To say "we trust in God" is a nice sentiment but then again what kind of G/god is meant by this declaration? For example, Presidential nominee Ted Cruz says he trusts in God but I would not trust in his God. His is a God of violence. Businessman and presidential nominee Donald Trump also says he trusts God but then again this G/god seems to be graven out of Trump's own image.
Lutherans trust God, so do Mennonites and Anabaptists. Christian Reformed and Baptists trust God. But each of these (doctrinal) pictures of God contain something that expresses that religious group's societal values which may or may not be biblical.
The KKK trusts G/god but would you trust this G/god? I wouldn't. Neither did the blacks whom they oppressed and murdered.
The atheist has no G/god to trust but perhaps s/he is being led on a faith path to discover the real G/god and not a mimetic image of an intolerable G/god the conservative church speaks so often of? A God of wrath and judgment both in this life and its hellish outcome should you not be part of the "chosen elect." Certainly this is no God of mine.
So the, let's ask the question again. It's not whether "we trust God" but what kind of God we are trusting in. I'm always glad to hear the faithful expressing trust in God. But there must always be room in the faithful's lectionary to examine what kind of G/god they have graven. Especially during political seasons where politians love mom, babies, apple pie, and G/god.
More simply said, that God must picture Jesus. Anything less is not a biblical G/god but a G/god that is a mimetic image of ourselves. Or of a bible we have distorted and abused.
February 2, 2016
Donald Trump and a Tale of Two Gospels
by Rachel Held Evans
January 28, 2016
As Rev. Saturnia said, the words of Jesus tend to
“comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
As it becomes clear Donald Trump’s candidacy for president will be more than a sideshow this year, the probable Republican nominee is making his pitch to Christian voters.
You would think it would be a hard sell given the fact that the real estate mogul and reality star has boasted about his extramarital affairs, profited off casinos and strip clubs, said he doesn’t need to ask God for forgiveness, called for targeting innocent civilians in war, mocked a reporter with a disability, threatened the religious liberty of minority groups in the U.S., and gained wide support among white nationalists for consistently lying about and demeaning blacks, Mexican immigrants, Muslims, and Syrian refugees.
But polls show that despite all of this, Trump remains favored among evangelical voters. After speaking at Liberty University last week, Trump scored an important endorsement from Jerry Falwell Jr., a prominent leader of the Religious Right who, to the applause of thousands, compared Trump to Jesus and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Despite what the polls say, I personally don’t know a single evangelical Christian who considers Trump a model Christian. His scant church attendance and clumsiness at citing Scripture have not gone unnoticed here in the Bible Belt. Russell Moore of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention has been an outspoken voice against evangelical alignment with Trump, and I’ve found his righteous incredulity over Trump’s religious pandering refreshing.
Yet Falwell’s support is hardly isolated, and I suspect if Trump is the nominee, he will continue to find even more of it from the Religious Right (which I designate as a subset of a broader and more diverse evangelicalism). Despite about a million think-pieces on the topic, the reasons are not that mysterious. Racism and xenophobia remain powerful forces in our country, as does celebrity worship, and white Christians aren't as immune from these influences as they like to think.
Indeed, a quick study of history shows the origins of Liberty University and the Religious Right lie not in their opposition to abortion (that came later), but rather in their opposition to racial integration. Trump’s message mirrors several postures that have characterized the Religious Right from the beginning: 1) a glorified nostalgia for the past (“make America great again!” “America was once a Christian nation!”) that minimizes the historical suffering of women and minority groups in this country, 2) an overwrought persecution complex that confuses sharing civil rights with others with being persecuted by them, and 3) a persistent fear of the perceived “other”—Muslims, LGBT people, immigrants, refugees, etc.—that results in culture wars meant to “take back” the public square. Trump’s promise that “everyone will say Merry Christmas” when he’s president appeals to those who think being wished “happy holidays” by a store clerk is a form of religious oppression (and who apparently remain unconcerned about how Trump's mandate will be enforced upon those of other faiths). Both the Trump campaign and the Religious Right movement begin with the assumption that things were better in this country when the culture was dominated by white Christian men and that things will get better if white Christian men are freed from the burden of “political correctness” and restored to dominance once again.
But perhaps the most tantalizing of Trump’s pitches to the Religious Right, and the one with broadest appeal, is his promise to protect their power.
“I’ll tell you one thing,” he told a crowd in Sioux Center, Iowa, “I get elected president, we’re going to be saying ‘merry Christmas’ again…And by the way, Christianity will have power…because if I’m there, you’re going to have somebody representing you very, very well.”
