NO MAN SHOULD LEAD UNTIL HE HAS WALKED THE JOURNEY HIMSELF
Before a man can lead others he must have taken the long walk himself. Donald Trump speaks of conservatism, of traditional family values, the sanctity of unborn life, the need to rollback Obama’s faltering steps towards Socialized Universal Health Care and of the importance of controlled immigration, all of which are are important to the conservative and the Evangelical whom he now courts, however Donald Trump has never walked any of these journeys himself.
What journey has he walked then? Donald Trump has vocally supported universal healthcare and unrestricted (meaning even partial birth) partial birth abortions in the past. His traditional family values have included adultery, divorces and seeking out trophy wives. His current stance on immigration seems to have appeared fully formed only after he became a candidate at a time when immigration is a chief concern. In fact very serious allegations of hiring illegal immigrants persist.
While it is true a man can change his mind, learning from new information or be given a new heart by GOD, all of which will influence new opinions, nothing in Donald Trump’s character or life-story suggest a change of heart, only a change of message and the facts prove this out.
In April of 2011 and again in June of 2015 The Washington Post and Politico reported on Donald Trumps political contribution history. The evidence proves, and Trump does not deny donations to the nations most liberal candidates among them are the most socially progressive and least committed to Constitutionalism, Chuck Schumer, Harry Reid, Rahm Emanuel and Barack Obama. In addition Trump has given freely to the Clinton Foundation, which has itself partnered with Planned Parenthood, employed Nicola Moore, the so called “Fly-In” Abortionist, and other radical pro-abortion groups. Not to mention donating large sums to Hillary Clinton for her political successful campaign as Senator and failed campaign as President, a woman whose commitment to fostering and expanding abortion from conception to partial-birth and her deep loyalty to Planned Parenthood is well documented. Why did he do this? In his own words, it was to ensure Hillary Clinton came to his wedding. Now friends lets look at this without rose tinted glasses. How many babies did Donald Trump’s money help to abort so he could fill a seat at his celebrity wedding? We cant speculate, but in at least one example, an abortion provider proudly proclaims that with the financial backing of the Clinton Foundation they performed more than 4000 abortions. If you believe that abortion is a moral wrong, perhaps even rising to the level of infanticide then how do you measure that in terms of blood money?
A CHANGE OF HEART
A man can change his mind, but can a man change his heart? II believe it can be done, in fact such a change is foundational to Christianity itself, but it takes more than mere man to do it. The sort of meaningful change that broadens a man’s heart comes only from a work of grace. Such grace comes from the divine, or it can come from a deeply meaningful human contact such as true love or an act of profound mercy. But men’s hearts do not change easily and when the change comes, if true, it is a visible outpouring of a new substance from within the man, like lead turned into gold. In other words, people see clearly that a changed man is a new man, altogether different from what he once was.
How should we view leadership in light of this? If a man does have a change of heart and wishes to become a leader he should know why and speak to why he changed, and what that changed did to him. But Donald Trump, in atypical narcissism never admits to mistakes, never admits to being wrong and an honest change of heart means recognizing that you were in the past wrong. When the Apostle Paul encountered the Jews he once persecuted he owned up to his past mistakes, recognizing it as a work of grace and his change of heart was so self-evident that audiences who once hid in fear at his approach came out to hear his new message. Think of Paul when Donald Trump speaks and understand how suspicious it should be that a changed man fails to speak of his own changes, even more so when there is no visible outpouring of such a change.
Can we trust a man who admits proudly to never having asked God’s forgiveness? Is there a visible change of heart in the man who proclaims he has a “great relationship with God” and goes on to say he hasn’t done anything to apologize for. Let me be clear on this. Contrition is at the very heart of the Christian faith. We are called to repent and to confess our sins. This is not a suggestion but a commandment. The equation here is simple my dear friends, without contrition there is no faith.
CHRISTIANITY IS NOT OF SPOKEN WORDS, BUT LIVING DEEDS
Donald Trump speaks of being a Christian yet prior running for elected office, where Evangelicals will make or break a Republican candidate, he never spoke of faith. None of his books speak to faith; for the people who know him best faith has never been a characteristic that has mattered enough to be mentioned. And while there is nothing morally wrong with wealth, his lifelong commitment to mammon and his lack of visibility in charity work beyond tax shelter donations should raise certain questions in the mind of any Christian.
