The Death of Nuance


A the end of last week Mr Donald J Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States of America.

Some people will celebrate.

Other people will cry.

I believe a significant majority will reluctantly stare at their tv (and other – I had live BBC news floating on my iPad all afternoon) screens in bemusement. The free paper I picked up in London reflected the apparent mood of the Liberal West – a full front page portrait of Obama; ‘Farewell Mr President‘. Fueling the fire of historical hyperbole, the subtitle breathily tells us ‘The Era of President Trump dawns‘. Everyone involved thinks and feels something. This sort of thing could ultimately affect and influence every person in this world. And every person, from ‘The Donald’ himself, through the Obama family, to those shivering in the cold in downtown D.C., is made in the Image of God. Broken, yet beautiful. Or as the Apostle Paul, an early leader in the Church, wrote;

All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.

I’m not sure what I will make of President Trump. As a person, or at least a public person/policy platform/icon of our fallen culture/politician, I’m not a fan. I couldn’t have voted for him. As a President, a leader, a commander in chief, I don’t know yet what he’ll be like. Naturally, expressing either of these opinions in public, or the new pseudo-public square of social media, is a sure fire way to irritate someone.

Throughout the US Presidential Election I watched with genuine bemusement as Facebook friends, many of them pastors and academics, managed to display a stunning lack of nuance amidst a plague of groupthink. Mediating voices were few and far between. Even where someone explicitly said that not voting for/supporting X DID NOT MEAN THEY WERE SUPPORTING Y, basic statements like that were ignored. All or nothing, it seems, in a race to the bottom.

All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.

I’ve seen something of the same in U.K.Politics and public/social media discourse as a result of the EU referendum. As a cautiously optimistic ‘Brexiteer’ married to a ‘Remainer’ and living in South West London, I feel outnumbered on occasion but for the most part have had plenty of good conversations and totally brilliant (if occasionally hilarious) disagreements about it. It does get frustrating, though, when people assume that a vote (however nuanced, hopefully thoughtful, and joined up with other bits of ones’ thinking) was a) racist, b) ignorant, c) a vote for garage to be pm, and d) DEFINITELY MEANS YOUD HAVE BOTED FOR TRUMP YOU TERRIBLE INGRATE. What happened to nuance? Why do genuinely intelligent and thoughtful people, people who pray and preach and worship and read, seem incapable of nuance since the events of 2016?

All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.

After Donald Trump is inaugurated, and after various bits of American civil apparatus have ground onwards, the country will hopefully carry on. First, though, those of us with an awareness of the fundamental character of God (revealed to us in Jesus, who the Bible tells us came as the embodiment of both Truth and Grace), we are called to assert and celebrate the truth that we are citizens of a Kingdom that is not of this world. Jesus’ words in John 18:36 are bold, deliberately counter-cultural, and saturated in truth. I enjoyed John Piper’s reflections on how to respond to the Presidency of Donald Trump.

My Kingdom is from another place.
– Jesus

Secondly, in light of this Kingdom and in service to the King, Christians in particular are called to be those who steward the truth. By worshipping and proclaiming the Good News of a man who is God, we are those who must speak truth in every encounter, in every relationship. We cannot get away with sloppy thinking or post-truth platitudes. We cannot speak without nuance, in ways that promote lies, disunity, despair and destruction. One writer, Ed Stetzer, wrote a brilliant article about this, about why Facts are Our Friends.

Nuance is difficult. Talking to multiple bubbles-worth of people, navigating the thorny rapids of intersectional-ity, daring to ponder what it might mean to be human amongst a culture that destroys the idea of meaning. Daring to befriend people with whom we disagree, engaging with the worst and best of humanity, amidst the rapidly-unfolding story of technology. In this, amongst these flows, is nuance found. And even as nuance died on Friday the 20th of January as a celebrity declared ‘America First’, as false teachers declared God’s blessing, and as hundreds of thousands of people prepared not to march but go about their daily lives, something remained true, I believe;

All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.

These words are from Romans 3, an extract from a letter written by an early follower of Jesus who wrote about living under corrupt and fallen political systems, who was later executed for standing up in the name of Jesus against fallen political systems. And the words that follow from this statement about everyone are an invitation to everyone, to move out of the post-truth present and into friendship with the one who is truth, the one who holds the past, the present, and the future;

all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood – to be recieved by faith. He did this to
demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—
he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who Justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.

As truth collapses in the lies and stories of this world, what do you make of that? I’d love to talk to you about it…

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