Friday, July 22, 2016

Trump and the American Trinity




Well, it finally emerged at the end of Trump’s acceptance speech last night. Running around and through his whole campaign, it now came out in the open. His “Make America Great Again” slogan bared its teeth. “Freedom, Independence, and Strength” Trump intoned is the trinity underwriting this program.

There’s nothing in this, really. Freedom is the master value that energizes all things America. Independence is our characteristic way of doing thing. And strength is power by which we get things done.

What Trump’s foregrounding of this American trinity does is place the onus on those evangelical Christians and leaders to explain their support for such a trinity. They owe the rest of the Christian community a theological accounting of their advocacy for this way of “doing” politics and life.

The master value of freedom has devolved over the last several centuries to a pale, diminished shadow of its former self. Now it merely asserts the “right” to be unconstrained by external forces in its search for expressing itself. This freedom is procedural and formal and gives no guidance as to the telos of freedom other than casting us back on our beloved capacity to “choose.”

Whereas earlier visions of freedom in this country, and certainly the biblical notion of freedom entails both freedom from unnecessary and unjust hindrances to one’s own development and freedom for the growth and well-being of communal life, our’s today parses it without reference to anything for which our free action is to be directed.

Independence is, of course, our vaunted American individualism. We want, as individuals and as a country, to do it by ourselves and for ourselves. The biblical vison, on the other hand, bespeaks the reality of the interdependence for which we are created. We act with, toward, and for one another because our lives are by God’s good plan inextricably connected together.

Strength as the power that gets things done is another familiar trope in American life. Teddy Roosevelt’s “speak softly and carry a big stick” and Ronald Reagan’s “strength through power” are two typical specimens. Jesus, however, thinks and acts differently. Very differently. Peace through his own crucifixion, peacemaking by his followers taking up their own cross, service even to the point of willingly laying down one’s life for others, and loving one’s enemies are his way.

Jesus’ way is no way to run a country in this fallen world. I don’t expect presidential candidates to run on a Jesus-like platform. But I do expect Christians to understand this and not to claim such-and-such a candidate’s platform is more “Christian” than another’s. The question for us ought to be which candidate’s plans and policies reflect, however dimly, at least some of his way. And care for the last and the least, the poor and the powerless is very close to the top of that list!

It’s not surprising that this American trinity informs Trump’s campaign. It informs Hillary’s too, in slightly different ways. And Bernie’s, and the Libertarians. And a Christian owes his fellow Christians, at least, the reasons why she or he supports whoever they do. Christian reasons. It’s particularly incumbent on Christians who support a candidate whose campaign bears every mark of a vicious racism, misogyny, nativism, exceptionalism, and messianism to offer such an account. For it is not at all evident that they should be doing so.

And remember, while we do what we can to contribute to the common good and toward justice and peace in the world, it is not our responsibility to make the world come out right. That’s God’s job and he will see to it. Our job as God’s people is to bear witness in word and deed to the new creation birthed by Jesus’ death and resurrection and live lives of witness to that new creation. Our voting and political action, then, ought to reflect this.

So, friends, fellow Christians, if you support Mr. Trump, would you do us the courtesy of explaining why you find that a good and Christian thing to do. The triune God of Christian faith has no fellowship with our American trinity and we should have good reasons why we trust and support the latter to do much of anything that Christians ought to be excited about!

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