangelicals and the Religious Right in particular, this suspicion comes from past experience with being disappointed by politicians who 'talk the talk, but don't walk the walk.' This is something I very much applaud American Christians for standing behind. Pandering has been a problem in U.S. politics for a good while now, and it only seems to be getting worse as money becomes an ever greater part of politics, too. We all should want representatives who actually represent our interests, not just when it helps their political career, but because they share those interests with us.

A ton of commentary has already emerged about how disaffection with the establishment has played a role in the election of Donald Trump as the 45th U.S. president. Mike Dorning mentions this in an article for Bloomberg, where he notes Trump's various promises to "Make America Great Again", his lack of ties to Washington or to political correctness, and more. There's not much point to belaboring this observation, since I think it has been abundantly clear from the overall divisive tone of this election, and the resignation of so many Americans to either not vote, or to just vote for the candidate who isn't the other guy. Trump is certainly a change from the norm in rhetoric, if not in practice, too.

But this is about where my understanding runs out.

My Christian friends, I can't make sense of where Trump fits in with your own values as you've described them. It was one thing when you supported candidates that were dogmatically against abortion or gay rights, because those candidates aligned their positions very closely with their religious beliefs about the sanctity of life and marriage. It was one thing when you backed a president who started a war under false pretenses of stopping a dictator from using weapons of mass destruction. Again, there was something at least potentially laudable in that pretense. This is something different.

Exit polls have shown that white evangelicals voted "overwhelmingly" for Trump, according to the Washington Post. This perplexes me for a number of reasons. It perplexes me because Trump is, by all accounts, yet another figure who has merely pandered to religious voters, except that he also lives and acts in ways that defy the kind of morality the Religious Right has advocated for decades. And this isn't like all the criticisms of so-called family values for inconsistently marginalizing certain groups and families. It isn't even like the Ted Haggards and Jimmy Swaggarts who were found to be leading double lives. Trump is quite possibly the worst standard for family values and Christian values that evangelicals and other conservative believers have ever endorsed.

It has been all over the media that Trump has attracted substantial support from white nationalist groups, including the Christian Identity movement and David Duke, the former grand wizard of the KKK. While the Trump campaign publicly claimed it would denounce hatred and bigotry, the amount of white nationalist support behind the candidate has been staggering, as has the fact that most of these hate groups have not been disavowed by Trump (Duke may be the one exception). None of this is news, but it does suggest that Michael Gerson, the former speechwriter for George W. Bush, is right when describing 'Trumpism' as fundamentally rooted in "contempt for, and fear of, outsiders — refugees, undesirable migrants, Muslims, etc."

1 Corinthians 15:33 warns, "Do not be misled: 'Bad company corrupts good character.'"(NIV) Many Trump supporters, many of them Christians, have simply shrugged in response to the white nationalist approval of Trump, questioning why it matters. The verse just cited gives us some idea. When your message merits a shining endorsement from militant racists, it really ought to give you serious pause for thought at the very least. Earlier, in 1 Corin. 5:11, Paul makes an even stronger statement about who Christians let among them: "you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler." If the company we keep is important, what does it say if we are in the company of white supremacists?

Sexual immorality stands out in that last passage. As well-known as the white nationalist support is, the numerous allegations of sexual assault by Mr. Trump have also been much discussed in the media. Along with this comes the leaked 2005 video of Trump expressing his feeling of entitlement to "grab [women] by the pussy." I am admittedly at a loss to understand how this sort of behavior can be condoned by Christians, especially those who are first to emphasize the immorality of any kind of sexual contact outside marriage. Although many evangelicals were horrified by these discoveries, there were those like John Zmirak, who appeared in an episode of the Christian podcast Unbelievable, who seem to feel that Trump's position on abortion overshadows sexual assault.

