President Trump: A Gift to the American Church

jasonlief Uncategorized 7 Comments

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The Trump presidency is off to a fascinating start. My Facebook feed is full of propaganda from both sides: family members who see him as the savior of America, and friends who think this is the end. What if they’re both wrong? Stanley Hauerwas wrote a piece for the Washington Post following the inauguration. He reminded us that idolatry is pervasive, that a Christian’s foremost allegiance is not to any political party, country, ethnic group, or an economic class. He writes,

Christians must call his profound and mistaken faith what it is: idolatry. Christianity in America is declining if not dying, which makes it difficult to call Trump to task. Trump has taken advantage of Christian Americans who have long lived as if God and country are joined at the hip. I do not doubt Trump thinks of himself as a Christian, but America is his church.

I understand why people voted for Trump; I know the fear that grips people who feel they’re being left behind. However, their anger is misplaced, replacing one form of ideology with a much more dangerous one. And that’s the problem—we’ve lost sight of the tenant of Christianity that goes all the way back to Augustine: total depravity. Not the distorted version that thinks humans are nothing but evil, I’m talking about the orthodox version that recognizes our human tendency to always construct idols. Our hearts, says Calvin are idol factories. It’s what we do. Our idolatry, when unchecked by a community of prayer and confession, is often transformed into the truth about the world. Whether it’s Trump and his American first fear of immigrants, or whether it’s liberals and their fear of rural, blue collar, culture: it’s all idolatry.

This is why the Trump presidency is a gift to the American church. In the Trump administration, the Christian community is confronted with naked ambition and pride. Not that hubris hasn’t been a part of past democratic and republican administrations, but it has never been this blatant. Hauerwas writes:

Trump identifies as a Presbyterian. However, he has said he does not need a prayer for confession of sins because he has done nothing that requires forgiveness, one signal that he does not believe in a basic Christian tenet. He has identified with Norman Vincent Peale, who wrote the book “The Power of Positive Thinking,” which does not represent Christian orthodoxy. Christianity in Peale’s hands was closer to a set of beliefs a follower could make up to suit their desires. Trump has adopted this strategy and applied it to the country.

Over the next four years or more we will be confronted with the possibility that many of the good things about American culture will be tested. The Christian community will be forced to make a decision—Will we check our backbone at the door, giving into idolatry for the sake of an easier life? Or will we have the courage to confront sin, evil, and oppressive ideology wherever it is found? The gift that is President Trump is the opportunity for the American church to wake from its slumber, to set aside our infighting, and unite in common cause, bearing witness to the one Lord of all of creation, Jesus Christ. On his way to “making America great again” President Trump may have unintentionally poked a sleeping bear. Let’s pray this is the case.

Comments 7

  1. Indeed. I am heartened by the emerging spirit that we can do better than this. I think the imago dei in us is functioning and will lead us to deeper community if we let God do the work of love in us. Thank you.

  2. I read Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimons’ book “Resident Aliens” around 25 years ago when it first came out. I re-read it a few weeks ago. It’s time that those who follow Christ (I hesitate to use the term christian as it has become meaningless) realize that they are resident aliens in whatever country or under what ever government they find themselves. They are exiles in a land of Babylon. Hauerwas and Willimon offer a vision as to how believers as the Church are to live as community during this time of exile. The Church they refer to I interpret as the invisible Church as I do not see the church within organized religion standing up to the task. After reading many blogs, articles and comments I have come to see that Church coming from a broad spectrum of believers of many different denominations and religious affiliations.

  3. This is exactly what the church needs to hear. NT Wright, speaking at the Calvin Institute for Worship said this about idolatry: ( andI quote loosely): “The underlying problem in the world is not sin, but idolatry – false worship . .. .” It’s time for the church to wake up!
    Thanks Jason!

  4. I see a theme here that is quite familiar and rather ungracious. Namely, I see the tendency to assume and assign negative motivation to others as a way (intentionally or not) of marginalizing, belittling, or delegitimizing their position. The author here falls into that trap by assigning the dual motivations of fear and anger to Trump voters, while mistakenly also saying “I understand why people voted for Trump”. No, actually you don’t understand, to the extent that you believe all or most people voted for Trump out of fear or anger. I understand that is a popular talking point, but judging the vast majority of voters based on alt-right rhetoric, online comments, and mass media portrayal is a mistake. I’ll preface any further comments by saying that I am not a Trump apologist, and in fact did not vote for the man, but do think that much reaction to his actual acts of government have been hyperbolic. Have you considered for a moment what I know to be true for many people? Many people voted for Trump simply because they believed that he, on balance, offered a better set of policy proposals and general philosophy of government to meet the needs of the country than the opposing platform. And many of those people did that in full recognition that the man has many unchristian and undesirable qualities. And many of those people did not do so out of idolatry of country or out of fear, or out of anger, or simply to advance their own best interests. And many of those people were confessing Christians. It will be hard for Christians to “unite in common cause” if those who have a different philosophy and approach to political matters continue to assign idolatry, fear, anger, and selfish ambition to those who voted differently. Such an approach is not gracious or loving and will not lead to greater understanding or unity.

    Truth be told, the Trump presidency will be no more of a gift to the church than the Obama presidency was, or the Bush presidency, etc. Idolatry of country and civic religion in place of true Christianity did not just recently become a temptation. However, for the sake of balance, it should be noted that idolatry of government as solution to mankind’s problems is equally a temptation. Depravity knows no political boundaries.

  5. “Fear”, “anger” you used to describe Trump’s voters—I quit reading intently after that.

    “He has identified with Norman Vincent Peale, who wrote the book “The Power of Positive Thinking,” which does not represent Christian orthodoxy.” — let’s not fail to disclose that Peale was a Reformed (RCA) minister. Does this statement hold true for these churches now as well? “does not represent Christian orthodoxy” … ? After reading these blogs, I really wonder! The longer I’ve been out, the more I realize it.

  6. Eric,

    Thanks for expressing my thoughts. My husband and I are grateful that God did not give us the person we deserved. Out of His mercy, He gave us someone who is so far a promise keeper and not a liar. God is able to use unbelievers to effect His purpose in the life of a nation, if He sees fit. The author of this blog writes as if we had a lot of options at the ballot box. We did not. And for his information, we do know that he’s the President of the United States, and not the Savior of America. We did not vote for him in the primaries, but did so in the general election. We have Trump now so let’s give him a chance to show what is in his heart and mind and to grow and mature as President in these dangerous and difficult times.

    Shannon

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