Okay, guys. I’m going to be vulnerable for a moment. Trump’s ascent in American politics has me really rattled. Not because a narcissistic bully is within reach of the highest office in the US of A, or because real atrocities could happen as a result of this. I study history for fun. The fact that blatantly bad men can achieve power by appealing to the crudest human passions is no surprise to me.
Nor should the fact that religious leaders will fawn over even the most brutish political superstars surprise me. I mean, I know that this has been happening since the dawn of time. I know that truly despicable leaders have been declared gods by sycophantic priest classes, that corrupt clerics have come forward to side with pretty much every tyrrant in history, that the Popes crowned some pretty terrible Emperors.
But these facts existed for me solely in the abstract. I had not seen it happen, and so it seemed like the kind of theoretical thing that happens in other places and other times and doesn’t directly touch on my own life.
Watching Christian leaders, including some pro-life Catholic leaders, rush to defend, justify and even trumpet the rise of Trump has made it real. I mean, sickeningly, gut-churningly real. There is nothing subtle about Donald Trump’s contempt for his fellow man. He takes pride in it. Certain Christians constantly complain that gay people “flaunt” their sin – but for some reason these same Christians have no problem with a man who flaunts his adulteries, his hatreds, his unrepentance.
And it is undermining my faith.
I won’t say that it is causing me to turn away from God. Donald Trump has literally nothing to do with my relationship with the Almighty, nor does he have any power to disrupt that relationship. But the way that Christian leaders have reacted to Trump is causing me to have much more serious doubts about Christian leadership and the roll of politics in shaping the church.
I realize that the Pope has been openly critical, that many Catholic leaders have expressed concerns, that my Church is for the most part not encouraging people to jump on the Trumpwagon. But this is not really the issue. The issue is that when I look at the history of my Church, and even at the history presented by Scripture, I am presented with the uncomfortable fact that my religion is by no means immune to grotesque moral contortions performed for the sake of political gain.
Nor am I able to comfortably locate these failings in the past. The way that the crowds reacted with vile hatred to Cruz telling people to “vote your conscience” immediately brought to mind the sneering, almost shuddering contempt with which appeals to conscience are so often treated by politically active pro-life and pro-family Catholics. Or the way that Christians smooth over Trump’s obvious sins, insisting that he’s a “baby Christian” and that we need to be patient with him, while at the same time coming down with condemnation and brimstone on marginalized groups who don’t offer them access to power. How often have I read Catholic publications that are supposed to be staunch defenders of orthodoxy excoriating the sins of the lower classes, while offering a host of reasons why the wealthy and powerful can functionally ignore the social teachings of the Church?
I feel as if I’ve been naive in giving Christian leaders so much benefit of the doubt, in assuming that they are motivated primarily by good will and a desire to serve God. I feel, in a word, betrayed. Sold for Donald Trump’s thirty pieces of silver. And that betrayal has shaken my ability to trust in those who are supposed to have moral authority.
It’s a major stumbling block, because huge swathes of Christianity are directly tied up with politics. I’m suddenly looking at passages in Scripture where God is ordering people to attack this or that enemy, where God gives victory on the battlefield, where God endorses some leader or other and I become uncomfortable. Am I reading the inspired word of God? Or am I reading ancient political propaganda that would have been just as transparently toadying in its day as endorsements of Trump are now?
I look at the Saints, and I suddenly can’t help but notice that a really disproportionate number of them are Kings, Queens, noblemen. Indeed, if you’re a married layperson who is not a martyr, it’s really hard to find canonized role models that are actually relatable unless you have castles that you can turn into hospitals or vast quantities of gold to beneficently distribute to the poor. Before that was merely a little irritating, now I can’t help but wonder how many of those canonizations were granted to curry political favour with the descendents of pious royals?
I feel cynical, but I can’t simply stop being so. It’s impossible, or at the very least it is stupid, to make oneself deliberately naive. I cannot unsee the scandalous spectacle of “men of God” falling over themselves to bask in the limelight of a dangerous boor. I cannot simply will away the damage that this has done to my faith in institutional religion.
Perhaps my faith will recover. I’ve found that usually it does – it breaks, and then it resurrects, different, wounded, transformed, but ultimately more solid. There are aspects of it, though, that I will not get back. One of those is the ability to simply look at my spiritual fathers with the trusting eyes of a child. I will not ever be able to stop knowing that even the best of these men are only men – and that some of them are men who will lead their children into evil for the sake of short-term political gain.
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