Posts Tagged Trump

Whose ‘principles of faith’ are being manifested on Trump’s watch?

 

White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney declared at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast this week that faith drives the Trump administration’s policy proposals, arguing that “the principles of our faith (are) being manifest” under the president’s watch. My shock threshold is high, but I reeled when I read Mulvaney’s remarks. As a Christian and a theologian, I believe the torrent of hateful words, brinkmanship executive orders, racist dog whistles, sexist behavior, malignant deceit and national idolatry are uneasily linked with anything we might call Christian.

Yet President Donald J. Trump’s popularity with evangelical Christians persists, and to their delight, he consistently says things out loud that they think but – with a few notable Baptist pastors among the exceptions – are too self-protective to say.

“When Trump mused that he could not remember ever asking forgiveness for anything, he basically forfeited any claim to Christian identity.”

Last month, Pew Research Center found that Trump had a 69 percent approval rating among white evangelical Protestants, compared to around 40 percent among all Americans. This is astonishing. Indeed, the willingness of Trump’s base to overlook the absence of a moral compass, much less Christian values and practice, only seems to grow with each passing month. With Trump’s judicial appointments and a flurry of policy changes and legislative proposals, moral traditionalists see their ends-justifies-the-means long game coming into view. For this, they will put up with reckless leadership that cares little for an authentic Christian theological vision for life.

In one sense, I concur with Mulvaney’s statement. The “principles of faith” that drive the Trump administration and its Republican sycophants in Congress are, indeed, manifest. But the principles on my list are different.

One clear principle is xenophobia, fearing and reviling the stranger, which is a stark contradiction of a prominent biblical theme. Welcoming the stranger is a way of remembering God’s providence in the life of an insignificant people; it is also a way of being enriched by holy presence. A corollary principle regularly manifested is racism, as we witnessed when Trump referred to nations where persons of color predominate with an epithet.

Immigration policies reflect both of these principles. Honoring every person as created after God’s likeness, bearing the image of God, is absent from the insulting rhetoric employed and actions taken.

Egregious in its impact, another principle is protecting the rich at the expense of the poor. The Bible’s prophetic literature and the ministry and teachings of Jesus accent justice for the poor and warn of judgment upon the rich who will be “sent away empty.” Current tax law is a windfall for those who least need it. The widows and orphans of our day are ground underfoot in wage disparity, lack of educational privilege and shrinking access to varied health and social services.

“Perhaps the most glaring of the principles I find to be antithetical to Christian theology is the arrogation of power to one individual.”

Similarly, the attempts to marginalize sexual minorities are growing. LGBTQ rights are in the cross-hairs, and for the foreseeable future case after case will wind its way through the appellate system on the way to the Supreme Court. A conservative majority will be predisposed to beat back recent gains as this central issue draws untoward attention in the current culture war. Clearly the New Testament makes space in the reign of God for non-traditional expressions of human sexuality, as the story of the Ethiopian eunuch attests.

Incessant saber-rattling and projected military growth ignore the biblical admonition to “be at peace with all, so far as it depends upon you” (Romans 12:18). Threats to bomb nations into oblivion go far beyond national security; these bellicose words are more about presidential swagger. Even the attempts at negotiation with other nations are so full of ego that every encounter is a win-lose drama rather than a genuine pursuit of common ground. Further, the “America first” quest arises from a distorted doctrine of exceptionalism, which includes claiming divine preference for national interests.

Policies that roll back environmental protection also defy God’s directive to humanity to care for this creation as God’s own representatives. Demonstrating an incomprehensible, dismissive attitude toward the consensus of climate scientists worldwide and the dire warnings from the United Nations and other international bodies – namely, that environmental disaster looms unless radical action is taken in the next two decades – this administration is accelerating its support of destructive practices. The unwillingness to curtail pollution of the atmosphere, to participate in global environmental accords or to prevent rampant oil and gas drilling and fracking, are having a deleterious effect. These profligate actions are tantamount to humanizing the eschaton, i.e., bringing about the destruction of the earth.

