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 (ok, we have to edit for swearing, but other than that), 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.
23, mixed Asian/Hawaiian/Cauasian, 2nd generation (father’s side), 6th generation (mother’s).
b. Your family (parents, sibs):
Mother, father and younger brother.
c. Your upbringing in terms of faith:
Evangelical (pentecostal) Christian.
d. Your political party affiliation and reasons for it:
Democratic (reasons below).
e. What are you doing now for work/school?
Studying at a top-ten law school.
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?
a. I don’t think Jesus would either be a Republican or a Democrat (or a Libertarian, etc.). However, I think currently politics are so polarizing because evangelicals would disagree, and see one party as “evil,” and the other as obviously Christian.
b. To me, Jesus was the ultimate activist and countercultural leader. He gravitated towards the weakest, most oppressed, and least heard in his society, and raised them up to be his follower. He gave them a voice when the majority would not, and called them by name. He didn’t just chastise them and dismiss their pain and fear as illegitimate, but brought them into his family, and gave them hope.
c. Personally, the Democratic Party represents my approach to Christianity and how I see the world as a Jesus follower. I believe that my belief in justice and compassion is most reflected in the Democratic Party, which, especially in this election, championed a future where we are “stronger together.” Although many Christians cannot bring themselves to ever vote Democratic because of issues like abortion, I think a lot of people in my generation look at the “bigger picture,” and identify ALL issues that we feel align with our love for Jesus. This includes loving on all people, no matter where they are in their faith or their journey. The Jesus I know is not a God of hate, but of love. Love for the LGBTQ community, love for the Black Lives Matter Movement, and love for undocumented families. To dismiss these issues and advocate the unborn seems to me to be the ultimate contradiction.
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?
Personally, the last few years when I really cemented my political views, I have been in an extremely liberal environment, except when I go to church at home. At church, I feel like the only acceptable political stance is an extremely conservative one, and there is no room for disagreement. However, I am drawn to churches that engage with politics and don’t just automatically assign one party as “Godly. ” This morning, our pastor said, “Your neighbor may be feeling scared. You should give grace, because God gives grace. Your neighbor may be feeling hurt. You should give grace, because God gives grace. Your neighbor may be feeling hopeful. You should give grace, because God gives grace.” I like this, because it leaves room for dialogue while still validating each person’s feelings. However, I feel alienated from churches where there seems to be only one “right” (pun intended) political ideology.
4. How has the election of Donald Trump affected you emotionally, spiritually, and physically? Why?
This election left me very saddened and disillusioned. In no way has it made my faith in Jesus less sincere, but it has turned me off to some groups of evangelicals. I know non-Christians often condemn us for our “holier than thou” approach to life and politics, and I got a taste of that this election. It frustrates me to hear a pastor touting love and compassion on Sunday, and then not living out these lessons during the week, from refusing to acknowledge the Black Lives Matter movement while praying fervently for “Blue Lives”, to championing a candidate who called for a deportation task force to break up undocumented families. Maybe to some this makes sense, but to me it represents an unresolvable tension between faith and justice.
5. What fears do you have arising from the election of Donald Trump?
I do not understand how evangelicals can dismiss Trump’s words as rough, and unsavory, or just “locker room talk.” I do not understand how his boasts of sexual harassment are not taken seriously. I do not understand how his mocking of a reporter with a disability is not taken as a reflection of his character. I do not understand how his characterization of Mexican Americans as rapists and drug dealers is not taken as offensive and inflammatory.
Just because something doesn’t affect you, and just because something doesn’t offend you, and just because something doesn’t scare you, doesn’t mean that the same can be said of others. Our anger, our disgust, and our fear are valid. Privilege is being able to dismiss these statements as “locker room talk.” Privilege is being able to compromise on “a few lewd statements” to get the “Supreme Court we need.” Privilege is being able to say that an issue isn’t real or important, because it doesn’t directly affect you.
I fear our country took one step forward eight years ago only to take two steps back. I fear seeing families torn apart. I fear seeing more and more race-fueled, violence on the street. I fear never breaking the glass ceiling. I fear all of these feelings being seen as invalid.
6. What hopes do you have arising from the election of Donald Trump?
I hope that all of these fears are never justified, and Trump makes a president that represents all of America’s diverse voices, and not just the voices of people who look like him. I do believe that a lot of voices have been left out of late, and they are now making themselves heard. But, I do not think representation is a zero sum game. I hope that Trump continues to make America a more diverse, more inclusive, and foremost, more compassionate country. Then, I really do believe, America will be great (again).
7. Do you feel respected in your feelings about the candidacy and election of Donald Trump by evangelical Christians of an older generation?
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.
I think that this disenchantment and frustration came to a head because of how evangelicals responded to ISIS. Evangelicals responded to this terrorism not with compassion, but with fear. Fear of refugees from Syria, and fear of Muslims here at home, and abroad. In my Bible, Jesus never put his fear for his own safety, or the safety of his family, over love for others. Actually, he did EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE. He put himself in danger, and ultimately gave his life, for others. His followers, his disciples, continued to do this after his death and resurrection. I get it. People are scared that their family will be hurt because of ISIS. By no means do I want to say this fear is not justified. We are living in an era of turmoil and hate. However, I do not believe Jesus would want us to fight terror with hate. The Jesus in my heart would not close the door (or the border) to a stranger just because they come from a dangerous, war-torn place. The God I serve would open his door and arms wide, even if that means putting yourself in danger (which I don’t think it does, by the way). When evangelicals make it an “us” versus “them,” scenario, all I hear is xenophobia. Again, this seems like the ultimate contradiction. How can you love Jesus, yet prioritize fear for your safety over compassion for the most vulnerable?
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 older evangelicals just need to listen, and in turn we will listen. I would love to see the older generations approach BLM, immigration, and LGBTQ rights not with close-mindedness, but with love and humanity.
I do not think the way to spread the love of Jesus is through self-righteousness, but through finding common ground and being willing to approach every issue and every person with compassion.
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?
Again, I don’t think Jesus is Republican or a Democrat. But I do think Jesus would urge all of us to approach every issue and every person with compassion. As conservative evangelicals love to say, All Lives Matter! To me, that means loving on ALL people, even those you disagree with, putting your neighbor before yourself, and taking the feelings of others seriously.
11. Is there anything else you would like to share?
I don’t know where to put this, but here are my views on political correctness:
To me, being “politically correct” shouldn’t be viewed as weak or overly sensitive, because I never want to make anyone hurt or ashamed through my actions or my words. Instead, I see the focus of millennials on being PC as a great development of our generation. I don’t see anything wrong with using the gender pronoun a transgender man requests. This doesn’t mean you need to agree with their view on sexuality and gender expression. It simply means you are treating them with respect and kindness. How can you share the love of Jesus without respect and compassion?