Three warnings to start with.
- This isn’t a Christmas post.
- This isn’t a political post. Although Donald Trump’s picture appears, it’s not really about him at all, though he is relevant.
- I am not an American, so I write as an outsider.
Impeachment and the response
So the US House of Representatives has voted to impeach President Donald Trump. I know little detail of the grounds for impeachment and even less about the law relating to impeachment. So let’s move on from that fact.
The US is fairly split on party and on religious lines – the Republicans and Evangelical christians support Trump and oppose impeachment, the Democrats and many in the wider community oppose Trump and support impeachment. Let’s also take that as fact and move on further.
Then Christianity Today published its Trump Should Be Removed from Office editorial, claiming that impeachment of Trump was as deserved as impeachment of Bill Clinton 20 years ago, and there were predictable reactions:
- Conservative christians and Republicans came out strongly for Trump, saying the magazine had moved far from its Evangelical roots. A number of people cancelled their subscriptions.
- Apparently three times as many people took out new subscriptions as the number who cancelled.
- The President tweeted his displeasure.
He is entitled to be displeased, but it’s what his comments reveal that I want to highlight.
“No President has done more for the evangelical community”
Donald Trump is an astute politician, so the tweet reveals some disturbing things if they reflect the Evangelical community’s expectations and values.
Whose interests should we seek?
It seems the President believes evangelical christians should support him because he gives them favours. His tweet said: “No President has done more for the Evangelical community, and it’s not even close.”
Yet Jesus said he came as a servant, not to be served (Mark 10:45), and said we, his followers, should follow his example (John 13:12-17). In case we don’t get this, Paul reinforces it (Philippians 2:3-4): “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
It is well recognised that the whole Bible portrays God as caring for the poor, and requiring his people to do the same. Their interests should come before those of us who are richer.
God and guns and truth?
The President also tweeted that Christianity Today apparently: “would rather have a Radical Left nonbeliever, who wants to take your religion & your guns”.
This statement is disturbing and revealing.
- It assumes, with no basis, that any opponent, or any politician who replaced him, would be “radical left” and a non-believer. Since, if he was removed, Vice President Mike Pence would take over the presidency, this is very misleading. It is doubtful if Trump’s statement is true even of most of his Democrat opponents. And yet he apparently expects his evangelical supporters to believe it.
- It asserts that Democrats want to “take away” the christian religion. This is ludicrous in a country like USA, yet again, the President apparently expects his supporters to believe it.
- Donald Trump seems to think that gun ownership is especially important to the evangelical community. Is that the case? I don’t know, though it may well be true. But it does seem odd in those who profess to follow a teacher who said:
- “love your enemies” (Matthew 5:43-45),
- “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39),
- “those who live by the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52), and
- “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)
I’m not concerned here about the President’s statements as much as what they reveal about the US evangelical church. As I said, he is an astute politician, and I presume he has a fair idea how this important constituency thinks.
And he apparently thinks that demonising his opponents be calling them inaccurate names will garner him support among evangelical christians. Yet in the Bible that is named as slander and condemned (Romans 1:29-31, 1 Corinthians 5:11, 6:10, etc). We christians are supposed to look for the good in others, not enjoy finding what we think is bad (1 Corinthians 13:4-6: “Love is …. kind. …. It does not dishonour others …. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.”)
The kingdom of God or competing tribes?
The disturbing thing for me is that these comments suggest that evangelical christians are completely missing Jesus’ main teaching, the kingdom of God coming on earth. The are apparently seeing their faith tribally.
I think it is good for christians to be involved in politics. But the danger lurks that christians might forget the teachings of Jesus and adopt tactics that dishonour God.
The kingdom of God is inclusive, welcomes the poor, reaches out to enemies, is willing to serve. But tribalism is divisive, welcomes only others from the same tribe, treats outsiders as enemies and seeks to control.
In the gospels we see Jesus not just calling people to believe in him, but to follow him. In his day, this wasn’t just an invitation to walk along a path behind him. It was an honour to be invited by a rabbi (teacher) to follow him, because it meant travelling and living with him, learning from his teaching, accepting the teacher’s discipline, keeping to his teachings, and becoming more and more like him.
So if we call ourselves christians, we mustn’t just name the name of Jesus, but follow his teachings and learn his ways.
That means being a servant, serving others especially the poor, putting the kingdom before all other loyalties and being aware that power can easily corrupt.
I fear the American evangelical church (and some sections of the Australian church too) has neglected Jesus and sought political power to impose its will on the wider community. Even if their agenda was godly, that isn’t God’s way – he gives us freedom and doesn’t impose. It is even worse if their agenda isn’t godly, which the President’s tweet suggests.
Mary’s song in Luke 1:51-53 shows an understanding of the principles of God’s kingdom, and brings my theme andChristmas together:
“he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.”