The Enigma of Donald Trump in the Evangelical World

The enigma of Donald Trump has both fascinated and frightened those of us who believe a country should be governed by people of principle, integrity and compassion. From the very beginning of his unlikely run for the presidency of the United States, he seems to be immune to the very attitudes which would get the rest of us fired from jobs, lose friends and be banished from the world of politics.

Some people believe that he is feeding off the anger in our nation. Other’s that his success is a product of obstructism in Congress. His campaign is certainly fueled by an anger that is both real and inflamed by media talk. Talk which has fanned imagined as well as genuine wrongs. I would never have thought we would get to this place in my country. I have begun to understand how Germany was given over to the Nazi’s in a different era.

What puzzles me the most is how Donald Trump has captured so many people who are Evangelical Christians. I’ve wondered, is there no correlation between faith and action? How can a follower of Jesus be a supporter of one so unlike Jesus? It isn’t that the Bible doesn’t offer some guidance. When the apostle Paul wrote to the people of Galatia, it was to give direction on how a Christian lives in the world. He bemoaned the reality he saw, of good people confused by other voices, giving into a faith that no longer resembled the faith of Jesus. He writes to them, “You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5:13-14

Nothing in the campaign of Donald Trump shows any indication that he has taken seriously the words of Jesus. From his attitude toward, immigrants, minorities, women and the disabled, there has been a distinct lack of compassion, empathy or concern. So how can people of faith, accept this man as the person best prepared to lead our country? Paul goes on to talk about what a Christian looks like saying, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.” Galatians 5:22-23

I can understand people being angry who feel left out of the economic recovery. What I don’t understand are people of faith, turning to a person who lives so outside the values of their faith. Because if our following of Jesus is real, if it means anything at all, we ought to be growing more and more Christ-like in our attitudes, our actions, our values and our beliefs.

We should be looking at people to lead our nation whose faith is real, whose lives reflect the fruit of God’s spirit. We ought to be looking at people who are at the core of their being, filled with compassion and kindness. Political ideology aside, I want someone who reflects the values and beliefs of the faith they claim as their own.

Forgiveness comes as a Refreshing Balm

An Unknown wisdom maker once commented, “It’s easy enough to have a clear conscience. All it takes is a fuzzy memory.” Sin, in whatever form, weighs heavily on our souls. It burdens us and keeps us from being the person God intends for us to be. Sin pulls us down, crushes our spirit and demeans our self-worth. Sin is defined as “missing the mark” a moment when we are less than we could have been.

I suspect that one has to sin really big-time to fully appreciate the pardoning grace of God. Most of us are little sinners, compiling over a lifetime, sins of thoughtlessness, insensitive comments, small sized lies, semi-malicious gossip and nitpicking moments. Ours are the private sins which we know well. The apostle Paul speaks of the human condition when he says of himself, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” (Romans 7:19 NRSV)

Then there are those of us who “blow it” in a big way. Our marriage falls apart, a moment of carelessness causes an accident, we mess up with a family member. A DWI or some less than ethical business dealings land us in court. Our sin becomes public knowledge. We are constantly confronted with reminders of a significant mistake or failure in our lives. Not only the mistake itself, but its accompanying loss stand as a stark reminder of yesterday’s stumble.

To all who have failed in life, to those who have made mistakes that hurt both themselves and those they love, God’s word of forgiveness comes as a refreshing balm. No longer do our hearts need to be burdened with guilt and shame. Forgiveness frees us from the past with its mistakes and failures. While we may live with the consequences of past sins, we are also freed to walk on new paths. And, remarkably, God takes the very mistakes of the past, in all of their ugliness – Weaving them into our lives in such a way that things of beauty and goodness spring from them. The Psalmist says of God, “Far as east is from west, so far has God put our offences away from us” (Psalm 103:13NEB). This is God’s promise. It is a promise of grace – God’s compassion, fresh every morning. We are pardoned people. Thanks be to God.

The Way of the Cross – Grace and Mercy

When I was a child, my parents would often take part in special Lenten studies and worship services. When I became an adult, I found that I needed to take the weeks of Lent as a time for renewal of my own soul. Lent is that period of the year defined as 40 days, beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending on Easter Sunday set aside as a period of self-denial and self examination.

The words self-denial seem strange in our world. Most often we’re told through both politicians and media that we shouldn’t have to deny ourselves anything. Yet, Jesus talked about denial. He said that anyone who wanted to be a follower of his must “deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.” ( Matthew 16:24,25) Christianity is centered around a cross. You can’t be a follower of Jesus, without encountering that troubling cross.

Followers of Jesus have never had an easy existence. Challenges have come from within and without. As a person who follows the way of the cross, you will inevitably put yourself into situations that you would never have had to deal with, had you not chosen to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Saying “yes” to Jesus can be demanding, because by its very nature, following means that you are going somewhere. You may be growing deeper in your relationship with God, through prayer, fasting or sacrificial giving. You may feel the call of God to move into the world in a new way, and get involved in an outreach ministry. The call of Christ to follow may lead you into worlds you never expected to go, and to move among people you would have avoided. Following Jesus will ask something from you – in time, commitment and attentiveness to God. It will not leave you where it finds you. Which in itself is both grace and mercy.

Following Jesus – The One Who Is – Or the One We Want Him to Be

I attended a retreat recently where we were asked to think of ways that we have re-touched Jesus. When I saw the title of the talk, I immediately thought of the need to get close to Jesus, like the woman who thought if she could just touch his garment, she would be healed. But that was not the question. Instead, we were asked to reflect on the ways that each of us have, like an artist retouching a painting, retouched the Jesus revealed in scripture, to one more to our liking. Were we looking at the Jesus who is, or the one that we want him to be?

When I am honest with myself, I want a Jesus who thinks like me and agrees with me. I want one who understands when I don’t quite live up to Jesus’s value system. I want a Jesus who shares my political views and values. I want a Jesus who gets upset with the people I get upset with and who gets mad at the politicians I get mad at. I want a Jesus who agrees with me on all social issues and not just some. I want a Jesus who resembles me.

A few years back some prominent evangelical church leaders began to call themselves, “Red Letter Christians.” A reference to the way some Bible publishers print the words of Jesus in red. These leaders committed themselves to take seriously the words of Jesus in their day to day life. Focusing on the red letters, makes it more difficult to ignore what Jesus really has to say about being givers of grace, compassion, generosity of spirit and sharing our wealth. The red letters reveal the heart of God. They challenge on several levels. In Jesus’s words, love becomes an action, and not just a feeling. Personal morality is laced with mercy for others. The stones we’d throw at people we dislike, are pointed back at our own moral errors. Ignoring the poor and vulnerable – people who are homeless, hungry and strangers is among the “big sins” in the eyes of Jesus.

Following Jesus, being a disciple of Jesus demands from us more than our opinions and the biases or our childhood. It demands that we listen to him. When Jesus was revealed as God’s son, beloved and chosen, those who were with him heard the words, “Listen to him.” Modern followers of Jesus can do no less.