This is the gospel of Donald Trump, his “good news” to Christian voters: Stick with me and you’ll be a winner. Stick with me and I’ll give you power, protection, prestige.
It’s also the very thing Satan promised Jesus when he tempted him in the desert.
“I will give you power and authority over all the kingdoms of the world,” Satan said, “it has been given to me and I can give it to anyone I want to.”
While Jesus resisted the allure of power and privilege, it has long been a snare to his followers, and the Religious Right sold its soul long ago. Its support of Trump proves once again it will do anything to protect its power, even if it means baptizing as anointed a candidate whose rhetoric and actions contradict any sane understanding of what Christianity is about.
Trump’s sloppy citations of Scripture are accepted by many at Liberty University because, as an arm of the Religious Right, the school’s primary function is political, not religious. The Bible is harvested for a few conservative sound bites, Jesus reduced to an object of veneration whose death saves but whose life and teachings remain inconsequential. When power is the end game, faithfulness bows to political expediency.
After his pep rally at Liberty, Trump was flying high, claiming with his usual hyperbolic flourish that Christians just LOVE him.
…And then he made the critical mistake of actually walking into a church.
Last Sunday, Trump took a break from the campaign trail to surprise the congregation of First Presbyterian Church in Muscatine, Iowa with a visit to their regular morning service.
Now understand, as a liturgical Mainline Protestant congregation, First Presbyterian Church follows the Revised Common Lectionary, which means the Scriptural passages for the service and sermon are determined years in advance. Had Trump wandered into my church—St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland, Tennessee—that morning, he would have encountered the very same texts. Thousands of congregations around the world—from Lutherans to Anglicans, to Presbyterians, to members of the United Church of Christ and other denominations—stick with this calendar as a way of pulling the days’ focus around a common theme. Nothing about the service would have changed just because Trump walked through the door...(well except maybe the tension in the room!)
The first Scripture reading that morning came from 1 Corinthians 12, and at First Presbyterian Church Muscatine, was read from the The Message, an idiomatic translation by Eugene Peterson:
“But I also want you to think about how this keeps your significance from getting
blown up into self-importance. For no matter how significant you are, it is only
because of what you are a part of. An enormous eye or a gigantic hand wouldn’t
be a body, but a monster. What we have is one body with many parts, each its
proper size and in its proper place. No part is important on its own. Can you
imagine Eye telling Hand, “Get lost; I don’t need you”? Or, Head telling Foot,
“You’re fired; your job has been phased out”?… - 1 Cor. 12
Then came the sermon, which was based on one of the most important passages of the New Testament, the one where Jesus teaches at the synagogue in Nazareth and explains exactly what his ministry is all about:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring
good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim
the year of the Lord’s favor.” - Luke 4
This passage from Luke 4 is a declaration of the nature and aim of the gospel—the good news—and as the next verse reveals, it nearly got Jesus thrown off a cliff. As it turns out, the kind of people Donald Trump and the Religious Right deem acceptable collateral damage in their quest for power—the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, the hated minorities—are the very people Jesus prioritized. His life and ministry started with them and his kingdom will ultimately be realized through them. The gospel isn't about protecting power and privilege, but rather about surrendering them until God's vision of justice is fulfilled.
As Rev. Dr. Pam Saturnia put it, “Jesus has come to proclaim freedom and healing to those who are the most unloved, who are the most discriminated against, the most forgotten in our community and in our world. Jesus has come to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor on the teenagers who are homeless, on the Syrian refugees, on the Mexican migrants, and the people who find themselves prisoners of addiction and their families, on the poorest of the poor in Haiti — Jesus has come for them.”
After the service, Trump seemed a little defensive, wondering aloud to the press if the Corinthians passage was directed at him, (“I have more humility than people think,” he said), and arguing, “I want to take care of all people but with Syrians, we just can’t do it here.”
But contrary to Trump’s prevailing worldview, this event had not in fact been orchestrated around him. The man had simply stepped into a big ole’ pile of actual gospel and immediately realized it contradicted everything he stands for.
In contrast to Liberty University's convocation service, this church was a place where Scripture was quoted at length and in context, where the words of Jesus were honored and heeded, and where the vanities of a racist billionaire were challenged rather than coddled for the sake of financial and political gain. Kudos to Rev. Saturnia for sticking with the prophetic word God had given for that day and not cowering or compromising because it might offend one of the most powerful men in the world.
