Noelani Jai is an ordained evangelical minister in Orange County, California. She holds a graduate certificate in Bible from Multnomah Biblical Seminary, and is also a licensed attorney. She and her husband have raised two millennials, one studying Bible/Psychology, the other studying Law. During the recent election, she noticed a growing divide between younger and older evangelical Christians in their responses to candidates and issues, so she asked four representative millennials to help our movement understand how they were feeling immediately following the election. These are their anonymous, raw, unedited replies, and she submits them humbly to us with a prayer for unity in the body of Christ.
Interview by Noelani Jai
1. Briefly describe the following:
a. Age, ethnic background, immigrant/1st gen/2nd gen, etc.:
22-year-old Chicana, 2nd generation Mexican-American
b. Your family (parents, sibs);
Two parent household, two sisters, one brother
c. Your upbringing in terms of faith:
I grew up Catholic, accepted Christ when I was 12 and am now attending a non-denominational Protestant Church
d. Your political party affiliation and reasons for it:
No-political party. I feel like the two major political parties tend to overlook the most marginalized. Therefore, I try to research candidates and propositions regardless of political party.
e. What are you doing now for work/school?
Teaching abroad on a grant.
2. Evangelicalism is defined as a worldwide, trans-denominational movement within Protestant Christianity maintaining that the essence of the gospel consists in the shared belief in Jesus as the Son of God, and salvation by grace through faith in Jesus’ atoning work on the cross. Do you feel that any one of the current political parties in the United States particularly embodies this movement? If so, why? If not, why not? Specifically, which parts of that party’s platform do you feel embody the gospel (good news) of Jesus? Which parts do not look/feel/smell like the gospel to you?
This question reminded me of James 2:14-17 and Matthew 25:34-36:
14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” -James 2:14-17
“Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’”-Matthew 25:34-36
Our faith in Jesus as the Son of God and our salvation through faith in His sacrifice and resurrection should be reflected in our values and actions. I believe that we are called to ensure the protection of the least of these. Personally, I think that feeding the hungry and clothing the naked is done on a governmental level both through job creation and stability as well as through welfare programs. I also believe that caring for the sick in today’s world means ensuring that people are able to afford health care. God calls us to care for the sick, the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the imprisoned regardless of their gender, race, immigration/citizenship status, sexual orientation, abilities, national origin, religion, or age.
I don’t think that we can place our full faith in a political party or even in our government. However, I do think that we can push our political parties to ensure that we do our best to care for the widow, the orphan, and the immigrant.
Theoretically, I believe that the Democratic party tends to advocate for this. However, I also realize that there are Christians who believe in the liberalization of the free market and smaller government because they believe that it is not the government’s job to care for the least of these but rather the job of the people. So really I think that the ways in which Christians see the relationship between the government and the church really affects the ways in which they vote.
3. Have you felt you have been able to peacefully dialogue with older evangelicals on your feelings about either candidate during the most recent U.S. Presidential election? (i.e., have you felt heard and respected?) If so, give an example. If not, what made you feel unheard/disrespected? Can you give an example?
Yes, I was able to peacefully dialogue with older Christians about the election. I tried my best to remain open and to listen as people explained how they were voting. It was definitely easier early on during the election. I found that most older evangelical Christians that I talked to ended up voting for a third party candidate. While we might have disagreed on certain policies or candidates, we were still able to talk about it.
4. How has the election of Donald Trump affected you emotionally, spiritually, physically? Why?
I was surprised by how deeply hurt I felt by the election of Trump.
As a poor woman of color, I have experienced racism, sexism and xenophobia—both on a micro and macro level. I have had to sit in class while my teacher told me that I was stupid and lazy and that I would not amount to anything because I am Mexican-American. I have had classmates tell me to go back to my country. I have had men grope and cat-call me.
Because of my parents’ immigration status, I have always lived with a back-up plan. I make sure to know the nearest exit or possible hiding places in case there is a raid. I have a mental list of people I can call. I’ve constantly re-evaluted on whether I would stay or if I would leave the country with them.
