With the impending inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the United States of America, I feel the urgency of my faith like never before. By ‘the urgency of my faith’ I mean its usefulness in guiding who I will be and how I will act now that Mr. Trump will rule the land. I think I would still be alarmed by Mr. Trump without my faith. But I know my religion-the system that puts practices and routines to my beliefs, the system that has taught me these beliefs-is guiding me into deeper thinking and preparation than I would have done without it.
My religion gives me a moral foundation. And this foundation’s truthfulness and trustworthiness, I believe, is about to be put to a serious test by the Trump administration. So what are these foundations? Where do these foundations come from? And what do these foundations mean in Trump’s America? I am thinking in terms of the Foundation of Love, the Foundation of Truth and the Foundation of Grace.
The Foundation of Love
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment…” –Matthew 22:36-38
Love is the purpose of all Christian life. Loving God, loving neighbor and loving enemy are specifically commanded by Christ himself. This foundation must under-gird all Christian activity in both the private and the public spheres.
Loving God means living with a hierarchy of purpose. God is at the apex of this hierarchy. God created me. I live under God’s law and grace. My life is thus ordered by the processes of seeking out and living out God’s will for my life. This includes cultivating gifts and skills necessary to faithfully following Christ. It means knowing God through scripture and meditation, through community and service, through study and self-improvement. It means praying, fasting, worship and confession as regular practices for cultivating my relationship with God. None of this is glamorous. Most of it is the tedious stuff that makes church boring.
But this foundation teaches me who I am: a child of a loving God, who has redeemed me from all my messed-up-ness through the messy Messiah known as Jesus, and sustains me by the near presence of the Holy Spirit. This knowledge of myself transcends all other labels. I am not a consumer, nor a patriot, nor a voter, nor anything else as I am a child of God. I defy with deep laughter any government who tries to usurp that.
“…And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” –Matthew 22:39-40
Loving neighbor validates love as the central tenet of the godly life. My neighbor is also a walking, talking image of God carrier. It makes a difference how I treat that neighbor. It also validates an important aspect of my own being: that aspect of connecting with another. Altogether, my spirit, mind and body are built for connection. I am less human when I am disconnected from others. I am more human, as well as more holy, when I have invested energy in others. So it is that images of Syrian refugees activates my outrage and my feelings of helplessness. Stories of genocide in South Sudan trigger also a deep fear of the world. the story of Sergei Rachmaninoff fleeing Russia and living as a refugee his entire life has stirred up in me a sense of exile from my homeland. Likewise, the image of a family of grandkids around a Christmas tree gives me a sense of peace for that friend of mine. And I have taped up around my office, photos of people acting out of moral courage and freedom.
Furthermore, Jesus defines love of neighbor in terms of mercy (Luke 10:30-36). The comfort and betterment of my neighbors is my Christian work. Those who are hurting or threatened suffer enough without the heartlessness of their neighbors. The Christian counter for this is love of neighbor characterized primarily as mercy.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous…” –Matthew 5:43-45
I live too cushy of a life to say with any real authority that enemies are a farce. I’ve never lived through an Aleppo. I’ve never slept on the street. I’ve never been foreclosed or evicted. With that caveat confessed, theologically, enemies are just neighbors with issues. The presence of issues is no excuse not to love a neighbor. Who would ever be loved on those conditions? That is NOT to excuse treacherous behavior: namecalling, scapegoating, violence, emotional abuse, etc. In fact, the antidote for these behaviors is love. Love operates in the realm of truth and as such can cure people of hatred and its related behaviors.
This was the ultimate power behind Martin Luther King, Jr.’s work. He genuinely wanted to win the hearts of those who were persecuting his people. This was also the great offense of white Christian obstruction: that people bearing the name of Christ would obstruct the love of neighbor. This is an ongoing reality that convicts me.
What does love have to do with Trump?
It may very well be that I fit into Mr. Trump’s enemy category. It would be easy to fall into the tit-for-tat game of vilifying Mr. Trump. Of course, my basis for vilifying Mr. Trump would be his vilification of others. And many of Mr. Trump’s opponents have already fallen into the vicious circle of vilification. I think God calls us to go higher. Love is the higher plane.
If I am going to live out God’s will in Trump’s America, then it must be a calling to a radical and effective form of love. A view whose only enemies are ideas that kill, divide and plunder. Even those entertaining those ideas are merely ‘siblings unrealized’.
So, yes, I will be praying for Mr. Trump. I will be praying for peace, truth, goodness and love to be the hallmarks of his administration. I will actually be praying that God moves his heart in just and loving directions.
“…For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” –Matthew 5:46-48
Foundations of Truth (coming January 9, 2017)
Foundations of Grace (coming January 16, 2017)