Donald Trump And The Politics Of Jesus

Donald Trump's biggest voting bloc is white Christian men. Evangelical leaders such as Jerry Falwell, Jr. and James Dobson have endorsed him. The American Association of Evangelicals has written an open letter to Christians "who assist the anti-Christian Progressive political movement in America," calling them to repent and to return to "the true Gospel."

These Christian leaders affirm a close alliance between God and America; the true America, the healthy America, is Christian America. For them, Trump's promise to make America great again is a clarion call to return to a self-consciously Christian America (the America before progressives started progressively ruining it). Trump's slogan, "Make America Great Again," is code for "Make Us Great Again," where "us" is majority white Christians. America will be restored to greatness, they argue, when Christians and Christian values are restored to power.

But God does not especially favor white, male Americans. God loves the world.

And wanting to be socio-politically great (powerful) is not the true Gospel.

We are witnessing a cultural shift in America from white, male Christians towards increasing diversity and justice. Historically, Christians have denied rights to Catholics, Jews, women, blacks (first keeping them as slaves and then denying them equal rights), Muslims and gays. Christians have generated and sustained laws that have harmed the oppressed and vehemently opposed the repeal of such laws. Contemporary Christianity has become culturally associated with anti-abortion, anti-gay, and anti-Muslim.

As the US court has increasingly realized the extent of human freedom and the historical injustices perpetuated on entire classes of people--blacks, women, gays, and Jews--Christians, whose beliefs have sometimes supported such oppression, have felt increasingly disempowered and marginalized.

The court has also conceded the unfair privilege the US has historically allowed Christians and rejected its covert endorsement of Christianity by declaring unconstitutional such activities as school prayer and Christmas displays on government property; religious freedom should extend to every religion, without privileging any.

Trump appeals to increasingly marginalized and fearful Christians to fight back and reassert their power.

But the assertion of coercive power--of laws enforced by police and punishments--is not "the true Gospel."

Whenever "Christians" have allied with coercive power, "Christianity" has been used to justify unjust wars, the oppression of non-Christians, and the harming of, for example, blacks and women.

Jesus, the teacher of the true Gospel, did not come to found, lead or instigate an empire built on coercive power. He came to inaugurate the Kingdom of God built on attractive power.

Christianity must always have a tenuous and fraught connection with political power. After all, Christians worship and follow an executed peasant not a conquering king. And while Jesus came to establish the kingdom of God, it was always an alternative to Empire. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's.

The true Gospel, the good news of Jesus's kingdom, is not to seek the coercive power of a state, but to establish a transformed and transforming group of people who are the poor in spirit, who mourn, who are the meek, who hunger and thirst for righteousness, who are the merciful, who are the pure in heart, and who are peacemakers (Matthew 5:3-9). Members of Jesus's kingdom are commanded to love everyone and at all costs, even their enemies (Matthew 5:43-48).

Jesus's followers do not coercively impose, in alliance with the State, their righteousness on others. Instead, they cultivate their own inner dispositions to compassion, justice and peace. Insodoing, they winsomely exert a sort of attractive power that entices outsiders (enemies even) into the kingdom. We often feel that sort of charismatic power when we are embraced by deeply humble, caring and non-judgmental people.

Jesus's kingdom is radically inclusive and non-judgmental. Jesus threw the doors to his kingdom wide open to every oppressed minority and social outcast of his day -- women, Samaritans, the lame, lepers, tax collectors, the demon-possessed, enemies, Gentiles, and (the all-inclusive category) sinners. Of such, he tells his followers, "judge not" (Matthew 7).

As followers of Jesus, the true Gospel demands that we throw open the doors to the kingdom to the oppressed and outcast of our day. To name a few: Muslims, Mexican immigrants (even the illegal ones), Syrian refugees, gays and blacks (we do not live in a post-racial America and so must sympathetically hear the voices of our suffering and oppressed black brothers and sisters).

There is, of course, legitimate anger at our government system, which is so beholden to the rich that it has left the middle class destitute. To me, it's a tossup whether or not Trump or Clinton will be more effective in including the middle class in any future prosperity (though not a tossup about which will do more for the poor). And Christians are right to care for the life of the unborn (yet should beware that prior Republican Presidents cynically used a pro-life platform to secure the evangelical vote but did nothing to advance a pro-life cause; I put Trump in the "cynical and will do nothing" category).

So I concede that Trump taps into our very real fears. But, according to the true Gospel, perfect love casts out all fear (I John 4:18).

Whatever fears we have today of Mexicans, Arabs, Muslims and the government, pale in comparison to the fears of Jesus's earliest followers. Jesus was crucified on the cross. He, and his first disciples were all Jews, and the gospels were written when the Roman Army attacked Jerusalem, killing hundreds of thousands of Jews and enslaving many of the remainder. All of the disciples died violent deaths at the hands of the Romans. Some Jewish leaders, including the pre-conversion St. Paul, persecuted and even killed Christians. Many early Christians languished in jails and perished in the gladiatorial games.

Yet, the true gospel flourished in times of persecution.

With great (attractive) power (grace), God's kingdom spread like wildfire (Acts 4).

Members of God's kingdom were "of one heart and soul." In God's radically inclusive and spontaneously compassionate kingdom, justice and mercy embraced: "There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need." The kingdom's gracious power attracted thousands upon thousands of Jews and Gentiles alike. One local leader was so astonished, he exclaimed, "These people have been turning the world upside down" (Acts 17.6).

These graciously empowered people turned the world upside down with no coercive political power or influence--they lacked laws, police, an army, and the power to punish.

Entrance to God's kingdom is not for the great (those who aspire to coercive power and influence). Christians should pray, instead, for God to make them humble and meek, and to grant them the eagerness and opportunity to share their radical love with others (even enemies).

I write not because I am worried that Trump will be elected (though I am worried that non-Christians will think that the nearly exclusively Christian support for Trump shows the gospel to be nothing but the coercive power of Islamophobia, misogyny, homophobia, racism and Christian privilege).

I write because I am concerned that the fears, divisions, and bigotry that has Trump exploited and exacerbated will continue long after the election is over.

After the election is over, when the demons that Trump has unleashed will abound, our deeply divided America will need courageously compassionate people--Trump and Hilary supporters alike--to reach out to people who look, think, act and vote differently than they do; the kind of people that Jesus said are followers of the true Gospel.