So, when Trump won the presidency it felt like a big “F.U.” from the rest of the country. I wasn’t too thrilled about this election and I had my issues with both candidates. However, I did not want to believe that the U.S. as a whole was willing to dismiss Trump’s racist, xenophobic, ableist, sexist, homophobic speech. His win felt as if the U.S. was affirming everything he had said—either by actively agreeing with his rhetoric or by not caring enough to denounce it. In electing Trump, the U.S. sided with my teachers who would humiliate and belittle me and my classmates for being brown. The U.S. sided with the man who thought it was okay to corner me in a laundry room as I fought to get away. Trump’s win was personal.
I had nightmares for four nights following the election. So apart from being emotionally drained, I was also physically exhausted because I wasn’t able to sleep. It wasn’t until I saw a video posted on Facebook that I realized that I was grieving. I definitely went through denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It wasn’t linear but rather the feelings came in waves. I refused to go to sleep on election night even as it became more and more obvious that Trump would win the election. I just didn’t want to accept it as the truth. I wanted to believe that we were better than that. I still want to believe that we are better than that.
5. What fears do you have arising from the election of Donald Trump?
One of my biggest fears is that my family will be separated. Obama promised immigration reform and yet he deported more people than any other president before him. So I can’t even imagine how many people Trump will deport since that is what he has promised. The people that Trump is considering as the head of Homeland security and Attorney General of the U.S. have a history of enacting policies that disproportionately target and criminalize communities of color. We have already seen a rise in hate crimes. Trump’s win has emboldened people to express hate speech and to target Muslims, people of color, women, the LGBTQ+ community, immigrants, and other groups of people. I am scared of how much more normalized violence will become. I am scared that people in positions of privilege will see it as their right to intimidate and invalidate other people.
I am also concerned for what a Trump presidency will mean for México and other countries. I hope that Trump’s first response to conflict really isn’t to “nuke them” as he has promised. I am also concerned that Trump thinks that global warming is a hoax. Our conversations about the environment should be about how we can protect it and not whether or not global warming is real.
6. What hopes do you have arising from the election of Donald Trump?
I hope that this is a Trump for the U.S. to really reflect on the kind of country and the kind of people we want to be. I hope that all of us are able to hold each other accountable for our words and actions. My hope for the church is that we are a beacon of light, hope, and love during these times.
7. Do you feel respected in your feelings about the candidacy and election of Donald Trump by evangelical Christians of an older generation?
I feel respected to a certain degree. I feel like most older evangelical Christians think that I, along with many other people, are overreacting or too emotional. I’ve read articles and Facebook posts that call for unity or for people to stop referring to people who voted for Trump as racist, or sexist, etc. I feel like these responses to our reactions center people with privilege. Overall there does not seem to be an interest in finding out why people are upset.
8. Do you feel the evangelical movement respects and seeks to include your generation of Jesus followers in the movement? If so, how? If not, please expound.
Unfortunately, churches are some of the most segregated places in the U.S. and so it is no wonder that it is so hard for us to engage with each other—not only across generations but also across racial, economic, educational, and political lines. As a low-income, woman of color, it has been hard for me to move in evangelical, Christian circles. I think that as a church we must seek to focus on God and his teachings rather than traditions. We must be quick to acknowledge that our interpretations of the Bible are tied to our lived experiences and our world view and that we may be wrong. I think that we must really invite the Holy Spirit into our interactions with one another.
9. What can older evangelicals do to re-engage your generation in the movement? What can your generation do to engage older evangelicals?
I think that we need to really listen to one another.
10. If Jesus was living on earth today, what do you think he would be saying to your generation of His followers regarding the election? What would he be saying to older generations of His followers regarding the election?
One of the verses that has been on my mind since the election results has been Isaiah 41:10.
“So do not fear, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” -Isaiah 41:1