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Very high stakes

Don’t forget that political opponents are image-bearers of a holy God


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Anyone who sails the high seas of political dialogue on the internet encounters a lot of this kind of thing: “Dear White, Christian Trump Supporter—We Need to Talk.” That’s the title of a much-shared article on The Huffington Post, written by a female social-sciences professor at a West Coast university. But the combined condescension and anguish of the piece are echoing from every progressive corner: What’s wrong with you Christian conservatives?

The piece takes an oddly passive-aggressive tone. Its author was raised in a blue-collar, churchgoing Southern family, studied hard, racked up degrees, and landed a university professorship. Along the way she exchanged her conservative roots for a progressive worldview (a not-uncommon path for academics, after all). Now, “I feel you’re holding it against me now that I no longer share your views.” She knows that White, Christian Trump Supporters—let’s just call them WCTSs—regard her as an ivory-tower elite, but like her fellow academics she braved the hail of rigorous standards and peer review. Therefore, “we really do know a lot about what we’re talking about.” She resents being told to get over the election because her team lost: “politics is not a sport.” She’ll get over her disappointment that the Falcons lost the Super Bowl, but the NFL is not “life and death. This election, however, is exactly that.”

What do Christians ‘just not get’—specifically about those who identify as LGBT? They are people trying to make sense of their lives.

The aggressive side betrays itself with certain assumptions: that WCTSs “think people are not Christians if they aren’t Christian in the same way as you”; that they “cling to overturning Roe v. Wade as the only way to end abortions”; that it’s “more important to you to win than to do good.” None of which is new or original, and I feel hackles rising.

But wait. Am I making my own assumptions?

I assume that politics has become her de facto religion. I assume she’s a tenured academic with a cushy job. I assume she’s never tried to run a business or meet a payroll, that she regards herself as enlightened, and that she’s as white as I am (not an assumption, judging by her photograph). At least some of this is likely true. But what else?

Is she happily married or bitterly divorced?

Is she a mother, by turns delighted and frustrated in that role?

Has she ever been confronted with a scary medical diagnosis or a foreclosure?

Has she ever been moved to tears by Bach’s B-Minor Mass or a Paul McCartney song?

Has she ever been troubled with doubt stirred by a Thomas Sowell essay?

Does she understand some things I don’t?

Rosaria Butterfield, the former liberal lesbian professor won to Christ, offers a useful corrective to understanding the person she once was. What do Christians “just not get”—specifically about those who identify as LGBT (though it could apply to anyone on the other side)? The most important thing: They are people trying to make sense of their lives. They love their kids and significant others, experience joy and tragedy, long for significance. “People are people,” and however difficult, spoiled, or ruined they appear, they are “image-bearers of a holy God.”

C.S. Lewis took this a bit further in his famous essay “The Weight of Glory”: “You have never talked to a mere mortal ... [but rather] immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” The stakes are actually not as high as the professor thinks. They are a good deal higher, and far more life-and-death than another election cycle.

Not to say that these immortal image-bearers who happen to be in opposition shouldn’t be debated, or blocked, or sometimes fought tooth and nail. But it matters how we go about it. When I read a piece like the professor’s, I automatically bristle: Who is she to tell White Christians what they think and how they feel? I start constructing pithy statements and thought-provoking zingers that will have fans cheering from the sidelines. Maybe even put together a catchy meme that goes viral. But wait—before I write anything about her, I should pray for her.

And that’s what I did.


Janie B. Cheaney Janie is a senior writer who contributes commentary to WORLD and oversees WORLD's annual Children's Book of the Year awards. She also writes novels for young adults and authored the Wordsmith creative writing curriculum. Janie resides in rural Missouri.

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