Trump, the image of God, and righteous anger

Trump, the image of God, and righteous anger October 9, 2016

Photo by Gage Skidmore, Flickr. CC Licensing.
Photo by Gage Skidmore, Flickr. CC Licensing.

**Yes, I know this is an entertainment blog. But there are matters that transcend entertainment and as a writer who also focuses on faith, I feel I have a responsibility to address that. ** 

I thought this weekend’s release of Donald Trump’s repugnant sexual comments would be the straw that broke the camel’s back when it came to Christians’ support of the Republican presidential candidate. After more than a year of supporting or only lightly chiding his crude remarks about Mexicans, Muslims and other minorities, here he was, recorded in 2005 talking about how his celebrity status entitled him to treat women in a manner that can only be described as sexual assault. The media is appalled. Much of the GOP has turned its back on him. I don’t know why it took so long, but there seemed to be an almost unified front that stood up and, finally, said “enough is enough.”

And yet, my Facebook feed told a different story.

Christians I know and respect tried to downplay, defend or deflect his remarks. They said we shouldn’t pay much attention to something said 11 years ago, especially when he’s apologized, despite the fact that his apology had the same tone as a petulant toddler’s and that Trump’s actions as recently as two weeks ago attest that his attitude toward women hasn’t changed. They tried to dismiss it as boys being boys or shift the attention to Hillary’s own, admittedly problematic scandals. Many even shared a meme that basically said women shouldn’t be offended by Trump’s “naughty” words because they were, after all, the ones who made the sexually explicit “Fifty Shades of Grey” a hit. This last one is the meme equivalent of blaming a woman for getting raped because of how she dresses, dismissing concerns over the potential leader of the free world bragging about sexual assault as a prudish response to R-rated language.

And I can’t do it anymore. I can’t see Christian men and women stand up for him, support him and pretend that the things he’s saying aren’t a big deal. I can’t do it and take their faith seriously. I don’t want to be a part of a Christianity that brushes this off*.

* Yes, I’m well aware there are two problematic candidates running. And as far as I’m concerned, Hillary’s views on humanity are also deeply flawed, especially her belief that unborn children have no rights. This isn’t a pro-Hillary post; there are third-party, write-in and no-vote options. But right now, I feel Trump is the biggest clear and present danger to our nation and to the American church, because of his large evangelical base. 

Photo by Art4theglryofGod Photography By Sharon, Flicker, CC Licensing.
Photo by Art4theglryofGod Photography By Sharon, Flicker, CC Licensing.

Election years get ugly. Even when we have candidates with little to no scandals, we find ourselves ranting and raving about political disagreements. That’s been a part of American culture from the beginning, and it’s an ugly side of it. But this year, the issue goes beyond politics. It’s a fight for our soul and the battle line is drawn right down the middle of the American church.

One of the most cherished Christian beliefs is that every human being is formed in God’s image (the “Imago Dei”). Whether you take the creation accounts in Genesis 1-2 literally or mythically, one of our foundational beliefs is that when you see another human being, you’re getting a glimpse at the creator and sustainer of the universe. This means that every human life has worth; every person matters. It’s why racism, sexism and classism are detestable to Christians and why we fight for the rights of others, even when their beliefs clash with our own. Our belief that humans bear the image of God means we fight for those who are vulnerable, oppressed or mistreated. It’s also why Christians are so opposed to abortion and why, as much as I would love to just say “vote for Hillary,” I find myself vacillating almost daily between her or a third-party option. Her belief about the rights of unborn children is anathema to me. Trump’s views about anyone who is not rich, white or male are even more so.

When Christians hear Donald Trump say to “grab a woman by her p***y,” they’re letting him trample all over the belief that women bear the Imago Dei. When he says that Mexicans are rapists, you’re letting him say that Mexicans don’t bear the image of God. When he threatens to keep Muslims out of the country and goads his supporters to spit on and beat black protesters and you sit silent, you let him preach that their lives don’t matter as much as rich, white ones. When you don’t push back on Hillary Clinton because she believes it’s perfectly acceptable to kill an unborn baby, you’re letting her say that God doesn’t care about us before we take a breath. And when we sit silent, the unspoken message we preach is that we agree, no matter how much we protest “well, I don’t like what they’re saying, but…”.