Donald Trump had an encounter with the gospel of Jesus Christ and rather than propping him up, it made him uncomfortable…as tends to happen with anyone who is actually paying attention, myself included.
When I left evangelicalism for a Mainline church, I was teased by some evangelicals who informed me I’d picked the losing team. They reminded me that Mainline churches like my Episcopal church in Tennessee and First Presbyterian Church in Mascatine, Iowa, are losing members at faster rates than evangelical churches are losing them. I’d jumped the evangelical ship, the said, for nothing but a capsizing lifeboat.
They aren’t entirely wrong. We Mainliners don’t fill many mega-church buildings these days, and our pastors don’t typically write bestselling “biblical diet” books or get quoted on CNN. But what these critics fail to understand is I don’t go to church to be with a bunch of “winners." I go to church to be with the people of God, people transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Sure, the “good news” of safety, popularity, and political power is more appealing to the masses, but it’s not the good news Jesus preached. Not by a long shot. No one ever said the fruit of the Spirit is money, success, or political power. Rather, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control - qualities that can be found in all types of communities be they conservative or liberal, evangelical or Mainline Protestant, big or small. Getting lots of people to go to church (or to attend a convocation/ political rally) isn’t the same as making disciples of Jesus Christ, and Christian leaders would do well to remember the difference.
As Rev. Saturnia said, the words of Jesus tend to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
Last Sunday, those words were enough to make one of the most powerful men in the country squirm. How’s that for being politically incorrect?
* * * * * * * *
|Photo: screenshot from TedCruz.org|
God Is Not on Cruz Control
February 2, 2016
"The cross is the end to God’s supposed affirmation of our power structures through the
installation of God’s chosen within them. The cross is the beginning of a power that can
only and always look like weakness. It can only look like defeat. It is almost possible to say
that if we want to be sure we know where God is not, then we should look to the one
wearing the victor’s crown, [the Roman crown of victory, not the Jesus crown of shame,
of ministry to the despised, to the powerless, the oppressed.]" - JRDK / [RES]
Blogsphere confessional: despite my thick skin when it comes to what some might consider infringing on the holiness of God, I turned off my T.V. last night. I was terrified by the blasphemy that was reaching my daughter’s ears.
Perhaps the only thing more incongruous to the identity of God than a pro athlete giving all the credit to God for a victory is a politician affixing God’s divine providence to a political victory. “To God be the glory,” proclaimed Cruz. A sentiment that I can get behind–for all the great things that God has done.
But the blasphemous coincidence of God’s glorious action and Cruz’s garnering a plurality of the vote in Iowa must never be our song of praise.
Getting the Story Wrong
At the risk of overgeneralizing, here is my basic assessment of American politicians who attempt to infuse their campaigns with divinity:
"The glory that they see coming to them from God’s hand, and the glory they see as
God’s shiny reflection in an exceptional America, are completely antithetical to the
identity of God as made known in the story of Jesus Christ." - JRKK
The greatest trap in which Christians become ensnared is the trap of thinking that the God whose power gives us all life is the same god whose power is reflected in earthly measures of greatness.
We have a primal instinct to look for God by looking “up.” We look up to the pastors and assume that they are closer to God. In earlier generations we constructed great chains of being through which we looked up to the kings and angels who stood between us and God. We look up to the country in power (if it’s our own!) and assume that here, if anywhere, rests the hand of the Almighty.
We hear the powerful sermon and assume that the gifted rhetoric is the gift of preaching. We learn of a doctoral degree and assume that academic attainment reflects the gift of knowledge.
We assume, in other words, that the power structures of our world are instituted to tell the divine story and reflect the divine glory.
And when we give ourselves to these assumptions (as we all have at times), we deny the gospel story and the God who is made known through it.
The story of Jesus makes known to us the identity of the Christian God. If you’re not Christian, that’s fine, your G/god can have some other identity. But for those of us who proclaim that the Lord over all is none other than the Crucified, it is blasphemous to align God with the worldly glory of political victory.
In 1 Corinthians Paul is dealing with a similar problem: people being drawn to the wise and powerful. And so he retells the story of the cross: Christ crucified is weakness to the Jew and foolishness to the Greek. The glory of God, in other words, is hidden in suffering and death.
Whereas every fiber of our being yearns to see God by looking “up,” the cross of Christ teaches us that the only way to see God is by looking “down.” Down to the pierced and trampled. Down to the loser.