Perhaps the most glaring of the principles I find to be antithetical to Christian theology is the arrogation of power to one individual. While in humility Christ Jesus gave power away, the current president presumes to be the final arbiter on most matters of governance in our system of democracy. With Caesar-like imperiousness, this administration claims a kind of sovereignty that eschews bowing the knee to any higher authority.

When Trump mused that he could not remember ever asking forgiveness for anything, he basically forfeited any claim to Christian identity. The very heart of authentic faith is knowing the gap between what God’s righteousness calls us to do and what we actually do. Forgiveness is that shattering experience that acknowledges our sinfulness and the grace of God that draws us near.

Mercy, justice and humility are the marks of authentic Christianity. I see none of these in the principles of faith by which the president of the United States operates. Indeed, the only thing worse than the failure or refusal of people of faith to see this reality is to remain silent.

*Rev.Dr. Molly Marshall spoke twice at the Hamrick Lectureship at First Baptist Church of Charleston. She is a congregation favorite.

 

 

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A Bonhoeffer moment – Bill Leonard* – Baptistnewsglobal.com

Bill LeonardIs this “a Bonhoeffer moment” in American political, cultural and spiritual life? A lot of people, across the theological spectrum, seem to think as much, or at least find the question worth pursuing. A cursory Google search reveals varying views and contradictory interpretations linking Bonhoeffer’s courageous dissent against the Nazis with events and ideas fostered by, but not exclusive to, the Trump Kulturkampf.

German Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) was a major force in the Confessing Church that offered resistance to National Socialism; he led in founding an alternative seminary; and worked diligently to protect and rescue Jews. Accused of plotting against Hitler, he was imprisoned in 1943, and executed two years later. In works such as The Cost of Discipleship and Ethics, his powerful ideas have impacted generations inside and beyond the church.

Liberals have long claimed Bonhoeffer, particularly his reflections on “religionless Christianity.” Harvard’s Harvey Cox opens the final chapter of his classic work, The Secular City (1965)by citing Bonhoeffer’s prison-essayed assertion that, “We are proceeding toward a time of no religion at all”; and his question: “How do we speak in a secular fashion of God?” Conservatives long interpreted Bonhoeffer’s denunciation of “cheap grace” as a rebuke of liberalism’s accommodation to culture at the expense of orthodoxy. (Not that conservatives haven’t pedaled a little cheap grace here and there.)

Recent references to “a Bonhoeffer moment” appeared with evangelical resistance to government legalization of same-sex marriage. Conservative commentator Larry Tomczak wrote in 2015: “And with what’s happening in America, we must get ready to take risks in standing for truth, especially as it relates to marriage. We are facing a ‘Dietrich Bonhoeffer Moment.’ You recall that he chose civil disobedience and disobeyed Nazi law that stated that protecting Jewish people was against the law. He was hung for his stand. He also said prior to his death, ‘Silence in the face of evil is evil itself. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.’”

In response, Rhodes College professor and Bonhoeffer specialist Stephen Haynes cautioned against pressing the Bonhoeffer model too far, implicitly advocating violence in a society where, unlike Hitler’s Germany, “free speech and open debate” remain intact. Haynes noted that while “advocates of traditional marriage” had freedom to express their opposition to the court ruling, their use of “hyperbolic slogans” should not suggest that the U.S. government was comparable to the one Bonhoeffer worked to destroy.

Last year’s presidential campaign and election results revived the question of a Bonhoeffer moment as dramatized in Eric Metaxas’ book, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (2010). The bestseller again brought Bonhoeffer into the evangelical sphere, made even more controversial by Metaxas’ strong endorsement of Donald Trump for president. He called the election “A Bonhoeffer Moment” for Americans, and urged defeat of “Hitlery Clinton.”