It is possible that his faith is private and subtle but if this is so, why attempt to speak of it so often now? We live in a day and an age where a man’s faith is of so little regard in public opinion that it matters little if he claims the mantle of Christian. In fact, now more than ever it is easy to be elected to higher office without having any manifested faith at all. Recent polls show that even among self-professed Christians, religious commitment is no longer a prerequisite for electability.
Yet Donald Trump does speak of faith, and he does so clumsily, as a man uncertain about what he says. His speeches are almost always unscripted or loosely scripted yet he admits to relying on a script when incorrectly citing a Bible passage. And he attends church only to place money in the communion plate, confusing it for a tithe plate. It could be said of his character how odd to so easily confuse holy-communion for a financial transaction. This latter remark may be reading too much into a mistake. But a mistake it was, and one that would not have been made by a man familiar with the trappings of the church. It calls to mind a story…
There was a man who mastered his profession and grew fabulously wealthy. He bought companions when he needed them and then got rid of them as if they were a bad investment when he was done with them. This man could buy anything he wanted, except for one thing. Eternity! If we were honest with ourselves each of us wants to live forever to some small degree. Such everlasting life represents power over the one thing we are all powerless against. And this man loathed being powerless. He traveled the world speaking to shamans and gurus, scientists and philosophers, Physicians, both practical and metaphysical, all in the search for eternity. His thousands, and tens of thousands and millions of dollars bought him attention, and people were eager to give him an answer that would sate his craving but in the end none could deliver. One day this man, this very rich man came to a humble church. It was Sunday and having nothing else to do with his time or money he went inside, sat down and listened with bemusement at the quaint music and the sermon that spoke of salvation, and of eternal life, and most of all contrition. Now he agreed that any person in their right mind would want to be saved from death. And he liked what he heard about eternal life, which was after all the very thing he was seeking. But contrition! He scoffed at it. He had done everything right in his life, just look at his wealth for proof, which was a hard thing not to do as he rarely let a conversation pass without making mention of it. Finally the minister called for silence and prayer, which he mimicked as best he could, and before long a plate was passed around. Having so little experience with church he wasn’t sure what the plate was for, but he knew that those Christians asked for money, a thing they called tithe, which wasn’t that different from a charitable donation he supposed, and he was used to donating to charity. They were after all great tax shelters and giving just a little made for such good press. So absorbed was he in his own cleverness that he failed to notice those around him taking the plate, and drinking from it in humble memory of the GOD who became man and gave himself so that others might live. When the plate passed by this rich man he did was most comfortable, he used his money to buy his way in to belonging and in so doing missed the very thing he was looking for, a chance at eternal life.
Was Donald Trump guilty of a simple mistake or was he doing what was most comfortable for him. Buying his way into belonging the way he bought the attention of people he wanted to belong with.
Perhaps this is owed to his religious affiliation which is not Presbyterian, as he says, but personal magnetism, and ego of the sort espoused by Norman Vincent Peele, the author of the Power of Positive Thinking. As a child it was this book, not the Bible that occupied the family attention and it was Peele himself who from the pulpit taught a young Donald Trump the tenants of a self-centered, greed filled life in search of worldly success.
THE THINGS THAT MATTER CAN’T BE BOUGHT FOR SILVER OR FOR GOLD
Donald Trump easily, and with amazing comfort admits to buying people’s attention. He admits to “wanting” the Clintons at his wedding, so he gave them large contributions. This is akin to buying favor, or a friend. Some argue that because of his wealth it’s unlikely he will be beholden to someone else, including powerful political interest groups, but a careful examination of his campaign contribution history reveals a pattern that says otherwise. Those states he has donated most frequently in are those states where he has the most concentration of business interest including his office towers, hotels and casinos. This pattern reveals a history of a man who has embraced a pay to play ethos, or at least a man who is so committed to money that he believes he must pay to play as a matter of due course. If his entire fortune is based on real estate and that real estate was acquired through the benefices of campaign contributions then why would we not expect him to be beholden to anyone.
Wealth when defined as a virtue of itself is a spiders web of conflicting loyalties. Can we trust that as President Donald Trump will abide by the democratic process and allow pieces of his agenda to fail if they are unpopular or will he continue to purchase the attention and favor of others to push his agenda through in the same old pay to play that has been at the center of his campaign contribution history. Or for that matter, what pieces of his agenda might be for sale, if the price were right? Our healthcare, the wall he will build, the life of our sons and daughters in the armed forces?
