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Hello, fellow wayfarers … How to prepare yourself for another presidential election … Why pessimism is not realistic enough … What a cup of coffee from an atheist reminded me about friendship and grace … A Desert Island Bookshelf by literally nobody … This is this week’s Moore to the Point.

Russell Moore

Let’s Make Presidential Elections Civil Again

The other day I was talking to a pastor who sighed and asked, “Are we really going to do this again?” After all the tumult and division of churches and families from the last two presidential elections, it’s exhausting to think another one is coming.

He asked, “Can you give me advice on how to get my people through 2024?”

And I said, “No.”

I was, of course, partly joking. But not entirely. Here’s why.

Many people assume that the election year of 2024 will be a reboot of 2020, especially since it seems we will have the same two candidates running as last time. It may feel like these sitcom reboots of late—Saved by the Bell or Roseanne or, now, Frasier. A show comes back 20 years later with the same characters, except all aged up, trying to throw out classic catchphrases the nostalgic old audience wants while trying to introduce new characters in an attempt to gain some new people. It’s a reasonable assumption to think of the 2024 elections this way—but it’s wrong.

Imagine if you had asked me this time of year in 2019 how to get through the 2020 election. I would have had no way to help you. I wouldn’t have known that a microscopic virus would kill countless people and shut down the entire world. I wouldn’t have known that the murder of George Floyd would transform the conversations and debates about racial justice. The list could go on and on.

In fact, we would not have known just one month ago that the Middle East would be plunged into war. We would have known that our political system here in the United States is messed up, but we would not have known how prescient Andy Warhol was when he said, “In the future, everyone will be speaker-designate of the US House of Representatives for 15 minutes” (or something like that).

None of us can prepare for 2024—if by “prepare” we mean to check off all the steps that can keep us from the mistakes and traumas of years past. That’s because no one knows what is out there ahead of us, waiting for us, in 2024.

Here’s what you can do, though. You can prepare yourself to step into the mystery of whatever will be 2024. What I mean is that you can start to prepare yourself to be the kind of person who can handle it, whatever it is.

Part of that has to do with reframing our own anxieties about what we can’t control. People without a Christian background who read the Gospels for the first time are almost always startled by the figure of Jesus. He just doesn’t sound like someone marketing a religion. Instead, he does things like telling his first disciples that they would be persecuted.

We would expect the founder of a market-savvy new religious movement to talk about all the benefits ahead while minimizing talk about bad things. I have little doubt that if I had been among the band of 12, I would have nudged someone at the fireside and grumbled, “Why does he have to keep bringing this stuff up? All I did was point out how cool the columns were, and he starts in on the end of the world again.”

But Jesus also said why he was talking about these dark future happenings. “I have told you this, so that when their time comes you will remember that I warned you about them” (John 16:4). Jesus was targeting the sort of panic that would have come if the disciples had faced the darkness ahead without knowing anything, thinking to themselves, “Lions? Who ever said anything about lions?”

The fact that Jesus saw all of it ahead of time—and wasn’t the least bit thrown by it—is one of the means the Holy Spirit used to bolster the faith and courage of those followers.

Jesus told them just enough about their futures to keep them from trying to find false solutions to the crises to come. The gist of it was: When all these things go down, there will be somebody out there claiming to be me. It won’t be. When I get back, you’ll know it (Matt. 24:3–31). Jesus said, “For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time” (Mark 13:22–23).

You don’t know what’s waiting for you in 2024—with the presidential election or a billion other things. But you can know what kind of person you will hope to be, by God’s grace, when you get there.

David and Nancy French, Curtis Chang, and I are working on a project called The After Party, a curriculum to help people work through issues of partisan polarization toward a better Christian witness. It’s not about the what of politics but about the how. As we were filming, something David said struck me, and I’ve thought about it ever since. He said, “If we could just do two things, and two things only, it would change everything.”

Those two things were: “I will not lie and I will not empower liars. I will not be cruel and I will not empower cruelty.”

Will that equip you exhaustively to “get through” a presidential election year that might be the wildest one yet? Of course not. But it can help you set a mindset ahead of time.