What ground does a Christian who supports Trump have on morality? When they’ve chosen as their leader a man who says “I just kiss [women]. I don’t even ask ’em,” how can they look their daughters in the eye and say they have worth or teach their sons how to respect women? When the man they believe is fit to run the nation categorizes Mexicans as rapists and encourages violence against his dissenters, how can they say with a straight face that they serve a God who said to turn the other cheek? When they believe that humans have the right to kill the wives and sons of terrorists, how can they preach about a God who said to love your enemies?

And yes, I understand that Hillary has problems. To which I say, again, there are other options. And if I go harder after Trump, it’s because his largest base of supporters are evangelical Christians. And many of them are not backing down. And when the world hears Christians these days, what they’re picturing are not people who look like Christ but people who are willing to elect a misogynistic, racist, hot-head into the office. The cultural picture of the church right is not of a body following the Christ of love but the Trump of hate.

Photo couresty, C.C.
Photo couresty, C.C.

Do I think all of these Christians are racist and misogynistic? No, although I believe there are some latent motives and a history of those attitudes in evangelical circles that need to be examined, addressed and repented from. What I think is that they’re scared. They’re scared of losing the power that evangelicals have had in the United States for many decades, even if Christianity at its roots is a religion of the oppressed, not the powerful. They’re scared of a country in which they’re not the dominant voice. They’re scared of changes, some of which are understandable (religious liberty is a big concern, but it’s not going to get better by electing the man who wants to shut an entire religion out of the country). They’ve had their fear manipulated, even as the most uttered command in the Bible is “do not be afraid.” They’ve had their hate and anger stoked even as Christ commanded them “love your enemies.” They want their desire for power and prominence sated, even as they claim to follow a Christ who saw those things as a temptation from hell.

In short, they see the commands of God to love their enemies and treat people as if they bear the image of God, and they’ve decided it’s not worth doing that if they lose their position of power. So they support a man who is the opposite of those things who promises to give them what they want. Or a woman who promises to do all the “godly” actions without any spiritual framing. Americans have whored Christianity out to politics. And a church that does that is a church that is not the church of Christ.

I must confess that this election has tried my soul and, in some instances, shaken my faith. I love the church. My fondest memories are of being part of the body of Christ. My closest friends are people with whom I’ve laughed, cried and shared deep truths of the soul, wept over deaths, and rejoiced over births. Now I’m watching many of those people I love and respect support a man who tramples over the most cherished foundations of our faith. And, I must be honest, it’s hard for me to think of worshiping alongside people who feel that supporting a man with no respect for other human beings is more important than ensuring that others are fought for and protected, defended because we see that Imago Dei in everyone. I’m sure there are things I must repent on and I have to let love overcome these divisions. But it’s hard.

I know not all Christians support Donald Trump. I’m thankful that my pastor has been outspoken about his deep issues with both candidates. I’m thankful for people like Russell Moore and Alan Noble, who have brought clarity and sanity to an unclear and insane time, and remind me that when it comes down to faith or politics, it’s faith that transcends. I’m thankful for Christians I do know whose conscience can’t bring them to cast a vote for either party and are open about their feelings of brokenness, confusion and hurt for our country and our church. Evangelicals as a group are dying as they give their faith over to politics. But there is still a power in the gospel.

I feel like this is a divide that is going to shake apart the American church. But maybe that’s not a bad thing. Maybe the American church has too long been in bed with politics, both on the right and on the left. I’m a firm believer that truth gets lost when you shift to extremes, that the best church is not one that is red or blue, but purple, understanding that the gospel has aspects that can be described as liberal and conservative, because no one side has a monopoly on the truth. I hope and pray that this election shakes up the church enough where we can rethink our allegiance to politics and nationalism and live out the gospel, putting our support not between a candidate or flag but the cross and our king.

There tends to be a hesitancy in Christian culture to show anger or say things that are divisive. But there is also a time for righteous anger, for tossing over tables, and for ensuring keeping the gospel unsullied from the politics of power and dehumanization. And the most frustrating and appalling thing about the evangelical church’s response to Trump has been a lack of indignation and holy fury that this man has co-opted and exploited the gospel and the church (note: there’s already a lot of holy fury being directed at the left). In our anger we shouldn’t sin, and the church must make sure this fight is not about dividing the body but about protecting the unity of faith. But Christians, be mad. Speak your voice. And don’t let politicians trample on the image of God in others.


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