Even a good agenda, won through rotten means can only produce rotten fruit.
TO EVERYTHING THERE IS A SEASON, EVEN ROTTEN FRUIT
Donald Trump comes at the right time with the right promises to the right people. We should always be wary of gifts that seemingly appear out of nowhere to deliver exactly what we most want, especially when what we most want is informed out of fears and trepidation. American Christians today face soft persecution. This is a simple reality; prayer is openly mocked and frequently prevented in public spaces; good men and women lose their jobs for simple acts of devotion to their faith and refusal to embrace those things their faith call for them to reject and the normal argument is that you can be free to believe whatever you want in the privacy of y our own home, effectively denying a public voice to dissenters of any persuasion not approved by the secular state.
Contrary to what many believe it has been a great failure that religion in America became inextricably linked to civic responsibility. The American Civil Religion transformed Christianity from a GOD centered, grace filled way of life into another way to speak of patriotism, as if being a good American meant by default being a good Christian. Over the years church evolved into a place where the American flag stood equal to the cross and where the Decalogue and the United States Constitution were held in equal esteem, as if both were carved by the same divine finger in the same stone on Sinai. Where the Fourth of July is more sacred than Easter and where politicians evoked impressive prayers even as they supplanted GOD’s grace for political favor.
For the Protestant, America’s civil religion came to be as political as the Papacy and for the Catholic it was as rebellious to the body of Christ as the Protestant Reformation. For each the consequences have led us to a near complete of erosion of honest public faith. We have fallen from the religious, though often contentious freedom of our forefathers now being free to practice only that religion that is not “offensive” or that cannot be deemed “intolerant” by the state. In other words the so called establishment clause has been turned on its head and only those religions not out of favor with official state positions on morality can be tolerated.
To fully appreciate this a little history is in order. As Christians we need to be honest about our national past. This country was settled and later founded on the grounds of religion. Religion permeated the sinews of the American experience unlike any other nation on earth. Separatists and Catholics, Protestants and Quakers and all the other different and divergent Christian expressions that came to the shores of this new world could be fiercely opposed to one another, engage in vile and slanderous attacks and banishment of those deemed intolerable to the established “Christian” order of things but they all came, and they all settled here for reasons that were mainly religious. On its surface this is hardly a praiseworthy example of Christian pluralism and to be sure modern ecumenical urges would have been highly offensive to our ancestors of old, but it should be remembered that only in America was religious dissent, even amongst the most bitter of enemies settled through discourse and not at the sword.
With very few exceptions the most bitter sectarian rivalries ended in banishment, not death and when death did result, it was not the sect but the threat of destabilization that was to blame. As was the case of the early American figure named Mary Dyer, who was banished numerous times for her aggressive, outspoken and order challenging opinions before at last she was hanged. In her case, sad as it is, her execution was not the result of a persecuted fringe belief but rather the threat she posed to a well-ordered society living at the edge of a vast and dangerous wilderness. In fact, her execution so shocked and troubled the consciences of people that by royal decree executions for her crimes were halted.
This unusual, and often uneven Christian tolerance that was unique to America is the foundation upon which the whole of our culture is based. And from the dawn of America to the end of the 19th century it informed and guided Americans in deeply profound ways. To be fair not all in America were bible reading puritans seeking a divine kingdom in the wilderness.
In the state of Georgia up until the post revolutionary war years religion was infrequent with few churches and little literacy to read the bible. While the Great Awakening’s shows there were entire fields of un-churched, religiously indifferent people ripe for harvest. Then something happened. The Industrial age came like a hurricane and with it the explosive growth of urban centers. For a nation that had been tempered by the pastoral, rural church this new urbanization posed numerous challenges and new ways of thinking. For Protestant Christians who were the majority the answer came in the form of Revival and Revival gave birth to what we now call the Evangelical Church. Prior to the end of the 19th century America had gone through several “Awakenings” where after periods of stagnation people yearned for a powerful communal and personal religious experience. During one of the latter Awakenings, Mormonism was born and the Spiritualist movement emerged (We can thank the latter for the perpetual interest in ghost and all things supernatural). And each Awakening strengthened the various Christian denominations and in many cases led to the rise in prominence of formerly marginalized denominations, such as the Baptists.
