This week President Trump showed unadulterated support for a murderous tyrant by embracing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s worldview, even as Putin undermines our democracy. If it wasn’t clear before, it should be now: America is headed toward tyranny and people of faith must speak out.
Christians, who value the dignity of every human being as created in God’s image and therefore value democratic governance, must resist him. We cannot support a president who calls good evil and evil good. A nation under a cruel and oppressive government cannot sustain a flourishing democracy.
Trump deliberately and consistently blurs the bright lines between good and evil. He insults Haiti and African nations without apology. He sees fault “on both sides” when white nationalists march through the streets of an American city. He praises dictators who brutally murder their people.
Since so many white evangelicals are captive to the false gospel of white nationalism preached by our President and his spiritual advisers, Christians who follow the actual Gospel of Jesus Christ must be especially loud in our opposition to the ideology preached by false prophets.
Murderous dictatorial regimes are incompatible with the Christian vision of governance. Putin murders his political opponents. Putin puts Christian missionaries and other religious minorities in jail. Putin assassinates his political opponents. Putin despises democracy. Putin is giving Trump lessons.
Holocaust historian Timothy Snyder reminds us that when Hitler rolled into Austria his racist attack on Jews was met by little resistance. In fact, many Austrians joined in enthusiastically. Hitler realized he could proceed with his genocidal vision for an Aryan humanity more quickly than he had thought. Hitler placed Nazi-sympathizing “German Christians” in positions of power throughout the established Lutheran Church of Germany. The Confessing Church was formed to resist the Nazification of the church. It did not represent a majority, but its resistance was critical. We need a modern Confessing Church.
By equating oppressive leaders with liberty and neo-Nazis with peaceful protesters, Trump has once again shown his goal is tyranny that like that of Putin’s Russia, which targets its citizens because of their race, religion and sexuality.
Autocracy, exploitation and racism are counter to the will of God. Biblical heroes challenged and outwitted tyrants, from Pharaoh (Moses) to Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel), to Artaxerxes III (Esther), to Caesar (Jesus) to emperor Domitian (St John in Revelation). All humans are created in the image of God and must be treated with dignity and respect. God’s preference is for those most persecuted by the world’s tyrants: immigrant, the refugee, the widow, the orphan– those oppressed by tyranny. God warns that those who do not rule justly will face judgement.
Trump’s embrace of Putin comes after he insulted democratic Europe several times and left the United Nations Human Rights Commission. With words (and potentially deals struck in back rooms) Trump is systematically undermining the world’s embrace of democratic and human rights norms. This after showing just how far he can go by separating immigrant families, ripping nursing babes from their mothers’ arms even as they ask for asylum.
From the start of this administration religious leaders have raised the alarm about Trump’s white supremacist agenda. Days after he appointed Steve Bannon and Jeff Sessions as his top advisers, religious leaders decried Trump’s “cabinet of bigotry.” Religious leaders led the front lines to defend Charlottesville from white supremacy. And they led in Brownsville as the details of a morally bankrupt ‘zero tolerance’ policy to immigration became clear.
Some white evangelical Christians will continue to walk lock step with the President. By embracing a president who embraces white supremacy and dictators they bring shame to the gospel and the Christian faith.
It is time we take Trump at his word. He has said he wants a whiter America. He has signaled that he prefers autocracy to democracy.
As a Christian minister, I must be honest in calling this a road to tyranny. We all must be firm in resisting this toxic white supremacy.