Well over a decade ago, when I first became president of an entity tasked with public policy questions, I said to my wife, “If you ever hear me say the words, ‘This is the most important presidential election of our lifetimes,’ here are the names of people you should call to come take the keys away.”

When we were dealing with an elderly friend who was moving into a smaller living situation—but wanted to keep all of her stuff—I said to my son, “Samuel, that will be me with my books. I want you to say, ‘Dad, here’s a message from 2021 Russell Moore: Stop being crazy and listen to Samuel.’”

Will that keep me from being an idiot when the time comes? Not necessarily. My older self might say, “Yeah, well, 2021 Russell Moore was the crazy one, not me!” And Samuel might say, “Dad, you both are crazy, because you are standing here literally arguing with yourself.”

You can know yourself well enough to predict what will be the most likely temptation for you in an election year like this one, whether it’s cruelty or apathy, panic or quarrelsomeness, and so on. And you can attend right now to the same old means of grace we’ve always had—prayer and worship and Bible reading and singing together and coming to the Table and so on.

You can’t predict a presidential election year. That means you can’t have a step-by-step game plan to “get through it.” But you can know, right now, what to ask for and what to walk toward when it comes to your own conscience, your own witness, your own love of neighbor and of enemy. And, at least for now, that’s enough.

Everything’s Always Messed Up

Last week, I wrote here about some research done on the spiking rates of anxiety among adolescents and younger adults. The same week, I interviewed the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt about the same issue. Later, I asked a young friend why he thought this trend was happening and he said, “It’s because everything sucks.”

It’s hard to argue with him.

We see brutal Hamas terrorist attacks overseas. Russia is on the attack against Ukraine. The US Congress dithered over electing a speaker for weeks. Scary scenarios abound when it comes to the fate of Western democracy. Conspiracy theories abound. Churches are declining. Denominations are imploding. We’re still trying to figure out how to deal with the effect of smartphones on our psyches while artificial intelligence is gearing up to possibly throw into question what it means to be human (and the ones who seem to be the most scared are in Silicon Valley and helped create it). Everyone seems on edge and looking for a reason to scream into the void.

That’s a lot.

We’re Christians, though.

As Augustine of Hippo told us, “Everything always sucks” (modern translation). The country withstood a civil war, a Great Depression, two occasions in which Germany decided to go to war with the world, and on and on. Baby boomers and Gen Xers who believe their age cohorts are just tougher and more naturally resilient are displaying the kind of group narcissism that gave us the sexual revolution, the rise of Donald Trump, and the classification of Luke Bryan as “country music.”

Every era is filled with peril. There’s a good reason one of the most quoted lines from all of Frederick Buechner’s writing is still this: “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”

Beautiful and terrible. Created and fallen. Redeemed and damned.

Remember what it felt like as a child to drive through a storm or along the edge of a mountain, or some other scary place? Did you look at your dad or your mom or whoever was the significant grown-up at the wheel, scanning for whether they seemed worried? If my dad was humming along to some music or even just looking bored, I would be relieved. If he wasn’t panicked, I wouldn’t panic.

Well, you’re in that situation now—except that the storm or the cliff is, well, the entire world. Our Lord told us so. Go back to the Gospels and re-read what he said to us then. Look and see if he seems to be panicked.

Jesus has the wheel. He knows where we’re going. He knows how to get there. Don’t be afraid.

Getting Coffee from an Atheist

A while back I mentioned here the church planters who got me safely to coffee, when I was going through some caffeine addiction withdrawal while speaking at Brigham Young University.

What I don’t think I mentioned was that, as I was slowly devolving into withdrawal, I went and whispered to a friend of mine who was there for the same event (a dialogue on religious freedom and related matters).

I whispered, “Jon, do you have a car?” He said, “No, why?”

Looking around, I said, “I’m just dying for a cup of coffee, and I was going to see if you would take me to get some.”

My friend said, “Never in my wildest imaginations did I ever foresee the day when a conservative southern evangelical Christian guy would be conspiring with the Jewish liberal atheist for a getaway car at an LDS school.”

