There is no question that Trump’s boorish behavior against women and other people groups were a major catalyst for the unprecedented national turnout at the Women’s March this last weekend. Analysts are saying that this was largest national protest since the Vietnam War and possibly the biggest ever with more than a million participants. However, nobody protesting would say that Trump is the source of sexism and xenophobia in America today. He is merely a symbol of it because he has channeled these latent fears and views for his political purposes. He has brought them to the surface and harnessed their power in order to capture the most powerful position in our country and perhaps world. While his rise to power is not a positive thing in my mind (who knows, maybe it won’t be so bad), the indirect effects of his vulgarity and bullying could be positive for two reasons:
- It exposes the truth by bringing what has been repressed in individuals and society to the surface where it can be dealt with (sexism, racism, homophobia, islamophobia, xenophobia).
- It galvanizes a movement; inspires and unifies people to fight for justice (i.e. the Women’s March).
Like the way a hot wash cloth brings a zit to a head, Trump has brought a lot of ugliness to the surface where it can be dealt with and this might be a really good thing. He has emboldened others to act out in similar boorish ways, thus revealing their true character. This in turn has galvanized a counter movement. Here we find people inspired to confront what has been hiding in the social fabric of our culture for decades. These are the first steps towards a healthier and more equitable society. Who knows if we’ll complete the journey (this could all end in disaster), but these are the first steps. Such upheaval is necessary to bring on meaningful dialogue and healing. There is no other way and I feel like my spiritual journey has taught me this.
I was raised by a very emotionally abusive father who used faith and spirituality to manipulate everyone. He instilled in my siblings and I an incredible amount of anxiety about sin, hell, demons, doubt, other religions, and certainly God and his wrath. Panic attacks were common among my siblings and I while growing up. Even today I struggle with anxiety. And yet, I wouldn’t be who I am today without him. I wouldn’t be the pastor I am or have the healthy church I do if I hadn’t realized that his violent and oppressive ways were the natural outgrowth of the violent and oppressive deity he adored and the violent and oppressive theology of Evangelicalism. Understanding this was apocalyptic for me.
The word apocalypse doesn’t mean the end of the world but simply a revelation or an uncovering, an event that has the power to destroy the blinders – the objects and ideas that hide the truth from our eyes. Like Trump, my dad was the symptom of the problem and not really the problem itself. My father’s beliefs and behavior led me to realize what’s wrong with the church and to critique and deconstruct my faith. This in turn has set me free and brought me some solace. So, in a strange way, I feel kind of grateful towards him and other apocalyptic events in my life and I’m not alone in this sentiment.
My church is full of people who come from similar oppressive religious backgrounds and are self identified, “recovering fundamentalists.” Many of them can point to people and events in their life that were apocalyptic in nature and that led them to where they’re at now. Together we are finding healing, hope, and a deeper spirituality grounded in love, justice, empathy, and truth. But whether we’re talking about theological or political communities, the need for apocalypses is the same.
In order for a community, be it theological or political, to acknowledge the repressed oppressive ideologies they hold, an apocalyptic event must occur that brings them to the surface. I would argue that Donald Trump may be such an apocalyptic event. Why didn’t the Women’s March happen under the Obama administration? Was the culture less sexist or xenophobic just a year ago? Of course not. We needed an apocalypse to stimulate us into action. While the Women’s March was just one event and there’s no telling if a positive political shift is truly underway, the event is encouraging. And it’s encouraging not just because of the unprecedented turn out but because people are acknowledging the repressed ghosts and demons within our society. This is the heart of what we call radical theology.
Within the church, the goal of radical theology is to uncover our repressed anxieties about death, suffering, meaninglessness, doubt, and unknowing; and learn how we use religion and belief to cover these things up. These are the ghosts and demons that haunt us and we need to allow them to speak because while they are terrifying and grotesque to us, they speak truth. They force us to deal with reality and this is the first step in finding healing and hope. So maybe Trump is the apocalypse we need.
Please understand, I’m not saying that we should have voted for Trump in order to create an apocalyptic moment. Nor should we deliberately subject our children to religious fundamentalism so they can experience the joy of liberation later in life. As Paul said in Romans 6:1, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means!” Grace is not enhanced by deliberately enhancing evil. For grace to be grace it cannot be forced or manufactured in this way. In a similar way, for an apocalypse to be an apocalypse in the truest sense of the term it cannot be manufactured or contrived. It has to happen organically and surprise us. We cannot see it coming or choose it (very few saw Trump coming). It chooses us. Otherwise, it doesn’t have the apocalyptic effect of disruption, empowerment, and inspiration. So this is no argument for why we should of voted for Trump. Apocalypses are gambles and often don’t have positive results. Many who grow up with spiritually abusive parents become spiritual abusers themselves or leave their family and faith and become lost in depression and pain. Apocalypses are not always good events but they are always events. It remains to be seen if Trump is the apocalypse we need. But events like the Women’s March have me hopeful.