This approach of picking the lesser of two evils could warrant an entire post in itself. It is unfortunately a situation many Americans, be they Christian or not, say they find themselves in today. But the Bible challenges its readers on this in several places. "Why not say—as some slanderously claim that we say—'Let us do evil that good may result'? Their condemnation is just!" (Romans 3:8, NIV) Proverbs 17:15 additionally proclaims: "He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous, both of them alike are an abomination to the Lord." (NAS) 

There is an uncomfortable problem with voting in the lesser of two evils if the elected authorities are instituted by God, as Romans 13:1 tells us. Is it moral for a believer to endorse a lesser evil into the seat of authority ordained by God? Or would it be better for them to abstain? Russell Moore, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, gives a reminder that, 
When Christians face two clearly immoral options, we cannot rationalize a vote for immorality or injustice just because we deem the alternative to be worse. The Bible tells us we will be held accountable not only for the evil deeds we do but also when we “give approval to those who practice them” (Rom. 1:32).
Of course, the concerns with Trump's morality don't end here. The white nationalism supporting him hasn't found just his immigration policies likeable, but probably was also influenced by the racist remarks and non-inclusive approach Trump has engaged in for a good while now. All this outpouring of white disaffection is made further interesting by the fact that it comes directly after the nation's first African American president. My fellow Americans, if you truly believe - as so many apologists have asserted - that Galatians 3:28 commends us to accept one another regardless of race or gender, can you please explain to me why Trump's track record on these issues has not upset you?

Another concern one might have is with what John Paul Rollert terms the "sociopathic capitalism" of Trump. Rather than a measured response to economic conditions, Trump's vision of capitalism is more along the lines of conquest or a game of high-stakes poker. There are clear winners and losers, and the United States must wage zero-sum combat to take that gold metal it (for some reason) deserves more than anyone else. This ruthless winner-takes-all attitude might come in handy in some businesses, but most companies these days are wise enough to know that the true art of the deal is at least as much about co-operation as it is about competition. When it comes to running the country, a cut-throat kind of capitalism not only seems archaic and dangerous, it seems remarkably un-Christian, too. 

James 1:27 states: "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." The world of Wall Street is aptly characterized by many as a world of greed. Yet the world in which Trump lives is no different. Sometimes it isn't financial greed, sometimes it's greed for power, for status, and so forth. What is incredibly hard to imagine is just how Trump's vision of America could mesh in any meaningful sense with the kind of religious worldview depicted in this verse from the Epistle of James. Trump's religion seems to be a religion of the self, rather than one that is outward-looking and focused on compassionate caring for others.

Indeed, Christian leaders in our nation have been sounding alarm bells about Trump for some time. He has openly stated that he although he believes in God, he has never asked forgiveness. Either he must feel he has no need to ask, or he has been unwilling to ask, and in neither case would most Christians consider a person so described to be 'right with God'. As Eric Sapp at The Christian Post puts it, "Trump is a thrice-married adulterer who brags not only about cheating on his own wife but with the wives of other men." Even the gaffe about Two Corinthians suggests Trump is not as familiar with scripture as he may pretend. This all begs the question: is Trump going to be the president a lot of American Christians want him to be?

In some ways, that remains to be seen, but with respect to his religious views (or lack thereof), plenty of evangelicals have already said no. The Dallas News has an article expounding ten areas of conflict between voting for Trump and professing Christian faith. Among them is his lack of compassion, his appeals to fear and anger, his egotism, his lying, his treatment of women, and his disdain for his opponents. Jesus famously taught to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:43-48) - ideas that were astronomically far off from the kind of behavior that went on during the campaign. Christians like Michael Farris, a founder of the Christian homeschooling movement, may be on to something when they declare that this election "marks the end of the Christian Right."

My intent here is not to rejoice or be a doomsayer, please understand. As a student of religion and philosophy, I have an interest in the movements and changes that take place in our culture, and as a former evangelical, I have an interest in the development of the Religious Right in particular. But this is also more than a simple academic or casual interest for me. I do believe there are very important things at stake with a Trump presidency. Among them is the way we conceptualize our values in this country. Whether you are a Christian or not, the majority of America still claims to be, and Christian values continue to affect us. Yes, I recognize Christians are not a monolithic group, and there is no one set of established Christian values, but this is a big part of my point.

