The Gospel According to Trump

18 07 2019


Most people who know me well know that I am a huge fan of Amy Grant.  A friend introduced me to her albums when I was in college almost 40 years ago, and since that time she and her music have ministered to me in important and meaningful ways.  I know that sounds cheesy — like a grown man who still has a crush on his childhood babysitter — but Amy’s music has always spoken to my soul.  Her lyrics are raw and real, and parts of her faith journey have been very similar to my own.  So yes!  I have all of her CDs, and I’ve seen her in concert almost two dozen times, including a concert just last month in Alexandria, VA. This last concert was particularly enjoyable; and as I listened to songs that I know by heart, and that I have sung in the car over and over and over again, I found myself wondering how my congregation might respond to a “Gospel According to Amy Grant” sermon series.

Too much?

Perhaps!  But the notion of such a series has gotten me thinking about all the different versions of the Gospel that exist in our nation today, and how many of them do not bear much resemblance to the Good News that Jesus proclaimed.  Many versions seem way off track; and some, the ones whose adherents seem to be the most vocal right now, are downright frightening!  They seem to be lacking in anything that could even be considered close to the “good news” found in Christian Scripture.  And this is  particularly true of the version being offered to us by Donald Trump.

Our president claims to be a Christian: and a Presbyterian at that.  So naturally he would like us all to believe that he has a worldview that is rooted and grounded in the Gospel.  There is little evidence that Trump is a very religious person: he is neither a weekly church-goes nor a daily Bible-reader!  And I’ve never heard him refer to himself as a Christ-follower: that kind of a declaration would likely involve him thinking a little too theologically.  And thinking too deeply about anything doesn’t seem to be his strong suit.  So for the sake of this blog, let’s just accept his claim to be a ‘Christian.’  And let’s also remain open to the possibility that if this is indeed the case, that his faith will be evident in his worldview and revealed in his politics.

But is it?  Is his faith evident in the work of this administration?  Such questions have me wondering what exactly is the Gospel according to Donald Trump?  The Gospel according to Amy Grant reveals adherence to way of life that is full of grace and mercy, and that surrounds all people with divine love and forgiveness.  If someone were to look at my life, I would hope they would discover that the Gospel according to Bob Melone embraces the goodness of creation, calls us into community with one another, and encourages us to always side with the lost and the least.  But what about the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?  What is . . . the Gospel according to Donald Trump?

My answer is “I’m not sure there is one” — at least not if we understand the Gospel (big ‘G’) to be about the Good News of Jesus Christ!  Trump might indeed have a gospel (small ‘g’) — a guiding principle that shapes his life — but it is nothing at all like the big “G”  Gospel proclaimed by Jesus.  Which is why so many of us are so confused about his support among Evangelical Christians: women and men who believe that siding with him is like siding with the “Good News.”

Some might easily be deceived into believing that the Gospel is all about things like growing the economy; and since Donald Trump appears to be doing that, he is in line with the ways of Jesus.  But is growing the economy really a Gospel value?  Is strengthening an economy in which approximately 1/10th of the population will always be living under the poverty level really reflective of the ways of Christ?  Is encouraging economic policies that only serve to deepen the wealth gap in our country in any way reflective of the teachings of Jesus?

Others appear to have been led to believe that adherence to the Gospel involves taking a strong stance on behalf of America around the world — for after all, America is God’s ‘city on a hill,’ and a ‘beacon of light’ to all the nations.  Trump is certainly attempting to do that!  But once again, is that really a Gospel value?  How is cozying up to dictators, and failing to condemn the evil practices of tyrants in places like North Korea and the Philippines, in any way reflective of the teachings of Jesus?   How is anything that even smacks of an “America-first” ideology reflective of a Christ who came for ALL people, and who calls his followers to make disciples of ALL nations?   And how does the notion of American exceptionalism stand alongside the anti-empire message that is so central to the Christian Gospel?

Still others might say that Trump’s stance on immigration reflects a commitment to a faith that respects the rule of law and that honors governing authorities.  Surely those are Gospel values, aren’t they?  And in normal times the answer would certainly be yes!  But these are not normal times; and those Gospel values are in direct conflict with another set of Gospel values, namely those calling us to care for immigrants and aliens.  So when this happens, a good theology teaches us that we are to always err on the side of love.  Therefore followers of Jesus have no choice but to reject any law or Executive Order that seeks to do anything but call us to care for and show hospitality to immigrants.  Christ-followers can and will have differences of opinions on a variety of issues, but the treatment of immigrants is not one of them.  Scripture is very clear on that subject, and there’s really not much room for debate.

Finally, there is yet another group of people, perhaps the most outspoken of all, who will say that Donald Trump’s pro-life policies reveal his commitment to the Gospel. But while Donald Trump may be pro-birth, he is NOT pro-life . . . not by a long-shot!  Last year, there were approximately 650,000 abortions in America, and the Trump administration wants to reduce that number by making abortions illegal.  But is that all it means to be pro-life?  In 2018 there were also more than 690,000 children who spent at least a portion of the year in foster care; and it is estimated that more than 15 million children in America live in poverty.  More than 3.9 million children in America do not have health care, and 1 in 5 American children go to be bed hungry on a regular basis.  Surely a “pro-life” president would be concerned about these matters as well, and would be attempting to do something to reduce those statistics too!  But Trump is doing nothing to address any of them.  How can a President of the United States who wants to wear the “Pro-Life” label continue to avoid addressing all these other important matters of life, and death?