By the end of the 19th century America was ripe for a new Awakening but when it came it took on a decidedly different form. While religious zeal was the central theme numbers were the focus. And while the awakenings represented new flowerings of Christian fervor this new “revival method” represented a call directed primarily towards believers who had fallen away.
At its center was the Biblical “great commission” calling for believers to go forth and make believers out of all nations but new modes of transportation, including railroads and later telephones and automobiles and the ability to quickly and easily gather large numbers of people due to their concentration in new urban centers meant that the efforts of pastors could be measured in ways that were unheard of before. These new Revivals quickly grew into a numbers game. The first to take advantage were men such as Lyman Beecher and Dwight Moody. On their heels were even more vocally gifted powerhouses behind the traveling pulpit, men like Billy Sunday and women like Amiee Semple McPherson who put religion on the radio and who in turn paved the way for the likes of Billy Graham whose Crusades gathered more people than almost any other event in cities across America. These Christian revivalists created something new at a time when America was beginning to become entangled with the rest of the world. If America was a Christian nation, and no one doubted that we were then the question had to be, what kind of Christian nation were we? Evangelicalism which was both deeply spiritual and uniquely American in form was the answer. It alone was best suited to pick up the Civil Religion our founders placed such high value in because it was at once egalitarian and in many ways absolutist. It was the perfect religious expression for a nation that was growing arrogant in its unbridled success and unbounded optimism. It declared proudly that God was on our side while echoing the old concept that America was a new Jerusalem. Had it not been for two world wars and the threat of atheist communist expansion Evangelism might have withered on the vine of came to be just one of the many denominations that dot the American landscape instead it came to be synonymous with America, with patriotism and with exceptionalism.
The shorter history is simple. Colonial America was religious in almost every respect, including theocratic governance. Post Colonial-America was not and never was meant to be a theocracy but religion, religious experience, religious freedom and the joining of religious morality and public responsibility was implicit in nearly every founding document and letters, both public and private left by our diverse founding fathers.
This brings us to Evangelical question. By itself there is nothing specifically negative about the Evangelical movement. It has strong and weak points, much to commend and much to condemn. But because it came of age during a time in America when challenges to religion were becoming commonplace among them the slow rise of secularism, the emergence of socialism from Europe, the advance of science that was embraced by atheists not as a tool but as a new type of religion itself and lastly the new European Intellectualism priding itself on extreme liberalism and a rejection of any fundamental truths created a reactionary movement that quickly became the majority within Evangelicalism, especially in the south that answered intellectualism not with the vigor backed by a legacy of Christian knowledge but with anti-intellectual zeal that used the Bible as a shield to hide behind. This laid the foundation for what would became super-radical public Christianity, the Christianity that told itself it was right not because its arguments were sound but because the pews were filled and the bank accounts were flush with cash. Churches praised themselves on the number of missionaries they could afford to support and not the quality of the mission work. Shiny suits and gold watches proved that our pastoral leaders MUST be morally good, because they are successful. The term mega-church and televangelist became hallmarks of American Christianity to an alarming degree Christ on a rugged cross became WWJD on t-shirts and sell out Christian rock concerts and best selling books telling us how much God just wants us to realize our own potential and make lots of money while were at it.
The disaster here can be summed up by saying simply this. The church became a celebrity and celebrity is fleeting. Ground was lost to atheists because Christians couldn’t articulate answers to simple, and sometimes honest questions. The Establishment Clause was turned against us because we lacked the ability and the desire to defend Americas true legacy. And we were so busy being morally right, and frequently morally presumptuous, that we never imagined we could be accused of ever being wrong. It was the very success of American Christianity as a Civil religion that led to the decline of the church and where we are today, near ruination.
This is the Christian nation Donald Trump is now speaking to and it is confused, broken and fearful. It is for us to ask tough questions and far too many of us don’t have the answers because we live in a sort of spiritual dark age where old paths have been lost and smooth talkers can easily lead us astray. The first question I believe we should ask is this – Does Donald Trump speak for the benefit of the disenfranchised or does he speak to manipulate the disenfranchised?