In a Huffington Post response, Professor Haynes observed that most Bonhoeffer scholars “do not respect Metaxas as an interpreter of Bonhoeffer and view his invocation of Bonhoeffer in support of Trump as an egregious misappropriation of the theologian’s legacy.” He concluded: “We have to make a careful case that thinking with Bonhoeffer during this fraught time in our political history means embracing our responsibility to those under threat, those who, like the Jewish victims of Nazism Bonhoeffer alluded to in Ethics, are the ‘weakest and most defenseless brothers of Jesus Christ.’”

To speak of a Bonhoeffer moment does not mean that the U.S. is in the midst of a Hitlerian assault on democracy. Nonetheless:

  • when mass murders occur in elementary schools, houses of worship, music festivals, night clubs, shopping malls, and parking lots;
  • when Neo-Nazis surround a church chanting “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us”;
  • when courts find that voting law revisions have racist overtones;
  • and Christian leaders respond with contradictory visions of gospel, church and state;

then a Bonhoeffer moment may be at hand.

Bonhoeffer’s insights are worth revisiting when we feel “no ground under our feet,” a situation he describes in an essay written early in his imprisonment, now the first chapter of his Letters and Papers from Prison. In it, Bonhoeffer lists certain noble qualities by which religious people respond to evil, qualities that may become ineffectual when confronting wickedness masquerading as “light, charity, historical necessity, or social justice.”

  • Reasonable people” fail because “in their lack of vision they want to do justice to all sides, and so the conflicting forces wear them down with nothing achieved.”
  • Representatives of “moral fanaticism” (intensity) fail because they get “entangled in non-essentials” and fall “into the trap set by cleverer people.”
  • People of “conscience” fail because evil overwhelms them “in so many respectable and seductive disguises” that conscience becomes “nervous and vacillating.” They lie to themselves “in order to avoid despair.”
  • Those who “flee from public altercation into the sanctuary of private virtuousness” become numb or blind “to the injustice” around them.
  • At certain times, even these noble traits must be sacrificed, transcended by those who make their entire lives “an answer to the question and call of God.”

But it is Bonhoeffer’s description of “folly” as “a more dangerous enemy to good than evil” that seems eerily pertinent to our own historical moment. He writes: “Evil always carries the seeds of its own destruction, as it makes people, at the least, uncomfortable. Against folly we have no defense. Neither protests nor force can touch it; reasoning is no use; facts that contradict personal prejudices can simply be disbelieved — indeed, the fool can counter by criticizing them, and if they are undeniable, they can just be pushed aside as trivial exceptions. So the fool, as distinct from the scoundrel, is completely self-satisfied; in fact he can easily become dangerous, as it does not take much to make him aggressive. A fool must therefore be treated more cautiously than a scoundrel; we shall never again try to convince a fool by reason, for it is both useless and dangerous.”

Before we send that message to the White House, we’d best email a copy to ourselves. It’s too long, and too true, to tweet. Gott segne.

*Both Dr. Bill Leonard and Eric Metaxas were speakers at the John A. Hamrick Lectures in Charleston, SC at First Baptist Church.

 

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Love Is Stronger Than Hate*

Hate is too easy. It relieves us of any responsibility.  Donald Trump has made hate speech acceptable to thousands of his followers. His rhetoric encourages those who are dissatisfied to blame other Americans for their problems. He wants to divide us by appealing to our worst emotions.

We in Charleston have a stronger message. “Love is stronger than hate.”  We will not be bullied into hatting.  A year after the savage murders of worshipers at Mother Emanuel AME Church an act that was intended for evil has instead been transformed into acceptance and community.

Let us all use our words to create relationships, build each other up, encourage one another and build a stronger community. Let us build bridges of understanding and destroy the walls of bigotry and hatred.