What happens next could well change the landscape as we know it. Evangelicals and other conservative Christians have been influential in American politics for several decades now. We have seen scandals and cases of dubious moral commitments, not to mention the surveys of religious illiteracy, but this is the clearest moment in recent history where a large proportion of American Christians have rallied behind violence, egotism, profanity, and racial and sexual bigotry. This can't be waved away as exaggeration when Liberty University, created by the father of the Moral Majority, even found itself so divided over the character of Donald Trump. So many news sources and sociologists are scrambling to understand the white evangelical majority behind Trump because something appears different on the landscape.

For some, this is an exciting moment. After all, change is what a disaffected populace really wants. But whether or not this will be beneficial change is still an open question. What it does seem to already be doing is forcing a much needed conversation about the role of Christianity in U.S. politics. When Christian values relate to social structures and cultural values we as a people find praiseworthy, it has been easy for the two to covertly operate in tandem. But if Christian values lose those social and cultural supports, and take on a closer resemblance to fear, anger, oppression, and hatred, what will be the consequences? We might react by pulling back religion more from the political sphere, or we might react, as is sadly often the case, by reframing our narratives to accommodate an almost unrecognizable form of Christian belief.


In an example of the latter, Eric Metaxas has described Trump as being "kind of like your uncle who says stuff that makes you cringe, but you know that when push comes to shove, he's a decent guy." The question here is whether Americans, including American Christians, want just a "decent guy" (certainly disputable in the case of Trump) in the White House, or if perhaps we should hold the highest office in the land to a higher standard. 2 Timothy 4:3-4 makes an interesting prediction:
For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.
All religions evolve and change, and there can come a point where we wonder how faithful our current version is to the original. The inexorable march of time forces us to adapt, but while we desperately pretend that nothing essential has changed, it can be notoriously difficult to gauge the truth of that belief from within our little corner of history. Often we see "through a glass, darkly" - appreciating in retrospect a fuller picture of what has transpired, while at the time much of the machinations of change can be largely undetectable and elusive.

This is where we find ourselves in 2016, in the age of Trump. Temptations are everywhere to panic, to romanticize, to overestimate, to underestimate, but there is nevertheless some writing on the wall that is getting hard to ignore. American Christianity wasn't the same after the election of Jimmy Carter in 1976, and it may not be the same after the election of Donald Trump. Robert Jones, author of the recently published book The End of White Christian America, seems to feel the same. Trump's victory, he argues, against many other Republican candidates that aligned better with evangelical views, can be attributed to his successful conversion of "values voters" to "nostalgia voters." The promises made by the newly-elected president address not only an economic displacement felt by many Americans, but a sense of cultural displacement as well.

However, this move to nostalgia and an idealized past has value-implications, too. Progress - on marriage rights, on abortion, on immigration, etc. - becomes an erroneous move in the wrong direction, away from the return to the golden days. More recent political values like tolerance, diversity, and multiculturalism also become problematic distractions from that perfect past-life. Instead, ideas like loyalty, authority, and purity become the important values. Jonathan Haidt has shown this in his research on the values of political conservatives and liberals in general, but whereas the Religious Right has typically defined such values in connection with religious traditions and religious documents, it looks as if Trump has turned that on its head to connect those values to a mythic American past rather to than any religious source.

If you are an American Christian, I would urge you to ask yourself a few questions as 2017 approaches.

1. Why do you consider yourself a Christian? This isn't asking just about what made you a Christian, but what you like about being Christian. What makes it meaningful and important to you?

2. Where do other human beings fit in with your Christian beliefs? Do you find your faith gives you more appreciation for life, including the lives of those who aren't Christian?

3. What do you believe it should mean to be a Christian? Are there things that seem out of sorts to you that someone who calls herself a Christian should not do?

4. Does Donald Trump match your understanding of all it means to be a Christian? If not, then how close does he come? If yes, then why do you think he ran his campaign as he did?

5. Do you believe the presidency carries any certain moral expectations with it? How does Donald Trump fit those expectations, and how do those expectations measure up to what a Christian should look like?

You may have already given some thought to a number of these, but I find it's never a bad idea to revisit and rethink our beliefs. We stand at a pivotal time right now that calls for wisdom, for reflection, for compassion, and for patience. These are things I have known many kind and devoted Christian Americans to hold in high regard, and I hope that we will continue to do so as the months and years move forward.