How to be a Christian in Trump’s America

Jason Micheli —  July 28, 2017 — 4 Comments

    Stanley Hauerwas identifies the essence of Christianity thus:

“Jesus is Lord and everything else is bullshit.”

     If Jesus is the present-tense Lord of the cosmos and the response of faith Jesus demands is best understood as allegiance, it quickly becomes apparent that the world is filled with rival lords vying for our loyalty and allegiance.

When the Risen Jesus commissions the disciples at the end of Matthew’s Gospel he tells them the way they will manifest his lordship is by baptizing and making disciples of all nations; that is, Jesus commissions them to plant communities of faith. The life and practices of the church therefore are the ways we call bulls@#$ on the Powers and Principalities who would have us think they’re in charge.

This is slippery work for Christians in America, more difficult for us than it was for the first Christians.

It’s easy to be shorn of any illusions about the goodness of your nation when it’s making you lion food for Rome’s entertainment.

The first Christians thus harbored no confusion that the Kingdom of Caesar was commensurate with the Kingdom of God so their calling to be an alternative community, a set-apart people within the polis, was more self-evident than it is to us who live in an allegedly Christian nation.

About that nation, presently led (I use that term with no small amount of irony) by The Donald.

Many Christians, primarily progressive Christians but not uniformly so (e.g. Catholic conservatives like Michael Gerson and Ross Douthat and even my muse and mentor, David Bentley Hart, who is Orthodox), view support for The Donald as outside the bounds of Christian endorsement. Rev. Willam Barber, understandably if mistakenly in my view, has characterized even prayer for The Donald as “theological malpractice bordering on heresy.”

The danger posed to America by The Donald, the thinking goes, is so grave Christians must meet it with protest, mockery, and resistance. Certainly all of those are valid forms of prophetic Christian witness, but i wonder if those are the only ways to resist, or, even, the first way to do so.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said the danger of patriotism is not love of one’s country but that very often patriotism does not allow for confession of collective sin nor expressions of repentance. Bonhoeffer writes in Ethics that to profess Jesus as Lord in the midst of this ‘religion’ of nationalism is to confess one’s own complicity in sustaining the very Powers the Church confronts. People forget- Bonhoeffer opposed the Nazis not to save the Jews but to protect his nation from the destruction the Nazis were wreaking upon it.

As a German Christian, Bonhoeffer’s first response to Hitler was to confess his Church’s own complicity in creating the conditions for the Nazism he now felt the Church was charged by God to resist.

Admittedly, the analogy to Hitler and Nazi Germany is an indelicate one. The takeaway from Bonhoeffer however is this one: perhaps resisting The Donald as the Enemy and his stubborn legion of supporters as the other is an insufficient Christian posture. Maybe like Bonhoeffer progressive Christians et al would do better to discern and confess the ways we’re guilty of creating the conditions ripe for The Donald’s demagoguery. What has the Church in America and the Left in America left neglected such that Americans felt only he could give them a voice ? And by what, I mean, of course, who. Who have we neglected?To what extend are we culpable such that those voters accepted The Donald’s (idolatrous) language of “Only I can help you…?”

Bottom line:

 Bonhoeffer provides a needful reminder in our current cultural climate.

Without confession, resistance only perpetuates the cultural antagonisms, which produced the very president progressives now feel compelled to combat.

In this respect, to call BS, as Hauerwas counsels Christians, entails a willingness for Christians to own and name their own BS; that is, their promiscuity with other lords.

Jason Micheli

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4 responses to How to be a Christian in Trump’s America

  1. So very well stated for the religious perspective. If we were to continue to make Christian norms the controlling way we make decisions personally and collectively we would not be in this situation where the secular norms have overtaken Christian norms as the determinant of our personal and collective decision-making. As much as I love this nation, I fear that our ability to slide into our current situation could put us on a track to become a vile place. Over the years, others have tried to move us to this ugly state and we survived and drew back from the edge. As the years pass, and as discourse becomes less and less possible among our various world views, I am wondering about our continued ability to stand back from the edge. Germany too thought it had the better way. In a world with 7.5 billion people, our 0.35 billion still hold much power. But our behavior today is causing others to look for ways of running their economies that could easily make our numbers a rounding error in the world of the future. Its time for Christians to become the Jubilee Community we are intended to be.

  2. The Left in America is literally anti-Christ, so how could the Church, in any form, work with them?

    Of course they did. Back when the Weather Underground was running around bombing Americans, they could always rely on support and shelter from the Episcopalians.

    Why Donald? Why not Donald? He’s fun, and he was (and still is) much better than the alternative. What has been neglected? That portion of America that, if you look on electoral maps, is the broad spread of red surrounding the tiny blots of blue. Middle America. The group disparaged by Obama as “clinging to their guns and Bibles” and by Hillary as “irredeemable” and “deplorable”. Funnily enough, insulting people isn’t a good way to get them to vote for you.

    Those are the group who don’t want much from the government, largely just to work, and to be left alone. Trump is a man of some success in business, gaining their respect, with a larger than life persona that reminds them of that uncle, the one with the stories about the prettiest girl, the roughest horse, and the sharpest shooting rifle around. While the elites were clutching their pearls and fanning themselves about what Trump might have said a decade ago, the common folk were like, “Yeah, that’s Uncle Donald alright.” He also possesses the ability to relate to people, the common touch, which all successful politicians need, and which Hillary sorely lacks.

    He also worked like a Trojan for each vote, on a campaign trail that would have been taxing for a younger man. Hillary didn’t look well, and at the end of it she was getting Obama to campaign on her behalf, hoping to ride on his coattails. In news that surprises no one, (except said elites) Americans like someone who works for their vote, not someone who just expects it for turning up.

    Trump addressed things that mattered to people, like jobs, border security, crime, and an end to military adventurism and nation building. I can’t even remember what Hillary was selling. Something about it being “her time” and being “with her”? She was rather self obsessed. Trump’s “Make America Great Again” resonated with people, especially the older people who remember Reagan using it too. Of course, as a slogan its about as meaningful as Obama’s “Yes We Can” and “Hope And Change”, but it was suitably catchy. When people flicked back to Oprah’s 1988 interview with Donald, it was nice to see that he had basically stayed “on message” for thirty years.

    So, how to be a Christian in Trump’s America? Start by not asking that question as though it’s different to being a Christian in Obama’s America, or a Christian in Bush’s America, or a Christian in Clinton’s America. Stop attempting to imply that Christians who voted for, and support, Trump are spiritually inferior for doing so. Love your neighbour, whoever he or she voted for. Treat the position of President with respect, even if you disagree with the man occupying it, just as so many had to do for Obama. Learn some humility, especially that last one.

  3. I think you’re on to something significant for Christians and not just progressives. Confession of our sin has pretty much disappeared liturgically as well as personally from the lives of many U.S. Christianity. Last year I read William T. Cavanaugh’s Field Hospital. In his final chapter he describes the pacifism of Dorothy Day as penitent. Day was no small “resistor” but she based that resistance doctrinally and liturgically in the confession of sin. Her Christian pacifism was not some morally superior stance, but one taken in repentance. As Cavanaugh puts it, “we are not good enough to use violence.” I think that position, that location, as penitents makes all the difference.

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