*Published in the Charleston PostandCourier. June 19, 2016

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When religion turns hateful, it loses its moral voice – Dr. Molly Marshall – Baptist News Global

MOLLY T. MARSHALL  |  MARCH 14, 2016

In this craziest of presidential primary seasons, I have not mentioned the Republican candidate with the “best plumage,” the colorful description offered by Marilynne Robinson. I have found his words so offensive, his narcissism so egregious, and his attitude toward “others” so despicable. I have not wanted to draw further attention to this headline-grabbing vortex, so he shall remain nameless. (It is unlikely that he could fire a seminary president, anyway.) Nonetheless, I cannot keep silent about his uncontrolled depiction of the world’s fastest growing religion or about his mocking use of Christianity for political gain.

The statement “Islam hates us” during CNN’s recent debate is one more example of his pattern of reckless speech; it only serves to foment alienation for American Muslims and recruitment opportunity for radical Islamic groups. We must see this statement for what it is: a dangerous pandering to the most exclusivist understandings of Christianity. It also stokes fear in the U.S. Jewish community, given the close ties with Israel.

As a Baptist, I get very nervous when the political realm speaks too much about religion. It is the role of the state to create a context where religious pluralism can flourish; it is not the role of the state to impose or favor one religion over another. As Rowan Williams contends in Faith in the Public Square, the state serves as “mediator and broker whose job is to balance and manage real differences.” Nor it is the role of religion to commandeer the state for its own purposes, and the cynical use of Christianity (a.k.a civil religion?) to further candidates’ prospects demeans responsible faith.

Respect for the religion of others is more than simply tolerating religious difference; rather, it draws from the common affirmation of the dignity of humans and their right to religious liberty. It is a critical task of our time to learn from adherents of other ways of faith. The last thing a politician needs to do is denigrate another religion en masse. Every faith tradition has its radical fringe, and we ought to know better than to measure the whole by those who distort its essential teaching.

I had a conversation recently with a treasured friend in Thailand about whether there is a state religion in his country. He noted that there were stringent efforts to inscribe Buddhism as the state religion in the constitution, but the royal family would not allow it. It seems that the family’s positive acquaintance with Christian missionaries over the years would not allow this legislation to go forward. As a committed Christian leader, he observed that this approach allowed the kind of healthy competition between religions that offered real choice.

While traveling to Southeast Asia, I have been working my way through Miroslav Volf’s new book, Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World. Dense and carefully argued, the thesis is that the great world religions are a force for good as they prompt human reach for and response to the transcendent. For these religious pursuits to remain a constructive social force, adherents will have to embrace a distinction between religion and rule; i.e., religion and politics are two “distinct, though intersecting, cultural territories.”

As I head to Myanmar during this time of unprecedented political transition, I am eager to learn how the new government will deal with the ongoing contraction of religious liberty for Muslims and Christians. Outsiders and cautious insiders have criticized Aung San Suu Kyi for her tepid reaction to the brutal treatment of Muslims by radicalized Buddhist leaders. And Christians are always on the margin, too, as they are not members of the “favored religion.” Baptist churches in the United States have witnessed and welcomed the tidal wave of refugees, our spiritual kin. Observers on the ground are hopeful that this courageous leader was wisely biding her time until the election was completed and the new leadership comes to power, which will occur in early April.

A Christian friend in Myanmar gives this perspective:

It is an exciting moment in our history. For many of us, all these things are new in life. … We do hope and pray that things would turn toward the common good of our people in Myanmar and finally peace and justice would prevail.

March 13th was Global Day of Prayer for Burma, and Christians here welcome spiritual support. I encourage you to sustain this praying, especially in this delicate time.

When a religion is an instrument of hate, it has abdicated its moral voice. At the heart of faith traditions is love of God and love of neighbor. We can offer this as a common word, even as we seek to preserve the religious liberty of those who do not share our Christian faith. This will be the best witness of all, demonstrating the remarkable dignity Jesus accords all people.

Molly Marshall is president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary. She spoke twice at the Hamrick Lectures at First Baptist Church of Charleston.

 

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