The wisdom of God is not the wisdom of the rulers of this age. If the rulers of this age understood the wisdom of God, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
In the dark and shameful history of the church we have sinned at times by so associating the Jews with Jesus’ death that they have been labeled “Christ killers.” Perhaps it would be better for us to affix this label to every ruler, every king, every president, every senator. These are the embodiments of the rule of the rulers of this age. These are the ones who “crucified the Lord of glory.”
Indeed, Cruz himself rested his victory on the most powerful force we have: not the hand of God, but the clamor of the people. The crowds. (NB: at this point one returns to the Gospel stories to see how well things turn out if we follow the whims of the crowds. Spoiler: I think we end up chanting at the seat of Pontius Pilate.)
So yes, to God be the glory–and that is a glory that comes when the Ted Cruzes and Hillary Clintons and Donald Trumps and Barak Obamas and Bernie Sanderses have their work exposed as the glory of the darkness that the shining light overcomes, the glorying in death that gets shown up for shame when resurrection life triumphs.
Not God’s Messiah
The point in Cruz’s speech where I threw up in my mouth a little bit was when he cited Psalm 30:5 (with a King James lisp for good measure): “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”
That was his promise. For those who have been sore oppressed by eight long years of Obama’s presidency. The millions who are now covered by insurance “suffering” due to the current administration have hope! God will rescue! God will deliver!
Ted Cruz is the messiah?
This script has been played out before. Or, rather, the hope that such a script would play out has quickened the hearts of many–including Jesus’ earliest followers.
They, too, knew themselves to be the beleaguered victims of years of malfeasance.
They, too, knew themselves to have had their freedoms and rights curtailed by years of distant, federalized rule that made no allowances for what was rightfully theirs.
They, too, knew themselves to be the rightful recipients of God’s promised deliverance–the morning of joy after the long night of weeping.
But the disciples’ yearnings were thwarted. Not the true, deepest longings for redemption. But the longings for a new political day. A new political deliverer. A new power to match and displace the powers of the earth by taking their place here on earth.
Rather than a glorious victor, they were given a crucified Christ.
Rather than a revolt they were given the way of the cross.
Rather than seats of honor at Jesus’ right hand and left they were left looking at cruciform thrones on either side of Jesus as he slowly bled out.
It’s not that they, or we, or the people of Iowa, are wrong to name our grievances. It’s that the expectation of a divine deliverance that looks like the exertions of the political power of the world will not be matched in the Jesus story.
The cross is the end to God’s supposed affirmation of our power structures through the installation of God’s chosen within them. The cross is the beginning of a power that can only and always look like weakness. It can only look like defeat. It is almost possible to say that if we want to be sure we know where God is not then we should look to the one wearing the victor’s crown.
Not Without Hope
Cruz is not God’s man to save us from this hour. Neither is Ben Carson, despite the YouTube video singing his praises as such. Neither was Barak Obama. Neither is Bernie Sanders.
What, then, are we to make of our presidents within this biblical narrative of upside down power?
First, any resemblance that their policies or persons bear to the coming reign of God will be a happy accident for which we should be grateful. But it can never be one and the same. Any resemblance is God’s gracious manifestation of life out of a culture of death.
Second, most of what gains praise and accolades and votes likely requires forgiveness. Yes, it is great that we are a secure people with relatively little upsetting our peace and tranquility. And this is bought at the high price of drone strikes that kill “collateral” as indiscriminately as they kill the targeted suspects. The “peace president” is a source of terror so that we might sleep soundly.
Third, figuring out in this context how to faithfully integrate our faith with our politics is a big mess. It’s well and good to think that the Bible tells us that we should welcome the stranger. But why should that be public policy? It’s well and good to believe that we are called to turn the other cheek, but will that protect the people of this nation?
Fourth, I think I am starting to accept that the reasons I might have for being in favor of a public policy are not necessarily the reasons our nation should do something. We might need to start owning up to the difference between the reasons of religious conviction and the reasons of our faith. And then we can start to get clear on how our religious convictions can or can’t, should or shouldn’t, influence the political direction of our country.
But however we attempt this messy, awkward dance of being a country of faith-filled people and a nation led by politics, we who name Jesus as Lord have a responsibility to get our story straight.
And that begins by recognizing that ours is the story of the cross. It is the story of upside down power. It is the story of the mustard seed and of the whispered secret.
If the glory we claim in the name of Jesus is recognizable as glory to the clamoring crowds, that’s our most sure sign that the story we’re living has little to do with the Story we proclaim. That will always be the story of the crucified Christ, of the shamed crowds, and the wagging heads of mocking power.