Perhaps it is this Civic Christianity Trump lays claim to and not in any real sense the Christianity of the cross. This would explain how he so often uses profanity or mocks those he disagrees with. Or the way he takes such pride in only surrounding himself with “winners” as if life were a game and winning that game the price of admission for the Trump National tour. Indeed as far back as 1999 Donald Trump was testing Presidential waters (In fact his 2000 book “the America we Deserve” was nothing less than a presidential taste test) when he asserted to Tim Russert that he was “pro-choice in every respect”. Take that in for a moment. PRO CHOICE IN EVERY RESPECT. This means the man who now calls himself a champion of life because he “evolved” was ready and willing to see babies murdered at the moment of conception in the process called partial birth abortion. This puts Trump at the fringes of all but the most liberal pro-choice advocates and in the company of his sister, a Bill Clinton appointed Judge who has shielded planned parenthood on numerous occasions. Today he calls it a topic of sibling disagreement. A short time ago he called it his shared belief.
THE KING YOU DESERVE
In the Biblical story of Saul’s rise to Kingship we learn of a warrior whose feats and victories inspired a nation. But they turned sour because each victory elevated the man, Saul higher and higher as GOD’s role in those feats was diminished. There is no doubt that Saul was a great warrior or that he was a good King, in the beginning at least but as time wore on Saul’s righteous anger at the foes of Israel and his loyalty to his GOD turned into a self-serving mental state propped up by paranoid visions, deceit and bloodlust against his perceived enemies. To Saul the world was occupied with those who were loyal and those who were enemies.
The People of Israel wanted a King. They got the King they asked for, the one they deserved and cost them dearly. It wasn’t until later that Israel got the King GOD had in mind for his people.
In contrast to Saul, David was also a great warrior with feats that eclipsed the great King Saul. Where Saul led armies, David stood alone against Giants. Where Saul’s slew thousands, David slew tens of thousands (literal or metaphorical can be debated). Yet David remained humble, always praising his God, always seeking to be Gods servant. Even in later years, as King David strayed from the path he never wavered in his obedience to God, though pride and lust clouded his judgment and led him to murder. When confronted with his fall from grace David repented, begged God’s forgiveness and accepted with humility his well-earned cupful of wrath. To David, the world was filled with broken people, all sinners alike and this was a source of both his greatness as a Leader and his humility as a servant. It is for this we remember David as a King, as a Psalmist, as a nation builder and can forgive his many failings. David was a true leader.
Now the question for people of faith and conscience is simple. In Donald Trump do we have a Saul or a David? Donald Trump is far too big a personality to be anything less, and we the people have vested far too much importance on his presence and his persona to see him as less.
I believe Donald Trump is like the King the people call out for heedless of the warnings.
Lastly, a word on Profanity
Who amongst us has not let slip a bad word; one of those harmless tidbits of profanity at an ill-timed moment. Traffic seems to urge profanity, stressful bosses make us want to cuss. A bad call against your favorite team elicits this or that and we may or may not regret it but we forget that profanity, those vulgar things we say, those obscenities that are so seductive are not befitting of a leader of a moral nation. Why do you think that is? The very word profanity comes from the Latin “profane” which means outside the temple. Literally this was speech that was not fitting for the presence of the holy.
From a Christian perspective such language is filthy and unclean, the sort of words God turns away from in shame. These words are the refuse of human speech, the detritus that fuel the fires of the garbage heaps that once stood outside Jerusalem, the same refuse heaps that came to be symbolically linked to Hell. But such words coming from human lips do not simply burn up, they burn in our mouths and the ears of those that hear them because no matter the circumstance these words are designed to cause harm.
Our earthly leaders are not Priests dedicated to temples and so, being fallen beings just as we all are a certain forgiveness should be extended for words that we all find ourselves tempted by. But consider how easily Donald Trump uses them, and how often. These are not stray words lightly uttered or meaningless slips. No friends, they are practiced words used with a purpose. As I said a moment ago profane words are designed to cause harm and the man who uses them with such ease is a harmful man.
As a father I know that words coming from my mouth have the weight of a god to the ears of my children. I know first hand how easily my own accidental profanities become the language of choice for my beloved son and how much it pains me to know that I was responsible for placing such a dirty stain in his innocent mind. So Christian friends, ask yourself – How much more seductive will profanity be when it is a commonplace to the leader of the free world. What pride we as Americans will have earned when we must cover the ears of our children to protect them from the words of the President we chose.