I made an offhand comment this past week while my friend Scott Jones interviewed me for his podcast Give and Take. I said that Christians need to countenance the possibility that God could be using Donald J. Trump (who, let’s be clear and honest, is in NO way a Christian) as a Cyrus-type character.
Apparently Scott’s podcast has as many listeners as he tells me because in short order I was besieged with apoplectic responses to the contrary.
My good friend Brad is a political adman and strategist presently working on a book about the Trump voter. He’s narrow-focusing on those voters, who had voted for Obama but voted for the Donald in ’16, in the few districts in the MidWest that swung the election. Brad tells me that most Trump voters generally and Evangelical Christians in particular were under no illusions about the Donald’s character or his pretense at Christian discipleship- nor did they have any real expectations the Donald would deliver any concrete policy accomplishments.
Evangelical Christians primarily were driven by animus to vote Trump; that is, evangelical Christians knew (correctly, I’d concede) the same people who hated Trump hated them too.
A few of them- but not as many you’d guess- Brad tells me, hold out the possibility that Donald Trump is a Cyrus-like leader.
Cyrus, for those of who you skipped Sunday School, was the (pagan) King of Persia who (unwittingly according to Isaiah’s prophecy) freed the Israelite exiles from their captivity in Babylon, delivering back to the promised land and, even, helping them rebuild their razed temple in Jerusalem. In scripture, Cyrus stands as paradigmatic of God’s active but unseen agency, directing history to God’s chosen ends.
Cyrus knew not God but the Living God nonetheless used him for God’s own ends.
Might the orange-hued president with the little hands and even slighter control of his compulsions prove a different sort of Cyrus for a unique time?
Might God be using this p@##$-grabbing pagan leader to deliver God’s People from the exilic captivity of nihilistic secularism and into a new Promised Land? Or simply to appoint a pro-life court?
I get the urge- the visceral urge- to say hell no. The mere hypothesis angers my wife. A man who hated his way to the White House, often demonizing immigrants who look like my own Hispanic children, CANNOT be God’s vessel. He is anathema precisely because he makes everyone counted under Matthew 25 anathema to America.
I get the urge to say “No way.”
I wonder. Does the black/white, absolute, reflexive “No” betray another conviction; namely, that God is dead or, if not dead, at the very least not an active agent?
I wonder if those who dismiss outright even the possibility of Trump being Cyrus do so because they believe to the extent that the Kingdom of God is furthered in the public square it’s up to them alone to bring it.
I wonder because- Donald aside- so much of the way we speak Christian does not rely upon a living God being the subject of our sentences.
In my parish, we will celebrate confirmation next weekend at Pentecost, and, in preparing, I’ve noticed how the baptismal vows in the tradition have “evolved” over the years.
For example, in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer the questions posed to godparents came with this God-dependant answer: “I will, God being my helper.”
Here and throughout that prayerbook there was the awareness that faith itself is the creation/result of the agency of the living and active God.
By the 1978 revision of the Book of Common Prayer that same profession had been neutered to: “I will with God’s help.”
Notice how the change in the language invests considerable more trust in confessor’s unaided human ability to be faithful. Already we’re far gone from the language of Romans where only the faithfulness of Christ can elicit anything resembling faith on our part. Farther still is the phrasing in the United Methodist Book of Worship which omits the agency of God altogether from the baptismal vows. There’s only a semantic change between ‘God being my helper” and “I will, with God’s help.”
In the United Methodist Church’s Baptismal Covenant, the human being is the only active agent:
This is a far cry from the old Catholic rite that so believed in the Living God and God’s Enemy it included exorcism and placing salt on an infants tongue to preserve them from the forces of Sin and Death.
I will is indistinguishable from ‘I am able’ and apparently that I is capable of resisting evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms (we’re afraid apparently of saying ‘Satan’). That I is capable unaided to repent of sin and put our whole faith in Christ and serve him through the Church.
“I am able” in now way corresponds to the language of bondage and rectification and gift in the New Testament. Nor does it cohere with the language of the Holy Spirit which at Pentecost reverses our proclivity for idolatry by compelling faith in Peter’s listeners. Whenever the Old Testament mentions the Holy Spirit it does with verbs; the Spirit does because without it we cannot.
How ‘I will’ is any different than Pelagianism I’ll wait for someone to email and explain it to me.
I wonder if we resist the notion of the Donald being a Cyrus because we’ve lost our theological nerve when it comes to God being an active agent in the world?
In the mainline church we’ve certainly not failed in offering people a Loving God but have we, I wonder, offered them a Living God?