Can the quiet, traditional faith exemplified by Joseph Biden stem the tide of the conservative white believers who pushed Donald J. Trump to power in 2016?
That is the question that confronts the Christian Community today in the United States.
To be sure, that tide is still rising, and the absence of Trump will have little impact on its presence or power. It is still propelled by the shock of racial equality and the pseudo-sense of religious persecution. It is afraid of the future and confuses this fear for faith.
But it is powerful, at least for a few more years, because it shares with the Republican Party a peculiar status: a minority of people but a majority of power.
This version of faith and practice is often called White Evangelical Christianity, but this is a misnomer. It actually consists of majorities of white Evangelicals, white Protestants, white Catholics, and white Pentecostals. In fact, the epicenter of this movement—those driven by the prophecies of a Trump victory in 2021—may be deep in the independent Pentecostal culture of the Christian community.
But this white conservative coalition of Trump-voting citizens is not the only version of Christian faith and practice available to those who want to be faithful to Jesus as Lord and Savior. There are always options … as there were among the Jews in the days when Jesus himself walked and taught and healed and prayed.
For this we turn to Josephus.
Josephus was, first, a Jewish general leading the uprising we call the First Jewish Wars (the years 66-70 of the Common Era). He was defeated in Galilee and, because of his intellect and skill, was absorbed into the entourage of the victorious Roman general (and later emperor) Vespasian. He became the chronicler of the wars but also the historian of Jewish history. His multivolume tomes are studied today by scholars of all sorts.
He identified four ways to be Jewish in Jerusalem during the occupation by the Roman Empire. Collaborate with the occupiers and exercise political power (Sadducees); Focus on the Jewish Law and ignore the politics (Pharisees); Retreat from public life into isolated and believing communities (Essenes); or Resist the occupation by organized and armed activity (Zealots).
Our options today do not necessarily correspond to these ancient categories, but the self-serving, self-righteous disposition of the White Conservative Christians that were brought into power by Trump (and later stormed the Congress inspired by Trump) is not the only way to confess and live the faith.
Joseph Biden offers another way.
Not since Jimmy Carter have we had in the White House a Christian with a more persistent pattern of public worship and private devotion. Biden is an active and practicing Roman Catholic. It is not the boisterous Bible-waving, banner carrying faith of his predecessor; but it is a way of being Christian that appeals to many of us: quiet, consistent, considerate, compassionate, committed to the common good, and therefore open to cooperation with all people of good will.
The style and substance of his Christian faith brings to mind the words of Paul the Apostle (or St. Paul, as Joe the Roman Catholic would name him): “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
Those were Paul’s words writing to the troubled congregation in Corinth, in the letter we call First Corinthians. Here is another text that applies well, this one in a letter from that same Paul to other first century Christians in the Roman province of Galatia: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
Which means, if you live this way you don’t need to fear investigations by state or federal authorities or appeal to a departing president to pardon you for any action.
It remains to be seen whether this kind of Christian will also be the kind of national leader we desperately need today, whether his policies and personnel will bring the peace and prosperity, the justice and liberty we so long for. But I am quite sure they will model for millions the kind of believer we want to be, the kind of leader we want to see.
To that end, I gladly join with others to pray for our new President, Joseph Biden.