On Dec. 19, the Electoral College will convene to vote, a formality since most electors are pledged to vote their state’s choice. Mr. Trump is president-elect though the college votes have not been cast yet. But Art Sisneros, a Texas Republican elector, will not follow protocol. He will not cast a vote for Trump. He reasons on his blog, The Blessed Path, “If Trump is not qualified and my role, both morally and historically, as an elected official is to vote my conscience, then I can not and will not vote for Donald Trump for President. I believe voting for Trump would bring dishonor to God.” His conscience is beholden to the signed affidavit; he cannot cast a contrary vote. But his conscience is also beholden to his God, so he cannot vote for Trump. In form of protest against his own party, he resigned from his position.
Sisneros embodies the second essential character of robust public theology: protest. In previous columns I have argued that public theology is relevant and that public theology begins with compassion, understanding the good in every position, even that of the apparent opponents. Such compassion is grounded on a theological anthropology, that humans are not demons; there is no room for demonizing. Protest, actually, is grounded on that same anthropology: humans are not demons but they are not gods either. No one is to be demonized and no one is to be deified.
This temptation to deification is strong, especially when power is involved, and politics is at heart a chess game of power. Of course, nowadays, deification doesn’t happen crudely, like Nero legislating new divine titles for himself through spineless senators. But whatever allegiance trumps our other allegiances becomes what H. Richard Niebuhr, a public intellectual of the mid-1900s, calls our “functional god.” In “The Idea of Radical Monotheism and Western Culture,” he writes “To deny the reality of a supernatural being called God is one thing; to live without confidence in some center of value and without loyalty to a cause is another.”
Atheist or fundamentalist, we all have our gods because we all have a center of unwavering value and loyalty. Judeo-Christian monotheism, Niebuhr argued in his book, challenges all apotheosis, any temporary powers claiming absolute loyalty.