Listening to the Good Shepherd in the Days of Trump

This is a post that talks about Donald Trump, but it’s not about Trump. He’s not a curio piece or slow-collision car wreck to stare at. That’s easy to do, and I have had to regularly remind myself that he’s mere “flesh and blood,” and it’s not with him that I am to spar. When my dinner-table conversation with Jennifer begins parrying at length with whatever ingratiating things Trump said or did that day, I gotta stop myself. Or Jennifer wisely calms me down. “He’s a small man,” I have found myself thinking (or saying out loud) as something kind of like a prayer. So this post isn’t about Trump. I can’t give him center-stage like that, because I’m heading to a conclusion that isn’t about him. And isn’t his prominence less about him and more about those supporting him? As a Christian, I should focus on the bizarre/expected?/sad reality that many, many other Christians are big fans of this small man.

But I will give some context, provided by public theologian Russell Moore. Dr. Moore, who heads up the Ethics and Religions Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, has recently appeared on CNN and NBC to decisively and calmly call out the fledging evangelical Christian support of Donald Trump for what it is: a lamentable compromise. Dr. Moore opined back in September that Christians (see Jerry Falwell Jr. of Liberty University as a recent case) who support Trump “must repudiate everything they believe.” Amen. It’s a hopeful sign when the leading political voice of the largest Baptist denomination in America (which is also my own) comments elsewhere, “let’s crucify our generic civil religions and our discount-rate prosperity gospels and hear behind all of them the gentle lowing of golden calves, and let’s . . . define ourselves not by the generic god of American values.”

I have sensed this for months, and I feel it’s time that I do give voice to it. We’re exchanging the way of Christ and His kingdom for an idolatrous promise of renewed power and influence. In our craving for power and for a renewal of some sort of former national glory, we have turned to this small, small man who has spoken dismissively of forgiveness, thrust aside the sojourner, and could manifestly “run the table on the seven deadly sins.” It’s not so much the individual black marks that Trump has amassed that trouble me, as if he just hadn’t said or done such-and-such then perhaps I could defend him. It’s the sort of soul who says and does such things and those people galvanized by them that trouble me.

When Falwell introduced Trump last week as one who “lives a life of loving and helping others as Jesus taught in the great commandment,” I balked. Something in me grieved. Something else wanted to laugh—the irony and falsehood of this statement was nearly comical. But the grief is what lasted. Christians supporting Trump are, in essence, asserting that Trump’s ways are more compelling and promising than God’s ways. Christ is our Savior, sure, but He doesn’t have much to emulate when it comes to politics. Isn’t this the disposition we’re taking on when we cast our lot with Trump? Many American Christians are folding to the loud, small man instead of standing with the silent, suffering, sacrificial Lamb (He’s always seemed weak and ineffective to us, hasn’t He?). This grieves me, and I don’t fully know why. I wish I could just ignore it, but I cannot. I’m a shepherd, desiring that we listen to our Good Shepherd’s voice in the clamor and violent discourse of this age. However this pans out, Jennifer and I follow King Jesus, and if I could speak directly, I’m asking my brothers and sisters in Christ to do likewise.

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