Tuesday, December 27, 2016
A Tweet on Twitter doesn’t often hit me like a splash of ice water in the face.
This one did:
“You can be a conservative or a liberal and be a follower of Christ, but it is not possible to be a follower of Trump and a follower of Christ.”
Let that sink in. Do I have your attention yet?
Before you speculate on who made the unsettling comment, let me point out that it was uttered by a celebrated theologian whom I and many thousands of others admire and respect. I’ll reveal who it is in a moment.
You’re probably aware that according to several post-election surveys, more than 80% of mostly white “evangelical Christians” did, in fact, vote for Donald Trump – effectively handing him the Presidency.
Evidently, evangelicals, by and large, gave Trump a complete pass on his sometimes foul and culturally-divisive use of language, his anti-immigration insinuations, his misogynistic tales on video, his castigation of the media and his negatively targeted comments toward specific races and at least one world religion. This is not an insignificant muster.
What could be the dynamics of this apparent blurred vision between evangelicals and mainline Christians?
Let me be clear right off; I am NOT making the judgmental inference that 80% of evangelicals are not followers of Christ. What I AM suggesting is that we – all voters who call ourselves Christians – perhaps should re-examine some of the considerations which led to our vote choice.
Also let me state that one of the most commonly heard reasons given among evangelicals for casting a ballot for Donald Trump – they said it was simply making an obvious choice between “the lesser of two evils” – is to me at best a cop-out and at worst a distressing misinterpretation of the Christian faith.
So, who made the quote at the beginning of this post?
The author is none other than the esteemed Miroslav Volf, Yale Divinity School professor of systematic theology and founder and director of the Yale Center for Faith and culture. One probably couldn’t find a more qualified theologian for authenticity and reliability regarding an issue like this.
What, then, did Volf mean to accomplish with his Tweet?
To get some perspective, we can look to a couple of Volf’s subsequent Tweets. In them, he suggests that it would be a mistake to conclude that Christ followers only need be concerned with things regarding the state of the human soul. Rather, he submits, most theologians agree that Christ’s kingdom is “unmistakably political” as well. He cites Karl Barth’s writings of Nazi resistance as but one example.
Those Christians who look at Trump and perceive him as a “political savior” are most likely focusing on the wrong person, he suggested.
“Those who do see him as a ‘political savior’ therefore ‘follow him;’ they are committed to him and his vision. That’s not the stance a Christian should have toward *any* politician. But whether one ‘follows’ Trump in this sense or merely ‘supports’ his character and political vision, one is still on a collision course with our Lord Jesus Christ,” he Tweeted.
Volf believes that the goal of the history of God with humanity is ultimately a “polis” – a New Jerusalem – and that Christ, the incarnate Word, is the measure of politics just as He is the measure of all things.
“If Christ is the measure of politics, then every person who aspires to follow Christ has to be able to show how the political vision he or she espouses can be justified by appealing to Christ’s life and teaching, or, at the very least, make an argument that it does not collide with the life and teachings of Christ,” he explained via Twitter.
He continues rather pointedly, “Most of what was important to Jesus is openly despised by Trump, and most of what is important to Trump was condemned by Jesus.”
He admits some would see things differently, but for the future he envisages the desired touchstone as being “to strive to align our political vision with the vision of Christ’s kingdom.”
One of our sons, Gregg, is a senior pastor in Newberg, Oregon at Newberg Friends Church. In a sermon this past May, he dealt with virtually this same dilemma but in another context. Here is an excerpt of what he said last Palm Sunday:
“My question had always been, ‘What works in this world we live in?’ When NOTHING works, a new question is raised. Rather than what works, the question becomes: ‘What choices most reflect and exemplify the character of God?’
“Did Jesus just open a gate for us, or is Jesus the gate we walk through, and is he the one who shapes our lives? Was Jesus unique in his mission to bring salvation, or is his life (also) a model for our attitudes and actions?”
Gregg, in essence, comes to virtually the same conclusive inquiry as does Miroslav Volf (coincidentally Gregg’s favorite prof in Seminary many years ago). It’s the same query we all need to make: Are our personal life and political vision aligned with that of Christ’s kingdom?
Our savior, both politically and soul-wise, is Jesus Christ. Wouldn’t it be wiser to align ourselves with His life and teachings first? Then if that benchmark permits support for the President-elect on some issues, well and good. But so far, in the opinions of many of us, such issues have been scant.
Additionally, Trump has given indications that he is moving toward a stronger nationalistic, more militaristic and an increasingly monetarist Presidency, seemingly in resonance with his constituent voters.
Regrettably, not one of these objectives carries any status in Christ’s kingdom.
By the way, click here to find Gregg’s entire sermon (with visuals).
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NOTE: This post is the first after a long, self-imposed respite. We hope to change that in 2017.