So what exactly is the Gospel According to President Trump?  There isn’t one.  At least not one having to do with the Gospel that Jesus came to proclaim.  Donald Trump doesn’t know that Gospel, and he apparently has no desire to get to know it.  In fact, if his administration has revealed anything to the American people over the past two years, it is that he has rejected that Gospel. His language, his treatment of people who disagree with him, his attitude towards women and people of color: they all reveal Trump’s cluelessness when it comes to faith, the way of Jesus, and the heart of Christianity.  Donald Trump’s only gospel is a small “g” gospel, and it is the gospel of greatness.  And his version of greatness has nothing at all to do with the way of Jesus.

As a result, Trump’s spiritual bankruptcy needs to be named; and his version of the Christian faith needs to be questioned, challenged, and ultimately declared to be the heresy that it is!  And this is true of the gospel of his followers as well. There is NO Gospel according to Donald Trump — at least not for anyone who understands the Gospel to be the good news of Jesus Christ.

So if by chance you’re a church-goer, and you are either not hearing your pastor challenge the gospel of Trump, or not hearing your pastor offer a different gospel than the one being proclaim by this administration, then you need to find a new church!  And if you don’t believe me, might I suggest you simply reread the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  Because it’s all right there: clear as day.  See for yourself: the Gospel of Jesus is nothing at all like the gospel according to Trump!



Whatever happened to decency?

15 07 2019

decency“Whatever happened to . . .” books abound!

“Whatever happened to faith?”  “Whatever happened to truth?”  “Whatever happened to justice?”  “Whatever happened to worship?”  “Whatever happened to the human race?”  Some people even want to know “whatever happened to penny candy?”

But as for me, I want to know whatever happened to decency?

Author and cultural commentator David Brooks recently wrote that a “decent society rests on a bed of manners, habits, traditions and institutions.”  But today, it appears as though the goal of a “decent” society is all but gone.  Manners are labeled ‘old school’ and seem to have been discarded with the all those big ‘ol cathode ray tube television sets; and traditions appear to have been forgotten, only to be replaced by whatever is easy, practical, and convenient.  Respect is nothing more than a 1967 song by Aretha Franklin; and a courtesy is merely that which we can get for free.

In considering the state of decency today, Brooks quickly references our current president, proclaiming “Trump is a disrupter. He rips to shreds the codes of politeness, decency, honesty and fidelity, and so renders society a savage world of dog eat dog.”  And I agree!  Wholeheartedly!  But as true as his words may be, Donald Trump is at the same time both the problem, and a symptom of the problem.  He continues to lie, cheat, and even in the eyes of many of his supporters, behave in ways that are unbefitting of the President of the United States.  But the absence of morality and respectability is overlooked by far too many, as they deem other objectives and agendas to be more important.  Which is why America’s problem is far greater than Donald Trump!  America’s problem is all the people that continue to support him– those who fail to condemn his lies, his treatment of those who disagree with him, and his mockery of the Christian life.

America’s problem is that we are becoming a nation willing to sacrifice morality and respectability on the altars of partisan power. And when a culture or society does that, decency is threatened. Standards are lowered and expectations are forgotten, and behavior becomes so personal and privatized that goodness and rightness become secondary matters.

But sadly, few people seem to be talking about this today! There are those who are ready to impeach the president because of his obstruction of justice in the Russia investigation; and others are quick to proclaim the ineptness of his countless cabinet appointments, many of whom are unfit for their respective positions.   Some of us are quick to speak out against his positions on child separation at our southern boarder, abortion rights, gays in the military, climate change, Obamacare, the Iran deal, the emoluments clause in the constitution, the role of a free press, and on and on and on.

But as important as all of those issues are, no one seems very interested in talking about decency. No one seems to have found the courage to address the issues of morality and respectability. Of all the political issues dividing our nation today, nothing is more disconcerting than the divide over the importance of decency; and yet no one seems to be willing to tackle it: not even the Church – the very community gifted with the task of growing a more decent world. So I’m encouraging Presbyterians to change this reality!

I’ll likely continue to speak out against the politics of the current administration.  But more than being one to PROTEST, I also want to ATTEST!  I want to attest to the value of decency.  I want to lift up the importance of honesty and truthfulness.  I want to call us back to ways of living that are respectful, and courteous, and polite!  I want to stand not just on the side of love, but on the side integrity as well. We need not stoop to the level of 45, and can at the same time promote both whatever political philosophy we espouse, AND decency!  It is possible to do both; and people on both sides of the aisle can replace Trump’s politics of hate with a politics of love, and in so doing bring decency back to our country.

Some values are higher than political values; and decency is one of them.  As the very good creation of God, decency is a mark of the Spirit on every human soul; for if I might dare quote Christopher Hitchens, “human decency is not derived from religion.  It precedes it.”  So let’s tap into that part of our created nature.  Let’s become more mindful of the Spirit’s mark upon each one of our lives. And let’s remember that being a great society, begins when we learn to be a decent society!