Politics is not a Sporting Event, Says Susan Shaw

Susan Shaw is an academic. She’s taught at OSU for nearly 20 years and has published manuscripts with titles like Women’s Lives Worldwide.

Shaw is also a Christian—she went to seminary and attends services at the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Corvallis—and a dedicated Falcons fan. She has a photograph of her four-year-old self sporting a Falcons dress and was devastated by her team’s overtime Super Bowl loss.

Shaw came to academia over time, but she grew up with Southern Baptist Christianity and the Falcons in Georgia, where she still has family. On the phone, her mother said, “I didn’t vote for Trump. I voted against Hillary.” On her Facebook feed, her cousins post pro-Trump fake news. Shaw voted for Hillary Clinton.

As an academic, Christian, and Falcons fan, Shaw has been confused by how so many in her faith could have voted for President Trump when she sees him as acting in direct contradiction to Christian values. She hears Christians telling her to “get over” the election, as if it were equivalent to that Falcons Super Bowl loss. But choosing a presidential candidate, Shaw thinks, is not like a football game.

“Rather than applying critical thinking, they say, ‘My team is Team Trump,’” she said. “Somewhere along the way, the word compromise became a bad word.”

Shaw published an open letter to Trump-supporting Christians in Huffington Post’s religion section, where she has had a regular column since July 2015. She was drawn to blogging because she wanted to reach a larger, non-academic audience, and because she wanted to model Christian conversation that is not framed in terms of wins and losses.

Shaw ties Christianity’s sports-minded mentality toward politics to the Christian Fundamentalist movement, which came to dominance in the 1980s just after Shaw had finished seminary. In this historical moment, Shaw said, the religious right and the political right came together into a voting block that elected Ronald Reagan, and the Southern Baptist leadership went through a dramatic transition that tied religious morality to winning political elections.

 “One of the characteristics of fundamentalism is that there has to be an ‘us’ and a ‘them’,” she said. “The narrative keeps the group together.”

In Fundamentalism, Shaw said, listening to the other side is discouraged, and compromise is painted as putting “your soul at stake.”

“It’s very hard to find the place in the middle just to talk,” she said. But with her writing, Shaw challenges Christians to find common ground rooted in valuing all human lives and she tries to “open the doors for them to ask the questions.” She strives to use language that someone like her mother—smart, high school educated, reads a lot—could understand, so that scholarly ideas don’t seem elitist or inaccessible.

Shaw recalled a moment in college, when a professor taught her that the rapture, the idea that believers would be transported to heaven at Jesus’s second coming, was a concept with a history. It originated in the ideas of 19th-century scholar John Nelson Darby, was included in a widely distributed translation of the Bible by C.I. Scofield, and, for many Christians, became the Word of God.

“It was like the scales fell from my eyes,” she said. The knowledge that there was a human history behind this concept of rapture, “was absolutely freeing” for Shaw.

“I want people to have those moments,” Shaw said.

By Maggie Anderson