He’s right. My friend is not just the kind of atheist who never really thought about things. He once said to Tim Keller and me, in sincerity and not sarcasm, “I don’t know how the arguments you believe for God couldn’t apply to Santa Claus.” (The best part was watching the Gandalfian smile come across Tim’s face before he answered the question.)

My friend really disagrees with me on the most important stuff in my life. And yet he has always treated me (and a lot of my other fellow Christians) with genuine kindness and curiosity.

As I write this, I am here in my old stomping grounds of New Orleans for a gathering. A couple hours ago, I was just about to speak when I turned around to find my atheist friend standing there, handing me a hot cup of coffee.

I laughed (and drank every bit of it). Sometimes it dawns on me that some of us who talk about combatting polarization and incivility can make doing so sound like a project—a necessary project, to be sure, but something that is to be done for the sake of our country or our common humanity.

I’m afraid that when I encourage you to love your atheist or Jewish or Muslim or Hindu or whatever friend, to build friendships that cut across the boundaries of your political party or cultural tribe, that someone might think I am saying, “I know this is terrible, but the Bible tells us to” or “You really need to take one for the team and disagree with reasonableness and kindness.”

But one of the key things the last 15 or so years have taught me is how much these cross-cutting friendships have been the furthest thing from seeming like a “civic duty.” They have been a genuine joy and a blessing. My life would be impoverished beyond measure if I didn’t have the friendship of people who might think my views are insane.

And I realize how, in most of those friendships, we don’t dance politely around the points of disagreement. In almost every case, we have the sort of trust of one another that we can really talk about big matters. When my Muslim friend checked in on me after a nasty evangelical controversy, I didn’t feel like I had to do public relations so he wouldn’t have a bad view of Christians. He wasn’t there as a “dialogue” (oh, how I hate that word) partner; he was my friend.

There’s a long old line of Christian wisdom about what some of us call “common grace.” What we forget, though, is how uncommon such grace really seems, and how it’s, well, grace.

A Caveat on Coffee

Just to be clear, even though I joke around about the coffee stuff, the Brigham Young folks could not have been more hospitable. My atheist friend told me, pointing to a mutual Latter-day Saint friend, “If you tell Paul you want coffee, he will definitely get you somewhere to get one.” I said, “Yeah, but I would feel like the guy at a Southern Baptist event who asks the state convention executive director to help him get somewhere where there’s bourbon.”

Of all the points of disagreement I might have with my Latter-day Saint friends, I know they are right and I am wrong on that one point of avoiding coffee.

Mitt Romney is 76 years old. The president of their church—not the “president emeritus” but the actual, working president of their church—is 99 years old. 99 years old. He was born the month before Jimmy Carter. The leader next in line is 91, and could argue a case before the Supreme Court right now and would win it.

But I tried giving up coffee once before, and Maria asked me to promise that I would never do that again. I’m kind of like Edmund with his Turkish delight when it comes to that (but he ends up okay in the long run).

The Empty Desert Island Bookshelf

Every other week, I share a list of books that one of you says you’d want to have on hand if you were stranded on a deserted island. This week’s submission comes from … nobody.

The Desert Island Bookshelf is empty. It’s not because we don’t have submissions. We have a truckload of them; they just don’t have photos attached. Apparently a lot of y’all listen to audio books or read on a Kindle. Nothing wrong with that, but I can’t figure out how to visually depict a digital shelf.

But I am sure that some of you do know how to do it, so send them on. And those of you with physical books, please remember the photo when you send it. I feel like this is a Dad voice saying, “Don’t make me say this again.” It’s not; we just have some amazing submissions and I want you to see them.

Here’s how it works: If you could have one bookshelf with you to last you the rest of your life, what volumes would you choose? Send a picture to me with as much or little explanation of your choices as you would like.

Or send me your Desert Island Playlist by choosing 5 to 12 songs—excluding hymns or worship songs (we’ll do those later)—with as much or as little explanation of your choices as you would like.

Send either or both to and remember to tell me what town or city you are writing from.

Quote of the Moment

“Behind the universe of truth there is a Person.”
—Edgar Young Mullins (1917)

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Russell Moore

Russell Moore
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