March 10, 2017 column.
How Do We Respond to Trump?
Rev. Yme Woensdregt
Someone asked me a couple of weeks ago, “What marks a faithful Christian response to Donald Trump? What does the Bible have to say about this?”
It should come as no surprise that the Bible doesn’t speak with a single voice about a question like that. In fact, the Bible has nothing to say about living faithfully in a participatory democracy. It hadn’t been invented yet.
Before I respond to my friend’s question, let me share Kenton Spark’s image for what the Bible is. Sparks, a professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in Philadelphia, writes, “Scripture is not a room filled with clairvoyant theologians who have the same ideas and agree on every point. It is better understood as a room of wise elders, each an invited guest because of his unique voice and relation to God. Every elder has insight, but no elder has all of the answers… When we read Scripture well, we listen in on the conversations of these elders, and, in conversations with other readers, seek as best we can to understand God’s voice.”
It’s a wonderful description of what happens in Scripture. Here is a way of understanding Scripture so that we add our own voices to the conversation, re–interpreting Scripture in each new generation.
So how might we add our voices to Scripture with regard to Donald Trump? In the interests of full disclosure, let me be quite clear that I think Trump is a deeply damaged man. He appeals to our worst impulses, and fosters an atmosphere which empowers racists and others to act in dangerous ways against women and minorities.
Scripture does not speak of our relationship to authority with a single voice. As faithful Christian people, we are called to use our minds and hearts to judge what is healthy and what is unhealthy.
A classic example is found in 1 Samuel. In chapter 8, when the people ask for a king, the prophet warns the people about what we would call taxation, conscription, and the abuses of power. The prophet warns that human authority is dangerous and can be very easily corrupted.
Chapter 11, however, describes Saul’s kingship as an act of God providentially caring for Israel. Here, in the space of 3 short chapters, we have two wise elders disagreeing with each other about how we might best structure human life and governance.
Throughout its various writings, the Old Testament honours those prophets who call rulers to account. Part of the role of the prophet is to hold the king accountable for how he exercises power and authority. We can see this in the saga of Elijah and his relationship with King Ahab (1 Kings 17–21), or when Nathan the prophet held King David accountable for murdering the husband of Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12).
It is true that there is some important counsel in the New Testament about honouring the authorities. Romans 13 is a good example—but it mentions a ruler who honours God. At the same time, another wise elder in the conversation compares an unfaithful ruler to a beast with 10 horns and 7 heads in Revelation 13.
These wise elders again disagree with one another, just as they did in the Old Testament.
So. What are we to do?
I believe strongly that Trump represents a threat to our world. I believe that Christians are called to faithful resistance.
Part of the process is to lament. We lament his rise to power and the way he got there. His campaign was ugly, and his administration seems to be filled with the same level of dishonesty and fear–mongering.
We resist. We do not allow ourselves to be drawn into his sphere of dishonesty. We refuse to be cowed by his vision of a world which has gone desperately wrong and only he can fix it. We steadfastly refuse to blame minorities and to persecute those who are different from us. We remember that all people are precious and all people are created in God’s image, and that God holds all people within his embrace, regardless of their race, their religion, their origin.
We protest. We join with others to raise our voices against the unrighteousness which we see coming from the White House. We decry Trump’s angry tweets. We speak up against the hatred and prejudice which Trump continues to foster. We call him out for his treatment of minorities and women.
We remain committed to the truth. We call Trump’s lies for what they are. We counter his claims with the truth. We resist every one of his “alternative facts”.
If we were American citizens, we could call our representatives in Washington to express our dismay and our protest. As faithful followers of Jesus, we could follow the example of courageous Christian leaders in the past, such as Martin Luther King who engaged in civil disobedience to resist those who foster a climate of fear and hatred and blame.
At the same time, we must not sink to Trump’s level by engaging in name–calling or engaging in our own violent response. We are bound by Jesus’ words to “love our enemies as ourselves.” Loving our enemies does not mean condoning their wrong–doing. But it does mean that as we engage in political resistance as an act of Christian faithfulness, we do so in ways that honour the one whom we claim to follow.